“Humanity can go wrong if we are not careful”

Looking into internship opportunities for this summer, I was hoping to bring two personal passions together. The first, is my academic interest in China and Asia as an East Asian Studies Major at Brandeis. The second is my deep rooted belief in the importance of spreading awareness of the Jewish Holocaust as far and wide as possible, to all humans wherever they live. A week into my work at the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Center, I knew I found the right place.

The Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre at Elsa High School in Shau Kei Wan
The Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre at Elsa High School in Shau Kei Wan

With all honesty, I was a little surprised when my preliminary research for summer internships a few months ago led me to the website of the HKHTC. Mostly because the two concepts – Holocaust Education and China – are not commonly associated. Around the same time, when I first started sharing the idea of getting involved with Holocaust education in China with my friends, many of them responded with a slight surprise. “Holocaust? in China? Really?”

But the more I thought about it, the stronger I felt about it. In 2003 as an Israeli high school student, I visited prominent death camps in Poland with my youth movement. One of my most striking experiences was seeing how some of those camps operated a few short feet outside large Polish cities. The thought that ordinary people in Poland – just like many other Europeans at the time – lived their lives for years during the war constantly smelling the scent of burning bodies emanating from nearby death camps, and did stop the madness, troubled me deeply. It still does. What troubled me even more was asking myself whether I would have acted differently in their position, had I lived at the time. As much as it might be uncomfortable to admit, that question is difficult to answer and has much to do with our education and awareness. Ever since that trip to Poland and the insights it left me with, anywhere I went and whatever I did, I made promoting education and awareness of the Holocaust one of my personal missions.

The Holocaust - Through the artwork of a ninth-grade student in Sha Tin College in Hong Kong
The Holocaust – Through the work of a ninth-grade student in Sha Tin College in Hong Kong

I believe that increasing awareness of the Holocaust is specifically important in China. As a United World College student in Canada in my last two years of high school, I made some wonderful friendships with Chinese fellow-students. When I mentioned the Holocaust and my insights about it to them, I realized many of them had very little knowledge about that part of human history. As China and Asia grow in power and political influence, the need to ensure that their populations are aware of what the humans can do to others when the majority of people are passive, grows as well. The Chinese might very soon be the majority that has the power – and the responsibility – to take action and prevent future genocides.

The Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre was founded by leaders in the Hong Kong Jewish Community about two years ago, with that exact mission in mind. The only institution of its kind in East Asia, the Centre seeks “to promote, across Asia, education and awareness of the Holocaust”, as its mission states. It was founded a little more than a year ago by prominent members in Hong Kong Jewish community, local educators and Holocaust survivors and activists.

In the short time since it was founded, the Centre managed to hold a number of significant events. One example is a concert featuring musicians from Israel, the United States and Hong Kong, who played songs composed by inmates in Nazi concentration camps. The concert was very successful, received a wide coverage and was attended by hundreds of Hong Kongers, including diplomats and politicians. In addition, the Centre began forming relationship with local schools, offering them assistance and support with teaching their students about the difficult subject that is the Holocaust.

The concert organized by the Holocaust Centre on January 27th, for the UN Holocaust Memorial Day
The concert organized by the Holocaust Centre on January 27th, for the UN Holocaust Memorial Day

As a relatively young organization the Centre did not have any existing internships positions. Needless to say, a paid internship was not even an option. To secure my internship, I first contacted the Centre last September to interest them in having me as an intern. After some correspondence, when I was given a green light, I began looking for financing, finally – to my delight – receiving the WOW grant.

As one could imagine, being a first-ever intern at an organization holds both challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, I have a lot of place to contribute, be creative and truly make a difference. At the same time, I am also required to demonstrate a lot of initiative and self-discipline – two capabilities I hope to develop while I’m here.

My main responsibilities at the Centre divide into three: Advancing the Centre’s public relations and social media outreach, and take charge of designing and editing its new website; Research local schools’ relevant curricula and work with the Centre’s education and Chinese culture specialists to design and write lesson templates suitable to be used in by educators to teach about the Holocaust; And last but not at all least – to find ways to reach more local schools and educators – within both the private and public school systems – and form relationships with them.

Two students presenting a Holocaust Memorial they designed, during the Exhibition at Sha Tin College
Two students presenting a Holocaust Memorial they designed, during the Exhibition at Sha Tin College

During my first week in Hong Kong, in addition to adjusting to the time difference, warm weather and different culture and language (even though English is very useful here), I focused mostly on the first responsibility. I spend much time expanding the follower base of the Centre’s Facebook page. The Challenge here, as it is with the HKHTC’s work as a whole, is reaching not only English speakers and students and educators in the many private and international schools, but also those in public, Chinese-speaking schools. I also set-up a twitter account, began working with the Centre’s administrator on designing a new website and met with a web designer. Additional PR related projects that I anticipate for the summer – and have suggested to my supervisors – are writing a Wikipedia value for the HKHTC, and perhaps most importantly working on translating all of these into Cantonese, the local Chinese dialect.

Naturally, my short time here so far was also used for getting acquainted with the organization’s board and other professionals I will be working with at the Centre’s office, which is located inside the local Jewish school in the neighborhood of Shau Kei Wan.

 "The Holocaust is not only a tragedy of the Jewish people, it is a failure of humanity as a whole."
“The Holocaust is not only a tragedy of the Jewish people, it is a failure of humanity as a whole.”

One of my best experiences so far, was visiting a Holocaust Memorial exhibition created by ninth-grade students in the Sha Tin High School. The exhibition, a result of cooperation between teachers at the school and the HKHTC, was powerful and thought-provoking. Listening to the students talk about their works and how much they learnt, reiterated to me how important the Centre’s mission really is, and how happy I am to be a part of it. The words of one student I spoke with were specifically powerful: “Our classes about the Holocaust and working on my memorial really made me realize that it’s not only a Jewish issue”, he said, “the Holocaust is something that shows how all of humanity can go wrong if we are not careful”.

Chen Arad ’15

 

2 thoughts on ““Humanity can go wrong if we are not careful””

  1. Dear Chen,

    I think the work that you are doing is so important. It is so vital to make sure that the Holocaust doesn’t just become a tragic memory–it is an event in history that reminds the world about the negative side of humanity, and how quickly such horrible events can begin. Having education about the Holocaust helps future peace initiatives on an international level–which you stated here quite poignantly.
    Utilizing art to express trauma or traumatic events is something I actually have worked with before, and I’d say that the creative expression of future generations’ feelings about the Holocaust will not only preserve the lessons of the Holocaust in the future, but it also indicates what the Holocaust means to the youth of the future, and that is extremely important as well.
    So I guess I would like to ask you about the creative process you are seeing. Is it hard for people to draw images related to the Holocaust? Or does it have a therapeutic effect that helps students come to terms with the Holocaust in their own way? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
    Thanks!
    Karrah

  2. Dear Chen,

    Words can’t even describe how important your mission of raising awareness about the Holocaust is. Reading about how your trip to Poland stirred up this dedication to increasing education about the Holocaust really resonated with me because after traveling to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp this summer in Poland I felt the same way. Though it is an important responsibility for people to educate themselves and learn about traumatic historical events, not everyone in the world has the same access to the resources, museums and destinations from which they can learn about history. This makes your work in China all the more fascinating because your organization serves as a resource through which many citizens may learning about the Holocaust for the first time.

    Because this is such a necessary global effort across generations, I was wondering if you know of centers with a similar mission in other areas of the world such as countries in Africa or Southeast Asia, where the Holocaust was not as-directly felt? Perhaps you could launch some sort of network with a couple of them to strengthen your worldwide efforts?
    I don’t know if that’s too far-fetched or if it already exists, but perhaps it could help you in your internship duties to talk to staff from other organizations who have done similar work.

    Looking forward to reading more about your meaningful summer!
    Dina

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *