British Columbia

As survivors dwindle, who will keep Holocaust memories alive?

Julius Maslovat remembers little from the Buchenwald concentration camp where, at two-and-a-half years old, he became its youngest prisoner.

'We are about to enter a post-witnessing era,' says academic

Julius Maslovat found his name on a list of boys sent to Bergen-Belsen camp. (Julius Maslovat)

Julius Maslovat remembers little from the Buchenwald concentration camp where, at two-and-a-half years old, he became the youngest prisoner. 

He vaguely remembers a cold ride in an open cattle car.

"Probably the reason that I remember that, is that it was the last time that I saw my father," said Maslovat, who lives in Victoria.

"We were separated in Buchenwald. I went on the train. He stayed. And it must have been a really traumatic experience for both of us."

Much later he learned that his father died at the Nazi death camp (his mother was killed at the Treblinka concentration camp when he was four months old).

They were among six million European Jews killed by the Nazis during the Second World War.

'I realized there are relatively few survivors left'

Maslovat will tell his story on Sunday, May 8 during a Holocaust remembrance ceremony at Victoria's Jewish Cemetery.

Elsewhere in British Columbia, Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed Wednesday at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and on Thursday at the B.C. Legislature.

Adopted by a Swedish family after the war, Maslovat took little interest in exploring and sharing his Holocaust experiences until about a dozen years ago.

"I realized there are relatively few survivors left and so I have a certain obligation to convey what happened," he said.

Charlotte Schallié is co-director of the University of Victoria's European Studies program.

The dwindling numbers of living survivors weighs on the minds of Holocaust educators as well.

Charlotte Schallié is co-director of the European program at the University of Victoria's department of Germanic and Slavic Studies.

The department is hoping for approval this year of a masters stream in Holocaust Studies. It would be the first post-graduate program of its kind in Canada.

"We are at a critical point in Holocaust education," Schallié said. "We really are about to enter a post-witnessing era."

Bringing Holocaust survivors into the classroom to talk about their experiences has been effective, she said, but more than 70 years after the end of World War II, most of the remaining survivors were children, like Maslovat.

'Holocaust education outside the box'

Students in Schallié's class came up with an unconventional approach to make the subject meaningful to high school students.

They called the teaching unit "Holocaust education outside the box." A Victoria high school class who tried it out discovered a very personal perspective on the Holocaust through graphic novels.

The reading material included the Pulitzer-winning Maus, in which cartoonist Art Spiegelman relates his father's experience as a Polish Jew and concentration camp survivor.

The students then created their own graphic novels about matters relevant to their own lives, which were featured in an exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery.

'Bullying is the first step'

In his talks to school groups these days Julius Maslovat does not limit his message to the Nazi Holocaust, but includes other atrocities, from the Rwandan genocide in 1994 to the current Syrian crisis.

At the root of them all, he says, is something familiar to any schoolchild. 

"Bullying is the first step where we discriminate or make fun of the other. And that is really what happened as a first step in Germany as well in 1939," Maslovat said.

"But if we as individuals can stop bullying, when we see bullying, I think that is the most effective thing that we can do as one single person."

With files from CBC's On the Island


To hear the full interview with Julius Maslovat listen to the audio labelled: Holocaust survivor was youngest Buchenwald prisoner

To hear the full interview with Charlotte Schallié listen to the audio labelled: Holocaust education evolves in "post-witnessing" era

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