[notice]A monthly column by Marcel van der Watt, lecturer in the Department of Police Practice at UNISA, former police detective, and current member of the Gauteng Rapid Response Task Team for Human Trafficking.[/notice]
During a recent visit to the Holocaust Centre at the Jewish museum in Cape Town I realised that my general knowledge relating to the Second World War atrocities left much to be desired.
The Holocaust Centre provided a compelling, in-depth and holistic representation of events as they transpired. Complimented by audiovisual effects, the experience refuted some preconceived notions I had about the extent and gravity of the Jewish experience.
I learned that anti-Semitism was not coined by German oppressors, but that it was an evil that was nurtured by numerous international role-players over preceding centuries. The events leading up to the holocaust were characterised by a prevailing culture of prejudice, intolerance and authoritative deception which crescendoed into a textbook tipping point. I was inspired by the faith, tenacity and humility of survivors in the face of unthinkable adversity – men, women and children who chose to hold onto the ‘ultimate’ whilst enduring the ‘immediate’.
Another wonderful confirmation is that justice is guaranteed – whether in this life or the next, our righteous God is passionate about justice (Isaiah 61:8) and promises to avenge in due time (Deuteronomy 32:35). In a consolidated reflection on God’s passion for justice and the events associated with the holocaust, I pondered the following article on Nazi perpetrators being brought to justice – 70 years after the holocaust:
92-year-old former Nazi to stand trial in Germany[i]
Germany’s Hagen State Court will require 92-year-old Siert Bruins, a former member of the Nazi Waffen SS to go on trial in September. Last November, Bruins was charged for the murder of resistance fighter Aldert Klaas Dijkema in 1944. Bruins and his suspected accomplice August Neuhaeuser, who has since died, are alleged to have driven Dijkema to a secluded place and shot him at least four times while he attempted to flee. Bruins, who was born Dutch but is now a German citizen, was sentenced to prison in the 1980s for the murder of two Dutch Jews during the Second World War.
Despite the ages of the accused, authorities have continued to arrest individuals charged with war crimes during the Holocaust. Last month Hungarian prosecutors charged Laszlo Csatary, a 98-year-old Hungarian man, with the unlawful execution and torture of people in connection with the Holocaust. In May German authorities arrested a 93-year-old man for allegedly serving as a guard at Auschwitz and assisting in the mass murder carried out at the death camp. German prosecutors have reopened hundreds of investigations involving former death camp guards after the conviction of John Demjanjuk in May 2011 for the murder of thousands during the Holocaust. Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison but was released early due to old age and died in September 2011 while awaiting an appeal.
Numerous converging themes between the holocaust and the pre-1994 South African era are acknowledged by the Jewish museum. One brave gentleman who is closely acquainted with the Jewish museum is Mr Nelson Mandela. ‘Nelson Mandela: A Righteous Man’ is a film screened daily at the Jewish museum and reflects on his life and close ties with the Jewish community. Personifying justice and described by Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris[ii] as “the role model of what a human being could be”, Mandela made huge inroads on the justice continuum in South Africa leaving us with an unequivocal task. On this July 18 birthday of Mandela I am taking the liberty of being one of the millions around the world who acknowledge his life and contribution to justice not just in South Africa, but around the world where his legacy will reverberate for ages to come.