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Remembering to Look Forward:
Auschwitz, Argentina, and Genocide Prevention in 2013
By ALEX ZUCKER
On this day 68 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, created and operated by German Nazis. It is of course a day to remember. To remember the facts. To remember the horror. To remember the people. But it is also a day to remember to look forward.
More than 1.3 million children, women, and men lost their lives in the camp, according to the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum, which maintains the site for memorialization and education. The vast majority of the people killed there were Jews — murdered as victims of the crime that we now recognize as genocide. At the same time, tens of thousands of other people were also deported to Auschwitz to die because of their identity — Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and political prisoners. We remember them too on this day.
Each of the human beings slaughtered in Auschwitz–Birkenau, and killed in the Holocaust as a whole — beaten, worked, or starved to death, subjected to ghastly experimentation, raped, tortured, shot, hung, gassed and cremated — each of them came from a family. Each was somebody’s mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son, wife or husband.
The testimonies of those who survived are one way we know of the suffering and commemorate the loss. Scholarly research helps us to understand how it happened, if less clearly or satisfactorily why. In fact we continue to discover new information about the Holocaust, and with it, our understanding of what happened continues to change.
Yet the promise that emerged from those events, the pledge of “Never Again,” remains to be fulfilled. That phrase, according to the pioneering Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, first appeared on signs put up by prisoners in Buchenwald at the end of World War II. Very quickly it came to be understood to mean “No More Genocide,” and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations, in 1948, seemed to represent a concrete and important step toward making good on that promise. Since then, however, not a decade has passed without a genocide or atrocity crimes of a similar scale taking place.
In 2008, the Auschwitz Institute organized the first running of its Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, named after the man who invented the term genocide and held on the grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in cooperation with the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum. While the museum is focused on memorializing and educating about the past, the Auschwitz Institute’s mission — building a worldwide network of policymakers with the tools and the commitment to prevent genocide — looks squarely toward the future.
Our latest initiative — born in 2012 at the request of government officials themselves, with the Auschwitz Institute serving as catalyst — is the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. And today, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are proud and excited to present a new model for organizing government to prevent genocide.
Argentina’s National Mechanism for Prevention of Genocide, conceived by the National Directorate on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Ministry of Defense in collaboration with other national government institutions, is an attempt to put into practice the commitments Argentina undertook when it ratified the Genocide Convention in 1956.
Like the Atrocities Prevention Board created by the U.S. government last year, the Argentinean national mechanism provides for interagency coordination on the federal level. Unlike the U.S. board, however, Argentina’s proposal involves not only the federal government, but provincial (i.e., state) governments as well. Also unlike the U.S. model, it provides for ongoing training and development of education for all relevant civil servants in genocide prevention, human rights, and international humanitarian law, as well as “development of standards and criteria for evaluating mass media, communications, and public relations messaging.” Finally, it envisions coordination in policymaking and processing information with not only the UN but also relevant regional bodies.
The Auschwitz Institute does not believe there is only one way to prevent genocide. In every facet of our work, we support local solutions and insist that each state has the responsibility to develop a means of preventing genocide that makes sense for itself. We are encouraged to see a state like Argentina, with its own terrible legacy of state-sponsored atrocities, not only coming to terms with history but leading the way forward into the future.
So today, as we remember the horrors of the past, we may also take solace in knowing there is progress being made, and new ideas coming to life, in the effort to make “Never Again” more than a slogan.
Photo: Alex Zucker
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.
The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is proud to announce that on April 29, 2011, AIPR Executive Director Tibi Galis and Deputy Consul General of the German Permanent Mission to the United Nations Oliver Schnakenberg signed an agreement in which the German Federal Government pledged to provide funding for AIPR’s 2011 Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention. Germany’s support for genocide prevention will provide four government officials the opportunity to participate in the upcoming seminar. AIPR would like to express its thanks to the German Mission and Federal Government for helping to spread the mission of genocide prevention and aiding to make the goal of “Never Again” a reality.
In other genocide prevention news, the Madariaga College of Europe Foundation (MCF) and the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA), with the support of the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union and the cooperation of the European External Action Service and the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, are organizing a workshop called Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, May 12 and 13 in Brussels. Representatives from many international organizations, the European institutions, NGOs and experts in the field will gather next week to discuss the topic of genocide prevention. This event, part of a larger MCF-FBA program called “Building coherence, skills and synergies in conflict prevention,” is aimed at promoting deeper interaction among “international representatives” in order to create a stronger forum for dialogue on conflict prevention, as well as a space for reflection on the challenges facing policymakers in the realm of preventing genocide and mass atrocities.
Today, we have our first report “From the AIPR Team,” featuring Samantha Horn, AIPR’s legal and operations associate:
Things are extremely busy right now at AIPR. Our next Raphael Lemkin Genocide Prevention Seminar for CGSC students from Fort Leavenworth is coming up in April, and so we are in the midst of logistical details and last-minute curriculum changes for the program. All is going very well, though, and we are excited to be back in Poland soon.
Our founder and president, Fred Schwartz, will be traveling to South America this month, so I have been scheduling meetings for him with ministries of foreign affairs and justice, as well as with U.S. embassies. Mr. Schwartz will be traveling to Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, so it will be quite a trip. AIPR works very closely with the governments of Argentina and Brazil and has had participants in our seminars from these countries, as well as from Chile, but we are looking to expand our reach in the region, as in 2012 we are planning to launch a Raphael Lemkin Genocide Prevention Seminar for Latin America, which will be dedicated solely to the Latin American region with the program tailored to meet the needs of these countries, touching upon issues such as politicide and transitional justice. We are very excited about this initiative, and have the great help of the governments of Argentina and Brazil for this endeavor. Hopefully, this upcoming trip will expand our base.
I am also working on recruitment for our standard Lemkin Seminar, for government officials from around the world. The application deadline is March 1, and so I am in the midst of reviewing applications and calling those countries that have confirmed their intent to participate but have not sent in their applications. A great variety of countries will be attending, including Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Niger, Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Germany, and Sweden. I believe this will prove to be an incredible seminar, and the beginning for many of them of their work in genocide prevention. All in all, we are busy at work here at AIPR!