Monday, March 30, 2009

"Never Forget..."

Yesterday I was honored to be among those gathered for the dedication of the new Erna & Arthur Salm Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove on the campus of Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.  It features the moving Memorial pictured above.  Fabricated and installed by Professor Jann Nunn, with the help of SSU sculpture students and alumni, the column reflects light, both sunlight and artificial, through some 5000 specially handcrafted glass plates.  

The tracks, reminiscent of those by which millions of Jewish people were transported to their deaths in gas chambers, lie across a footpath and slope down to the base of the Memorial column.  There are inscribed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:  "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."  The white strips under the tracks include 460 bricks inscribed with the names and communities of those who have endured genocide.  A series of symbols enable visitors to match victims' names with the corresponding genocides.  These include the Native American, Armenian, Holocaust, Cambodian, Rwandan, and Darfur genocides.  As Dean Elaine Leeder, of the SSU School of Social Sciences, who conceived of and spearheaded this project, observed: it is exceedingly sad to realize that there is now a new academic area known as "comparative genocide".

Representatives from all the groups represented by the Memorial were on hand to speak, sing, pray, and dance throughout the program, thus sharing a visible record of the life and culture which has endured even holocaust and genocide, blossoming and developing with grace and strength and determination.  It was particularly moving to hear the keynote speaker, Professor Joseph Nsengimana, Ambassador to the United Nations, representing the Rwandan Tutsi Community, himself a survivor of the Rwandan genocide after losing his family.  Equally compelling was the urgent appeal of Mr. Abdulhafiz Abaker, a survivor of the developing genocide in Darfur, for everyone to join in solidarity, denouncing the oppression in Darfur and doing whatever can be done to stop it.  At this time 300,000 lives have been extinguished. 2, 700,000 people have been displaced and are struggling to survive in refugee camps under horrific conditions.  More than 85% of all the villages in Darfur have been obliterated.  So great is the fear of surviving Darfuris that there will be retribution to their families, that they have chosen to remember their loved ones in Darfur by inscribing on the Memorial stones only the names of the villages where they once lived, rather than actual names of their relatives.

The Memorial program notes:  "The crime of genocide stems from prejudice, ignorance, extremism, hate, intolerance, and complacency.  Genocide thrives when good people ignore an injustice committed against another."   May we all have the resolve and grace to stand up and speak out when we witness oppression wherever we see it in the world, beginning with our own communities.

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