Monday 24 May 2010

Exhibition at Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street W1, London - 21-25 June 2010

Photo: Shivaun and Steven Leas, 14 May 2010

It's been a pretty crazy time for us over the last few months. I don't think we've stopped since we got back from Cape Town, South Africa :) The Surviving History exhibition is still touring South Africa at this moment and will open shortly in Durban. (To read about our time in South Africa, click here.)

We've been hoping to put on the complete exhibition in London for some time now. At one of our events last year, Steven Leas, the cantor at the Central Synagogue of London, expressed interest in bringing it the exhibition to the synagogue. So, it's been a long time coming, but the dates have finally been locked down for the Surviving History exhibition in London.

We still have to iron out the finer details but there will be an amazing concert for the opening, courtesy of international and renowned cantors who will be in London for the International Cantors' Convention. (For more info on the convention, have a look at the Jewish Music Institute's webpage on the event.) The exhibition will run from 21-25 June, 2010. As for opening times and so on, stay tuned for the next update!

Saturday 8 May 2010

Monday 3 May 2010

Blurred distinctions

This year, ultra nationalists in Vilnius staged another march to mark independence day. Supposedly less vitriolic than the march in 2008 (which was featured in our film Surviving History), in that there wasn't calls for "Jews Out!" or "Russians Out!" as in that previous march, but limited to "Lithuania for Lithuanians!"

This photo from Holocaust in the Baltics (see

Sometimes I wonder if we can recognise the distinction between ultra-nationalists and fascists, or if there is any distinction between them at all? And if such displays are not met with any response, does apathy amount to acceptance or collusion?

Efraim Zuroff has written several scathing articles about this event and condemned the apathy.
See Guardian, 3 April 2010
See The Jerusalem Post, 1 May 2010

I must say I am surprised that the mainstream press has missed out on this repeat incident, unlike the span of coverage in 2008. Perhaps because fascist activities are nothing new, whether in Lithuania or elsewhere. (For example, see article on white supremacist march in LA in April 2010.) However, unlike that reported in Vilnius, counter protesters were involved in the fray.

Will the time come, I wonder, when we will see some counter protesters in Lithuania?

If anti-semitism is a yardstick for intolerance around the world, perhaps we should endeavour to be counter protesters. Ultra-nationlists see Jews as the enemy along with any other minority group that inhabit their lands. In this age of globalisation and transient migrant populations, it is impossible for a country to be 'pure' in terms of ethnicity or nationality. And yet, the world sees no shortage of people blindly and actively inciting hatred. For a snapshot, have a look at this website. Or for those in the UK, just look at the BNP and its use of the term 'indigenious' British population.

Monday 19 April 2010

Robben Island Visit

Mr Apartheid Puppet

I've been meaning the blog about the places we've visited when we haven't been working but truth be told, the whole flight cancellation thing has left me a little flat. Over the last 4 days we've been working the phones and surfing online with regards to alternate means to get back to London but this Icelandic ash business seems to only be worsening. Anyway, I decided that I should make it a point to record the amazing experiences we have encountered - the township of Guguletu (meaning 'Our Pride'), the gardens at Kirstenboch, the views around Chapman's Peak and Noordhoek, as well as of course the famous landmark Table Mountain. But these experiences really deserve their own blog entry so I shall take my time...

I thought it befitting to start with Robben Island; the first 'touristy' place we visited on one of our days off. This is of course where political prisoners were kept. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years here. To get to the island, you have to buy tickets in advance at the Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront. The centre also doubles as a museum. There is a message on one of the walls, which begins... "While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid..." (see picture below). Very inspiring, no?

Display panels at the museum

The queue for the ferry begins to grow, half hour before departure

Shivaun and Maggie get ready to board

A tourist shop on Robben Island, the lettering above the display racks echo the theme of the site

The entrance reads: "We serve with pride." 

...I wonder if this is for the benefit of the guards or the prisoners? I wonder whether the deception is akin to that of the 'Arbeit Macht Freit' (Work will set you free) signs posted above ghetto gates by the Nazis?

It's all very rush rush. We are hustled on to buses lined up in rows with optimistic mottos on them, such as this one below. Another reads "We are on this journey together." Lots of double entendre here.

Above: This is the entrance to the main prison block.

The bus takes us around the island, but we are not allowed off. The guide talks almost non-stop. I wish they would let us off the bus. And I wished the guide would stop talking. It's hard to immerse yourself or attempt to feel or read what this place speaks of when all one can hear is the roar of the bus and the constant narrative - which most of the time is peppered with irreverent humour - it's all strangely incongruous within this setting.

Finally, we reach the main prison buildings. They let us off and we are handed over to another guide. He tells us he was imprisoned here. He asks us to follow him and we do, from one cell to another, one corridor leading into the next, one courtyard opening into another, and he gives us a 10 minute talk in a large cell. He rushes and checks the time, another group is due to arrive after us. So he makes his way to a gate, opens it, and we re-emerge where we began. He walks briskly away - probably to get ready for the next busload of curious tourists. 

Friday 16 April 2010

Ashes, Ashes and We All Got Stuck!

A different start for a change today. We decided to walk to the Cape Town Holocaust Centre (CTHC) and get some breakfast along the way. One unusual thing we noticed was that when we passed two FNB branches, we saw queues stretching round the corner. Maggie, ever the curious one, asked one of those queuing what she was there for. We found out that they were buying FIFA World Cup tickets. You have to be a real fan I think to endure these queues :)

It's been another productive and amazing day. Today we returned to the CTHC as Shivaun was conducting a session for students from the University of Stellenboch on oral testimony and how to go beyond that towards adopting a multidimensional approach. The questions we received were engaging and stimulating, and there was a really cool sense of collaboration and mutual exhange.

After that, we met up with Razia from the Peace Ambassador Project and her young ambassadors aged between 13-14. They had a tour of the exhibition and we discussed the various installations, and a range of things - from the use of symbolic metaphors in art to the activities of the Einsatzgruppen!

Sharing their art work with us

This is an amazing group of young people who have taken it upon themselves to promote the 8 Millennium Development Goals. They aim to do so through art and performance and a host of other activities. Already they have gone on a road trip entitled 'Dialogue for Mutual Understanding' where they engaged their peers to address issues of education, health care, culture, environment and violence. If you would like to have these young ambassadors at your event, contact them here.

Everyone say "peeeeace!"

Whoa, I feel sooooo short compared to most of these kids!

But alas.... the high we were on did not last, when Shivaun received a text that our flight tomorrow was cancelled on account of the Icelandic volcanic ash and Heathrow being shut down. So we spent the closing of the day frantically trying to get a seat on a later flight before heading out for a late dinner. But all our efforts were to no avail, so we will have to try again tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed. We are loving Cape Town, but I think it's time to go home.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Cape Town Holocaust Centre Photos

An amazing array of photos captured by Amanda Cooper from the Cape Town Holocaust Centre of the teachers workshop and opening launch of the exhibition. Enjoy!