For the first time in 20 years since it was established, the first Holocaust Center located in Cape Town, South Africa, has incorporated a universal message on genocide.
The Center, which serves as a remembrance for the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945 when over six million Jews were murdered is incorporating this message on genocide as a way of marking its 20th year.
Visitors who walked into the Center were exposed to an array of texts and pictures on exhibition boards, sharing stories of the genocide in Rwanda as well as some information on the holocaust.
The permanent exhibition at the Center is made up of three different galleries. The first is dedicated to Racism and Discrimination, the second to the Third Reich and the third to Ghettos. Racism and Discrimination include the following sections: Racism, Antisemitism in South Africa, Apartheid, a collection on The Final Solution, and a Collection on Rescue, Resistance and liberation.
There is no doubt that when South Africa, in 1994, was ushering in democracy, the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis was taking place.
Five years later, the first Holocaust Center would be opened in Cape Town to exhibit the horror of the racist ideology and the triumph of the human spirit, with the Center showcasing a series of text and photo panels, film footage, multimedia displays, archival documents and recreated environments that include a look at the ghettos of the Third Reich, death camps, rescue and liberation and local survivors’ testimony.
Because there was a Rwandan community living in South Africa, coupled with the countries’ proximity on the African continent, it was “almost a given” that it would need to become a place both for Rwandan commemorations and an examination of genocide in the broader sense, said Richard Freedman, who is stepping down after 14 years as director at the Center.
“The importance of that genocide had particular resonance for us as South Africans, but also as Africans,” said Freedman.
South Africa is home of one of the few countries where Holocaust studies are a compulsory part of the educational curriculum. Teacher training is conducted under the umbrella body, the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation (SAHGF), which is also directed by Freedman. The SAHGF is the only accredited service-provider for in-service training in Holocaust education in the country. It has trained over 5,000 teachers.
The center recently received an award from the Western Cape government for social inclusion, using the platform of the Holocaust.
Holocaust survivor, Pinchas Gutter, was at the Center and addressed high school learners at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Center.
At the May 5 event marking the milestone, chairman of the board of trustees, Gerald Diamond spoke of Freedman’s expansion of its educational programming during his tenure to the extent that the center is now considered to be one of the best small Holocaust education centers in the world.
Freedman is set to be succeeded by Heather Blumenthal, the former owner of a television production company, one of whose projects was a weekly Jewish magazine show that included documentaries on the Holocaust and the education center.
There are 41 countries around the world currently hosting Holocaust museums or memorials with South Africa being the only country in Africa to have any such centers.