New Toronto museum preserves voices, stories of the Holocaust for a post-survivor era
A man with a Jewish yarmulke takes part at a wreath ceremony on occasion of the international Holocaust remembrance day in the former the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany, Jan. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Published Monday, May 15, 2023 3:17PM EDT
As a post-survivor era approaches, a new museum in Toronto has preserved the voices of those who endured the Holocaust, ensuring their knowledge will be passed on for years to come.
“We have fewer and fewer survivors with us,” Dara Solomon, executive director at Toronto’s Holocaust Museum, opening to the public June 9, told CTV News Toronto Friday.
The museum was created by the UJA Federation's Neuberger Holocaust Centre with assistance from a $12 million donation by the Azrieli Foundation and will serve as a revitalized successor of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, Soloman said.
Tickets became available to the public for pre-order Monday.
The number of living Holocaust survivors is dwindling. The population of 40,000 immigrants that came to Canada following the war has reduced to a fraction of that today – the Azreili Foundation says there are at least 10,000 left in the country.
“Their stories and their words need to be preserved and carried on into the future,” Soloman said.
Those stories can be heard, told by the survivors themselves, in the more than 220 minutes of testimony, across 11 stations in the new facility. In all, the first-hand knowledge of over 70 survivors comprise the oral history.
“You're always hearing from the voice of the survivor,” Solomon said.
The new space is just over 9,500 sq. ft. – nearly twice as large as the former centre. Touted to be the most technologically advanced in its field, the facility contains a 40-seat theatre, which will showcase both archival and new footage, four themed galleries, and a learning lab for dialogue, discussion, and workshops.
Through the ‘storyliner’ exhibit, visitors will be able to follow a survivor's story throughout the experience on the tablet. When held up, augmented reality is used to create a layered experience “that deepens and customizes content through an overlay of first-person accounts, artifacts, photos, and documents.”
“The museum also connects the dots to the present and gives visitors the opportunity to reflect on why they're learning this history,” Solomon said.
Canada’s Jewish communities are still some of the most discriminated against in the country today. In 2022, B'nai Brith Canada reported 2,769 antisemitic incidents, a small decrease over 2021’s all-time high of 2,799.
Museum staff say the exhibitions are meant to combat present-day hate and inform visitors about trends in anti-semitism.
“With antisemitism on the rise, this is needed to help confront and counter hate,” Solomon said.
Disinformation also poses a threat to future generations. A study conducted in 2022 showed that nearly a third of North American students think the Holocaust was exaggerated or fabricated and that 40 per cent of students reported learning about the Holocaust through social media.
The study also showed that after an educational seminar, students were nine-per-cent more likely to say they’d intervene if they saw an antisemitic event, while 92 per cent of students wanted to know more about the Holocaust.
“We hope the museum will play a role in understanding and confronting violent histories and preventing future atrocities,” Solomon said.
For Solomon, the chance to play a first-hand role in unveiling the project has been one of the most meaningful of her career.
“I really feel like we're continuing the work of this incredibly dedicated group of Holocaust survivors who founded the Center in the 1980s and believed so strongly that they survived so that they can tell their stories to the next generation,” she said.
“To be able to make that happen for them is so fulfilling for myself and my staff.”
General admission is priced at $18 and seniors at $12. Children, youth, students, Indigenous peoples, and Holocaust survivors will be granted entry free of charge.