Holocaust Day has particular resonance with Namibia
For the people of Namibia, 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 in 1903. The opening in Windhoek of the exhibition “The Holocaust: Lessons for Humanity” on 27 January - the day designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Day - will therefore have had particular resonance for those attending.
The exhibition was jointly mounted by the SA 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 Darfurians.
To commemorate the San Herero massacre, a 100 year old Herero man was invited to light a memorial candle. Other dignitaries who lit candles were the German Ambassador, AJC President and SA Holocaust Foundation Chairman Mervyn Smith, AJC Vice-President and Windhoek Hebrew Congregation Honorary Life President Harold Pupkewitz, Israel Ambassador Ilan Baruch and Namibian Minister of Education Nangolo Mbumba. In her 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 SAJBD President Michael Bagraim, Vice-chairperson Li Boiskin and senior African Jewish Congress leaders, met with Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba. 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 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 it’s inhabitants”.