As we stepped through the doors of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, I was reminded that I had been here before. Much younger and much more sheltered by the drone of energetic and distractible school children – I had been on the tour here at least twice.
For a young kid who was fascinated by history I remember always being captivated by the words that spoken and tried to absorb every word written on the walls. I wanted to know it all, all the details and events, the critical facts and hidden details that defined this terrible part of the world’s history. There’s only so much you can learn from popular media or the occasional documentary and having the concepts and contributing issues so clearly laid out and broken down by a centre devoted to Holocaust history was invaluable.
I can remember that each time I was there my experience was a little different. I had previously been hurried through with my school group, trying my best to understand what terrifying chain of events could possibly allow something so tragic to happen. What incremental steps became a stampede of Human Right’s abuses without the world crying out stop? What context allowed sentiments of hate and racial difference to permit the fabric of communities?
I later realised that some of these same questions can be asked throughout history and are important closer to home if we begin to look back at our own past. Something that we still don’t do enough of.
This time I lingered back from the group. Hearing the words of the tour falling on my ear and stopping quietly at exhibits along the way. This time I wasn’t looking at the facts and timelines, the laws passed and the military interventions – I was looking at the stories. The real stories of people who had lived, and the real stories of people who had died too young. In breaking things down to their component parts I didn’t want to forget the everyday reality. The reality that to those living through it mattered much more than any timeline in a history book.
While genocide and the Holocaust are two terms that we often think of as synonymous, this session let us know that in different contexts these terms are ones that can belong to all of us. We can learn from the Holocaust and its memorials and we can remember that genocides have occurred in a number of countries in the past and may continue to happen around us in the future – unless, I think, the world is at least a little more ready to listen to other people’s stories