Shoah education program captivates Parkdale pupils

Survivor Edith Gluck lights a memorial candle with her daughter Donna at Secondary College’s Holocaust Remembrance Service. Photo: Peter Haskin

IT was Elie Wiesel who wrote, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilisation, no society, no future.”

But the year 9 students of Parkdale Secondary College are doing all they can to ensure a future where the memory of the Holocaust is preserved – and the lessons from the darkest period of modern Jewish history remain as ever-relevant today.

On Monday morning, the school hosted a Holocaust Remembrance Service, part of a federal government pilot program involving Monash and Deakin universities.

The program is currently being championed by 12 schools across the country with the hope of elevating Australia to full membership of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Monash University’s Sue Hampel and Donna Lee Frieze of Deakin University are determined to make it happen.

Together, they developed the pilot program Testifying to Remember and worked with Natalie Baker, a teacher at Parkdale, to implement the program.

But Baker has a long history of personal commitment to Holocaust education. In 2012, she was part of the Gandel Philanthropy Study Program for Australian Educators – a three-week program held at Yad Vashem. A few months ago, she returned to attend the International Holocaust Conference.

Monday’s event saw 150 year 9 pupils gather as a mood of solemnity pervaded the school’s auditorium.

Twenty-one students led a meaningful service which included narrated accounts of the Holocaust told through history, music, poetry; the sharing of the testimonies of local survivors, Paul Grinwald and Edith Gluck; memorial candle lighting; and a reflection on antisemitism, racism and bullying today – both worldwide, and in Australia.

Edith, a survivor of Auschwitz, attended the event and lit a memorial candle. Her presence and testimony allowed for the history to come alive from the pages of textbooks for many of the students – and it made an impact.

In the feedback given after the service, one student commented, “Edith is an amazing and inspiring person. On the outside she looks no different to any other person of her age (except maybe younger), but her story is extraordinary.”

Baker reflected, “For most of our students, their world is very safe and secure.

“But if one child reflected on the service, and uses it to make a different decision, a better decision in the future, about how they treat others, then we achieved something important.”