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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Students learn about Wallenberg’s legacy

Tags: Jewish learning
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Peter Rona shows Bialik High School students Tori Perlman and Allix Caron the Swedish documents issued to his father by Raoul Wallenberg.

MONTREAL — Quebec high school students are being invited to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg by making a video about his heroism during the Holocaust.

The Raoul Wallenberg Legacy Competition Project was formally launched at Bialik High School by Israeli Consul General Joel Lion at an assembly that included students from the English Montreal School Board (EMSB).

Observing that teens are no strangers to technology, Lion challenged them to produce a three-minute video that explains to their peers why Wallenberg’s courageous example is still relevant today.

Students will have access to video files from different Holocaust-related websites and selected entries will be posted on YoTube and Israeli government and perhaps other sites.

Winners of the competition will receive a certificate and be recognized at a breakfast hosted by the Consulate General of Israel in December, followed by a visit to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (MHMC).

Bialik students, alongside those from Westmount High School, LaurenHill Academy and Marymount Academy, listened enraptured as Lion dispensed with formalities and came down into the audience to address the kids directly in a language they understand. Wallenberg’s story was presented to them by various guest speakers as a lesson in how each of them in their daily lives can act against injustice and for the good of others.

The event also marked the launch of other local Wallenberg centennial plans.

Wallenberg, a Swedish envoy in Budapest, Hungary, is credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews from deportation by the Nazis. He was born Aug. 4, 1912 and was taken into Soviet custody in 1945. His fate has never been conclusively determined.

Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather noted that the city is a fitting site for the beginning of the commemoration because it has both a Wallenberg Avenue and a monument to the man on its Human Rights Walkway in Trudeau Park.

Other dignitaries who spoke of Wallenberg’s humanitarianism were Mount Royal member of Parliament Irwin Cotler and D’Arcy McGee member of the national assembly Lawrence Bergman.

Alice Herscovitch, executive director of the MHMC, a partner in the project, said the basic message is to be a good human being.

The students also heard from two Montrealers who attribute their lives to Wallenberg. Ron Meisels was a nine-year-old boy in Hungary in 1944, when he and his family received the Swedish passes that protected them and they were sheltered in a “safe house,” a two-bedroom apartment accommodating about five families, he recalled.

Wallenberg personally intervened when his stepfather was put on a train bound for a death camp, he said, convincing the Nazi guards to free him.

Peter Rona, who was born after the war, brought with him the pass issued by Wallenberg in September 1944 that saved his father’s life and made it possible for him to be standing before the students that day.

The EMSB will work with the Riva and Thomas O. Hecht Scholarship Program, which sponsors Quebec educators’ attendance at Yad Vashem summer seminars on the teaching of the Holocaust, to encourage participation in the competition by English and French public and private schools.

The legacy of Wallenberg will also be highlighted by the MHMC during its Holocaust Education Series in the fall.

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