Jewish immigrant builds travelling Holocaust museum for N.B. students
Jasmine Kranat says education is the best defence against rising anti-Semitism
Years before she studied human rights and joined the antisemitism committee at her Fredericton synagogue, Jasmine Kranat was viciously attacked on a London bus by a group of teens who kept asking the 12-year-old if she was Jewish.
She was punched in the face, stomped on the head, knocked unconscious and suffered a broken eye socket. She was also robbed. None of the other passengers tried to intervene.
"That was the catalyst for us moving to Canada," said Kranat, whose family settled in New Brunswick in 2009.
But reasons to fear have followed her here.
The year 2021 marked the sixth consecutive year in which vandalism, violence and online hate aimed at Jews increased substantially in Canada, according to an audit released last month by B'nai Brith.
This year began with anti-vaccine protests spreading across the country, along with some behaviour that deeply offended Jewish people.
Equating vaccine mandates with Nazi Germany was profoundly misguided and shocking, said Kranat.
"A lot of our family members died in the gas chambers," she said. "The comparison is hurtful, absolutely hurtful."
After weeks of reflecting on how to push back, Kranat came up with her answer.
She built a travelling Holocaust museum.
With help from family and friends and support from the Sgoolai Israel Synagogue, which also provided a budget of $5,000, Kranat created a multimedia project that's also interactive.
Then she invited 200 Fredericton High School students to come and check it out.
Over a stretch of four days last week, students in groups of 50 were bused to the exhibit, where they spent about two hours learning about the genocide of European Jews during the Second World War.
Upon arrival, each student got a card with the name of a person who was persecuted.
Some of the victims were not Jewish. The cards included names of people deemed racially inferior or socially abnormal by the Nazi regime, including homosexuals and people with disabilities.
Students also got to visit the synagogue's sanctuary, where Rabbi Yosef Goldman gave an introductory lecture on the roots of Judaism and explained some Jewish traditions and prayers.
In the main hall, groups of students studied a series of graphic banners designed by Kranat and her mother, Ayten.
Kranat said she was trying to replicate the kind of experience she had at age 16 at the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
"The memory is with me, even to this day — how emotional I was coming back, how proud I was to be Jewish, how much I wanted everyone else to experience it.
"I wanted everyone else to see the shoes of the people, the hair that was shaved off the womens' heads, the children's toys, the books, the glasses."
"I thought if we can't take people to that, we need to bring it to them."
Kranat also felt it was critical to have the students hear from a Holocaust survivor.
She arranged to have Fredericton's Israel Unger talk to the students by video link.
He gave a vivid account of hiding with his family for two years in the attic of a flour mill in German-occupied Poland.
"His story is so important," said Kranat. "We need Holocaust survivors to tell their story because there are Holocaust deniers."
Grade 11 student Colleen Dunsmuir said she came to the event already knowing some of the history. Still, she said, she was shaken by the images of women forced to undress before being executed.
She was also disturbed by photos of Hitler smiling.
"It's very shocking," she said.
Jayden Chiasson, 16, said he won't forget a photo of murdered children pushed into a pit. He called the exhibit a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"It just really hit me," he said.
All students in the Anglophone school districts must take modern history, said Andrew Rutledge, head of the social studies department at Fredericton High School.
He said Holocaust and genocide studies are a big part of that curriculum and the section is normally taught around mid-May.
"So students are getting an insight into what's to come in the next couple of weeks," he said.
Kranat said she hopes more schools will participate in the project next year. She said parts of the exhibit are portable and can move to other communities.
But her bigger dream is to build something permanent. She thinks the province should have its own dedicated Holocaust museum.
"We have this opportunity to help New Brunswickers grow," she said. "We should act on it."