As a part of Holocaust Remembrance Week at Weber State University, members of the Center for Diversity and Unity held a discussion on “Genocide: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” on Wednesday to help students understand genocide’s impact on the world.
“When I think of genocide, the first thing that comes to my mind is the Holocaust because it was such a significant event, but when I try and think more currently, I think of what is going on right now in Africa,” said Kristen Morey, a WSU secondary education student. “I think that a lot of people don’t realize that genocide is going on right now at this very moment.”’
The discussion began with a presentation of what genocide is and a timeline of how it has become what it is today. Mindy Chamberlin, a member of the CDU, said the term genocide was not even established until 1944 as a result of the Nazi-Jew Holocaust.
Following the discussion, the audience watched a movie created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The movie, Defying Genocide: Choices that Saved Lives, discusses the genocide that happened in Africa, particularly in Rwanda.
In 1994, a of longstanding ethnic competition and tension between two Rwandan peoples, the Tutsis and Hutus, exploded. An estimated 500,000 to one million Rwandan people were killed during this time.
The movie discussed that in every genocide that has occurred across the globe, no matter the time period, there have been individuals who have risked their lives to save and protect others.
“To make a change, it definitely can start with one person,” Chamberlin said. “It just takes one person to create that domino effect.”
The film shares the story of Simone Weil Lipman as an example of such a person because she saved thousands of Jewish children during the Nazi-Jew Holocaust.
After referencing Lipman, the film transitioned and focused to a more current genocide issue and one of the individuals that made a difference.
The film focused on Damas Gisimba and his act of courage when he set up an orphanage in Rwanda that was overwhelmed by armed forces many times during the genocide.
Along with the help of Carl Wilkens, an American aid worker, Gisimba and Wilkens protected, cared for and saved 400 Rwandan people.
During the filming of this documentary, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum quoted Gisimba about the time he cared for the 400 people.
“I could not abandon my neighbors,” Gisimba said. “I could not abandon my children — children that I had raised and who have grown up before my eyes.”
Following the movie, the audience discussed genocide, why it happens and what can be done to make it stop.
“By not acting, we are saying that it is okay that they are committing these evil crimes,” said Adrienne Gillespie, director of the CDU. “Until we can see that we are doing these horrific crimes against humanity, there will continue a need for us to remember.”
Each year the members of the CDU come up with a theme for Holocaust Remembrance Week. This year the theme is to choose to act.
“We want people to be inspired by decisions that others have made and to step up in the face of evil and to act and to let people be empowered by that,” Gillespie said. “I know that one person can make a difference; one candle can light the darkness.”