Ahmed Kathrada in post-war Europe: Holocaust memory and apartheid South Africa (1951-1952)

Roni Mikel Arieli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


This paper is part of a larger study exploring cultural and discursive performances of Holocaust memory in South Africa under the apartheid racist regime (1948–1994). During the years of apartheid rule, South Africans of diverse backgrounds regularly invoked the memory of the Holocaust. In his 2004 memoirs, the Indian South African anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada briefly narrates the course of his European odyssey (1951–1952), where he witnessed first-hand the destruction left by the Second World War and by the Holocaust in particular. Using Kathrada’s memoirs; an interview I conducted with him in August 2016, and archival records concerning the cultural events he attended while in Europe, I tease out Kathrada’s insights on the Jewish Holocaust through a distinctively internationalist perception of colonialism. In addition, I address specific threads of communist thought that shaped his worldview. Despite his communist background, records of his visits to the Auschwitz concentration camp and to the Warsaw Ghetto reveal Kathrada’s unique perception of the Holocaust–in marked distinction from Soviet approaches to the Holocaust and its memorialization. Moreover, an analysis of Kathrada’s public speeches delivered over the 1950s repositions Kathrada’s little known sojourn in Europe as central in shaping his insights regarding the consequences of racism. These insights, gleaned in Europe, are brought home to South Africa. Drawing on Michael Rothberg’s paradigm of multidirectional memory, this paper explores how Kathrada interweaves different narratives, structuring his own imaginaries and identities by negotiating between different practices of commemoration and memorialization, in a search for justice and solidarity, and as a means of articulating his own position as a victim of apartheid South Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalAfrican Identities
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Ahmed Kathrada
  • Holocaust
  • apartheid
  • communism
  • multidirectional memory
  • transnationalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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