Hundreds of School District 43 high school students sat silent Wednesday as they listened to the survival stories of Mariette Doduck, a Jewish woman who spent her childhood on the run in Belgium, Holland and Germany, during WWI 11 to avoid the fate of millions of Jews that were killed in the Holocaust.
The event was the 11th annual Holocaust symposium organized by Dr. Charles Best teacher Ken Ipe to inspire students to take action against genocide and participate in a candle lighting ceremony in remembrance of victims of the Holocaust.
Held at Coquitlam Alliance Church in Coquitlam, the symposium had mournful overtones given that it was held 12 days after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in which 11 people were killed and seven injured during Shabbat morning services at the Tree of Life Congregation.
“Just respect each other for who you are,” urged Doduck, who said one of the things she learned in her life is that people can be kind, even in difficult circumstances.
Doduck was four years old when she was sent to live with a family to avoid being reported the Nazis and though she saw members of her family later in life, and periodically during the war, she never lived with them again and wasn’t allowed to speak to them or acknowledge who they were.
Now living in Canada, Doduck said the students should appreciate the freedom under which they live and not be abusive or bullying to each other over race and language.
“You can be a leader of this country,” she reminded the students.
In recounting her story, Doduck described moments of terror when bombs were being dropped near her and Gestapo agents nearly found her hidden in a sewer in a Catholic orphanage. But she also said she felt guilt after relaying a message to the mayor of a Dutch town about the arrival of the German gestapo only to see him later with bloodied fingers and toes, believing her message caused him to get tortured.
“That was a guilt I kept for a long time.”
Through the efforts of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Doduck was brought to Canada along with other Jewish orphans and raised by a member of a Vancouver Jewish congregation. Though she missed school during wartime, Doduck, whose maiden name was Rosen, quickly rose through the grades because she had taught herself to read and write and could speak several languages.
Eventually, she helped start up the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in part to overcome prejudice towards the Jewish community in Canada.
Future generations need to educate themselves so they can prevent future abuses, Doduck said.
“You have to be kind and understanding, accept - you hate me, that’s your problem, not mine. You hate Jews, but we are who we are. I’m proud to be the person I am,” Doduck said.