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At Auschwitz about Genocide


The seminar named in honor of Raphael Lemkin, dedicated to the crime of Genocide has come to an end. The project is meant for representatives of Ministries of Foreign affairs from around the world, and the organizer of the seminar are: The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation [AIPR], The United Nations, and the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust operating at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

Raphael Lemkin Center for the Prevention of Genocide organizes the series of seminars with the goal to heighten the sensitivity of mid-level government officials from all around the world to the problem of genocide, as well as its political, economic, and humanitarian consequences. The lessons flowing from the history of Auschwitz should help prevent future instances of mass murder. Meanwhile, events in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur show that after more than 60 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, humanity has failed to draw lessons from the crimes of the Second World War.

"Participants from several countries, among them, Georgia, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Sudan, Nigeria, Armenia, Tanzania and Argentina, visited the site of the former Concentration Camp, attended lectures focusing on the definition and history of genocide, the psychology of the perpetrators as well as the diplomatic and economic methods of preventing genocide," stated Marta Berecka, the project coordinator for the ICEAH. Included among the lecturers were, Prof. James Waller of Keene State College; Prof. Sheri Rosenberg, the Director of Holocaust and Human Rights Studies at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; Konstanty Gebert, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations office in Warsaw; as well as Alicja Białecka and Piotr Setkiewicz from the Auschwitz Museum.

The managing director of the Institute, Tibi Galis, emphasizes the importance of this site in the whole project. "The entirety of our work is devoted to the prevention of genocide in the contemporary world and that, which had taken place at Auschwitz, is our starting point. We reach out to those who today may influence the course of history in their home countries when it comes to genocide prevention policy. It is, therefore, important that diplomats come to Auschwitz. Here they have the opportunity to get to know this exceptional place. Here they can come into direct contact with this extraordinary place. The idea of the project is for people who had had no direct contact with genocide, it is very difficult to comprehend such an experience. Here the evidence of the murders is still visible, despite the years that have passed. This helps these individuals to concentrate on the current problems as well as with becoming emotionally active in the work they do where they live and abroad."

Similar beliefs were shared by seminar participant, Maryanne Njau-Kimani of the Kenyan Ministry of Justice, National Unity and Constitutional Affairs. "This specific seminar is very helpful to me, which points to concrete actions that can be done in the realm of the methods of preventing genocide. It also allows you to eyewitness, what such actions are able to lead to if the proper mechanisms are not enacted in time. In addition, just being on the site of the former Auschwtiz Concentration Camp is a powerful experience and causes an individual to feel even more motivated to take up activities, which work to make certain that something such as this will never happen again," describes Maryanne Njau–Kimani.

"This is an extremely important initiative and just the fact that the seminar takes place in Oświęcim is the realization of our civic duty," notices Sebastian Rejak from Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "The historical context of this site is a pretext, it is the point from which the seminar was started. Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, the first two days of lectures on the subject of the Holocaust, its stages and demographic as well as demographic implications. It is noticeable that there are always some similarities, which overlap, but of course there are also differences. Some of the experts who presented the issues, with which they deal, pointed out these differences, but they also highlighted some of the elements that are repeated in each genocide. And for us today, these elements are a definite alarm, a signal, which allow us to take, at the least, some theoretical action. We attempt to learn from our history and take upon ourselves a kind of responsibility, in the sense of the future," adds Rejak.

The seminar is the brainchild of New York philanthropist Fred Schwartz who also finances the AIPR.

Raphael Lemkin, who the seminar is named in honor of, was a pre-War Polish lawyer of Jewish origin and coined the term “Genocide.” During the War, he was able to make his way to the United States. Adopted in 1948 by the UN, The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was established largely thanks to the efforts of the international community, as a response to the crimes of the Holocaust. The intention of its authors was to prevent the crime of mass murder in the future.

The seminar dedicated to the crime of genocide was held at Auschwitz Memorial. Photo Bartosz Bartyzel
The seminar...
The seminar dedicated to the crime of genocide was held at Auschwitz Memorial. Photo Bartosz Bartyzel
The seminar...