It is 6 pm, the height of rush hour in Hong Kong’s busy Central district. Hoards of commuters rush across Level 2 of the Central Market between Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road. The busy elevated walkway is the entrance to the Hang Seng Bank headquarters and the gateway to the Mid-Levels Escalator System. Tonight though it is a gallery and a memorial.
The newly formed Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre (HKHTC) has transformed the highly visible area into its own “Oasis of Survival and Hope” exhibition. It features artwork produced by the children of the Terezin concentration camp alongside works providing a contemporary response to the Holocaust produced by two secondary schools in Hong Kong, Elsa High School, part of the Carmel School Association, and Sha Tin College, part of the English Schools Foundation (ESF).
At the exhibition’s October 15 opening, the address is delivered by Kimberly Mann, manager of the Holocaust and United Nations Outreach Programme. She speaks to the ongoing efforts of the HKHTC to reach out to students, educators and the general public in Hong Kong to work not only towards memorializing the victims of the Holocaust, but to expose the causes and roots of genocide on a global scale.
While the integrity and emotion exhibited by the well-executed artwork produced by Hong Kong’s Jewish day school is expected, Sha Tin College’s participation is testimony to the HKHTC’s far-reaching success. The depth of understanding and emotional impact that these non-Jewish students are able to communicate is extraordinary.
The students were asked to create their own respectful and sensitive memorial and be able to articulate why they chose the symbols they incorporated and their meaning.
On display is the students’ broad understanding, which was carefully nurtured by Ms. Lucie Purves, head of philosophy and religious studies at Sha Tin College, as well as curriculum group leader for philosophy teachers in ESF.
Purves has focused on Holocaust studies for several years now and through her guidance, Sha Tin College has housed film screenings, hosted Father Desbois who spoke about his work on “The Holocaust by Bullets,” attended several Holocaust memorial events and welcomed survivor Joanna Millan. Likewise, this week, they will be hosting Ephraim Kaye, Director of the International Seminars for Educators Department at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.
As Purves explains, “I think the Holocaust and other acts of genocide in history should be an essential part of every school curriculum. At Sha Tin College we wanted students to know about the roots of prejudice and to explore the dangers of remaining indifferent to the oppression of others. Living in such a multicultural area makes it all the more essential for students to reflect upon what it means to be a responsible citizen.”
While it is clear that under Purves’ tutelage, the international and local students at Sha Tin College “get it,” their partnership with the Carmel School Association’s Elsa High School (where the HKHTC is housed) along with the HKHTC to produce a public art memorial in one of Hong Kong’s busiest pedestrian thoroughfares is reaching record numbers of passersby.
As April Kaminsky, on the board of the HKHTC, explains, “We would love to really be able to reach out to a hundred a day. But even if we reach just one then we have accomplished our goal.”
And while this exhibition in a more traditional gallery space would certainly have impactl, its reach would be limited and naturally draw a self-selected audience.
People with a sensitivity or awareness of the Holocaust are relatively small in number in places like Hong Kong and China. Running through November 15, this is one exhibition that simply needs a public space.