Canadian Indians study Holocaust
- Canadian Indians in Israel to study the Holocaust
By MERAV BLOCH
The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 1, 2003
A delegation of 10 Canadian Indian educators has arrived in Jerusalem for an intensive Holocaust studies program, convened by B'nai B'rith Canada in an attempt to foster mutual understanding after a prominent First Nations leader was arrested for lauding Nazi genocide and spawning incitement.
The mission arrived Tuesday, after more than six months of dialogue between leaders of the Indian and Jewish communities, to participate in the "Holocaust and Hope" program, established in 1983 to facilitate greater empathy and understanding.
The need for greater interfaith education was first highlighted in December 2002, when Chief David Ahenakew, a former head of the Assembly of First Nations and a Korean War veteran, prompted a public outcry by defaming Jews as "a disease" and insisting that the Holocaust was a direct result of Jewish hegemony in Europe.
"The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war," he declared in an interview with the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper. "Hitler was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over. That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world. And look what they're doing. They're killing people in Arab countries."
Ahenakew, 69, who headed the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations during the 1970s and the national Assembly of First Nations from 1982 to 1985, was later charged with promoting hatred.
"It showed a great degree of ignorance," said Alan Schneider, director of the B'nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem.
The Holocaust studies program is one in a series of initiatives implemented by the organization in a bid to combat further vilification and racial discrimination. "We wanted to rebuild the trust between the two communities," said Schneider, citing the rift that developed between Jews and Indians following the incident.
The project was orchestrated by the League for Human Rights, a national volunteer lobby dedicated to "combatting anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry, and to promoting human rights for all Canadians."
"We take it for granted that people know about the Holocaust," said national director Ruth Klein, "but it's not necessarily on the mainstream curricula, especially in isolated areas. We have tried to be sensitive to their culture," she said, emphasizing the need for a "tailor-made" itinerary.
Studies will focus not only on the Holocaust, but on 3,000 years of Jewish history. Participants are all recognized academics involved in the teaching of Holocaust studies.
"The hope is that they will go back and incorporate what they have learned into the school curricula," said Klein, herself the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
"Many of these people have had minimal contact with Jews," said Schneider. "This is a unique opportunity for them and for us."
Mordecai Specktor, Managing Editor
The American Jewish World
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