THE MONTREAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL CENTRE: A BRIEF HISTORY
The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre transforms memory into action by bringing Holocaust education and human rights awareness to students and adults in Quebec, Canada and internationally.
Founded in 1976 by Holocaust survivors and young members of the Montreal Jewish community, the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre is the longest standing memorial and only Holocaust museum in Canada.
The Centre, through its Museum, remembrance work, pedagogical tools, educational events and programs, and remarkable outreach and partnerships, reaches and teaches people of all ages and all communities. In 1979, the Centre was officially opened to the public and received funding from Federation CJA (Allied Jewish Community Services).
The Museum’s first exhibition, curated by Janet Blatter, opened in 1979, and presented a chronological overview of the Holocaust. Ensuing exhibits included “Children of the Holocaust: Legacy of a Vanished Generation(1985) and “Splendor and Destruction: Jewish Life that was 1919 – 1945″ (1991), curated by Krisha Starker. The Centre continued to grow in recognition and outreach thanks to the limitless dedication of volunteers, both survivors and members of the Jewish community, developing a Witness to History survivor testimony program, and many educational events.
An oral history program, founded by Sydney Shapiro and Gerry Singer began to record survivor testimony in 1994. To date, the Centre holds a collection of 798 such life stories, by far the largest collection of Holocaust survivor testimonies in Canada, which will tell the human story of the Shoah for decades to come. We have taken the lead nationally by digitizing and documenting these unique stories which both put a human face on the destruction of the Holocaust, and inspire through their hope and strength.
In June 2003, after considerable fundraising, garnering considerable government and private support and through professional planning,”To Learn, To Feel, To Remember,” the MHMC’s current permanent exhibit, was launched in the presence of Holocaust survivors and community leaders and dignitaries including the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of Quebec and the Mayor of Montreal. The Museum now receives over 17,000 visitors annually and the number of visitors, Montrealers, tourists from around the world and school groups, continues to increase exponentially. In 2013, the Centre developed a free iPad and android friendly app, a dynamic and interactive way to visit the exhibit and connect with the human stories behind the artifacts, the facts and history. In January 2014, the Museum added seven interactive touchscreens, enhancing visitors’ experience and offering the opportunity to see and discover more historical information.
Today, the Centre also has a public YouTube channel where a global audience can learn about the Holocaust through the video testimonies of survivors. As part of our continuing efforts to assure that the voices of survivors are heard, a remarkable partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation and the Toronto Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre now offers public access to over 1,250 newly digitized survivor testimonies from across Canada, and a total of 53,000 genocide survivor testimonies. As stated so eloquently by Elie Wiesel,”To hear a witness is to become one.” These voices will influence the future, as millions can better understand the consequences of hate and antisemitism.
Over 60% of Museum visitors come with school groups, with close to 10,000 students and teachers visiting yearly. Students come from over 50 French and English school boards, from across Quebec, Ontario, the Maritimes and the northeastern United States. In total, about 17,000 visitors from all backgrounds and walks of life, visit the Museum yearly.
The Museum’s collection of precious objects and recorded oral histories of Holocaust survivors has also grown. It now contains over 12,000 artefacts, of which 85% are digitized, a notable accomplishment to assure the long term preservation of this precious, irreplaceable legacy. Over 4,411 are now accessible to the public through the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network (www.cjhn.ca).
The Centre continues to offer visitors the opportunity to hear in-person accounts and interact with Holocaust survivors. Even in 2016, over 11,000 people were able to hear Montreal survivors transform their private memories into public history. The public thus understands their responsibility to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.
The Centre has other responsibilities related to memory and commemoration. Close to 2,000 people take part, every year, in services organized, including Yom Hashoah and Kristallnacht. The Centre also marks January 27th, recognized by the United Nations in 2005 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, with an educational event.
Our Holocaust education work takes many forms. In congruence with objectives from its inception, the MHMC organizes public cultural and educational events throughout the year, related to the Holocaust and contemporary human rights issues, attracting nearly 6,000 people a year, from all communities. Multiple partnerships with universities, public institutions, and communities affected by genocide, community organizations and others committed to assuring respect for diversity and willing to work against discrimination and hate, assure the reach and success of these events. An interactive exhibition, United Against Genocide, was launched in June 2013 with the Armenian, Cambodian and Rwandan communities. Two travelling exhibits, developed in 2016, bring the history of the Holocaust and genocide to communities across the country.
In 2007, the MHMC developed “Hana’s Suitcase” a pedagogical tool which has since been used by nearly 13,000 students from both English and French schools. Since then, the Centre has developed three other complete pedagogical programs: “The Heart from Auschwitz,” “Draw me the Story…the Jews of the Netherlands” and “Intervention: Exploring the Evidence, the Holocaust and the Cambodian Genocide,” which are targeted to students of different grade levels. These and other tools and background documents to facilitate Holocaust education and the links with current day issues are offered to teachers free of charge, and are available on the Centre’s website, www.mhmc.ca or on loan from the Centre. One such activity, “Letters of the Holocaust,” a series of letters from our collection, was used theatrically by a school from as far as Togo to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day! Special training programs, workshops and conferences organized for teachers, help them integrate both knowledge and the moral and emotional issues raised by Holocaust education and its links to today.
The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre truly brings the past to the present, and helps the public reach forward to the future. All this is made possible through the stable support of Federation CJA, since the Centre’s inception.