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Exploring the Evidence

This education program on Canada's intervention during the Holocaust (1933-1945) and the Cambodian genocide (1975-1979) reflects on genocide, human rights, and the issues relating to intervention. Students study the history of the Holocaust and of the Cambodian genocide in order to reflect on the possibilities of intervention, as well as the principles that guide individuals and nations to act to protect human life. Particular attention is given to the role of Canadians and their government.

Learning Objectives

To acquire the notional content pertaining to:
To master the central concepts of:
To develop the competencies of:
Links to Academic Programs of Study
Contemporary World
Ethics and Religious Culture
By completing the online pre-reservation form you may borrow the tools from the Centre: 
  • The pedagogical guide
  • A copy of the book, "A Brief History of the Holocaust"
  • A DVD
  • A timeline to display in the classroom 
OR download the some of the contents from our website:
  1. Part 1 Activity 1 Initiating event / trigger
  2. Part 1 Activity 2 Activating students' knowledge
  3. Part 1 Activity 3 Historical examination of the Holocaust
  4. Part 1 Activity 4 Analysis of Canada's intervention
  5. Part 2 Activity 1 Analysis of the international legislation
  6. Part 2 Activity 2 Declarations of the Allies and the Nuremberg international military tribunal
  7. Part 3 Activity 1 Visit the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre and hear a Holocaust survivor's life story
  8. Part 4 Activity 1 Initiating event / trigger
  9. Part 4 Activity 2 Historical examination of the Cambodian genocide
  10. Part 4 Activity 3 Analysis of Canada's intervention
  11. Part 4 Activity 4 Genocide
  12. Part 5 Activity 1 Analysis of the stages that lead to genocide (comparison of the two)
  13. Part 5 Activity 2 Reflection on intervention in the present day

Part 1 - Activity 1 Initiating event / trigger

Suggested time-frame: 30 minutes

This activity can be done in small groups or with the class as a whole. It is important that every student know how to analyze a document, as this exercise will recur several times in the program
1. Ask the students to read the letter and do a critical analysis in response to the questions.
2. Collect the entire class' responses to the various questions.
3. Take note of the hypotheses and questions that have been put forward. Tell the students that possible answers will be revealed in the course of their study.
4. Give an overview of the facts that were established after reading the letter, and of the student hypotheses about the events being studied.

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Part 1 - Activity 2 Activating students' knowledge

Suggested time-frame: 45 minutes

1. Ask the class: Who has seen the films The Downfall, Schindler's List, The Pianist, Life is Beautiful, or others? What do the films have in common? What do you know about WWII? Continue with the next question. Have you ever heard the words "Holocaust," "Nazism," "Hitler," "Jew," "genocide," "antisemitism"? Divide the students into groups of four and have them define any one or all these terms. Ask each group to write the answer to the following question (in point form or in a concept web): What do you know about the war?
2. Show various photos of pre-war Jews and ask the students to describe what they see, noting the characteristics of pre-war Jews.
As is the case today, in the past it was not always possible in the past to identify Jews by their appearance. Moreover, as in Canada today, European Jews then had a variety of practices; they ranged from secular Jews (nonobservant) to those who were deeply religious and lived according to the laws of the Torah, their sacred book.
3. Have the students reflect on the phenomenon of discrimination (particularly State discrimination that decides who is an enemy and who is not, without ever considering whether these people see themselves as such). Begin student reflection by asking: What is a prejudice or a stereotype? What is a scapegoat? Who can be a victim of discrimination?

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Part 1 - Activity 3 Historical examination of the Holocaust


1. Divide the students into groups of four. Give each group a series of documents. The students must analyze the documents to answer pertinent questions. Tell them that their task is to extract information (spatiotemporal context, important facts [ideology, events], persons involved) and to put this information into chronological order.
2. Once the documents are analyzed, all the groups come together to pool their information. Each team will appoint a spokesperson who will present the part of history that their team discovered in their dossier.
3. Summary or assessment activity: The students will answer the following questions: What are the main characteristics of the Holocaust? What elements of the social, political, and economic context explain this event? Who are the executioners? Who are the victims? When did the genocide occur? Why did the genocide happen? What ideology is behind the genocide? What are the main ideas? Where did the genocide take place? How did the genocide end?

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Part 1 - Activity 4 Analysis of Canada's Intervention

Suggested time-frame: 2 lessons

1. Divide the class into six teams. Assign one of the following three tasks to each team (two teams per task):
  1. Jewish immigration to Canada
  2. The positions of Prime Minister Mackenzie King
  3. The speeches of Mr. Samuel Bronfman, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress
2. Lead a class reflection on the 1947 refugee policy, the first Canadian policy to accept refugees.
3. Lead a class discussion on the means that were available to Canadians to help the Jews, on their knowledge of the events and/or the choices or possibilities available to the Canadian State during the war. Using what they learned in the previous tasks, ask the students to summarize the interventions by the Canadian government and Canadian organizations, such as; admission of a few immigrants during the war, sponsorship within the Jewish community, and participation in the war.
4. Discuss what was done by Canada and Canadians. Do a historical assessment (N.B. no value judgements.)

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Part 2 - Activity 1 A study of international texts

Suggested time-frame: 80 minutes

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or La charte des droits et libertés de la personne [Québec] can be included in the study.

a. Reflection on human rights - activation of prior knowledge (40 minutes)

1. To encourage discussion, ask the students the following questions: What is a right? Give examples. Who has rights? Who decides on what is a right? Who puts them into effect?
2. Then ask the students to read the summary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to express their reaction(s) to the rights it contains. Discuss some of the following questions: Does a state have all the rights on its territory? In what ways does a democratic state differ from a totalitarian one? Are there countries today still living under a totalitarian regime? Can genocide occur in a democratic state? What can be done when a state turns against its citizens? What are possible individual reactions? Hide? Stay away? Collaborate? Resist? Who can intervene when a state turns against its citizens (individuals, societies, justice system, neighbouring states, others)? Under which principles should other countries intervene in cases where the population (or a segment of the population) of a country is threatened? Is an international organization (such as the UN) needed with the objective of monitoring countries and intervening when citizens are denied their rights? Can individuals intervene to defend human rights? How? Do you know of specific examples of intervention? In an ideal world, what role could States or international organizations play to protect human rights?
Exact answers to these questions are not required. The aim is to have students reflect on the fact that citizens' rights are protected by the State, and that this is not enough. The students should also grasp that a democratic State, a rule of law, is committed to respecting and protecting the rights of its citizens, while a totalitarian State can decide otherwise. They should, moreover, recognize that individuals have a role to play in protecting their own rights and those of other human beings.

b. Defining genocide (20 minutes)
1. Ask the students for their definition of genocide. Write the elements of the definitions on the board.
2. Have the students read the UN definition and discuss again.
Draw the students' attention to the term "race." Is the term appropriate in this document? Specify that there is not just a single race of human beings and that, although the use of the term "race" to describe cultural or ethnic differences is inappropriate, it does not nullify the official document.

c. Was the Holocaust genocide? (20 minutes)

1. Ask the students to discuss and to answer the questions that follow. You can choose to record the answers or to have an open discussion.
2. Based on the official definition of genocide, can we state that the Holocaust was genocide? Why? What Jewish rights were flouted during the Holocaust?
3. Take again the elements of the definition and illustrate them with the Holocaust.

d. Defending human rights today
1. Do you know of examples where human rights are being violated today? Give examples of current international or national instances.
2. Do you know of other examples of genocide? For what reasons were certain groups the victims of genocide (religion, social status, ethnic origin, skin colour, political convictions, others)? In your opinion, why are we studying this topic as part of our
course? What purpose does it serve?

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Part 2 - Activity 2 Declarations of the Allies and the Nuremberg international military tribunal

Suggested time-frame: 1 hour

1. Have the students do the activity on the Allied declarations of 1942 and 1943.
The aim of this activity is to show that the Allied leaders were well aware of the treatment inflicted on the Jews of Nazi Europe and to note that, apart from military intervention, there was no structure of international justice in place at that time to bring the guilty to trial.
2. Present students with the main characteristics of the Nuremberg tribunal.
a. Remind the students that the Allies' response to punish the criminals responsible for the Holocaust was to try them in a court of law. They set up the first international tribunal, the Nuremberg international military tribunal. Give an overview of its characteristics.
b. Was the decision of the Allies to bring the criminals to justice justified? Was it the best option?

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Part 3 - Activity 1 Museum Visit

a. BEFORE the visit, in class
1. Present the eight stages of genocide, as developed by Stanton.
2. It is important to consider not only the executioners' role but also the
various reactions of the victims during the event.
It is important that the students work in groups so that they can focus on the rich lessons that will be learned during the guided tour.
3. Review with the students the different types of Canadian intervention
as seen in the first part of this program.
4. We suggest that the students be divided in groups of two or three (depending on the size of the class) - the visits will take place in groups of approximately 15 students - and that each group be assigned a task from among the following: stages of genocide, examples of resistance, examples of intervention).

b. Survivor's life story
After the visit, the students can listen to a survivor's life story either at the museum or in the classroom. The survivors present their personal experience of the Holocaust, thus helping the students to put a human face on the numbers and to understand the impact of the Holocaust on the Jews' daily life.

c. Return to class: Pooling
If you wish, you can ask a group of students to use the example of the survivor they have met to illustrate how he/she lived through the persecution of the Jews and the various interventions (or noninterventions).

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Part 4 - Activity 1 Initiating activity / trigger

Suggested time-frame: 20 minutes

1. Before starting, create an ambiance by playing Khmer music. The national anthem of Democratic Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge or any other music of that period can be found at these sites: http://www.d.dccam.org/Archives/Musics/Music.htm http://www.d.dccam.org/Archives/Musics/Songs/Khmer_Rouge_
National_Anthem.mp3
2. Show the photo of Duch without naming him and ask the students to imagine what his story might be.
3. Tell the students that this man lives in Cambodia. Situate the country on a world map.
4. Introduce Duch briefly.
5. Announce the topic of Part 4: The study of the Cambodian genocide and Canada's role in this event.
6.
Who are the Cambodians? Briefly present the culture and history of Cambodia before the genocide. It is important that the students understand that the executioners and the victims belonged to the same ethno-cultural group.

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Part 4 - Activity 2 Historical examination of the Cambodian Genocide

Suggested time-frame: 60 minutes

1. Divide the class into groups of four. Give each group a series of documents. The students must analyze the documents to answer pertinent questions. Tell them that their task is to extract information (facts, persons, events) and to put this information into chronological order.
2. Once the documents are analyzed, all the groups come together to pool their information. Each team will appoint a spokesperson who will present the part of history that their team discovered in their dossier.
3. Viewing of the short documentary Life in the Open Prison http://citizenshift.org/life-open-prison-2 This film, made by the high school students of St. George's School of Montreal, presents the genocide and excerpts from the interviews with survivors presently living in Montreal. Ask the students to identify the information on the genocide found in the film.
4. Summary or assessment activity: The students will answer the following questions: What are the main characteristics of the Cambodian genocide? Who are the executioners? Who are the victims? When did the genocide occur? What ideology led to the genocide? What are the main ideas? Where did the genocide take place? What elements of the social, political, and economic context explain this event? How did the genocide end?

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Part 4 - Activity 3 Analysis of Canada's Intervention

Suggested time-frame: 45 minutes

1. Assign the activity based on Minister Jacques Couture's letter.
2. Assign the activity on Canada's intervention in Cambodia. Did Canada know what was happening in Cambodia?
Even though Cambodia was sealed off from international journalists and other countries, individuals such as Pin Yathay related what was happening in that country. The world was not altogether in the dark.
Did Canada have economic interests in Cambodia?
Prime Minister P.E. Trudeau was one of the first political leaders to encourage commerce with China, the only country to recognize and to trade with Cambodia. Was that reason enough not to stop the Khmer Rouge?
Did Canada have the means to intervene?
After the Holocaust, the international community acquired reference documents; namely, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declare the moral commitment to intervene in order to protect the rights of all people.

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Part 4 -Activity 4 Genocidal process

Suggested time-frame: 1 lesson

1. Divide the class into teams. Assign one stage to each team and ask the students to illustrate each stage, using their knowledge of the Cambodian genocide.
Two teams can work on the same theme. Each team must identify two or three elements that illustrate each stage.
2. Ask a spokesperson for each team to share the results with the class.
3. Gather the responses from each team and distribute them to all the students so that each has the same information. This table will be useful in the next section.


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Part 5 - Activity 1 Comparison of the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide, a question of methodology

Suggested time-frame: 30 minutes

1. Make teams of four and ask them to compare their tables that illustrate the eight stages of genocide in the cases of both the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide. Ask each team to observe two major differences and two major similarities.
It is essential that the study of the interventions be critical because, in the end, very little was done to stop the two genocides.
2. Ask the students to record the main types of intervention by Canada or its citizens during the two events under study. Ask them to describe the interventions. Were they far-reaching, costly, enduring, effective, etc.?
3. Ask the teams to share their results with the whole class and to note the differing responses of other teams.
4. Discuss the results.


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Part 5 - Activity 2 Reflection on intervention in the present day

1. Ask the students to read the recommendations addressed to the Canadian government, adapted from the report of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Mobilizing the Will to Intervene and then to answer the pertinent questions.
2. Appoint a secretary for each team who will write down the best ideas of the team in response to each question. The team as a whole will select the best ideas.
3. Ask a spokesperson to convey the majority opinion of the team with respect to the questions asked in the document.
4. If possible, give the students time to write to their government representatives about the contemporary issues that concern them.


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