Tim Beyak teaches Social Studies,and Global Issues at a high school in Winnipeg. He is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Education at the University of Manitoba. Mr. Beyak believes that exploring historic and contemporary events and the role they play in the development of the contemporary human rights system will assist in the development of competent citizens. Through his guidance, students are able to envision and work toward a better future for all. Mr. Beyak invited Isaac to speak to his Grade 12 students in his Global Issues class. Mr. Beyak was moved to do so by a letter written by a school principal who is a Holocaust survivor in which he wrote the following:
“I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates.
So, I am suspicious of education.
My request is this: H elp your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns.
R eading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”
Mr. Beyak uses the principal’s powerful entreaty to guide him in teaching his class, and his invitation to Isaac was a means to answering his request.
Isaac Gotfried is a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor. His book Lucky to Survive details his life story. He was born in Poland in a poor but happy family. Isaac was only 14 years old when the Nazis invaded his city and stripped him and all other Jews of their rights. Soon after, he was arrested and taken to a slave labour camp. During the Holocaust, he was transferred to five other concentration camps. He escaped a death march and later was liberated by French soldiers. After the war, he discovered that his parents, three younger sisters, all of his friends, and his extended family perished during the Holocaust. His only brother, Barnard, survived the war, but at the age of 66 he committed suicide as he was not able to live with the trauma he endured.
Despite everything he has undergone, Isaac sees himself as a lucky person. His only regret is that he was not able to obtain a formal education, something he believes is of utmost value. Isaac goes to every educational institution that invites him to share his story, believing it is his way of performing Tikkun Olam. His intention is to use his story to create a better world.
The students had mixed feelings about meeting Isaac. They were interested yet fearful and were not sure what to expect. They listened closely to his horrific stories and were galvanized to act to in order to repair the problems in their communities. In later lessons, the students created projects intended to fix the world as they were inspired by Isaac. They produced projects to help the environment, established a partnership with an Indigenous school community in Northern Manitoba, urged their peers to donate blood, established a food bank, created a website to help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more. All students attributed their desire to help through their projects to Isaac’s story. As time progressed, they decided to invite Isaac back to the school and show him all the changes he helped inspire. They presented their projects to him and showered him with gifts and kind words to ensure that he realized the impact his words had on them.
Through their participation in Isaac’s experiences, viewers also learn about the education system in Nazi Germany and how it was used to poison minds, delegitimize, and dehumanize the “other.” And, hopefully, they will understand that “educating of the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all.”