Upstander Connection

Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

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Thank You to Scholar and Philanthropist Lilian Furst

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Image of Lilian Furst provided by USC Shoah Foundation

Lilian Furst often said she felt she had no real home. The brilliant scholar, professor and author even titled one her books Home Is Somewhere Else.

But in Dallas she found, if not a home, a rare place of contentment for a while. A Holocaust refugee from Vienna, she lived here with her father from 1975 until his death a decade later.

“It [Dallas] was an alien culture, but it was a good time and her father became happy there,” Dr. Madeline G. Levine, a close friend, said.

Her father’s happiness might explain the astonishing gift she left the Dallas Holocaust Museum in her will.

$1 million.

Museum officials will combine her gift with other donations to build a new and larger Holocaust museum in the West End. Levine said she believed Furst would approve.

“I think it would make her happy to contribute to the new museum and to make sure her father is remembered,” she said.

Furst was born in Vienna in 1931. Her parents were both medical doctors trained as dental surgeons, and she described an enchanted, fairy-tale childhood until the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938.

The family illegally fled to Belgium to hide but were later given admittance to Britain because the country was in need of dentists. She and her parents stayed in England for years, and Furst earned her Ph.D. from Girton College, Cambridge University.

After her mother’s death in 1969, Furst and her father, Desider Furst, left for the United States, traveling the country for her positions and named professorships at Dartmouth, Stanford, Harvard, the University of Texas at Dallas and more. Her curriculum vitae says she was a UTD faculty member from 1975 to 1986.

It was in Dallas that Desider Furst penned his memoirs, but Lilian could not bring herself to read them while he was alive.

“My ulterior motive for not reading his autobiography was my fear of disappointment and of hurting him by somehow betraying that response,” she wrote. “Though an avid reader throughout his life and with a large vocabulary in English, his third language (Hungarian and German were his first and second), he had no experience in writing.”

She found that she was mistaken, however, after she finally read his work after his death. His memoirs were wonderful, and she decided to combine his story with her own to create an “autobiography in two voices.” Home Is Somewhere Else, one of the 23 books and countless articles and reviews she wrote in her lifetime, was published in 1994.

Lilian Furst, 1978/11

Lilian Furst at Case Western Reserve University, 1978. Image 02294 property of Case Western Reserve University Archives.

“She was extraordinarily attached to her father. She was very bereft when he died. She felt alone. She and her father had been a unit, especially after her mother died,” Levine said.

Furst called herself the “Anne Frank who lived,” and while she considered herself one of the “lucky” ones, she carried a burden throughout her life.

“I assign the Diary of Anne Frank in a course on adolescence in twentieth-century literature, and it tears me apart each time I read it. I feel that so easily, but for the grace of God, there go I,” Furst said during a National Humanities Center’s radio show interview once. “I don’t want to sound moralistic, but I think because I did survive, I am obligated to try to make something of my life, to do something for other people, to contribute something to this world.”

Furst died in her home with friends in Chapel Hill, N.C. on September 11, 2009. Her legacy – both by her pen and her actions – will live on forever.

— Katie Menzer, staff writer for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

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The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising exhibit at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

When you enter the main gallery of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, you’ll see that the exhibit space is divided into three areas, each describing a different event that happened during the Holocaust on April 19, 2014.

One of the events described is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, more than 400,000 Jews from Warsaw and surrounding areas were confined to an approximately one-mile square area of the city. The ghetto was sealed closed with barbed wire and a 10-ft wall, and the Nazis imposed the death penalty on any Jews found outside its gates.

Meager food allotments by the Nazis in the ghetto – only 1,125 calories a day per person – lead to widespread starvation. Approximately 83,000 Jews died of hunger or disease between 1940 and mid-1942. Jewish organizations within the ghetto set up welfare organizations to help inhabitants, preventing even more deaths.

The Nazis began a “resettlement” program in the summer of 1942 and had deported 300,000 Jews from the ghetto by that September. It did not take long for word to spread among the remaining Jews in the ghetto that their friends, family and neighbors had not been resettled. Most had been murdered at the Treblinka Death Camp.

The last inhabitants of the ghetto decided they had to resist all future deportations. During one round up in January of 1943, rebels fought the Nazis and badly wounded a German soldier. The Nazis temporarily halted the deportations.

With a new SS police leadership in place, the Nazis returned on April 19, 1943 with the intention of liquidating the ghetto. They were met by approximately 750 Jewish resistance fighters armed with small weaponry, including Molotov cocktails and other improvised arms. The resistance fought for a month against the well-armed Germans before the operation concluded. Approximately 42,000 Warsaw ghetto survivors were sent to forced-labor camps at Poniatowa and Trawniki and to the Lublin/Majdanek concentration camp. Another 7,000 died during the uprising and 7,000 more were put to death at Treblinka.

To learn more about the story and hear about Dallas-area Warsaw ghetto survivors, please visit the Museum.

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

— Katie Menzer, staff writer for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

How Curious George Escaped the Nazis

showposterChildren’s author Louise Borden was, well, curious.

In 1995, while reading Publisher’s Weekly, the trade magazine of the book industry, Ms. Borden ran across an item about Margret Rey, the writer and illustrator known best for the Curious George series of children’s picture books that she and her husband, H.A. Rey, created from 1939 to 1966.

The short item noted how the Reys had escaped Paris in 1940, just ahead of the Nazi invasion of France, on bicycles and carrying a backpack with the manuscript of what would become the impetus for the first Curious George book.

The notice stirred the curiosity of Ms. Borden.

Had the Reys’ escape from wartime France ever been written about before? What route had the Reys followed to make their getaway? How did the Reys eventually end up publishing their series of books with one of the leading publishers in the U.S.?

So begins the story of author Louise Borden’s journey that concluded with the 2005 publication of The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey (now available in paperback from HMH Books for Young Readers), which chronicles the real-life escape of the Reys.

The book is the basis of the Dallas Holocaust Museum’s current special exhibit, “The Wartime Escape Margret & H.A. Rey’s Journey from France,” now through June 20th. Admission to the special exhibit is free with regular paid admission to the Museum.*

Ms. Borden was the special guest speaker on Feb. 12 at the opening reception for the new exhibit.

“I love the world of children’s books, and I loved telling this story,” Ms. Borden told a crowd of about 85 people who attended her presentation in the Museum Theater.

Curious George first appeared in 1941, published by Houghton Mifflin. The book begins with George living in Africa and tells the story of his capture by the Man with the Yellow Hat, who takes him on a ship to “the big city” where he will live in the zoo. Six other “original series” titles followed, and today, the books, which include more modern story lines, have sold more than 30 million copies in multiple languages.

The Reys were German-born Jews who most assuredly would have been captured by Nazis and deported to concentration or death camps.

In her presentation, Ms. Borden traced the Reys escape from Paris, through Spain, to Portugal, to Argentina and eventually to New York City, where the Reys lived in Greenwich Village to be close to their publisher and, later, following huge success with the Curious George book line, in Cambridge, MA near Harvard Square and at a charming New Hampshire farm.

Most of the research for the book on the couple’s wartime escape took place at the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. When Margret Rey died in 1996 (Hans had died in 1977), her will designated that the entire literary estate of the Reys be donated to the de Grummond Collection. In 1966, Dr. Lena Y. de Grummond, a professor in the field of library science at USM, had contacted Mrs. Rey about the university’s new children’s literature collection and, well, the rest is history.

Many fascinating angles emerged from her research, Ms. Borden said, including the fact that Curious George had first been named “Fifi. In 1939, the Reys had signed a contract with the French publisher Gallimard for “Fifi” and other stories. As it turned out, the cash advance the couple had received would later finance their escape to South America.

In October 1940, the Reys sailed to New York, settling first on Long Island with relatives before moving to Manhattan. A year later, the book about “Fifi,” who had been renamed “George”—the publishers thought it a more appropriate name for a male monkey—first appeared.

“George was a name that would become memorable for generations to come,” Ms. Borden said. And so it remains.

Several activities for families are planned in conjunction with the special exhibit, among them:

-Get Curious at the Dallas Zoo, Feb. 22, 2015, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

-Spring Break with Curious George at the Museum, March 9-13, 11 a.m.

-Get Curious at Klyde Warren Park, Sunday, May 3, 2 p.m.

-Art Competition for Student Groups: Reception & Judging, May 10, 10 a.m.

A special Teacher’s Workshop is also planned for March 12. More information on the workshop may be found on the Museum website.

The Benefactor Sponsor for the event is Fox Rothschild LLP. The Friend Sponsor is the Janis Levine Music Women and Children’s Endowment Fund of the Dallas Jewish Community Federation. Community Partners include the Dallas Zoo, Klyde Warren Park and the Dallas Theater Center.

This project is supported in part by an award from Mid-America Arts Alliance, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

 *Please note that the Museum’s core exhibit is recommended for children age 11 and older.

–Chris Kelley for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

 

Special Exhibit About the Creators of Curious George Attracts Visitors of All Ages

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Installing the new exhibit, The Wartime Escape: Margret & H.A. Rey’s Journey from France.

The new special exhibit, The Wartime Escape: Margret & H.A. Rey’s Journey from France, lets the Museum to do something that we’ve never done before in our 30-plus years.

Speak to young children about issues surrounding life as a refugee during World War II through colorful, age-appropriate drawings and fun activities.

The exhibit is based on a children’s book about the creators of the character Curious George and their real-life escape from the Nazis in 1940. Margret and Hans A. Rey were artists and German-Jews living in Paris when the Nazis invaded France, and they had to escape the advancing occupation on bicycle. Their Curious George manuscript was one of the few items they were able to take with them.

While it is not advised for children younger than 10 to view the Museum’s core exhibit, Wartime Escape is suitable for younger kids. It uses colorful drawings to visually tell the story of the Reys’ journey through France, Spain, and Portugal, then on to Madeira Island, Brazil, and finally, the United States.

The exhibit offers something fun and educational for the whole family. Did you know, for example, that Curious George was originally going to be named Fifi? Or that the Reys had, at one time, two pet monkeys living with them in their apartment?

There is no discussion of concentration camps or antisemitism, but the exhibit can elicit age-appropriate conversations with children and prejudice and apathy. The Reys are the heroes of this story, and their lives can be tools to teach young people how to face and overcome challenges in the real world. The villains of the story – the Nazis —  are examples of how never to behave.

The exhibit includes a children’s area with books, pillows, tiny desks and chairs so parents and teachers can sit with youngsters and read. We’ve also planned a dozen or so fun and educational activities for children at the Museum during spring break and with our community partners, including the Dallas Zoo and Bookmarks in NorthPark Center. And, please, take a look at the Curious George toys and books in the Museum Store.

The Wartime Escape: Margret & H.A. Rey’s Journey from France runs from February 12 to June 20, 2015. For more information about the children’s’ activities accompanying the exhibit, visit the Museum calendar at http://www.dallasholocaustmuseum.org/news/events.

— Katie Menzer, staff writer for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

Volunteers Starting Young at the Museum

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One of the young volunteers helps with merchandise for the Museum Store.

Volunteers at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance are younger and younger at heart.

In fact, 33 percent of the people signed up to volunteer at the Museum are age 20 to 24, a much higher percentage than seen at other organizations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the volunteer rate among people of that age group nationwide was only 18.5 percent in 2013.

It may seem a contradiction that young people would want to volunteer at the Museum which might – at first glance – seem to have little to interest them. After all, the Holocaust ended 70 years ago, before even some of our volunteers’ grandparents were born.

But Jason Lalonde, the Museum’s program coordinator who organizes the facility’s volunteer efforts, says the Dallas Holocaust Museum’s message of tolerance and hope for a future without hate speaks to Millennials. They want to be Upstanders – people who stand up against hatred rather than be indifferent toward it.

“I think that younger people are often hopeful and open to changing behaviors and may be the ones who experience bullying and intolerance, so the message of education, tolerance, and becoming an Upstander resonates with them,” he said.

Lalonde also points to the more tangible aspects of volunteering at the Museum. Young volunteers can gain experience in fundraising, event planning, accounting, sales, academic research and other areas that they might want to pursue as careers later in life.

The Museum actively recruits volunteers through college volunteer fairs and employment offices as well as volunteer websites. Many volunteers, Lalonde said, also hear about the program from their friends who are involved with the Museum and have a great time volunteering.

For more information about volunteering at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, visit http://www.dallasholocaustmuseum.org/support/volunteer or email volunteer@dallasholocaustmuseum.org.

— Katie Menzer, staff writer for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

A Peek at the New Museum

NewMuseumA visit to the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance on a busy day can seem like you’re walking into controlled chaos.

When the 6,000 sq. ft. exhibit space, which can only fit 250 visitors at one time, is filled with one or more school classes, police officers from a diversity workshop, groups of downtown conventioneers, tourists, locals, Museum members and others, staff must perform an intricate dance to control traffic, moving folks through tours, special exhibit areas and the theater in unison to prevent gridlock. Still, there is a finite amount of space, and when it is filled, crowding is unavoidable.

It is a bittersweet circumstance that more people want to visit the Dallas Holocaust Museum and learn about its mission than can physically fit, but overcrowding is an issue Museum officials know they must address. That is why officials are in the beginning phases of building a new and larger museum, and their plans involve strengthening and expanding the Museum’s mission.

“Our focus, of course, will be on preserving evidence of the Holocaust and teaching lessons of that event,” President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins told a Dallas Morning News reporter in a recent article about the plans. “But we also want to deal with genocide around the world and current events related to prejudice and hatred, and goodness knows there are plenty of things happening today that prove the reason why this museum is important. I don’t know any other Holocaust museum that deals with the civil rights movement and human rights issues.”

Michael Berenbaum, former project director for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is working on the potential museum’s exhibit plan and Omniplan architects are involved with building design. No details on the facility’s size and cost have been nailed down, but officials have purchased land near the current Museum for the new space.

The lessons of the Holocaust – the importance of tolerance, diversity and standing up for yourself and others – are more important today than ever. Research indicates children begin developing racial biases as young as three. All people must consider how their behavior towards others are crucial in creating a world where hate and intolerance do not exist.

School children made up approximately half of the 65,000 visitors who came to the Museum in 2014, and more are expected in 2015. A second-year partnership with DISD that brings economically disadvantaged students to the Museum for free through generous donations is expected to bring thousands of students.

No timeline has been set up for the creation of a new Holocaust museum, but the need for a larger space for learning about the Holocaust and human rights in our area is clear. Please stay tuned.

— Katie Menzer, staff writer for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

New Partnership with DISD Brings More Students to the Museum

TeacherSmA new partnership between the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance and local school officials has brought close to 3,000 Dallas Independent School District children from high-poverty area schools to the Museum for the first time this school year.

The program, made possible through individual and foundation donations, pays the admission and transportation costs for schools that would not otherwise be able to afford the field trip. Visits to the Museum help students understand the history of the Holocaust; the catastrophic impact hate, bigotry and prejudice can have on their own lives and on society; and the importance of standing up for themselves and others when faced with moral challenges.

Students tour the Museum’s main and special exhibit areas with trained docents and listen to survivors who tell of their experiences during the Holocaust and its consequences on their lives and families. The Museum’s education staff provides teachers with Holocaust and human rights curriculum assistance before and after the visit.

Cost per Dallas student is approximately $10.50 and is paid for through the Museum Experience Fund, a program created in late 2013 to help students from economically disadvantaged and Title 1 schools and organizations visit the Museum free of cost.

A study released in October by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit organization that conducts research and analysis on government policies and programs, stated that per pupil spending in Texas schools has fallen 9.4 percent between 2008 and this year.

Recognizing that shrinking per student spending impacts a school’s ability to fund off-campus learning activities, Museum officials started the fund to ensure that all students — no matter their economic circumstances — could benefit from the Museum’s lessons on the dangers of intolerance and bystander behavior. Although many children visit the Museum with their families, low-income parents may not have the resources to take their children to the Museum on their own outside school hours.

The 2014-5 school year marks the first time DISD has been able to send a large number of students to the Museum. Due to the success of the program, officials expect greater numbers of Dallas students to visit next school year.

Dr. Charlotte Decoster, Assistant Director of Education at the Museum, said the Dallas students have really responded to hearing survivors speak during their visits.

“Many of these kids have already experienced discrimination in their own lives, and when they hear Max [a Holocaust survivor] speak about his experiences with discrimination and how he survived, they know they can, too,” Dr. Decoster said. “They see you have to stand up for others as well as yourself.”

— Katie Menzer, staff writer for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

For Arthur Syzk, art became means to focus fearful world on tyranny of hatred; new must-see Special Exhibit opens at the Museum

“An artist, and especially a Jewish artist, cannot be neutral in these times…our life is involved in a terrible tragedy, and I am resolved to serve my people with all my art, with all my talent, with all my knowledge.” -Arthur Szyk, 1934

Artist Arthur Syzk was a proud Polish Jew who later became an American patriot. He saw his pen as a weapon against hatred and injustice.

“Art is not my aim,” he said, “it is my means. “

Indeed, during World War II, Syzk engaged in a ‘one man war’ against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, and also served as a ‘one-man army’ against the evil Axis. He did so through finely detailed, elegant and pointed political and satirical caricature drawings, which served as a one-two combination of social justice and great art.

A curated selection of Syzk’s work is the new Special Exhibit at the Dallas Holocaust Museum through Jan. 31, 2015, “Drawn to Action: The Life and Work of Arthur Syzk.” The special exhibit is free with paid admission.

Syzk expressed his feelings toward those he despised—and those he wanted to portray as heroic or powerful—through dramatic color and exaggerated features. One sketch by Syzk from 1933 depicts Hitler as Pharaoh and Hermann Goring as a vizier.

His art was never ambiguous or abstract, Rabbi Irvin Ungar of New York once told the Atlantic. “It almost always had a common theme. Freedom not tyranny; justice not oppression—which, when combined with the uniqueness of his style, is why Syzk became one of the leading political artists of the first half of the 20th century.”

Presenting Sponsors for the special exhibit are Kathy and Harlan Crow and Gregg and Michelle Philipson, whose personal Arthur Syzk collection made the Museum’s curated collection of Syzk’s work possible. The Jan Karski Polish School of Dallas is Community Partner for the exhibit.

Realizing his illustrations could do more than words, Szyk set about documenting the atrocities committed by the Nazis in an attempt to shed light on the injustice brewing in Europe, Gregg Philipson, a devoted Szyk collector, told a crowd gathered for the exhibit’s opening reception on Nov. 13.

“He held a lonely pen in a crazy world,” said Philipson, who is a commissioner on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. “Eleanor Roosevelt called him a one-man army for the Allied cause.”

During World War II, Syzk’s illustrations were published throughout the U.S. in publications such as Time, Colliers and The American Mercury.

Sadly, Szyk died of a heart attack at the age of 57, on Sept. 13, 1951, in the U.S., leaving a rich and diverse body of work from illustrations of classic children’s books and an ornate illustrated Haggadah to highly charged and dramatic political cartoons covering the Nazis invasion of Poland through the civil rights era of the United States.

Thankfully, we are able to remember his works, his passion and his talent through his art—and legacy.

Please plan to join the Museum on Thursday, Dec. 4, for an Upstander Speaker Series presentation, featuring Harry Wu, a Chinese human rights activist who spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps. Mr. Wu will talk about his life in the labor camps, state-sponsored terror and torture, and what we, as citizens, can do about the tragic situation faced by others held against their will by cruel governments. Admission is $10 for non-members and $5 for students with ID.

In January, the Museum is hosting two special events you won’t want to miss. On Jan. 15, 2015, at 6:30 p.m., Rogge Dunn, founding partner at Clouse and Dunn, will speak on the topic of art as propaganda and Arthur Szyk.

And, on Jan. 25 at 3 p.m., the Museum will commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

 

 

Museum Launches New Lecture Program: The Upstander Speaker Series

UpstanderSpeakerSeriesMuseum President & CEO Mary Pat Higgins explained why the Museum is launching the new lecture program at the May 15 inaugural program, featuring New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch who spoke about his reporting from Rwanda.

The Upstander Speaker Series is part of our continuing commitment to human rights and to ending the silence and indifference to the suffering of others.

As the only institution in North Texas dedicated to the education of Holocaust and tolerance, it’s our responsibility to extend awareness of genocide and human rights in the Dallas community.

The speakers in this series offer remarkable stories of courage, reconciliation, and the power of simple human dignity. Amidst terrible crimes against humanity they bring messages of hope by providing, by proving that actions do matter, that stopping atrocities is possible, and that change for the better will happen if we all stand up.

You won’t want to miss the next two speakers in our series: Dorothy Budd, the local author of Tested: How Twelve Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope (Brown Books, 2010), who will speak in September; and then in December, Harry Wu, director of the Lau Guy Research Foundation and author of several books, including Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China’s Gulag (Wiley, 1995), will speak, so you might want to get those books and read them before our next two talks.

Sponsors and community partners generously support the Upstander Speaker Series. The presenting sponsor is Bank of Texas. Other sponsors include The Dallas Morning News, the Embrey Family Foundation and the Franklin I. Brinegar Foundation.

Meantime, there are two other Museum events you won’t want to miss.

On Thursday, June 12, at noon in the atrium of the Museum at 211 N. Record Street, the Second Annual Lev Aronson Concert in the Atrium will be held, featuring cellists from all over the globe who will be in Dallas attending the Lev Aronson Summer Music Festival.

The concert also features the festival founder, renowned cellist and native Texan Brian Thornton. A complimentary light lunch and tours of the Museum will be available from 11 a.m. until noon.

You will enjoy the compositions of cellist and composer Lev Aronson who survived the Riga Ghetto and German concentration camps. After liberation, he had to reshape his life. He became principal cellist in the Dallas Symphony and taught music at SMU. May his memory be a blessing.

As a reminder, the Museum’s current special exhibit is “BESA: A Code of Honor,” through June 18, which tells the incredible story of the hospitality and love of Albanian Muslims who saved Jews during World War II. You won’t want to miss this exhibit!

Inaugural Upstander Speaker Series Features New Yorker Writer Philip Gourevitch Lecture On Tragic, Complex Topic: Rwanda 20 Years Later

Philip Gourevitch

Philip Gourevitch

Rwanda is a small country of giant complexities.

Landlocked by African countries known for corruption, Rwanda is home to a deeply divided—and deeply scarred—economically poor population who, despite great tragedy, now trusts its government leaders and perseveres to build a hopeful future.

Twenty-years after the genocide that resulted in the murders of about one million people over a 100-day period between April and July of 1994, it’s almost inconceivable to realize that Rwanda’s economy is one of the healthiest in Africa, that reconciliation efforts appear to be yielding positive results, if only on the surface, and that, in some cases, forgiveness is an active part of the healing process between perpetrators and victims’ families.

For the past 20 years, Rwanda has been a topic of passion for writer Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker magazine, who believes the country’s layers of simplicity and complexity offers lessons for all of humanity. Gourevitch was the inaugural guest of the Museum’s new Upstander Speaker Series on May 15 at SMU’s Hughes-Trigg Student Center.

“In Rwanda, there is a high ratio of people who have profound things to say about life, death and hope,” Gourevitch said. “They raise unanswerable questions that keep me coming back as a writer to explore…”

One of the world’s authorities on Rwanda, Gourevitch’s 1998 book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With our Families: Stories from Rwanda (St. Martin’s Press, 1998) won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the George K. Polk Book Award, and many other awards and recognitions.

Young and predominantly rural, the Rwandan population lives in a densely compacted area the size of West Virginia. Rwandans are comprised of three groups: the Hutu, Tusi and Twa. The principal language is Kinyarwanda, spoken by most Rwandans, with French and English as official languages.

At the Upstander Speaker lecture, Gourevitch described how the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched a civil war in 1990, which was followed by the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu.

In some cases, Gourevitch said, the genocide involved neighbors who had once lived peacefully side-by-side “killing their neighbors. In this respect, the Rwandan genocide was the most intimate genocide in history.” The RPF ended the genocide with a military victory.

Civil war ensued in Rwanda until the year 2000 when all parties agreed the bloodshed should end. Since then, incredible progress has been made to rebuild the Rwandan economy, decrease poverty rates, reduce rates of child mortality and promote equality among the population through a national identity campaign, “We Are All Rwandans.”

For the past 15 years, Rwanda has actively been engaged in a period of reconciliation and justice, with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the reintroduction of Gacaca, a traditional village court system.

The post-genocide recovery process has been difficult, but limited progress has been made, Gourevitch said. Killers have confessed to victims’ families, seeking forgiveness, but trust between neighbors and groups is slow, difficult and painful, he said. Overall, reconciliation efforts remain largely at the surface level, he said.

“When I asked those who had family members murdered by perpetrators  whom the family still sees every day what they mean by forgiveness, they told me, ‘It means I won’t seek revenge.’ That’s not exactly a high bar for what we consider forgiveness to be, but it is a high bar for civil society in Rwanda.”

Gourevitch said, “People are living better together. You have to make a future that is separate from the past that looks different. You don’t forget the genocide, but you don’t have to remember it all the time.”

This negotiated accommodation between perpetrators and victims is enforced by strict government restrictions on speech, assembly and official accounts of Rwandan history, which, in essence, cumulatively strives to “keep the peace,” Gourevitch said.

Gourevitch spoke for nearly 90 minutes, his vast and intimate knowledge of one of the most difficult topics for society proving to be gripping for the 100 people in attendance.

Gourevitch was born in 1961 to philosophy professor Victor Gourevitch, who translated for Jean Jacque Rousseau, and Jacqueline Gourevitch, who was a painter. Although he was born in Philadelphia, Philip spent much of his childhood in Middletown, Connecticut with his brother Marc, a physician. A Cornell University graduate, Gourevitch earned a Masters of Fine Arts from the writing program at Columbia University in 1992.

The writer’s newest book will be published next year. The topic: Rwanda 20 years after the genocide. The title: You Hide That You Hate Me And I Hide That I Know.

 –Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

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