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Broadening its outlook on genocide, Yad Vashem hosted an international seminar Wednesday dealing with the Rwanda genocide carried out a decade ago, effectively expanding its half-century old approach on dealing exclusively with the murder of European Jewry during the Holocaust, in an effort to reach out to a worldwide audience.
The unprecedented week-long seminar on a non-Holocaust-related genocide was the initiative of a group of Tutsi survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who looked to Israel, and Yad Vashem in particular, to learn how the Holocaust is memorialized in the Jewish State as a point of reference for their own remembrance.
The seminar is being carried out in conjunction with a Belgian- and Rwandan-based Tutsi non-governmental organization as well as the French Memorial of the Shoah.
"You suffered before we did, and you have important lessons to teach us," said Yolande Mukagasana, the director of the Tutsi Organization, Nyamirambo, and one of the first survivors of the Rwandan genocide to document the mass murder. "We need you in order to rebuild," she said.
The event, which included a discussion entitled "The Genocide in Rwanda: Have we Learned Anything from the Holocaust?", was a turning point in Yad Vashem's 52-year-old history in that it was the first time Israel's Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority directly dealt with a non-Holocaust-related genocide at its prestigious international school for Holocaust studies.
"One of the fundamental questions we ask ourselves regarding the genocide of the Jews - or the genocide of the Tutsis - is how this could happen," said chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate Avner Shalev. "Our task is...to see to it that such genocides do not happen again."
The head of Yad Vashem said that it was the obligation of both survivors and the international community, which failed to stop either the Holocaust or more recently the Rwandan genocide, to construct a system of values of human existence - values which, he said, were shattered in the Holocaust and were nonexistent in Rwanda last decade.
About one million people, mainly minority Tutsis and political moderates from the Hutu majority, were murdered in 100 days in the Rwandan genocide.
Conceding a "shift" in longstanding policy, the head of Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies Dr. Motti Shalem said that it was both critical and obligatory to actively speak out against genocide and mass murder whenever it happens while still maintaining the uniqueness of the Holocaust.
"This is the Jewish approach to sanctify the memory of the Holocaust," said Professor Yisrael Cherney, President of the International Association for Genocide Research.
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Dr. Howard Chudler, Brea, CA, USA:
I think a move like this is very correct. As a Jew, I have always felt it our moral responsibility to recognize and help others, especially those that have suffered like us - and especially those who ultimately could become our friends.
This then begs the question...when does Yad Vashem then invite a representative from Darfur
? Not only are they suffering genocide, but suffering genocide at the hands of Arabs.
Maura de Bernart, Roma, Italy:
Tod for letting me know about this seminar. In April 1999 - my mother, Myriam, a victim of 1938 racial laws, had died on March 26 that year - we held a seminar on racial laws in Forl and Rwanda, with C. and V. Finzi, members of the Jewish community in Bologna
, and survivors from
Rwanda, with a sense of common mourning.
Then, in 2001, there was the terrible Durban conference... Tod , your article is a spark of "tikkun olam"...