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11 December 2017

The Neuberger’s Student Symposium at the ROM

In the last two weeks of November over 700 Students from 8 schools across the Greater Toronto Area participated in the 37th annual High School Student Symposium.

Shortly after the closing night of the 37th annual Holocaust Education Week the Neuberger hosted its signature Holocaust Education Symposium for High School Students in partnership with the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

One of the highlights in this year’s program definitely was The Evidence Room exhibit which will be on display at the ROM until January 28, 2018. The exhibit consists of life-sized reconstructions and casts of key pieces of architectural evidence (a gas column and a gas-tight hatch, a gas chamber door, blueprints, architects’ letters, contractors’ bills and photographs), it provides irrefutable evidence of the deadly role that architects played in enabling the Holocaust.

 This year’s theme of the symposium was all about Exploring the Evidence (see image below) and a typical day for a class of high school students at the symposium looked like this:

First thing in the morning all students watched a documentary about the Auschwitz Album; a unique collection of photographs from inside the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. It provided the students with some context about the role of Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Holocaust.

Afterwards, they were divided into smaller groups and went into three different workshops. In the first two, the students dealt hands-on with artifacts from Nazi-Germany and also  explored the evidence room paying close attention to some of the details that were incorporated into its design. In the third workshop, which I was a part of, the students watched another, but shorter, Neuberger produced, documentary about Ben Ferencz the last living prosecutor of the Nürnberg trials. They then went on to apply the Historical Thinking Concepts to analyze photographs, some of which were taken by members of the Sonderkommando, special work units who were forced to load the corpses from the gas chambers into the crematoria. It was interesting to see which details the students noticed and which they missed. Overall most of them were keen historians and were able to deduce what was going on in each picture .

After these activities all students gathered together again and had the chance to listen to a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. When hearing their compelling stories I could see that students, teachers and museum educators alike where moved by the record of past events of the survivors. It definitely gave everyone a positive outlook to see how these people dealt with their past and how they all eventually lived successful lives after the war.

This year was the first time that the symposium was held on four different days and although it was exhausting at times we can proudly look back at a very successful student symposium.

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Andreas Mayer

Written byAndreas Mayer

Andreas Mayer serves as the Gedenkdiener at the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto, Canada.  Born in Vienna, Austria, he is studying electrical engineering at TU Wien. He put his studies on hold for a year and will be working at the Neuberger from September 2017 to June 2018. He enjoys doing different kinds of sports, particularly orienteering and swimming, as well as travelling to new places around the world.