On 20 September the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of South Africa co-hosted, together with the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Embassy of Israel and Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, a commemoration event in the name of the 70th Anniversary of the Victory over Nazism and the end of World War II.
Over 200 guests, mainly from the Russian and Jewish communities, attended the event which took place in Johannesburg at the SA Jewish Board of Deputies Centre.
Among the distinguished attendees were Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of South Africa Mikhail Petrakov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Israel to the Republic of South Africa Arthur Lenk, President of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies Zev Krengel, Director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre Tali Nates, WWII & Great Patriotic War veterans Tsipra Boudnitskaya and Valentin Arinin, renowned SA-born journalist, head of the Middle East bureau of RT (Russia Today) Paula Slier.
First to take the floor was Mary Kluk, National Director of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies. She spoke about the liberation of Concentration camps prisoners by the Red Army and introduced the audience to the outlines of the history of the Slier family, which is the centrepiece of the «119 Lives Unlived» documentary.
Ambassador of Israel to South Africa Arthur Lenk was next to address the attendees. He gave an inspiring speech, praising the crucial contribution of the Soviet Union in defeating the Nazis and their satellites, also mentioning that many Jews as an integral part of the Red Army played an important role in this struggle. H.E.Mr.Lenk stressed that the relations between Russia and Israel are very close, both politically and culturally. He thanked the Russian Embassy for the initiative to organize such an event.
The audience was then shown a short-film on how the Great Patriotic War (as the main part of WWII) unfolded, which helped everyone revitalize in their memory the events of 1941-1945.
SA Jewish Board of Deputies’ President Zev Krengel introduced Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of South Africa Mikhail Petrakov, who then took the floor. He started his speech by thanking Russia Today and Paula Slier, SA Jewish Board of Deputies, the Israeli Embassy and the Russian community for the opportunity to have this event. «Lest we forget» — these words, as a reminder of how important it is to remember the past, not to forget both the sacrifices of our ancestors and the inhumane actions of the Axis, run throughout this whole year of the 70th Anniversary of the Victory according to the Ambassador. «It was not just a battle between different countries and nations, it was a battle with an ultimate evil, with the most cruel mindset», said Mikhail Petrakov. He mentioned that sadly in some countries in Europe people who fought together with Hitler are glorified and considered national heroes. «It is something which we can never accept and condone with. This ideology has no right to exist», stressed the Ambassador. He then addressed in Russian the Great Patriotic War veterans present at the event, Ms Boudnitskaya and Mr Arinin, thanking them for their great deeds and wishing them good health and happiness. The Ambassador concluded his speech with paying tribute to everyone who helped organise the event.
Distinguished Soviet-Russian veteran of Jewish descent 91 year old Tsipra Boudnitskaya went on stage to tell her story. She told about her medical training and how she tended to the wounded soldiers during the Great Patriotic War. She described in great detail what she and her comrades-medics went through during the war, vividly recalling the horror of being mercilessly bombed by the Nazi Air Forces. As she underlined, it was then, in those dark hours when she felt she was together with her people, the Soviet people. Ms Boudnitskaya told how she met her husband Joseph in Moscow after the war. She also mentioned that during her 74 year-long medical career she had even watched over the health of the first man in space — Yuri Gagarin.
The audience erupted with ovations after Ms Boudnitskaya finished speaking, and some of the guests stood up to cheer at the veteran.
Tali Nates, the next speaker and the Director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, gave a valuable historical insight into the matter of the Concentration camps and the horrific things the prisoners faced there. She also made a point that with the Jews being the bulk of the prisoners, there were millions of Soviet civilians and prisoners of war who were placed at these camps, and that it is something not to be forgotten. She also praised the role of the Red Army in liberating the prisoners of the Concentration and Labour camps.
Lionel Slier, father of Paula Slier, and a well-known journalist himself, spoke about the Slier family tragedy. Most of his relatives were killed in the Concentration camps, namely Auschwitz and Sobibor, and how it greatly affected the members of the Slier family who were in South Africa at the time. He finished his speech saying that although incomprehensibly tragic, their story is not unique, and that there are probably millions of people with similar ones.
The lights were turned off and the event proceeded to its climax — the screening of the RT-produced documentary «119 Lives Unlived» by a worldwide known Israeli-South African journalist currently heading the Middle East Bureau of RT (Russia Today) Paula Slier. It tells the story of the Slier family through the letters of Ms Slier’s great-uncle Flip Slier who died in Auschwitz.
After the film had been shown to the public, Paula Slier addressed the people gathered for the event and spoke about how the documentary came to be. She shared her strong impressions during the making of the film: reading and touching the letters that Flip Slier wrote to his family; visiting the flat her family lived in in Amsterdam; staying the night in the barracks of Auschwitz.
Ms Slier underlined that one of the main themes of the documentary is «Can it happen again?» referring to the Holocaust tragedy and the revival of Nazism ideology. She spoke about an interview with a far right Dutch politician, leader of the Dutch People’s Union, who openly admires Hitler. Ms Slier also told about her meeting the grandson of the commandant of Auschwitz, who unlike the rest of his family tries to remedy the sins of his grandfather, travelling the world, telling about what happened during WWII and how it should never be repeated.
She concluded that this project was very important for her and thanked the organisers of the event, including the Russian and Israeli Ambassadors.
The guests then proceeded to the banket hall where they had a chance to taste Russian-flavoured cuisine and exchange opinions on what they saw and heard.
During the event various materials from the Slier family archive were also shown, telling their story through pictures and text.
The Embassy of the Russian Federation presented a photo-exhibition picturing the Red Army liberating Europe from Nazism.