Patrick Mascoe, a Grade 6 teacher at Charles H. Hulse Public School in Ottawa, was part of the Canadian delegation attending the 10th International Conference on Holocaust Education at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, June 25 to 28. The conference was attended by representatives from 60 countries around the world.
This was the third time Mascoe has been invited to the conference. He founded a celebrated annual pen pal and Day of Cultural Understanding program for Grade 6 students at Hulse – who are predominately Muslim – and their counterparts at the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS). He also facilitates a Canadian Society for Yad Vashem program called Ambassadors of Change, which brings high school students from all ethnic groups together with Holocaust survivors on the day of the National Holocaust Remembrance ceremony in Ottawa for discussions on how racism and hatred can grow into discrimination and genocide.
Mascoe told the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin that the focus of this year’s conference was on who will speak for Holocaust survivors once they are all gone. Even the youngest child survivors are now well into their 70s.
“You have historical revisionists and Holocaust deniers, and right now somebody can stand up and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, the Holocaust did exist. I know because I was there.’ But 20 years from now there won’t be that voice,” Mascoe said.
A few potential solutions were floated at the conference. The University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, for example, has a program called Dimensions of Destiny, a collection of interactive biographies that allow for conversations with holographic images of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses to genocide.
According to Mascoe, Professor Alan Rosen, a scholar at Yad Vashem, said the testimonies of Holocaust survivors would still exist, but that it will be up to teachers to present them to children.
Mascoe agrees with Rosen, “to some extent,” but said hearing something from a teacher is not the same as hearing directly it from a Holocaust survivor.
“I didn’t live through the Holocaust, so my voice and experience is not the same as the survivors. I am someone who has read the history, as opposed to having witnessed it,” he said.
Mascoe said talking about other genocides – such as the Rwandan or Cambodian genocides – would also help students to understand atrocities, but is unsure if that will help stop or slow the spread of anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial.
“I don’t know if talking about other genocides will change Holocaust deniers. I don’t know how you deal with people that choose to be completely ignorant.”
The 15th annual Day of Cultural Understanding for Hulse and OJCS Grade 6 students took place on
June 21. (See the report co-written by Hulse and OJCS students.) Mascoe started the program, he said, after hearing students at his school expressing anti-Semitic attitudes.
The program has proven to be very effective over the years.
“It was wonderful,” he said, watching the students the Hulse and OJCS students relate to each other. “They get it.”
Mascoe said he is focused on encouraging kids to do the right thing in response to hatred and intolerance.
“Are you going to be a bystander and watch it happen, or are you going to do something about it?”