Found at 88 Hatfield Street, Gardens, the Centre’s facilities include: the Pola Pasvolsky Conference Centre, a small, yet attractively laid-out Café Riteve and Shop (found near the charming courtyard and garden that overlook the adjoining S.A. Jewish Museum), as well as the main exhibition(s) found inside its cleverly-designed and deeply poignant depths.
Although entrance is free, visitors are required to bring either their passport, driver’s licence or I.D. with. There is also a small security check point at the street-side entrance.
As one of our two excellent tour guides, Marlene Silbert, told us, the Centre was built as a memorial but perhaps even more importantly, as a “place of learning”, hence their proffered education programmes for high school- and university students, educators and adult groups alike.
Our tour ran from 9:00 a.m. to 15:00 p.m. (with shorts breaks in between) and afterwards, we enjoyed a fun and thought-provoking group ‘case study’ presentation.
Our guides, Marlene and Sonja (herself a Polish Jew who, as a young child, had to flee Germany in the 1930s with her family) really knew their material and history. Both were extremely interesting and wonderfully engaging informants, who maintained a perfectly balanced line of sympathy and neutrality both towards the persecuted Jewish (and black, mentally/physically disabled, as well as gay) victims and the innocent German people caught up in this terrible atrocity that has forever marred our history books and permanently scarred our world.
Another important historical comparison made was the startling revelations and disgusting similarities between the Holocaust and our country’s own Apartheid years.
At the start of the tour – once we had finished watching some truly fascinating documentaries in the conference room (there are good, clean facilities, both indoors and out) – we saw two very moving displays.
The first featured drawings by Terezin concentration camp children, most of who perished, as well as the ‘Bedzin’ town display (the museum holds 600 of the town’s 6000 self-portraits, donated by survivors years later).
All the displays were extremely well-illustrated (with audio, video or photographic footage provided) and feature original, carefully preserved propaganda and items; there’s even a ‘Treblinka Death Camp’ miniature.
It’s easy to follow the sequence of events using the exhibition’s info., but the guides provide a far deeper and quietly chilling account of them. One can also see how different sections reflect their settings – for example, the ‘Warsaw Ghetto Uprising’ section features a brick floor/walls and wire elements.
Note: This tour isn’t for the faint-hearted, as there’s some incredibly disturbing content. A quarter of the way in, I was fighting back tears and felt overwhelmed, and judging by the prevailing hush over our two groups, I was not alone in this regard.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, and it’s truly inspiring to hear the stories of those who died fighting (such as the White Movement or the Warsaw youth members) or the ‘Righteous Among The Nations’, among them: the recently deceased Oskar Schindler, who saved over 1,200 Jews and Polish social worker, Irena Sendlerowa, who saved 2,500 Jewish children.
The last thing you see before exiting the dimly-lit, snaking passage is a 1999 quote by S.A.’s very own Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu – be sure to check it out!
Overall, we spent a very interesting and historically-instructive day at the Centre. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and am grateful to the dedicated staff who ensured our visit was both reflective and morally conscious. I strongly recommend that everyone, irrespective of race, sex, nationality or religion, who comes to the Mother City, visit this Centre.
It’s open Sunday to Thursday, 10:00 a.m. – 17:00 p.m., and Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 14:00 p.m., but is closed on Saturdays and on Jewish Holidays.
For more info., you can visit contact them telephonically on: +27 (021) 462 5553, email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out their main site: www.holocaust.org.za. Alternatively, follow them on social media (https://www.facebook.com/CTHCpage).
Many thanks to the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and its staff, as well as the www.holocaust.org.za website, for the additional information used in this Review.