Growing up with a Nazi father, Dr Bernd Wollschläger is now a Jew by choice. Born a German Catholic, he was the son of a tank commander who received the Iron Cross, Germany’s highest military honor, which was pinned on him by Adolf Hitler. When the son discovered his father was a decorated Nazi war hero who has kept the past hidden from his children, he rebelled, converted to Judaism, and even served in the Israel Defense Forces. Dismayed by the legacy of the Holocaust, the son found that the rift between family and faith never healed.
In our HKHTC webinar on 8 June 2022, Dr Bernd Wollschläger shared with us the story of a German life out of the shadow of a perpetrator.
This special webinar has been made possible by the generous support of the Raymond and Nicette Bera Foundation.
“When my children started asking questions about my parents, I decided to break the wall of silence and tell them the truth about me. I needed to express what compelled me to dramatically change my life. I finally had to explore the relationship with my father and how it was overshadowed by the Holocaust. Our unresolved conflict and his denial motivated me to search for answers, and I found them within me and my acquired faith: Against all odds, change is possible… This is my story.”
In 1947, Benjamin Ferencz wrote legal history by prosecuting high-level Nazi ‘Einsatzgruppen’ officers who had been responsible for the murder of over one million Jews. The trial at Nuremberg was part of a first attempt to hold perpetrators of the most heinous atrocities to account in an international court. Over the course of Ferencz’s life (he is still alive at age 102), this international legal order has evolved significantly.
In this HKHTC-HKU webinar which took place on 25 April 2022, Prof Gregory Gordon (CUHK, Law) tracked Ferencz’s landmark contributions to international justice through his role at Nuremberg and his longstanding advocacy for the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In light of recent developments in Ukraine, questions about the need for international justice are more pressing than ever.
The annual Yom HaShoah Commemoration to remember the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust took place on Wednesday, 27th April 2022. The Hong Kong Holocaust & Tolerance Centre presented a special Live Virtual Discussion with Rena Quint. Rena was liberated from Bergen Belsen in 1945, aged 9 years. Now living in Israel, she speaks movingly of unimaginable atrocities in the camps, the loss of her entire family and her own struggle for survival. Many participants from our community talked directly to Rena in the event.
As we are not able to gather at the JCC this year we invited participants to take part in a communal candle lighting where they lighted a candle at home while those online did so too. These lights in Hong Kong and from wherever people were participating in this virtual commemoration allowed us to connect with each other and to shine a commemorative light in the dark shadow of the Shoah.
This year’s Yom HaShoah Commemoration can be watched here to remember and pay tribute.
The annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day is designated by the United Nations as a Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. To mark this event, the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre (HKHTC) hosted the UN Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration, which took place online on Thursday 27th January. The special commemoration featured the testimony of our remarkable guest, Greek Holocaust survivor Ms Lola Angel.
Lola Angel is one of the very few Greek Jews left to remember the horror of the Nazi concentration camps. Approximately 83 percent of Greek Jews, nearly 59,000 people, were exterminated when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany. Lola is among survivors who have not spoken until now. Because she was so young at the time, she felt it was not her place to speak. But seven decades after the end of WWII, she finally feels ready to pass on her experiences to the next generation.
“I was but a child but I forgot nothing. The memories still haunt me, and the intense smells of the camp are ever-present.” –Lola Angel
On 16 November 2021, the Bard Center for the Study of Hate (BCSH) welcomed HKHTC’s Executive Director Simon Li to speak on “Hitler Shirts, Nazi Salute and Swastika Flags: Decoding Southeast Asia’s Strange Fixation with Nazi Hate Iconography.”
On the evening of November 9, together with March of the Living, the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre commemorated the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht with a message of unity and hope through a unique international campaign.
Titled “Let There Be Light,” March of the Living invited individuals, institutions, and houses of worship around the world to keep their lights on during the night of November 9 as a symbol of solidarity and mutual commitment in the shared battle against antisemitism, racism, hatred, and intolerance. As part of this virtual initiative, people from all over the world were able to add their voices to the campaign. Individuals of all religions and backgrounds were also invited to write personal messages of hope in their own words at the campaign website:
This year, through HKHTC’s strengthened global partnership with Yad Vashem, we will leverage our unique Holocaust education approach and reach thousands more across Asia — including educators and students in Japan and Indonesia. As always, HKHTC continues to be very active teaching about the Holocaust in partnership with local Hong Kong schools, universities, and community organisations. Thank you again for your interest and support. We sincerely hope you can join us at our future events. Please stay tuned for more details.
The Hong Kong Holocaust & Tolerance Centre was pleased to support a number of Holocaust-themed films as part of the 22nd Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival taking place 13-21 November 2021.
These public screenings took place in person at Asia Society Hong Kong Center at 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty. Please see the list below for film descriptions. It was a great delight to see many of you this year. We hope to see you again in HKJFF 2022.
Supported Films 2021
Love It Was Not (Sunday, 14 November, 6:45pm)
Flamboyant and in the prime of her life, Helena Citron is taken to Auschwitz as a young woman and finds unlikely solace under the protection of Franz Wunsch, a high-ranking SS officer who falls in love with her and her magnetic singing voice. Risking certain execution if caught, their forbidden relationship went on until her liberation in 1945. When a letter arrives thirty years later from Wunsch’s wife, begging Helena to testify on Wunsch’s behalf, she is faced with an impossible decision. Will she help the man who brutalised so many lives, but saved hers?
The Auschwitz Report (Monday, 15 November, 7:00pm)
The Auschwitz Report follows Freddy and Valér, two Slovakian Jewish men on their agonizing attempt to escape the concentration camp. Each day they watch, count, and document the number of prisoners delivered to the camp, as well as the daily death toll, in order compile a detailed report about the systematic genocide they witness at the camp. Starving and injured, the brave pair escape and forge ahead to deliver their proof of rampant genocide to leaders of the Red Cross. However, with Nazi propaganda and international liaisons still in place, their allies are reluctant to believe their account. A harrowing film based on true events that will leave audiences forever changed.
The flourishing area of Muranów in Warsaw was once a place of hardship and death – it housed the Warsaw ghetto. Today, it is a spacious green neighbourhood built out from the rubble of the war. The Polish residents claim that Jewish ghosts live in Muranów and wander the streets they once lived in. Some believe the ghosts are literal – while others regard them in metaphorical terms, serving as a reminder of the life, culture and traditions of the Jewish people who are buried beneath the ground.
The Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre presented a special lecture titled “Strange Haven: Forgotten Stories of Jewish Refugees Who Escaped to Wartime Shanghai from Nazi Europe” (猶太人逃難戰時上海: 猶太大屠殺歷史被遺忘的那些事) at the Hong Kong International Book Fair – the city’s biggest annual literature event which concluded last week. We are delighted that the talk attracted a diverse, standing room only crowd, emphasising the value and importance of HKHTC’s core message of tolerance and non-discrimination.
The lecture was presented by HKHTC Executive Director & Columbia University’s Historical Dialogue Fellow Simon Li in Cantonese, enabling us to connect with hundreds of local community members, including many who through this event learned about the Holocaust and the Shanghai Ghetto for the first time. The focus was on Irene Eber’s book Voices from Shanghai: Jewish Exiles in Wartime China (Chicago University Press), which fills in one of the remaining gaps in the study of Jewish refugees in Shanghai during WWII by collating together poems, letters, extracts from diaries, and short stories originally composed and written in Polish, German and Yiddish. Eber’s collection helps readers to understand the most inner feelings of displaced people who had lost everything in their homeland and had no clue of what lay ahead in their troubled lives.
HKHTC is grateful to the Consulate of Israel in Hong Kong & Macau for arranging the talk. For English-speaking audiences who are interested in this topic, we have provided an English-subtitled video feature story here, in which Simon discusses how Shanghai hosted a large, vibrant community of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Nazi Europe as well as the refugees’ relationships with Hong Kong.
Together with Jews, the Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) were targeted for extermination by the Nazis during their twelve-year reign of terror and were thus also victims of ideological racism. The stories of the Roma and Sinti are less well known and the first memorial to their suffering was only unveiled in Berlin in 2012: the history of this persecution, over a thousand years of oppression in Europe, must be told even more urgently while the few survivors are still with us.
Rita Prigmore’s mother was facing forced sterilization when she was found to be carrying twins, a subject of endless fascination to Nazi doctors in their pursuit of creating a super race. This saved the life of the as yet unborn Rita and her sibling but both infants were then subject to unspeakable medical “experimentation”. While she was only two years old when the war ended, Rita has managed to trace the story of her birth and suffering – an indelible part of her early memories – and she still lives with their long-term consequences today.
Please join the HKHTC for a truly fascinating and original talk with Rita Prigmore, in Germany, as she tells us of this little-known aspect of the Holocaust and where her community is still subject to extreme racism and deprivation in contemporary European society.
The Hong Kong Holocaust & Tolerance Centre was pleased to participate in the 24-Hour Virtual Global Vigil to mark the conclusion of Genocide Awareness Month. Over a 24 hour cycle, the vigil featured content from major organisations from around the world commemorating genocide, including HKHTC. On 29 April 2021, the global audience joined the live stream of our special one hour programme ‘Remembering Together: Chinese and Jewish Students Discuss Holocaust/Genocide Education’.
Mixing music and dialogue, this conversation between Jewish students in Hong Kong and Chinese undergraduates in Macao, addressed pressing questions on the need for Holocaust education and its use in raising awareness of genocidal atrocity in Asia. Bringing together students from different backgrounds to talk about the Holocaust and its place in wider genocide education, we hoped to find common ground for communal memory where both groups participate in each other’s understanding of shared humanity.
Thanks for joining us to conclude Genocide Awareness Month and unite to fight hate worldwide.
For HKHTC’s one-hour special programme, you can watch the video here.