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Sunday, January 30, 2011

JPEF Brings Programs to South Africa - First Stop, Cape Town

The trip so far has been very exciting -- both for JPEF and me personally. South Africa is a beautiful country and I feel lucky to be here. I arrived in Durban, after a very productive week in Cape Town. There I met with Richard Freedman, the director of the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, and his amazing staff who were so grateful that JPEF was in town with our exhibit. It has up at their Centre for a week already, and I was in town to teach their docents on how to present tours of the exhibit, show local teachers on how to teach with our materials, and give a couple lectures to groups of students.

Here is link to some of the programs from the Holocaust Centre regarding my visit.

My first program was with 350 students from Herzlia High School -- a Jewish school in the hills above the city. I gave a PowerPoint student presentation and showed JPEF's "Introduction to the Partisans" video to a very engaged audience. I then had some excellent questions -- including one 12th grader who asked  why I could be proud of the partisans as they were killing people. This opened the discussion that when people are resisting genocide they do not have many choices -- boycotts, hunger strikes, and work stoppages would not have stopped Hitler. We discussed the concept of "tactics" when resisting, and how the tactic chosen to resist needs to match what people are resisting. For instance, when Dr. King and Gandhi were fighting for civil rights they chose non-violent resistance and were successful.  Violent resistance is only a last resort. This will be a topic for a future JPEF study guide. 

Students at Herzlia High School in Cape Town watch JPEF film, "Introduction to the Partisans"

I also spoke to a group of educators, using our "Living and Surviving in the Partisans" and "Women in the Partisans" curriculum and films as the basis for the workshop. The educators  appreciated the connection between the partisans resisting and those who fought against Apartheid. Our work has special meaning here. One educator said, "Maybe be one could draw a comparison of the partisans and those of guerilla fighters in SA [South Africa] and let learners debate the importance of resistance."

Through our new relationship with the Holocaust and Genocide Foundation JPEF will now have the opportunity to get our materials into the country's official 15 hour curriculum on the Holocaust  taught to all 9th graders. This can ultimately effect millions of young people here. There is still a lot of work to do to make this a reality. We are excited at the opportunity.

JPEF Executive Director Mitch Braff with Jewish partisan Martin Breslin and Richard Freedman, Executive Director of the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation at Faye Schulman exhibit at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre
I also spoke to a smaller group of students from the school -- running our "Ethics of War" program where we read JPEF play "Conversation in the Woods" .

Students from Hetzlia read the JPEF short play, "A Conversation in the Woods"

The big presentation I was here to do was for the UN Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations to almost 200 people. I was honored to be the keynote, with UN Information Director from Pretoria giving a message from the Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN before I spoke. The theme the UN chose this year was on women in the Holocaust, so I tied everything to our Faye Schulman exhibit and showed clips from our "Women in the Partisans" short film in addition to video clips from Faye. It was a great match for our material.

Richard Freedman conducts UN Holocaust Program at Cape Town Holocaust Centre with local survivors.

The exhibit will attract hundreds of people to the Centre. Already several classes are making special trips to see the exhibit -- both private schools and State schools. They will also use our materials and discuss the partisans as part of future tours of their permanent exhibit which is quite impressive in itself.

Here is panel they had set up with our material outside of where the exhibit is staged.

This is some of the feedback that was written after people saw the exhibit...

Tomorrow night I am the keynote at a Holocaust program in the port city of Durban, then I teach teachers and docents Monday. Tuesday I am off to Johannesburg to do much of the same, but will stop at a State school to speak to 150 kids there as well as a Jewish High School. 

Our exhibit will be touring the country though March and will reach a few thousand people. The programs I am doing with teachers and staff of the Holocaust and Genocide Foundation will ensure  the history and life lessons of the Jewish partisans are taught in South Africa for generations.

I want to give a special thank you to our funders and to curator Jill Vexler who made this all possible. Of course, we would not even be here unless it was for the generosity of Faye Schulman, who has trusted us to take her beautiful photographs to the world. Thank you Faye.

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