Dawn Martens

Recipient of the 2020 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching

November 12, 2020

Buchanan Park Public School, Hamilton, Ontario

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and to learn about the plight of Jewish children during the Holocaust, Dawn Martens guided her grades 4 to 6 students on an interdisciplinary project to study and present Hans Krása’s opera, Brundibár.

This opera was performed over 55 times by children in Theriesenstadt, a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto established in occupied Czechoslovakia during the Second World War.

Through primary source research, novel studies, and correspondence with a survivor, students strengthened their understanding of the Holocaust and the historical context behind the writing and performance of Brundibár.

The culminating project had students put on their own production of the opera. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Martens pivoted the project to a virtual production rather than having students perform it live as originally intended.

Students submitted illustrations, audio tracks, and video recordings and Martens compiled the elements into a video that was shared online. By creating a digital version of the opera, this recording is a resource for students across the country to learn more about Brundibár and to honour the children who suffered and died in the Holocaust.

This project was a rich learning experience that allowed young learners to confront a challenging moment in history and to empower them to take a leadership role with their own learning.