17 February 2010
For the people of Namibia – the former South-West Africa – genocide is not something that was inflicted on others. It remains a little-known fact that the first major act of genocide in the previous century took place in their country, with the mass slaughter of tens of thousands of Herero and San by the German colonial forces a hundred years ago. The opening of the exhibition ‘The Holocaust: Lessons for Humanity’ in the capital Windhoek on International Holocaust Day therefore had particular resonance for those attending.
The exhibition was jointly mounted by the South African Holocaust Foundation, the National Archives of Namibia and the United Nations Information Centre. A delegation from the African Jewish Congress (AJC) combined a solidarity visit to Namibian Jewry with participation in the opening function. While focusing primarily on the destruction of European Jewry, the exhibition includes an important section commemorating all those victims of genocide over the past hundred years, including the Herero, Rwandan Tutsis, Cambodians, Armenians and the people of Darfur, Sudan.
To commemorate the Herero and San massacres, a 100-year-old Herero man was invited to light a memorial candle. Other dignitaries who lit candles were Germany’s ambassador in Namibia, AJC President Mervyn Smith (picture: left), AJC Vice-President and Windhoek Hebrew Congregation Honorary Life President Harold Pupkewitz, Israel’s ambassador Ilan Baruch, and Namibia’s Minister of Education Nangolo Mbumba.
In his address, Mbumba said that the Herero tragedy left one “reeling at the horrors that human beings are capable of inflicting on others and surviving”. To prevent such things from ever happening again, moreover, mere remembrance was not enough. Rather, it was “a national and international responsibility to protect the citizens of the world from massive violations of human rights or genocide”.
Through Pupkewitz, the AJC delegation, which included the President of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies Michael Bagraim, Vice-Chair Li Boiskin, and other Jewish leaders from South Africa, subsequently met with Namibia’s President Hifikepunye Pohamba (picture: right).
During the meeting, Smith stressed the importance of the relationship between the Jewish people and the State of Israel and the need for continued vigilance against anti-Semitism. He thanked Pohamba for ensuring that the rights of all Namibians – including its Jewish community – were protected.
At the end of the meeting, AJC Spiritual Leader and CEO Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft (picture: center) presented the president with an antique Shofar, bearing the inscription from Leviticus 25: 9 –10: “You shall sound the Shofar … and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants”.
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