In recognition of International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27), Circle of Care employees gathered recently to better understand the plight of their clients who survived the Holocaust. Nearly 83% of Circle of Care’s 1,500 Holocaust survivor clients fled the former Soviet Union.

University of Toronto professor Dr. Anna Shternshis provided context around WWII to help describe the distinct plight of this particular group of survivors. Unlike other Jews in East Europe, most Soviet Jews were not sent to concentration camps; instead, they were killed where they lived, in their villages and towns. Following the war, Soviet Jews went on to face continued oppression under the Communist rule of Joseph Stalin.

With this distinction in mind, the group went on to learn more about how the Russian Jewish identity/culture differs from the Canadian Jewish one. “For a Russian Jew, what it means to be Jewish is to be able to fight oppression,” said Dr. Shternshis. “Interestingly, in Russia, they suffered because they were Jewish, but in the western world, they’re made to feel they’re not Jewish enough.”

For Circle of Care employees who support Holocaust survivors and their families, this learning opportunity helped to shed light on how to provide better care. “Many of our clients grew up in the aftermath of the war and endured extreme hardship,” said Lara de Sousa, VP, Client Services. “As these circumstances continue to impact them as they age, we want to keep these lived experiences in mind and make sure we’re providing the most compassionate care.”

Dr. Anna Shternshis is the Al and Malka Green Associate Professor of Yiddish studies, and the director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.

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