Yom Hashoah ceremony in Johannesburg

The stand-out feature of last week’s Yom Hashoah ceremony in Johannesburg was undoubtedly the large number of school learners in attendance, comprising over half the estimated 2000 people present. For the first time, it included a significant number of non-Jewish, learners. All were provided with an innovative new Holocaust education pack produced by the SAJBD for the occasion. This tied in with the theme of ‘Dor l’Dor’ – Generation to Generation – that emerged in the various presentations given. We thank our keynote speaker, Shoah survivor Veronica Phillips, for being willing to share her story, painful though it clearly was to have to relive those harrowing memories. In doing so she provided a living link with the events being remembered, something that was particularly important for our young people to be exposed to. It will not be very long before no survivors are left to bear testimony to what they witnessed and experienced, making it that much more crucial to prepare the next generation for the solemn task of remembering the Holocaust remembrance in the future.

The significance of having young people from outside our community attending is that it underlines how in South Africa today, the Holocaust should not be interpreted as being a specifically Jewish tragedy that occurred over seven decades ago, but as an event that contains profound lessons for our own society. Our National President Mary Kluk, who in her capacity of Director of the Durban Holocaust Centre is intricately involved in promoting Holocaust education in the broader society, strongly emphasized the risk that racist discourse and other forms of hate speech pose to our society. What began as hateful rhetoric paved the way to legal discrimination, seizure of property, expulsion and eventually mass murder. For South Africans, and indeed the world at large, it should be an ever-present reminder of what the consequences can be when hatred of “the other” is allowed to run wild and of the responsibility that not only governments, but the person in the street has to strenuously oppose it wherever it surfaces.   

This week, in fact, we have seen a renewed upsurge of popular outrage over yet more instances of racially offensive communications, this time allegedly emanating from individuals who hold positions of considerable influence in society. Such rhetoric, even when it does not lead directly to violence, sows deep division, mistrust and resentment within our society, making it impossible to address, as a united nation, the serious challenges facing our country.

Yom Hashoah is the first in an annual trilogy of events on the Jewish civil calendar. This week our community joined with the people of Israel and world Jewry in marking Yom Hazikaron – the remembrance ceremony for Israel’s fallen soldiers (which today draws a crowd at least comparable to that of Yom Hashoah) – followed immediately by Yom Haatzmaut, celebrating the birth of the Jewish State. The order of those events, commencing with tragedy and destruction, culminating in national rebirth and freedom and, in between, the price that had to be paid for this, symbolizes the resilience of the Jewish people and its ability, even in the wake of the worst tragedies, to rebuild towards a better future.

Recent Articles