Johannesburg - I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.
These were the words of world-renowned Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel, who was quoted during the dedication ceremony for the Holocaust and Genocide Centre in Joburg this week.
Tali Nates, the founder and director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre said, the centre is about educating and remembering.
“It is envisioned that the new centre will be a place of learning, where young and old, from all walks of life, come together to learn from the histories of the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda.
“We want society to understand and learn about the consequences of prejudice, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and the dangers of indifference, apathy and silence,” Nates said this week.
“In this space, people will gain that knowledge, share their stories, experience thought-provoking films, exhibitions, lectures and attend book launches.”
Since 2008, the centre has been operating from a temporary location. Despite this, it has already played a major role in the South African educational field.
“In the past seven years, more than 35 000 pupils and hundreds of educators have attended our programmes in Gauteng alone,” Nates said.
Rwandan genocide survivor Emmanuel Mwezi, who addressed the crowd, was 6 years old when his father was murdered by Hutu extremists in 1990.
When the genocide broke out in April 1994, Mwezi, his mother and siblings were hidden by a Hutu neighbour who protected them.
“When it became too dangerous to stay, my family had to separate. After days of suffering and trauma, witnessing our friends and neighbours being murdered, my family was reunited,” he said
With tears streaming down her face, Hungarian Holocaust survivor Veronica Phillips, donated her childhood doll as an artefact to the museum.
“I came to have a stroke of luck and found my favourite little doll which I now donate to this museum.”
Rwandan survivor Bonaventure Kageruka also presented items which belonged to his friend Xavier.
The front door key and a rosary were found in the hand of Xavier’s mother who was murdered during the genocide.
Professor Jonathan Jansen, vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State, also spoke at the dedication ceremony.
He said never before had the question of memory and memorials become so contentious in South Africa, on campuses and in the broader society.
“There is nothing more dangerous than an uneducated activist.
“The establishment of this centre in Joburg could not have come at a better time since it offers a powerful educational rationale for remembering in the wake of tragedy,” he said.
Eventually, one of the key features the centre hopes to acquire is an interactive hologram of Holocaust survivors where people can ask questions and get answers about the life of that survivor.
The centre will also serve as a memorial for the Armenian genocide during World War I and the Herero and Namaqua Genocide that took place in Namibia during the early 1900s.
The centre is due to open early next year and will be the third such centre in the country.
The other two are in Cape Town and Durban.