|Johannesburg, 1 September 2015:
The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre (JHGC) has constructed a world class centre of learning and remembrance on a prime site across the road from The Four Seasons Westcliff Hotel on Jan Smuts Avenue. The project was in partnership with the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Property Company. The building dedication ceremony was held today and the centre will open to the public in early 2016. It will be the first museum to open in Johannesburg in many years and it will broaden the array of cultural experiences now available in the city.
At the dedication ceremony Professor Jonathan Jansen, vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State and patron of the South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation said, “ Never before has the question of memory and memorials become so contentious in South Africa, on campuses and in the broader society. The establishment of the centre in Johannesburg could not have come at a better time since it offers a powerful educational rationale for remembering in the wake of tragedy.”
At the event, Veronica Phillips, who survived the ghetto in Budapest, presented her childhood doll and Rwandan survivor Bonaventure Kageruka presented items which belonged to his friend Xavier. The front door key and a rosary were found in the hand of Xavier’s mother, murdered during the genocide.
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. In this space, people will gain knowledge, share their stories, experience thought-provoking films, exhibitions, lectures and attend book launches. The organisation teaches the consequences of prejudice, racism, antisemitism, homophobia and xenophobia and the dangers of indifference, apathy and silence.
Johannesburg-based architect and project manager for the centre, Lewis Levin explains the architectural approach: “ We spoke to survivors of both the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide to assist us with some tools of association for the building. They remembered images of trains and railway lines which were used to haul people to their death in Europe. In Africa, railways represented the colonialists which brought oppression. The centre has railway lines embedded in the walls which also recall trees that stood witness to the murders. Survivors were haunted by forests and the landscapes of death. The Nazis murdered in forest settings and the Rwandan genocide took place amongst lush green vegetation and hills.
“Some of the walls use English brickwork common in industrial buildings which often hid atrocities. We used alternating rows of bricks in differing orientations. This serves as a reminder of painful associations. The courtyard stones are made from gravestone off-cuts, but recall the pavements of European cities and of unmarked graves.
“A building which is meant to teach tolerance and compassion includes the art of the brave children of Terezin concentration camp near Prague. These children produced drawings, paintings and poems sometimes hours before they were murdered. The drawings represent bleak circumstances yet they used rich, beautiful colours – the drawings are full of optimism. We want the message of these children to reach South Africa’s children – art can be used to find meaning in suffering and transform your oppression into a call to action.
“The centre will house a memorial to children as well as memorial courtyard that promises hope and recovery.”
The centre will house a permanent exhibition, venues for workshops and public events, a memorial garden and resource centre, a coffee shop and a bookshop.
Tali Nates, the director comments, “Since its establishment in 2008, the centre has been operating from a temporary location. Despite this, it has already established itself as a major role player in the educational field. In the past 7 years, more than 35,000 learners and hundreds of educators have attended our programmes in Gauteng alone.”
Nates continues, “The necessity for the centre came about as a result of the national curriculum for grades 9 and 11 which includes Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and suggested links to the Genocide in Rwanda. The centre is committed to assisting the education department, schools and educators with the implementation of its human rights curriculum through educator training, learner workshops and resource materials. The programme plays a critical role in the development of social sciences and history teachers.
Through examining their own environments - schools, home and society - learners are given an opportunity to understand their ability to speak out and not be bystanders in the face of injustice. The success of the programmes have resulted in tremendous demand and bookings need to be made months in advance. This helps to create a more caring and just society in which human rights and diversity are respected and valued throughout South African society.
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. The JHGC is a member of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and the Alliance Against Genocide.
The JHGC seeks to raise awareness of the evils of genocide with a particular focus on the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It 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 Genocide in Rwanda.
The project has been funded entirely by charitable donations for which the centre is extremely grateful.