Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre opens with world class permanent exhibition
Johannesburg – Thursday, 14 March 2019: The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre (JHGC), situated on Jan Smuts Avenue just across the road from the Four Seasons Westcliff Hotel, invites Joburg citizens and visitors to our city to be amongst the first to see its world class permanent exhibition. Joburg joins many of the great cities across the world which have their own centres of genocide remembrance.
This expertly curated exhibition explores the history of genocide in the 20th century with a focus on the case studies of the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Visitors explore history and moral choices through the voices of various role players – victims, perpetrators, resisters, rescuers and bystanders. The exhibition includes collections of photos, testimonies, poetry, art, multimedia, timelines and artefacts – with contributions from survivors and families based in Johannesburg. The exhibition urges visitors to reflect on lessons from history and connect them to their own lives.
Says Tali Nates, founder and director, “This is a place of learning, where people of all ages, from all walks of life, come together to learn from the histories of the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda. In this space, people gain knowledge, share their stories, experience thought-provoking films, exhibitions and lectures. Our Institute teaches the consequences of prejudice, racism, and ‘othering’, antisemitism, homophobia and xenophobia and the dangers of indifference, apathy and silence.”
The award-winning building was completed in 2016 and after many intensive years of fundraising, planning and designing it is now officially open to the public. The centre houses the permanent exhibition as well as a temporary exhibition space, the Hall of Light, which hosts various changing exhibitions. It has venues for workshops and public events, a memorial garden, a coffee and gift shop and resource centre which has an extensive collection of over 1500 books and DVDs related to the Holocaust and other genocides. The centre offers a full programme of events, films, plays, lectures and more and training is offered to schools, educators, corporates and NGOs.
The JHGC focuses on human rights issues including xenophobia, racism and the promotion of social activism. It seeks to raise awareness of the evils of genocide and serves as a memorial to the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, all victims of Nazi Germany and the more than 800,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. More than 14 000 people including learners and educators are visiting the centre each year.
The JHGC along with its sister centres in Cape Town and Durban, form the South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation. The three centres are associated with over 300 organisations and institutions worldwide engaged in Holocaust and genocide education and remembrance.
There is no charge to visit the centre which is fully funded by donations. It is open Monday to Friday 9am – 4.30pm and Sundays 9am – 3pm. Guided tours are offered. Address: 1 Duncombe Road, Forest Town.
About the permanent exhibition
The exhibition has thematic spaces reflected in interconnecting displays that tell the story of genocide in the 20th century using the case studies of the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda which took place in April 1994, the same month and year of the first democratic elections in South Africa. Each space connects the viewers to issues that we struggle with today.
Theme 1: Childrens’ memorial remembers the children as the most vulnerable victims of genocide.
Theme 2: An introduction to genocide in the 20th century and to human rights and crimes against humanity in South Africa.
Theme 3: The world that was before the Holocaust. Introduces you to the world that once was, and to the victims before they became victims. It makes connections to Johannesburg by linking stories to residents of Johannesburg. Many donated artefacts are on display.
Theme 4: The racial state – what is the ideology and the other five pillars of the racial state and what was their effect on the victims? It links to apartheid South Africa which also had the same pillars. Much of this is unfortunately still relevant eg the refugee crises that still exist today.
Theme 5: Life and death in the shadow of Nazi occupation. How people lived and died and how they survived. It’s a chaotic and disorderly space that looks at those in hiding like Anne Frank, those who resisted, the ghettos and the concentration camps.
Theme 6: Mass murder – the killings that took place in the forests in killing sites, the killing centres, deportation and death highlighting testimonies and artefacts.
Theme 7: Choices and dilemmas – in 50 drawers are stories of individuals and communities, of collaborators, perpetrators, rescuers, bystanders and resistors. You are invited to reflect on their choices. The space also looks at the dilemmas of survivors after liberation.
Theme 8: Memory – you have a sense here of all that was lost and the loss of individuals beyond the numbers – each person had a name.
Theme 9: Rwanda, April 1994 – SA was voting and the killings were happening in Rwanda. You are introduced to the timeline of Rwanda leading to the genocide and a film which makes it very current using news broadcasts.
Theme 10: The story of 100 days of genocide, considering what life was like and telling the story of the genocide through different eyes. You hear survivors’ testimony. There are many artefacts including the unwashed clothes of those that were murdered in the churches of Nyamata and Ntarama.
Theme 11: Aftermath examines what happened afterwards including the legal processes, the trials and justice, how people live with each other now and how they preserve memory.
Theme 12: Garden of reflection which has a music composition of Philip Miller, who recorded the childhood songs of survivors. A poem and a warning to all of us from a survivor in English, Kinyarwanda and Hebrew makes for sobering reflection.
Theme 13: Today’s challenges connects the visitor with current issues in South Africa today looking at racism and xenophobia.
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