As the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day which falls annually on January 27, leading Jewish Historian Professor Dina Porat had profound words for her audiences in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town – “Never be a Perpetrator, a By-stander or a Victim”.
Professor Porat, Head of Jewish Studies at Tel Aviv University was speaking at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg where dozens of guests among them five genocide survivors gathered, to commemorate the Day. She led a discourse on the history of the Holocaust, quoting well know historians, authors and poets.
She said that the commemoration was a time to reflect on the immense hardship, when more than six million Jews and others were killed merely because of their race. Professor Porat shared vivid stories on situations which some young Jews found themselves in during the War and the choices they had to make in order to survive.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day was designated by the UN General Assembly in November 2005. In a recorded video message Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said “People worldwide- including millions fleeing war, persecution and deprivation – continue to suffer discrimination and attacks. We have a duty to remember the past – and to help those who need us now.”
Earlier in the day, nearly 200 Grade Nine school children heard first-hand accounts of how millions of Jews and others suffered or were killed in the Holocaust during the Second World War, as well as during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
Students at the Hoërskool Voortrekkerhoogte in Taba Tshwane, Pretoria took part in an educational interactive programme to mark International Holocaust Day, which falls on January 27. The programme organised by the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), Education Africa and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre (JHGC), was aimed at raising awareness about past human atrocities and spreading the message of peace, unity and tolerance.
Arlene Sher of the JHGC conducted a highly interactive discussion with the students. The audience, which included Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa Mr. Arthur Lenk, also watched a video in which survivors of the Holocaust talked about their experiences – gripping emotions of what it was like. In addition, Bonaventure Kageruka a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide spoke of his personal experience, in which almost a million Tutsi’s including his family and friend were killed by the Hutu tribe.
“In Rwanda at that time, even best friend turn against each other merely because they were a different tribe. Killing Tutsis became a day and night job,” said Bonaventure who also alluded xenophobic remarks from South Africans where he now lives.
Director of UNIC Pretoria Maureen Nkandu said this Day was more pertinent to youth because they were exposed to many cultures and nationalities and needed to learn about the importance of co-existence in harmony. “Let us inculcate the spirit of respect for Ubuntu or human dignity in everything we do,” said Ms. Nkandu.