When I met genocide survivors
Meeting survivors of genocide – my blog for Holocaust Memorial Day 2012 has now moved to this page.
I have been reflecting again this week on why HMD is so important. I know, in a small way, how hurtful words can be. How powerful they can be – to make people live in fear or to give comfort and hope.
Please pledge to speak out against hatred and hurtful words – whether it’s cruel words on Twitter, Facebook, at work or spoken by people you work or live with.
The theme this year “asks us to think about the rights, responsibility and duty we all have to speak up when we see or hear something which we believe to be wrong. It challenges us to learn about what happens when we don’t speak out and what can happen when we do use our voice.”
First I read.
Then I watched.
After I cried.
Now in my weakness I am strong.
I am alive
I can and will speak out against the path to genocide.
When I met survivors of genocide
In 1988 I first learned about the Holocaust as a high school student. Genocide was something consigned to history, or so I thought – but it wasn’t. The Guatemalan Civil War, the regime in Chile, the Lebanon massacre were to come.
Then came Rwanda – the second time I had heard the word genocide and the first time I had witnessed some of the most graphic news footage of the time. About a year later Srebenica in Bosnia… and this is where my story starts.
When I volunteered for the Red Cross, many of those fleeing Bosnia and surrounding countries were coming to the UK hidden in lorries etc. I would hear people complaining about asylum seekers and making it clear these people weren’t welcome. I was proud to be in an organisation which was world renowned for providing help based on the grounds of neutrality and in a none-judgemental way. I will never forget how my friends would be called out to set up beds and treat the wounded.
[Image, above, Bosnian women grieving]
People arrived with bullet holes in them, their families missing or dead. They arrived not knowing what would happen, fearful of whether they would be sent back to die. They looked at my friend’s uniform bearing the Red Cross – a symbol of protection bringing the look of relief – Krissy Cross they said. It didn’t take a translator to work out that comfort, food and some reassurance was going to be needed.
I got involved with a First Aid course for Albanian people, refugees, who were staying in the UK and spent long hours working with a translator I had to source. I went armed with all our handouts, but as it happened, they had very good English and a translator in attendance by that time and my efforts went unappreciated! After all the terrible things, here was a sign of hope, a new life.
I feel angry that people in my community were speaking the language of hatred against these people, wanting to send them back where they came from. It was the power of hurtful words, exclusion and stereotyping that had contributed to changing their life back home into one of terror and massacre in the first place – the first stage on the path that led to genocide.
I leave you with the following to contemplate.
*Resources from Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
“Many people consider tackling the issues of equality and fairness to be the province of anti-discrimination law, of advocacy groups, or of government, to be addressed by discrete, often marginal programmes of activity directed at particular groups. But the greatest impacts on the opportunities open to individuals are made by everyday decisions in every part of society, most of which apply equally to everyone.”
Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010.