Jerry Fowler, Director, Committee on Conscience
Good morning and welcome to the Holocaust Memorial Museum for this extraordinary program Bearing Witness for Darfur: Can We Prevent Genocide in Sudan? It’s extraordinary that we’re bringing to a halt the normal activities of the Holocaust Museum to stress the danger of genocide today. I’d like to begin by welcoming our Holocaust survivor volunteers. They survived the Holocaust six decades ago and have gone on to become the heart and the soul of our institution, and we appreciate they’re being with us here this morning. I also wish to welcome and to thank for coming Ms. Amal Allagabo and other Darfurians who are so concerned and so worried about their families still in Darfur. And I thank especially members of Congress Senator Corzine, Senator Brownback, Mr. Payne who will join us shortly, well he’s right on cue Mr. Payne, Donald Paine of New Jersey, and Mr. Wolf who has been so supportive of this effort, but unfortunately was unable to be here this morning.
Sixty years ago in 1944, the Nazis and their Hungarian allies began the deportation and murder of the last intact community of Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, the Hungarian Jews. By that time the contours of what we today call the Holocaust were known. They were known in Washington; they were known in London; they were known all over the world. Warnings were received but little was done. One young boy caught up in those deportations was Elie Wiesel. He survived but his family did not. When this museum opened in 1993, Elie Wiesel delivered the keynote address. And he asked a litany of painful questions. Why were the Hungarian Jews not warned? Why were the railways to Birkenau not bombed? Why, why was there no public outcry? And he said that this museum does not offer answer to those questions; he said there aren’t any answers. He said this museum is a question. If there is a response, he said, it is a response in responsibility. A response in responsibility.
Nineteen-forty-four was also the year that the word genocide was introduced. A Polish refugee created the word to describe what was happening in Nazi occupied Europe. The Holocaust ended, but the problem of genocide did not. In 1994, ten years ago, in Rwanda, warnings were received and ignored. What is our responsibility when we receive those warnings?
It was with that idea in mind that last month I went to the African country of Chad to interview refugees from Sudan who had fled Darfur. And I heard so many stories, and just one in particular I’ll share with you, that has stuck with me and will forever. I was sitting in a small makeshift shelter, talking to a woman with her four kids and an older neighbor, and outside it was about 115 degrees and it was stuffy in there. And she told me, she told me about when her village was attacked, and her father was killed, and her brother was killed, and her cousin was killed. Thirty people in her village were killed that day. And her mother disappeared. I took all of this in and I took notes and I thanked her for sharing her story with me. And I started to go and she just started talking in a really low voice. And I looked at her and tears were splashing down on her cheeks and she said, she said, “What about my mother? What about my mother? I don’t know where my mother is, I don’t even know if she’s dead or if she’s alive.” And what could I say to her? What could I say to her? All I could say is, “tell me your mother’s name, and I will take her name back and I will tell people about her.” And her mother’s name is Hadiya Ahmed, Hadiya Ahmed. And we don’t know if she’s dead or if she’s alive, and we won’t know until peace and security is brought to Darfur.
The time to act in Darfur is now. It’s now. The obligation to prevent genocide is a legal one and a moral one. Too often in the past, as this Museum starkly illustrates, warnings have been received and ignored and the result has been death and suffering on a massive scale. It’s time for us to stop saying “never again,” and start saying, “not this time.”
Not this time.
We’re very honored to have today to speak with us Ms. Nesse Godin, a survivor of concentration camps during the Holocaust, a survivor of a death march.