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From the Trenches of the Marne to the Hills of Rwanda

Reflections on 100 years of war, genocide and mass violence
Series of Events taking place from 11 November to 10 December 2014 
In Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town

from the trenches


A series of lectures, films and panel discussions to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War; the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War and the 20th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that targeted the Tutsi minority.

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Presented by
Alliance Francaise, British Council, EUNIC, Goethe-Institut, IFAS, Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Center, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, SAHA, Belgian Embassy, Bioscope, Con Hill, Ditsong, Instituto Camões, Italian Cultural Institute, Lilleslief, UNISA, Wits University.

For more information on the commemorative events, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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CONVERSATIONS FROM THE TRENCHES

From 11 November to 10 December, the Goethe-Institut with support from Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS), Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre (JHGC), Institut Francais (IFAS), Alliance Francaise (AF), The South Africa History Archive (SAHA), British Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany and European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) will be presenting a series of conversations and film screenings, called From the Trenches of the Marne to the Hills of Rwanda, about war, genocide and mass violence and the impact these had and continue to have on society.

The British Council’s Tom Birtwistle, Deputy Director SA says “A common misconception in the UK is that WW1 was Europe’s war. It is true that the crucible of the conflict played out on Europe’s battlefields; but those that fought and gave their lives were from across the globe.

The impact of the conflict has rippled across the planet ever since. Institutions dedicated to peace such as the UN and the Red Cross were founded in the aftermath of the two World Wars. And sadly, some of today’s intransigent problems are linked to what happened 100 years ago. That is why remembering remains our best means of ensuring it never happens again.” 

This year marks three significant events, which changed the world: the centenary of the beginning of the First World War; the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War and the 20th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that targeted the Tutsi minority. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre , the Goethe-Institut and the French Institute formed an organising committee to host a series of different featured events to commemorate and reflect on these world events and learn about the influence they had on society.

“Through a number of non-governmental organisations in the Southern African region, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung supports historical research and historical awareness from colonialism to current affairs,” says RLS representative for Southern Africa Dr. Armin Osmanovic. “Our involvement in From the Trenches reflects perfectly our endeavour to enrich the public debate on our common history and future.”

In fact there are numerous organisations dedicated to keeping peace in the world as is evident by the support From the Trenches has received in order to make it possible for the series of events to take place. 

The From the Trenches talks and screenings will be hosted throughout various venues in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town. The venues themselves hold special meaning to the discussions that will take place in them.

The speakers are all respected and renowned in their various fields and include the likes of multiple award-winning South African journalist, political analyst and author, Max du Preez; renowned World War I historian Bill Nasson; acclaimed South African artist Paul Emmanuel; one of Germany’s foremost experts on European and German history of the 19th and 20th centuries, Professor Ulrich Herbert; leading human rights lawyer and Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, Yasmin Sooka; RLS Warsaw’s Holger Politt; RLS Berlin’s Jörn Jan Leidecker; Le Monde’s Jean Philip Remy; SA Deputy Minister of Public Works and Deputy General-Secretary of the SA Communist Party Jeremy Cronin; Professor Chris Landsberg from the University of Johannesburg; Stefan Liebich, a member of the German Parliament; senior program adviser Howard Varney from the International Center for Transitional Justice; esteemed South African journalist and author David Williams; and respected historian and professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the VU University Amsterdam Stephen Ellis. 

Some of the directors of the various films being screened will also be in attendance at screenings and talks, and will include Kivu Ruhorahoza from Rwanda who directed Grey Matter; Eva Knopf from Germany who directed Majub’s Journey; Rainer Simon from Germany director of The Woman and The Stranger; plus actors Sibulele Gcilitshana and Nick Boraine who are featured in the acclaimed South African documentary A snake gives birth to a snake. 

From the Trenches first discussion, Return to Thiepval: Imprinting and Erasing Memories of the First World War kicked off on 11 November at Alliance Française in Johannesburg. The conversation took place between Emmanuel and Nasson and will also be hosted at Alliance Française in Cape Town on 21 November. The talk in Jo’burg featured a ‘counter-memorial’ exhibit by South African artist Paul Emmanuel called The Lost Men France, which was installed adjacent to the Franco-British Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Northern France, as part of the WWI Centenary. 

In commemoration of the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht (the November 1938 pogroms), the Goethe-Institut, the JHGC and the RLS hostedProfessor Herbert from the University of Freiburg, Germany,on 16 November. He spoke about Völkermord undVolksgemeinschaft: The German society during the Nazi dictatorship. The talk took place at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg and will move to the Holocaust Centre in Cape Town on 19 November. 

A discussion around World War or Socialism? Socialist Political Thinking before the First World War took place on 17 November at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein and included a dialogue between Professor Herbert, Politt and Cronin. 

Then on 18 November, Professor Herbert will talk at Wits University about the Land of Extremes: Germany in the 20th focusing on Germany’s extreme history – two World Wars, one failed democracy, the Hitler dictatorship and the Holocaust – as well as Germany in the 20th century as a social welfare state, increasingly wealthy, liberal and globalised - a successful democracy enjoying the longest period of peace in European history. 

Mass Crimes against Civilians and International Responsibility will be presented by Professor Landsberg, Liebich, Sooka and Varney and chaired by David Williams at Constitution Hill on 19 November. This panel will explore the issue of mass crimes and genocide from multiple perspectives, including from a legal, diplomatic and human rights lens.

Then on 23 November Leidecker, Ruhorahoza, Remy and du Preez will explore the role of the media in the Rwanda genocide context and beyond when they discuss Media’s responsibility and the Genocide in Rwanda at RLS. 

Continuing the Rwanda theme Ellis will talk about The Rwandan genocide in historical context on 28 November at Wits University. He’ll discuss whether the notion of genocide can be used in regard to Africa before the 20th Century.

The film screenings will continue in the theme of war and most of them will feature conversations with the filmmakers who are in attendance at the screenings. 

The Bioscope at the Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg, will showcase a variety of films. On 21 November Ruhorahoza’s Grey Matter will be screened after which he will discuss the film with the audience; Dirty Wars (directed by Rick Rowley) will also be screened that night. On 22 November Knopf’s Majub’s Journey will be screened and the director will be available for a discussion thereafter; The Stick (directed by Darrell Roodt) will also be screened that night. Both Apocalypse episode 1 and Westfront 1918 will be screened on 23 November, Apocalypse episode 2 and Joyeux Noël on 24 November, Apocalypse episode 3 and The Thin Red Line on 25 November. And then on 26 November after the screening of Apocalypse episode 4, The Woman and The Stranger will be screened after which director Simon will give a talk. Finally on 27 November there will be a screening of Apocalypse episode 5 and The White Ribbon. 

Film Screenings and discussions will also take place at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History. On 22 November the acclaimed South African documentary A Snake gives birth to a Snake will be screened, after which du Preez will talk about the film with Boraine and Gcilitshana. Armistice will be screened on 26 November.

Historical Liliesleaf Farm will also host various film screenings including 12 Minutes About Peace and Grey Matter on 24 November. Director Ruhorahoza will be in attendance. 12 Minutes About Peace will be screened again on 25 November, followed by The Consul of Bordeaux.

Ukutshona ko Mendi… Did we Dance, A Play about The Sinking of the SS Mendi will be performed daily from 25-30 November at the Soweto Theatre. On 22 November, SAHA will host a workshop, Teaching WW I in the classroom - Drilling the Death Drill: The sinking of the SS Mendi, at Constitution Hill and will invite Grade 10-12 history educators to participate in a workshop on the historic sinking of the troopship SS Mendi during the First World War. This was one of South Africa’s worst marine tragedies in which more than 600 troops, many from the last contingent of the South African Native Labour Corps sent to support the war effort in Europe, perished in the English Channel in 1917. The story of SS Mendi will be used as a starting point to explore the complexities of teaching about war in the classroom. 

There will be a screening of The Last of the Unjust, as well as a discussion on 2 December at UNISA College of Graduate Studies and then on 4 December at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History. There will be a final screening of the film, with a discussion, on 7 December at Cape Town Holocaust Centre after the INoGS (International Network of genocide Scholars) Conference.

History has a way of repeating itself and From the Trenches hopes to bring about an awareness of the horrific impact that conflict has on us all. “Through this series, looking at the history of war, genocide and mass atrocities over the last 100 years, we hope to continue in this mission, and to ultimately strengthen freedom and democracy within our society,” says JHGC special projects officer Kim Nates. 

From the Trenches could not have been realised without the support of the Belgian Embassy, Bioscope, Constitution Hill, Ditsong National Museum of Military History, Instituto Camões, Italian Cultural Institute, Liliesleaf, UNISA and Wits University.

For more information about the events, please visit www.goethe.de/joburg/reflections or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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