On Sunday, the SAJBD Gauteng Council and the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre (JHGC) held a joint function in memory of legendary human rights activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. What lent additional significance to the occasion was that it was the first joint event to be held in the JHGC’s newly completed premises in Parktown. The Board was very much involved in the establishment of the JHGC, and since then has collaborated with it on a number of memorable. They include a tribute to the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara and commemorating the Soviet army’s role in liberating the concentration camps.
The mission of the JHGC is to combine Holocaust commemoration and education with teaching about other genocides that have occurred in modern history, particularly in Africa. In doing so, it seeks to instil in its visitors an awareness of the evils of racism, bigotry and intolerance, and of what the unspeakable consequences of such scourges can be. As Gauteng Chairman Shaun Zagnoev pointed out in his message for the occasion, the SAJBD very much “shares this commitment to learning from past tragedies, and applying these lessons to our own times so as to prevent such things from ever happening again”.
In his brief address, Holocaust survivor and educator Don Krausz stressed one of Elie Wiesel’s fundamental observations as to how an educated and culturally sophisticated national could have perpetrated such horrors, namely, that it the process was crucially preceded by a process of dehumanization against the victims. What relevance has the concept of ‘human rights’, after all, when one’s intended targets are not considered to be human at all? It is no accident that those who engage in demonizing other human beings.
Don has for many years been at the forefront of local Holocaust survivors who have born witness to and educated the public about what they saw and experienced. In communicating his harrowing message, so often and on so many different platforms, he has not only displayed courage and resilience, but wisdom, dignity and above all profound humanity. For this our Jewish community, and indeed society as a whole, owes him a huge debt of gratitude.