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SEEKING REFUGE (article first published : 2007-01-21)

Harry Grunau was born in Berlin in 1914 and at the age of 32 sailed to Cape Town on the Stuttgart in the company of a group of single friends. The pain of leaving his parents behind in Germany never left him. Even after 46 years, this anguish can still be felt in his poem, Saying Goodbye.

The poem forms part of a haunting exhibition, Seeking Refuge: German-Jewish Immigration to South Africa 1933-39, which was originally created by the Cape Town Holocaust Centre under the directorship of Myra Osrin.

Following its critical acclaim in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the exhibition will be brought to the Durban Jewish Centre from January 28 to February 14 by the Council of KwaZulu-Natal Jewry (CKNJ).

David Saks of the SA Jewish Report called the Johannesburg exhibition “‘compelling”. Comments from the visitors’ book at the Cape Town exhibition include “enthralling”, “beautifully compiled” and “outstanding”. Although it opens the day after International Holocaust Memorial Day, Seeking Refuge looks beyond the devastation of the Holocaust and includes the story of Jews who managed to escape Hitler’s reign of terror and find refuge in other parts of the world.

With a distinctly local focus the exhibition will include some 40 narratives of individuals who escaped to South Africa, including some who settled in KwaZulu- Natal. It recalls stories, both individual and communal, of efforts to assist the migration during a time fraught with political volatility even within South Africa. Photographs from family albums, letters, documents and other memorabilia provide a telling and tactile framework to these moving histories of dislocation.

The concept and creation of the exhibition is a collaborative work by designer Linda Coetzee and researcher/ text writer Millie Pimstone, who is responsible for writing the narratives of the Cape Town refugees. Professor Jocelyn Hellig writes on behalf of the Johannesburg and Durban refugees.

Visitors to the exhibition will be introduced to a brief history of the life of Jews in Germany, concluding with their flight to escape the tyranny of Nazi Germany. One particularly relevant aspect of the exhibition looks at contemporary Germany’s attempt to address its past and its efforts to affect reconciliation. This aspect is particularly pertinent in post-apartheid South Africa.

Running in tandem with Seeking Refuge, the Durban Jewish Centre, in Old Fort Road, will also host a rich cultural programme of events over the two weeks. On January 30 at 19h30, UKZN Professor of English Johan Jacobs will deliver a literary presentation on three novels on the theme of Holocaust and Refuge.

John Maytham of Cape Talk will interview KZN Refugee Council Chairman Amisi Baruti on February 1 at 19h30. Baruti, himself a refugee from the DRC, will give a personal account of his own experiences as a refugee in his presentation From Fear to Hostility: Refugees’ Struggles for Life. In his presentation he will also outline current issues and obstacles facing refugees in South Africa. An Adult Jewish Programme guided tour and video presentation will take place on February 4 at 10h00.

On February 7, UKZN Head of Political Science Professor Rafael De Kadt will reflect on his experiences as a son of German refugees in his presentation Mobility, Refuge and Belonging. Former curator of the Durban Art Gallery Jill Addelson will present Witnessing life in Germany - German Expressionist Art from 1911-1945 on February 11. She will explore the theme of art as the unspoken critic of Nazi Germany.

On February 4, the SEM Charity Trust and Beth Shalom, in association with the Seeking Refuge Exhibition, presents Berlin, Broadway and Beyond, conceived and produced by Cape Town opera luminary Aviva Pelham. The concert will be held at Beth Shalom, 85 Vause Road, at 18h00 and again at 20h15.

In keeping with the arts, Prof. David Smith, Head of Opera Studies and Choral Academy at UKZN, Pamela Tancsik and other performing artists, in association with The Friends of Music, will host a musical presentation on the journey of refugees in exile from Germany and Africa entitled “Music of the Period”. It will be staged at 19h00 on February 11.

Each day for the duration of the exhibition there will be a screening of a 20-minute documentary entitled The Holocaust: Lessons in Humanity at 14h00 and 15h00.

All the events, with the exception of Aviva Pelham’s concert, are free. Tickets for Pelham’s concert are R60 and available from Gerselle at Beth Shalom on 031 201 3151.

Further information from Debbie Reynolds Communications on 083 447 5221.




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