Community, People

Grandmother’s Order of Canada inspires teacher candidate to create welcoming classrooms

November 07, 2022

Rose Lipszyc embraces her granddaughter, Tara Hofbauer, in Poland where they traced their journey to the Majdanek and Sobibor concentration camps. This is where the Nazi’s murdered Lipszyc’s parents and her brothers. (submitted photo)

Tara Hofbauer’s grandmother has inspired thousands of school children. For the second-year teacher candidate, her grandmother’s story has also created closer connections to her family’s history and is influencing how she will teach in the classroom.

Hofbauer’s grandmother, Rose Lipszyc, is a Holocaust survivor.

Recently, Lipszyc was awarded the Order of Canada for her work with school children in Holocaust education.

Most important lesson

Growing up, Hofbauer learned many lessons from her grandmother. The most important is don’t carry hate. Despite what Lipszyc went through, Hofbauer said her grandmother doesn’t hate those who hated her.

“This has been my grandmother’s message, ‘Don’t hate the people who hate you because hate will just destroy you. Rather, live in love, ’” Hofbauer said.

Lipszyc has taken this message to schools as part of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre's Holocaust Survivor speaker series.

Hofbauer’s family nominated her grandmother for the Order of Canada because Lipzyc received many letters from students who were moved by her presentation. The letters reflect the students’ gratitude, the lessons they learned and how meaningful and life changing her story has been to them.

Some of their messages include:

  • “You taught me to be grateful, accepting and selfless.”
  • “I’m so lucky and I never want to take my opportunities for granted.”
  • “I promise never to feel hatred towards a person because I don’t know what’s going on in their life.”
Hofbauer said her grandmother knows how to take a sensitive topic and create interesting and simple messages that allow children to apply these lessons to their daily lives.

“I’m always amazed at the way she speaks,” Hofbauer said. “Her presence and charisma are amazing to see.”

Educator mentor

As an educator, Hofbauer has learned valuable lessons from her grandmother that she plans to use in her classroom. First, her grandmother willingly shares her story and Hofbauer believes it’s important to allow students to share their stories and create an atmosphere of open dialogue at school.

“The idea of sharing your story and to be open to others with the idea of tolerance is important to bring to the classroom,” Hofbauer said.

Second, as an aspiring teacher, Hofbauer has a sense of responsibility to educate students about the Holocaust and to keep their stories alive since the number of Holocaust survivors decrease with each passing year.   

Finally, she wants to be a teacher who encourages students to be inclusive and to welcome others with open arms as well as have open minds.

Family history documented  

As part of learning about her family’s history, Hofbauer experienced a trip of a lifetime during a fact-finding mission to Poland.

Hofbauer, her sister, her first cousin and her grandmother traced their journey to the Majdanek and Sobibor concentration camps. This is where the Nazi’s murdered Lipszyc’s parents and her brothers, 11-year-old Izzy and six-year-old Heniek. The documentary, Cheating Hitler: Surviving the Holocaust, recorded what happened to their family.

“It was overwhelming but very important,” Hofbauer said. “I learned so much and it’s one thing to hear about it but to walk the actual stones that my grandmother was running on as a child that’s something else.”

In October 1942, the Nazis separated Lipszyc’s family. Her father was taken away and while the remaining family members were forced to walk towards a train station, her mother pushed Lipszyc off the road so she could escape.

She never saw her father, mother or brothers again.

Lipszyc ran away and eventually ended up at Stanislaw Jabloinski’s farm where he gave her his youngest daughter’s identity.

Hofbauer learned about her grandmother’s strength during their visit. They spent Lipszyc’s ninetieth birthday in Lublin, the town where she grew up in. She looked up at the sky and said, “I made it, mom.”

While Hofbauer describes it as traumatic to see what happened, she stresses it’s important to show the actual images of the Holocaust, the places where it happened and the people who went through it because it ensures society remembers and that it never happens again.

“They show a lot of strength and humility, and with this generation getting older, we need to keep telling this story or it will disappear,” Hofbauer said. “It’s very upsetting to think about and I’m proud to carry on the legacy of lessons to be learned.”

Adding to the family

After the war, Lipszyc settled in Canada. As fate would have it, years later, Jabloinski’s granddaughter, Janina, who lives in New Jersey, saw Lipszyc in the news. They reconnected and she and her family have become extended members of their family now, Hofbauer said.