Monday, April 27, 2015

Holocaust Commemoration in South Africa

By: Yiftach Ashkenazy 

Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day in Israel is a day that usually focuses on  the memory of the Holocaust in Israel, however this year I wanted to highlight the work that has been done in a country that we typically don’t think about—South Africa.

Holocaust survivor Tomi
I discovered Holocaust commemoration in South Africa when I arrived in South Africa during the week of International Holocaust Memorial Day in January. I had traveled on behalf of Yad Vashem and the Israeli Foreign Ministry to attend lectures held at various Holocaust centers in South Africa that included: Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The lectures touched upon how Holocaust survivors have rebuilt their lives and on Yad Vashem's pedagogical philosophy. I met more than 5oo people and felt they had a strong connection to the Holocaust. I also had the opportunity to meet students from Orange farm. When I concluded my trip, I left with a good feeling and gratitude for the important work of the Holocaust centers in South Africa.

Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental with the Jewish
Women's Benevolent Soiety
When I returned to Israel I received a message from Marlene Bethlehem whom I met while in Johannesburg. She informed me about an important event related to Holocaust commemoration that Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental, whom I met while on my trip, would participate. Tomi is a survivor of Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp. He was 9 years of age at the time and has since written a book called I Was A Boy In Belsen. He has spoken all over the world about his experience in Bergen Belsen.

The Nashua Children’s Children Charity Foundation and the Jewish Women’s Benevolent Society brought Tom to South Africa where he spoke in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. One of the remarkable events associated with his visit was a dinner at Investec in March where he addressed 250 people, including the Israeli Ambassador. The evening commenced with a very unusual musical item. The MC Garbai School from Lenasia, a Muslim school for hard-of- hearing pupils, played a selection of music on marimba instruments (traditional African xylophones).They then presented the South African anthem as well as Hatikvah in sign language for a Jewish audience.

I was touched by this special bridging of cultures. When I think about this event and the work alongside Yad Vashem in South Africa, I understand how important it is to remember Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day in Israel, in addition to other commemoration events around the world.


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