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Genocide Then/ Genocide Now

General Assembly 2006 Event 2070

Sponsor: Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Speakers:

  • Artemis Joukowsky
  • Atema Eclai, UUSC Director of Programs
  • Dr. Charlie Clements, UUSC President
  • Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz.
  • Rev. Diane Miller

The title of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) workshop hints at tragedies that keep befalling the human race: "Genocide Then/Genocide Now." The specifics reveal much more gruesome tales from World War II in Europe and the atrocities going on right now in Darfur, Sudan.

The presentation, moderated by the Rev. Diane Miller, began with a piece of history all UUs can be proud of: the heroic actions of Unitarians who risked their lives to save the lives of Jews before and during World War II. Artemis Joukowsky told the story of his grandparents, the Reverend Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha, who went to Europe repeatedly starting in 1939 to help Jews escape the Nazis. Rev. Sharp was a minister at what was then First Unitarian Society of Wellesley Hills, Mass. Recently, the Sharps were posthumously honored as Righteous Among the Nations at the Holocaust Memorial in Israel. Working first in Czechoslovakia and then France, the Sharps helped an estimated two thousand Jews escape to the United States. Joukowsky believes they thought of themselves as ordinary people who simply responded to the needs of others around them.

Sadly, horrifically, genocide is not simply a matter of history. Genocide is happening right now. "The victims are us," says UUSC Programs Director Atema Eclai. "They are our brothers and sisters in Darfur."

Like many who have visited Sudan, Eclai has bone chilling stories to tell. "I met a man named Hassan, who had three daughters and three sons," she tells. "One day the family was sleeping and the Janjaweed militia came, killed his wife, and took his three daughters. They took all his money to spare his sons' lives, but came back a few hours later, and said they wanted the boy's heads. He cried. He begged. He prayed. And they shot each boy point blank in the head."

Eclai also told of a heartbreaking conversation with a woman named Amina in Darfur. She was at home with her seven sons while her husband was away on business. Her oldest son feared the Janjaweed was coming one day, took her youngest son, and left. "We are not going to run," Eclai quoted Amina. Then the Janjaweed came, stripped her in front of her other five sons, raped her, and killed the boys. They told her to run away, and she did, digging herself a hole in the sand and hiding for days.

"Here we are in 2006 in Sudan, Africa," Eclai said, "and atrocities are still happening. We keep going after each other because of our differences. Please, let us join the people there to realize peace, justice, and freedom." It's estimated that nearly 400,000 people have been killed in the violence in Darfur since 2003.

The Rev. Dr. William Schulz, former president of Amnesty International USA and of the UUA, said he realizes many people feel they are too small and powerless to do anything to help stop atrocities in places like Nazi Germany and Darfur. "Yet if people like the Sharps can risk everything to help save Jews during World War II, if someone like us can do that, then we all can. We have no excuse for our ethical torpidity." Schulz also said the Sharps must have known that their work was supported by a circle of friends, and that's why there are institutions like the UUSC that help make heroism possible.

UUSC President Charlie Clements said the UUSC is involved in humanitarian efforts in Sudan and Chad, and is involved in generating advocacy to pressure the United States and the United Nations to do more to stop the killing there.

Reported by Chris Sealy; edited by Margy Levine Young.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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