Finally a morning off! We used the extra time to explore downtown Cape Town and visit the District 6 Museum. District 6 was a mixed ethnic community in a centrally located part of Cape Town. However, during the apartheid era, the District was declared white only and more than 60,000 residents were removed from the area. The District 6 Museum documents the history of these forced removals and provides stories from former community members. The stories included letters from Holocaust survivors requesting that students are not only taught basic reading, writing and arithmetic, but also learn how about how to treat all people with respect.
From District 6, we walked over to the South African Jewish Museum and Holocaust Centre. We toured the Jewish Museum with a seasoned member of the local Jewish community as our guide, and then met with Richard Freeman, director of the Holocaust Centre. South Africa has recently made it mandatory for all public schools to include teaching about the Holocaust in their curricula. Even though few European Jews fled to South Africa during WWII, the curriculum is used as a means to teach about apartheid as well. Schools in South Africa are still largely segregated along racial lines as most whites send their children to expensive private schools unaffordable to the larger (and mostly black) population. At this point the government has not chosen to intervene. Since the Holocaust curriculum has only been in place for two years, its impact is not yet clear.
It was surprising to learn how prevalent racism still is within South Africa. I hope that Holocaust education can help highlight the importance of not judging others based on ethnic, religious or racial backgrounds. I noticed that some South Africans were in favor of not teaching about apartheid in schools. They believed that it was best not to dwell on the past and to move on to create a better life going forward. I still believe that educating children about the Holocaust and apartheid is one of the best ways to ensure that the pervasive discrimination of the past does not occur in the future. I wonder if South Africa’s Holocaust curriculum will be successful in teaching South Africa’s to treat everyone with respect. Just as the letters posted in the District 6 Museum requested.