Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre welcomes new Director

Cape Town welcomed a new resident to our shores recently. Jakub Nowakowski and his family have settled in the city for Jakub – or Kuba, as he is more commonly known – to take up the reins at the Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre (CTHGC).

Having grown up and lived in Poland for his adult life, Kuba’s move to Cape Town represents a significant new chapter in his life – both personally and from a career perspective. He is certainly well-versed in the museum world, having worked at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków, Poland, for the past 15 years, 13 of which were as the Director of the museum. 

Raised in Krakow, he has not previously lived in another country, and the move to South Africa implies a new perspective on the teaching of the Holocaust to a different audience from the audiences he is used to. As he says, “I decided to apply for this position because of the similarities in terms of Polish and South African history. We are both nations that need to come to terms with our histories of discrimination, violence and trauma. The Holocaust has so many lessons that are appropriate to both societies, and I will certainly be looking at these lessons within the context of South Africa.”

As a youngster growing up in Kazimierz, the former Jewish district of Kraków, Kuba developed an interest in finding out more about the area, which led him to raise questions about why the area clearly had such a strong Jewish history, yet no Jews. He explains that, “During the Soviet era, the history of the Jews of Poland and the actions of Poles during World War II was not something that was discussed. It was only in the 1990s, once the Soviet era was over and there was more openness in Polish society, that people began to focus on this period of history and to uncover the truth about what happened. Having been born in the 1980s, this meant that I was at an age where I began to question the conventional view of things.”

It was against this background that Kuba began to learn more about his country’s Jewish history, and which led him to take up Jewish studies at the Jagiellonian University. Ultimately, this drove him into a career in the museum world, specifically with a focus on Jewish history.

Kuba’s understanding of the issues in Polish society – and in fact in the wider Eastern European world – will bring an added perspective to his new role.

Having only been in the country for a very short while, he is enthusiastic about the friendliness and warmth of the people he has met thus far. He comments: “I am extremely grateful to Richard Freedman and the staff and volunteers at the Holocaust Centre for taking me into the fold in such a welcoming manner. It’s also wonderful to be within such a vibrant Jewish community – it has highlighted for me what we, sadly, don’t have in Poland anymore.”

• Published in the October 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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