Holocaust Centre reopens

2011-07-23 00:00

A POIGNANT reminder of one of history’s darkest eras is an inscription on the wall as you enter Durban’s new, improved Holocaust Centre: “Six million Jews were murdered, not because of their beliefs or opinions, not because of anything they had done, but because they were Jews.”

Tour guide Nosipho Thabethe is passionate as she talks about the suffering of the Jews between 1933 and 1945 at the hands of the Nazis. A series of rooms feature painful stories; signage that reads “work is liberating”, which was meant to humiliate Jews as they toiled in concentration camps, is hung over doorways; and thousands of pictures of victims serve as wallpaper.

“Racial discrimination and religious intolerance have resulted in untold suffering and persecution and mass death.

“Only recently has South Africa emerged from the injustices of apartheid, with its abuse of human rights,” said Thabethe.

“In 1945 the slaughter stopped and in 1948 apartheid began — it’s food for thought,” she said as she led us to Anne Frank’s room.

“Herein lies a replica of Anne Frank’s room, where she wrote the diary that would motivate even our Nelson Mandela as he sat in jail on Robben Island.”

The dark room has a small desk with a reading lamp, like the one where Frank sat and wrote down her experiences. Only weeks before liberation she was killed in a gas chamber.

Thabethe takes us to the survivors’ testimonial room where visitors can absorb some of the accounts of the suffering while taking in visuals on a flat screen.

A rare picture of an Albanian Muslim family who protected 26 Jews stops visitors in their tracks.

“In September 1943, as the Nazis began searching for Jews in the region, word reached Mefail Bicaku that a number of people were in great need.

“Mefail, a man well-known for his bravery and honesty, gave his ‘besa’, his word of honour, that he would protect, feed and shelter them.

“Njazi, his son, guarded their charges constantly, and when bandits in the area suggested Mefail turn the Jews in and claim their wealth, he refused.”

The Garden of Remembrance is a tribute to the six million lives lost and it offers a place to reflect on the memoirs of the victims displayed in the centre.

The final stop is a coffee and gift shop whose takings help to fund this remarkable facility.

“The Holocaust Centre is free of charge and everyone is welcome. To keep it open we sell fresh muffins and other goodies,” said Thabethe.

Said Mary Kluk, director at the centre, “One of the main functions of the centre is to educate pupils about the Holocaust, which now forms part of the core curriculum along with other human rights abuses and contemporary genocide.”

• The centre, on Old Fort Road, is open from Sunday to Thursday (9 am to 4 pm) and Friday (9 am to 2 pm). It is closed on Saturdays.

• For details of education programmes and specialised group tours call the centre at 031 368 6833.

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