REGINA — Four Regina Catholic School Division teachers took part in a summer course and tour of the infamous Holocaust concentration camps in Germany and Poland.
One of the participants, Ada Paez, teaches history at M.C. O’Neill Catholic High School in Regina. “I always thought they had to be mad, insane, but they were ordinary, intelligent men who sat down at breakfast in Wannsee House and methodically planned what do about ‘the Jewish problem.’ It was shocking. You look at these men: they had PhDs, they were smart, they were not idiots, and they came up with this plan. It makes you wonder: how?”
Paez has a degree in European history and had previously visited Dachau, one of the more infamous of the extermination camps. “I thought I knew it all — I knew the names, I knew the facts, and I knew the places — but I never imagined how organized everything was. That was the most shocking thing: to be in the room in that beautiful mansion where these men sat down over breakfast, brainstormed and came up with that.”
Wannsee House is now a museum, one of several the group visited along with some of the concentration camps.
Paez, Michelle Phair, Milos Menhart and Patrick Reed made up the group of four from Regina. It was part of a course of study originally set up by the York, Ont., Catholic School Division. The Regina Catholic School Division director of Education, Domenic Scuglia, came to Regina from the York division and suggested the summer course.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies helped sponsor the trip along with the Regina school division and the participants themselves. Twenty-seven Ontario students along with some Ontario teachers made up the full group for the two-week tour of the camps in Germany and Poland. They also toured the sites of the Warsaw and Krakow uprisings.
The trip started in Toronto where they attended classes in which teachers from York Catholic School Division were teaching the course, titled, “The Holocaust in History and Living Memory.” They also met several Holocaust survivors who gave them sealed letters which were to be opened when the group visited Auchshwitz-Dachau. Paez said the letter she received from Anita Ekstein told of her childhood memories and of being saved by a Polish friend of her father.
Paez said there isn’t much left of the camps, as the Nazis tried to destroy the evidence before the Allied troops arrived. One exception was the Madjanek Camp in Poland.
“Russian troops got there before the camp could be destroyed. It’s complete and could be up and running again within a couple of weeks.”
Paez described a round memorial building within which is a mound of victim’s ashes. “I have a photo showing the students on the other side of the mound. You can see it was quite heavy for them.”
The four Regina teachers are now working with superintendent Kathleen Ehman to develop a course of study which they hope will win the approval of the Ministry of Education and be offered as a summer course.