Young activists learn from survivors of Shoah, Rwanda, Darfur tragedies

Survivors of the Nazi, Rwandan and Darfur genocides sat together last week.

darfur feat 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
darfur feat 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Survivors of the Nazi, Rwandan and Darfur genocides sat together last week to explore issues of racism, anti-Semitism and genocide, in a seminar conducted by the World Jewish Congress and the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and at the Foreign Ministry's Tel Aviv office. "This seminar is part of the process to educate young people about the Shoah in the context of other genocides," said Peleg Reshef, director of the WJC's Future Generations Division. "Anti-Semitism, racism and human rights are all connected and we are trying to help give young people the tools to cooperate with each other and uproot these evils." Young adults from 12 countries - one Jew and one non-Jew from each nation - met with survivors in an attempt to build a larger community of activists to mobilize and educate against anti-Semitism and racism in the Diaspora. The WJC has organized this group with the view of uniting hundreds of youth in Germany in November 2008 under the auspices of the World Holocaust Forum for a conference on the effects of racism on world security and to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. By looking at not just the Holocaust but also at other genocides, particularly the one that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 and that is taking place in Darfur right now, participants learned to put the Holocaust within a larger historical context. Rwandan survivor Jean-Marie Kananora shared his story with the group, met with a survivor from the Shoah, and learned different methods of teaching about what happened to him and his people. "I was 15 during the genocide in Rwanda," said Kananora. "The challenge and reason I came here is to learn how to handle genocide personally, but also how to teach young people about what I went through." The biggest challenges, said Kananora, are the denial of the Rwanda genocide and an international public largely apathetic to genocide in Africa. "I think there are two ways that people deal with tragedies like this," said Kananora, "Some descend into despair and live only day to day. But I have hope. Though I lost my mother and my sister, I feel lucky and work to see how I can bring about something positive from my life. "Learning how Holocaust survivors have done this has shown me different ways to cope, but also different ways to help educate and spread the word about what has happened in Rwanda," Kananora said. Jason Gilbert, a teacher who is active in Mexico City's Jewish community, said the seminar, particularly the sessions at Yad Vashem, had provided him new insight into how to teach about the Holocaust and ethnic cleansing. "Yad Vashem has a new view on genocide," he said. "It is impossible for the mind to grasp what six million, or one million or even 500,000 deaths mean. The focus must be on the individual and his or her stories. "We should implement long-term educational programs against racism, anti-Semitism and genocide, because at the end of the day, education is our only tool." When the participants return to their home countries, which range from Uruguay to Poland, they will educate and recruit people to be active on the issues discussed at the conference. The World Jewish Congress, as the "diplomatic arm" of the Jewish people, hopes to use the seminar to "educate young people on their responsibility in combating anti-Semitism and racism and also to implement meaningful activities on the ground" Reshef said.