Here's why Coquitlam teens are learning about the Holocaust

Teacher says students need a strong moral compass to speak out against injustice, genocide

A Coquitlam high school teacher who has been educating teens about genocide and the Jewish Holocaust for more than a decade says education alone won’t stop people from committing atrocities.

And as many in society seek to create a divide between us and them, including on social media, people need to understand that ideologies that “demonize” are the first stage in any genocide, according to Ken Ipe, a Social Justice 12 teacher at Dr. Charles Best secondary.

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“Gleaning from the tragedy of Nazi Germany, we acknowledge that Nazis murdered Jews, homosexuals, Christians and any political dissenters, underscoring the dark value of silencing divergent thinkers and groups," Ipe said. "Coercing any group or individual to 'think the same' is the seed of intolerance."

For Ipe, who has coordinated School District 43’s Holocaust Symposium for 12 years, reaching more than 7,000 high school students, education isn’t enough to stop people from carrying out atrocities in the name of ideology.

One of the lessons from the Holocaust, Ipe said in an email, is that education is “not morality” because educated people such as engineers built the gas chambers in Germany, physicians and nurses conducted experiments and killed women and babies, and ordinary people supported these actions.

Ipe’s comments come as the province recognizes International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a Nazi death camp.

But Ipe’s efforts to raise awareness about the Holocaust may need to be more broadly shared in Canadian society as a recent poll suggests there are gaps in Canadians’ historical knowledge of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

The survey commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies and conducted by the firm Leger Marketing, with a sample of 2,295 Canadians via a web panel, found that just 43% of Canadians were able to correctly answer that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Ipe, however, is doing his part.

During the Holocaust Symposium held each November at Coquitlam Alliance Church, students hear the stories of a Holocaust survivor, learn about the history of it and other genocides, and commit to taking action so such atrocities don’t happen again.

His classroom teachings encourage students to complete a community action project and students learn about the Rwandan genocide, Stalinist Russian gulags and many other occasions where thousands of people are killed in the name of nationalism, ideology or ethnic cleansing, as well as ways an individual can make a positive difference.

“As people can destroy," he said, "we have the power to restore.”

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