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This week’s Guest Preventers on the AIPR blog are Michael Pertnoy and Michael Kleiman, codirectors of the 2010 award-winning film The Last Survivor, which follows the lives of survivors of four different genocides—the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, and Congo—as they struggle to make sense of tragedy by inspiring tolerance in a new generation. 

From very early on, our goal was to make a film about genocide that left the audience with a feeling of hopefulness and optimism—that there was something they could do to end this tragedy. Now we are working with a coalition of groups to bring The Last Survivor to communities around the globe, spark dialogue about how to prevent genocide in the future, and bring much needed support and attention to the most vulnerable communities of survivors and refugees around the world.

As filmmakers, we believe the most effective way to raise awareness and, ultimately, to prevent genocide is by listening to and supporting the people directly affected by it. Too often, refugee and survivor communities are neglected by the genocide prevention movement, so, as part of our film’s grassroots campaign, we are working to bridge this divide by connecting refugees with anti-genocide activists in the United States. We hope this will help foster personal relationships and provide opportunities for activists to get to know the people they are advocating for, who are living in their own communities. If we learn from each other’s experiences, we can become a stronger force speaking and acting out against genocide.

We hope that you will consider joining us in this effort by bringing the film to your community so your friends and neighbors can learn about these atrocities and hopefully get inspired, like we did, to do something about it.

Everyone has personal reasons for getting involved in the movement to prevent genocide. These are ours.

Michael Pertnoy, founder and executive director, Righteous Pictures

When I was 18, I had the opportunity to journey to the concentration camps in Poland on a program called the March of the Living. Up until that point I had learned a lot about the Holocaust in school and in many ways it was overwhelming—thinking about the statistics, seeing the horrific pictures and graphic film footage, I felt helpless. But as I walked arm in arm with the Holocaust survivors from my home community, marching through the death camps into the gas chambers, the focus was no longer on the millions of lives lost, but the power of those who had survived; those who had passed through the worst that the world has to offer and emerged with something to give to the world—a renewed sense of purpose, an obligation to provide a firsthand account of one of history’s darkest times, and to share their story so future genocides could be prevented.

On that trip in 2002 I made a promise to the survivors that I would carry on their legacy to my generation and beyond. In 2006 I returned to the camps. By then, the genocide in Darfur had been raging for more than three years. Over 300,000 people had been killed and millions displaced. And I wasn’t even aware yet of the violence in Congo and the other nations around it. It was after this trip back to the camps, as a recent college graduate, that I decided to get involved with the growing anti-genocide cause that was mobilizing across the United States. It was the confluence of these experiences that birthed The Last Survivor, and the rest was history.

Michael Kleiman, cofounder and creative director, Righteous Pictures

My grandmother on my father’s side and her three sisters fled Belgium to escape the Nazi occupation in World War II. I remember hearing stories about how the four of them were hidden in the back of a pickup truck and smuggled out of the country to the south of France, where they hid in a barn for six months before escaping to Portugal and then the United States. I grew up with these stories.

When I was a junior in college, a friend of mine told me in passing about the genocide in Darfur, which had been going on for three years at that point. I was taken aback, not only by the horror but by the fact that I’d never heard anything about it. I considered myself politically aware at that time—mindful of the world around me. So I did what any film student would do: I picked up my camera and made what I now consider to be a terrible short film about the genocide in Darfur and its absence from the news. I always wanted to do more, so when Michael came to me with the idea for a film about genocide survivors, I jumped at the opportunity.

Today’s post “From the AIPR Team” comes from Operations Intern Jessica Lemire:

The last time I wrote for the AIPR blog, I was preparing to go to Poland to attend the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention with students from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Now that the seminar has ended and we have returned from Auschwitz, I can firmly say that these seminars are an invaluable resource and an extremely important contribution to the work of preventing genocide and other mass atrocities.

In terms of the educational modules, all of the information and tools given to participants are excellent sources of reference to use if they should find themselves in a position to apply it in their future employment. Additionally, the classroom environment of the seminar provided for a lot of stimulating debate and conversation that spilled over into free time outside the classes. However, the one experience that seemed to have the deepest impact on participants and instructors alike was their tours of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Having the tours of the camps combined with the educational courses on genocide studies and prevention gave the participants a unique historical vantage point to refer to and feel connected to, especially since several of the modules took place on the camp grounds. I believe that being in Auschwitz helped to encourage a more open discussion on the issue of preventing future genocides.

Through this seminar I was able to see just how important the work of AIPR is and it made me proud to have even a minuscule role in this organization. In some small way we are making a difference. Even if only one participant from this seminar takes away the messages of the lessons and uses them to change the opinions or actions of others so as to promote more peace rather than conflict, then we have succeeded.

Jessica Lemire is graduating in May from Fordham University with a B.A. in International Political Economy and a Certificate in Peace and Justice Studies.

Today’s post “From the AIPR Team” comes from Operations Intern Daniel Mitzner:

As AIPR focuses on expanding its outreach by developing new editions of its standard Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, I have been involved in a few different projects.

One is the development of a Lemkin Seminar focusing on women in genocide. To this end, we have been seeking advice on curricular development strategy from academics and organizations around the world. Recently I contacted women’s human rights organizations in South America prior to a trip there by our president, Mr. Fred Schwartz, so we could arrange meetings for him with the aim of working together with these groups to develop the seminar. I have also drafted various legal documents, including a proposal for a donation of real estate to AIPR from the Polish government.

However, my main focus at AIPR has been drafting an academic article with Tibi Galis, our executive director, on judiciary reforms in regimes in transition and how these reforms affect the administration of transitional justice. Specifically, I have researched several regimes that have undergone a transition and compiled data on the effectiveness of the various approaches these governments have taken when vetting their public officials and judicial officers. I began the writing process last week, and Tibi and I hope to have the article published this spring.

Holocaust memorial day is commemorated annually on January 27. The day follows General Assembly Resolution 60/7 adopted on November 1, 2005.  At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the German and Polish Presidents urged global vigilance to prevent crimes against humanity. At Germany’s official Holocaust remembrance day ceremony the first Roma guest of honour also noted how his people face new threats, including discrimination and exclusion.

On January 25, it was reported that Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana, who is accused of committing war crimes in Democratic Republic of Congo, will be extradited from France to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face such charges. Mr Mbarushimana was arrested in Paris in October 2010 following a request from the ICC, as the BBC reports.

On January 23, the UN published a report on the worsening situation in Darfur as reported by Reuters Africa. The report noted the “worrisome increase” in fighting between rebel and government forces in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The Associated Press further reported on January 27 that the US is calling for peacekeepers in Darfur to be more “aggressive.”

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