The Survival of Tolerance

Holocaust survivor Leslie Vertes with students from Massey-Vanier High School.

Following World War II, over 9,000 Holocaust survivors made Montreal their home and helped shape our community. Their presence, testimonies, donations of personal artifacts, and continuous role in Holocaust education, have informed generations of what took place and inspire so many to ensure a better future.

The Montreal Holocaust Museum, celebrating the 10th anniversary of their permanent exhibit at the Cummings Centre, continues to play an important role in Holocaust education. At the heart of their mission is prevention of racism and anti-Semitism, and the MHMC has, in fact, become recognized as an important advocate of human rights.

As a priority, the MHMC strives to outreach to and educate future generations about the Holocaust in order to promote values of respect for diversity and individual and collective responsibility. Last year alone saw a 43% increase in visits from primary school students, 20% in secondary school students, and over 9,800 students visiting as part of a class visit—the overwhelming  majority from outside the Jewish community.  Individual visitors are now able to borrow an iPad mini, and be guided through the Museum and Montreal survivor stories, through a dynamic new app, which can also be downloaded from iTunes and viewed on your own device.

Tikun Olam recently caught up with Leslie Vertes, a warm and engaging 90-year old Holocaust survivor, who, through the MHMC, regularly shares his harrowing story with students from all around Quebec. Said Vertes, after speaking to students from Massey-Vanier High School, “It’s hard to talk about what I want to forget… but it’s worth it if I affect one or two or three—one by one. I have reached out to over 5,000 students—Jews, Muslims and Christians. At the end, they understand, and they come and hug me. I know I made a difference.”

Vertes’ overriding message is clear:   The future will either be one of hatred or understanding; discrimination or acceptance.  In order to march towards a peaceful future, we must remember our past. “I tell my story to young people because this is the generation that will shape the future of the world.  It will either be one of hatred or understanding, of discrimination or acceptance.”

He implores the students: “Never be silent, it is not an option. If your children asked you if you raised your voice against intolerance and racism, you will answer ‘yes’”.

As the survivor generation grows older, Vertes reminds us of the importance of sharing the important messages of the Holocaust from person to person, community to community, and from generation to generation.

Leslie Vertes speaks with students about the importance of tolerance.

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