From Bystanders to Rescuer: The Dynamics of Moral Decision Making During the Holocaust

Attendees of this session will have the opportunity to preview and participate in an interactive workshop presented by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre on the topic of moral decision making during the Holocaust. The workshop, which is offered by the VHEC throughout the school year to students in grades 6 to 12, explores the roles of bystanders, aid-givers and rescuers during this dark period in history and demonstrates the power of active bystanders, or “upstanders”, to influence other bystanders, victims, and, in some cases, even the actions of perpetrators. Using real-life examples of rescue during the Holocaust and primary sources from the VHEC's Collection to inform the discussion, participants consider such questions as:


  • Why are some bystanders motivated to act when others do not?


  • What shared characteristics do rescuers possess?


  • What inhibits individuals from helping others in need?


  • How do upstanders influence others and shape the development of events?


  • How can we encourage individuals to participate in helping behaviour, particularly in times of difficulty and conflict?


  • What can we do to stop or slow down persecution by perpetrators in order to prevent escalation toward violence and genocide?


  • How can the actions of rescuers and aid-givers encourage victims act on their own behalf to resist persecution?


In the first part of the workshop, these questions are explored through the powerfully evocative medium of short film. The award-winning film, Pigeon, by Canadian filmmaker Anthony Green, is based on a true story of rescue during the Holocaust. Using symbolism, camera technique, music, setting and other artistic devices to convey its message, the film examines how, at a time when huge populations were indifferent to the atrocities committed against a minority, some individuals were able to think independently and respond according to their own moral conscience. Workshop participants draw upon their knowledge of Holocaust history to critically analyse the film's creative elements and reveal important lessons about ethical decision making during the Holocaust.  


In the second part of the workshop participants learn about the range of responses that individuals, groups and countries undertook during the Holocaust to save the lives of Jews. Primary source artefacts and eyewitness video testimony from the VHEC's Collections are introduced to illustrate the heroic actions of ordinary bystanders and famous rescuers alike, offering a unique insight into the personal experiences of individuals during the Holocaust. These primary sources can provide the starting point for independent student inquiry within the classroom using the VHEC’s online collection of digitized artefacts, archival records and survivor testimonies.

Target Audience

Teachers of students in grades 6 to 12 (Social Studies, History, Genocide Studies, Social Justice, Political Studies, Language Arts, Literary Studies, Film Studies)


Friday 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Room 319

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Friday 1:15 PM - 2:45 PM
Room 319

Register now! Only a few spots left.

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  • Lise Kirchner

    Lise Kirchner is a Project Coordinator with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) in both the Education and Collections departments. She has over 20 years' experience in the development and delivery of Holocaust-based educational programs to students at the elementary and high school levels. Lise also works on various projects to enhance the digital accessibility and pedagogical use of the VHEC's collection of primary source artefacts, archival materials and survivor testimonies. 


    Lise studied history and English at the University of Victoria and obtained her Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of British Columbia in 1991. She practised law for 10 years in Vancouver specializing in the field of labour, employment and human rights law before joining the VHEC.