Tuesday, December 28, 2010

G. Clooney and Darfur

You really have to admire George Clooney for his work in calling attention to the crisis in Darfur. He just outdid himself with the recent news that, in coordination with several actors including the UN and Harvard, he'll be launching private satellites to watch for any kind of increasing conflict in the Sudan as the referendum approaches between the north and south.

The Satellite Sentinel Project will launch on Dec 30, with the website going live right about now. It's nice to have deep pockets, connections, and a brand name to make things happen! Clooney is spending $750,000 to launch the effort, which will monitor troop movements with the images being uploaded to the satsentinel.org website within 24 hours for all the world to see what may or may not be happening in the lead up to the vote for succession. How's that for revolutionizing genocide prevention?

Clooney makes a great point when he makes note of how one can imagine the impact if this were 1943 and we were able to detect through pictures what was happening at Auschwitz. No one would be able to say they didn't know, and the deniers would be denied after the fact. Why hasn't anyone else thought of this? Kudos to George Clooney and his passion for the cause.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Belarus Election

CNN is reporting, to no one's surprise, that Alexander Lukashenko has won the election there. President Lukashenko, dubbed "the last dictator of Europe" by Condi Rice, has been in power since 1994. No less than nine candidates ran against him, and when the exit polls returned the result, protests erupted in the streets of Minsk as everyone knows this election is not legit.

This past week, leading up to the election, Foreign Policy magazine ran a story about life in Belarus under the dictatorial regime. The eight or nine mini-bios in the article describe an authoritarianism that to most living in the twenty-first century, seems to more closely Hollywood films than anything that would be deemed modern on the European continent. To think that Belarus is more or less boundaried, certainly to its west, by thriving social democracies who long ago sought to rid themselves of anything not resembling a democratic society, makes the situation in Belarus even more astounding.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Richard Holbrooke

Very unfortunate news that Richard Holbrooke passed away today. In my genocide class earlier this year, we learned about the role he played in negotiating a peaceful resolution to the Yugoslav wars. And with the daily news originating out of AfPak, seeing his name is a common occurrence. Someone starting out in international affairs can only hope to accomplish a quarter of what this man accomplished in a stellar career where he brought about real change and saved lives.

Monday, November 29, 2010

More on Wikileaks

Read a lot of point of views today on how one should interpret the WL dump. Richard Haas at the CFR suggests the dump "confirms more than it informs." While I haven't gone through the documents in any great depth, the cable regarding Egyptian President Mubarak's pointed comments on Iran made for an interesting read, and as one article I saw earlier in the morning pointed out, he can't be too happy about seeing his words all over the internet given his concern for retaliation. The Saudi's concern over Pakistan's leadership and it's efforts to close off terrorism ("when the head is rotten, it affects the whole body") only shines more light on the difficulties the U.S. is facing re: AfPak, and Israel's take on Iran, while not new, is an intriguing read, especially to those of us who support Israel.

Posted early this evening is an article at Slate.com calling for Secretary Clinton to quit given her role in directing the diplomats spying on diplomats finding. Another article there suggests that the leak will damage transparency going forward. A similar take on government transparency and the fall-out from the leaks was also discussed at HuffPost. The author makes a great point (paraphrasing): whistle-blowing is all about spreading the truth, not to simply hear the sound. In saying this, he argues that WL, in this case, is not engaging in truth-telling the way it did with the last dump re: the two wars, but rather compromising the trust and confidence required between nations to carry out the business of international relations. A pros/cons take can also be found on HuffPost, where the author comments on how well diplomats write, their intelligence, and their humor. But he also stresses the downsides, which are similar to the earlier posts here. And finally, a strong article from foreignpolicy.com argues that Assange is simply anti-american and wants to destroy U.S. foreign policy. But more powerfully, he argues that the dump has not shown the U.S. to be a belligerent party in total as Assange continuously lets on and seemingly wants to expose, but rather places diplomats, friends, and partners in precarious positions and will result in the erosion of the quality of diplomatic reporting and discussion.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Weighing in on the newest Wikileaks release

Journalists around the world are clamoring to get their hands on today's Wikileaks release, that of a multitude of cables and documents sent from within the U.S. diplomacy infrastructure, et al. A lot is going to be written in the coming days, as much as has already been written by those newspapers that had advanced copies of the released documents. Personally, I am split between feeling that the U.S. government, our government, deserves this, and the feeling of incredible embarrassment - embarrassment over being an American, born to a country whose institutions are so vast and wide that the government cannot protect its own documents, both from within and from without. I am also embarrassed for what these documents say about the country's allies. While much of it can be pegged as high-level gossip, it is a shame that such 'gossip' would ever see the light of day. How do foreign governments view the U.S. now? We should all be embarrassed.

On the other side of the coin, as one journalist from the Guardian puts it, it's not the media's job to protect the powerful from embarrassment. In fact, it's the other way around, it's the media's job to draw attention to government to avoid government overstepping its bounds. Had this occurred in the run-up to the Iraq war, perhaps there wouldn't be an Iraq war. Which brings me to the next point which is perhaps the most important: Much of this, if not all, is the cascading affect from the Bush administration, in my view.

Had the Bush administration taken great care in its response to the Sept 11th attacks rather than using the attacks as justification for war in Iraq, there wouldn't be a need for a Wikileaks. The controversies over Iraq and Afghanistan continue to haunt the U.S. despite Obama's best efforts to reset the discourse. Even he is now on the wrong side of history given his dedication to the mission in Afghanistan at the great expense of badly needed nation-building at home. Perhaps it is entirely appropriate that a government that lied its country - and several of its allies - into war would suffer this kind of humiliation. Let it be a lesson - the same way the September 11th attacks were a lesson - that no matter how mighty your military is, no matter how sound your economy is, no matter how much power you believe you have, hubris, and the misadventures it fosters, rarely wins in the end.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Occupied Krakow - amateur film

Chilling amateur film from occupied Krakow - unrelated to the 16mm Postcards exhibit. You can clearly see the armbands on the sleeves - especially in the below frame.

Center for Jewish History - 16mm Postcards Exhibit

Through Ruth Ellen Gruber's excellent and informative blog, I discovered this amazing exhibit taking place right under my nose in NYC at the Center for Jewish History. 16MM Postcards brings to life 1930's Poland, in not just the still pictures we are so used to seeing, but in home movies shot by those who were there. Sadly, there is no sound. Imagine how much more we could have learned about these people and their circumstances at the time had the ability to record a home movie in sound existed back then.

The exhibit shows Polish Jews who came to the U.S. returning to visit their relatives still living in Poland. The website text points out a significant development: those who left Poland and have lived in America for some time have a very different look about them. They look 'American' when placed next to their poorer still-living-in-Poland relatives. How they dress, how they carry themselves is familiar to us here in 2010. The move to America and the assimilation to follow has had its impact on them and how they present themselves to the world. It's a fascinating look at how life in America can change a person.

What's also so powerful about these movies is that those still living in Poland would have no idea what's approaching on the horizon. These people would all be gone in another 10 years or so from when these movies were filmed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Germany: Museum Exhibit and Foreign Ministry

Two very interesting reports came out of Germany over the last week or two. The first of which is the new exhibit at the German Historical Museum in Berlin about Hitler. The report has been in numerous places, this link being from Time.com, while someone else gave me an article from the New York Times, and I think I first read about it on msnbc.com. The exhibit, which is only running until February, much to my chagrin because there is no possible way for me to go over by then, examines the conditions that enabled Hitler, rather than Hitler himself. As noted in the Time article, the exhibit looks at the German people and their desire for a savior to rescue them from the desperate economic conditions and the politically unstable environment that was the Weimar Republic at the time.These forces combined to convince people that Hitler was the right leader for the country and the only person who could pull them out of their doldrums.

The second interesting finding reported on was how the German Foreign Ministry, once thought to be resistant to the Nazi regime, was indeed working in collaboration with the regime. The article discusses how the Foreign Ministry was never fully investigated until 2005, when the process was put in place to look into what roll the institution played in the Holocaust. The findings show cooperation with the Nazi genocide throughout, with evidence that some 573 of the ministry's 700 top officials had ties to the Nazi party. The article closes out by stating that Germany may make the final report, over 800 pages, required reading by all incoming German diplomats. One has to wonder what other secrets have not yet been discovered throughout Germany's government institutions as relates to the Holocaust and the plans to overtake all of Europe 6+ decades ago.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Global Post: France and Roma

I stumbled upon the below video that's about 3 weeks old on GlobalPost.com. The reporter gets into the Roma 'deportations' from France and covers much of the same ground the articles written by other reporters have covered. The difference here is the coverage straight from Roma living quarters, where one can see the absolute squalor that these people face everyday.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

South Sudan Recent Photos

A representative from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum recently took a trip to Sudan to look into South Sudan and its January 2011 referendum for independence from the north. As noted in the caption under the first photo, the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the two decade long civil war between the north and south stipulates that the vote on independence be held. The pictures here were taken in the last month or so.
All eyes will be on Sudan in early January to see how the vote turns out and most importantly, to see to what extent violence will break out leading up to and following the referendum.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The DRC and human rights violations

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently published their findings from the work they've been doing in the DRC. After the discovery of mass graves found in 2005, a formal effort was put forth to determine to what extent atrocities were committed. In this case, the study covers 1993-2003, with their findings found here.

The Office also published recommendations to the Congolese government to pursue several mechanisms that make up the transitional justice framework, an exciting field that empowers societies to find peace and reconciliation in relation to a legacy of abuses and human rights violations. The recommendations can be read in this document and suggests that the DRC pursue prosecutions, truth-telling, reparations for victims and institutional reforms.

The Office also reported on neighboring countries and estimates that some eight national armies and twenty-one irregular armed groups took part in conflict during the 10 year period of study. Much of this was triggered by the influx of 1.2 million Hutu refugees from Rwanda following the 1994 genocide. Widespread attacks against Hutu occurred, with what looks like genocidal intent. The report goes on to say that countries such as Rwanda should be held responsible for human rights violations committed by their army.

Each country named has provided a written rebuttal, with Rwanda stating that the findings are "unacceptable", and claiming that the Office is "rewriting history". It's a 30 page document and worth a read. It was also read elsewhere on the internet that Kagame threatened to pull Rwandan troops out of Sudan if the report was released. I cannot find that source through googling, but its clear from the rebuttal that Kagame's government is not ready to assume any responsibility for what happened in the DRC in the mid 1990s.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Roma and their plight in France

The month of September brought with it a series of disturbing articles coming out of France. President Sarkozy, playing to the extreme right, has taken on the task to deport Roma, in the past known as "Gypsies", back to Romania. This article from earlier in the week on Huffington Post, compares Sarkozy's actions to Vichy France, where during WWII, the Vichy government deported gypsies and Jews to the death camps as they partook in the Nazi ideology. Even more current, is this article about how the EU is taking France to court over the expulsions, although they stop short of saying France is discriminating against Roma for "lack of proof."

An EU Justice Commissioner likened the expulsions to war-time deportations, which Sarkozy called a "disgusting" assertion. The Justice would later apologize for her hyperbolic remarks, but clearly, the analogy isn't too far off.

I wrote a paper about human security for a class, targeting Europe's Roma community given their plight. Human security is a fairly new concept in international affairs, anchored in the thought that "everyone should enjoy freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to live in dignity." Using this proclamation as a framework, it's clear that the Romani people do not enjoy human security. Far from it.

Expulsions are nothing new to Roma; Italy has done similar, forcefully evicting them and tearing down what little means of housing they have to live under. The leading NGO in Europe that deals with the issue of discrimination against Roma is the ERRC, the European Roma Rights Centre, which is following the situation in France closely, and monitors all instances of inhuman treatment perpetrated by the people and the government's of Europe.

Currently, Europe is in the 5th year of it's Decade of Inclusion campaign, an effort to integrate Roma into society among the majority population. From my research done last fall on this, I learned through the Open Society Institute that the campaign has not gone well. First there's the issue of Roma not wishing to integrate, for obvious reasons, and then you have the issue of the majority population not wanting Roma to be integrated, for discriminatory reasons. So you have a stalemate, and a situation that is not improving.

During my research I also found an example where for Slovakia, if it were to put it's Roma population to work in meaningful employment, the country would see its GDP increase several percentage points. It's a stunning case study that underscores the cost of discrimination. With that said, once the change to a free market system went into place in 1990 across the former Soviet republics, the Romani people had a difficult time keeping what little employment they had under the Soviet system, which was made up of rudimentary work requiring rudimentary skills. A free market economy requires more in the way of skills and education, something Roma lack very badly. As a result, unemployment among Roma all over Europe is rampant, requiring them to find other ways to get food, clothes and other necessary items needed to live. This then perpetuates the trope that Roma are nothing but thieves, something that Sarkozy has eluded too in his comments to justify the expulsions.

Plainly put, the Romani people need what the Jewish people finally received in 1948 - a homeland they can call their own. Their roots are in India, but the difference between Roma finding a home and the Jews finding a home post-WWII boils down to the U.S. Had the U.S. and Truman not pushed for a Jewish state, there might not be an Israel today. So the question becomes, who with a sizable influence, with support from the U.N., can find some way to create for the Romani people, their own homeland, whether it be in India or elsewhere?

Otherwise, how does the cycle of discrimination end?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fidel Castro's Comments about the Jewish People

The HuffingtonPost is my default website when I open a browser. It's a great news aggregator with a left-leaning agenda, so it agrees with me and vice-versa.

I am somewhat shocked to read this article, an interview in The Atlantic with Castro where he calls out Iran and speaks softly about the Jewish people. He actually says that Iran should be more understanding of the Jewish people given their long history of persecution. That feels like a big statement to me, something that other world leaders should probably be saying as well.

Seems like old age has had an impact on Castro. He now views the Cuban Missile Crisis through a completely different lens. He's quoted as saying he no longer thinks it was worth it.

So, can we finally normalize US-Cuban relations?

Lesotho Peace Corps volunteer

I think it was Saturday afternoon when I decided to turn to the peacecorps.gov website, for no real reason.  I was bored and thinking of sites to visit. Scrolling down, I stopped suddenly at the press release about Tom Maresco and what was an apparent killing during a robbery attempt.

I went to cnn.com and to msnbc.com, two of the news sites I visit regularly and neither had anything about it. It was Sunday morning when cnn.com had a spot in the top left and then on Monday, a video interview with Tom Maresco's father from Florida.

These sorts of things shouldn't be happening to volunteers. But what can anyone do?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

JPost: The Holocaust as a Single Memory

In my genocide class last semester, we learned about the debate between scholars that questioned whether or nor the Holocaust should be viewed as a single, unique event, held out separately from discussions surrounding genocide in general, versus having one single term, i.e., genocide, to encompass all genocides, including the Holocaust.

This article on Jerusalem Post, written by the world's number one Nazi hunter, underscores the scholarly opinion that the Holocaust be considered a unique memory, not to be intertwined with other atrocities committed against the European people, specifically by the Soviets.

The Prague Declaration would recognize those crimes committed by the Soviets as holding the same status as those committed by the Nazis. The article states that the "Prague Declaration...promotes a historically false parity or equivalency between crimes by communists and those of the Nazis..."

Taking it a step further, scholar Yehuda Bauer is quoted in the article as saying: "There is ground for deep concern about repeated attempts to equate the Nazi regime's genocidal policies, with the Holocaust at their center, with other murderous or oppressive actions, an equation that not only trivializes and relativizes the genocide of the Jews... but is a mendacious revision of recent world history.”

And finally this quote by Zuroff sums it up well: "By seeking equivalency with Holocaust crimes, however, it becomes clear that among its primary motivations is to help the countries of Eastern Europe deny, relativize and/or minimize their sins of collaboration with the Nazis in Holocaust crimes and change their status and image from that of perpetrator nations to nations of victims."

The difficulty, in my view, of considering the Holocaust as a unique and separate event from other genocides is the propensity for each group that has fallen prey to genocide to move quickly and submit their own claims of victimhood. Whether it be the Tutsis of Rwanda, the Armenians, the Bosnian Muslims, or those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or others such as Native Americans. 

If the Holocaust were to stand on its own, it's not too difficult to see why. There are even institutions named as such where the words 'Holocaust' and 'Genocide' are both in the title. Take for example Clark University. One can argue that the Holocaust is held as a singular event for not just the number of people murdered, but for the means by which they were murdered and the structures and organizations that were put in place that enabled those committing the murder to carry out their tasks. The Holocaust is, one can argue without disrespecting the victims of other genocides, unsurpassed, both prior to WWII and since in its scale and technology.

Its a worthwhile debate and one which E. Zuroff essentially alludes to in the JPost article.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Peace Corps: Doing My Homework and Look What I Found

I've learned through mistakes and disappointments that you can never believe the hype about something. For every good story, there is a bad one. For every person who had a good experience, there is someone who has had a bad experience.

Over the past two days, I've come across such disturbing news about the Peace Corps, it's taken the wind out of my sails. The first instance of bad news was this blog written by a volunteer in Guatemala. Tarantulas on the walls, up to 16 people in the homestay house, Spanish language training in a community that speaks only a Mayan dialect. The list goes on. After 7 months, this person decided to cut the cord and is back in the U.S., and in the process, exposed some very serious issues that I find very concerning.

Death Due to Illness in Morocco
One of the comments posted to the above volunteer's blog has to do with the death of a volunteer this past November in Morocco, a death due to illness. This is the report, and it is disturbing. In his book The Insider's Guide to the Peace Corps, the author cites RPCV's and their lackluster opinions of PC medical services in-country. The death of this 23 year old woman in Morocco speaks volumes to this point.

Foreign Policy Magazine - 2008
The former Country Director of Cameroon writes this article. It's easy to speculate why a former employee of the agency would speak up like this - maybe he was fired, or maybe his conscience got to him. Either way, it's pretty close to whistleblower status.

Violence Against Volunteers
Think there's little risk to joining the PC? Think again. Here's an article, written in what seems like the early '00's, there's no date on it, that states the dangers that volunteers face while serving. Some 21 or so volunteers have been murdered while in-service, and other deaths have occurred through accidents. But putting deaths aside, this article makes very clear that volunteers are not as safe as the PC would make you believe. To the PC's credit, they do make this information available, or someone does, on peacecorpswiki.org. So perhaps I am overblowing this finding.

Lack of Transparency
Secrecy is the PC's MO apparently. This posting makes transparent the medical guidelines PC uses to defer or reject applicants. The kicker is, these had to be attained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The author, a RPCV applying for reenlistment 40 years or so after his initial service, offered the PC to post these guidelines, but they refused. Everything needs to be a secret. What's alarming is that the PC could be using outdated guidelines. The guidelines posted here are from 1993. That, and their absolute refusal to post this information for all eyes to see, says something.

Always do your homework. After reading this information, I have started looking into other options. Because you can never believe the hype. If I learn about the bad things, and I feel I can handle the bad things because perhaps they aren't all that bad, then I'm comfortable. But these articles reveal some real issues. And it's very sad. Is this an agency that really treats its volunteers as numbers, not as people? Something to really think about. I think my decision to move forward will depend largely on the nomination. Knowing full well that the nomination could change down the road.

In reality, no situation will be perfect. There will always be something behind the curtain, a devil always in the proverbial details. But the question becomes, how severe are those devils and how numerous are they?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Peace Corps Interview

I had my interview in the Peace Corp's NYC office yesterday. Went well and I enjoyed the two hours with the recruiter. I remember being in that office in November 2002, my 9th month of unemployment, but none of it, other than the building itself, looked familiar to me. In 2002, I was temping literally around the corner at Penguin Putnam Publishing. The months of unemployment were running up with no end in sight. So when I came across something about the Peace Corps, I thought it might be a good option to get myself out and doing something. After going to an information session, I concluded it wasn't the right thing to do, and certainly not something to do just to get out of unemployment.Although I now disagree with that thinking. Why pound the pavement endlessly when you can go and doing something worthwhile with your time? But at the time, I had more or less just started the MBA, so I felt I shouldn't be starting something new without finishing something else that was somewhat new.

So, here I am, really going for it this time. It looks like I'm heading for business, either advising or development, which I am not too crazy about. The recruiter tried to mitigate my distaste about doing business in the PC, in that she said it's not like being in Corporate America. I decided to let things lie at that moment, although later in the meeting I did push for NGO Development. The issue is, I don't have any real non-profit experience, although with school, I will be learning more over the next 12 months. She asked for me to complete a skills addenda for NGO Development, in which I highlighted that my for-profit skills are transferable. So I am told by the good people at the New School.

The recruiter thinks she may not be able to nominate me until November as more available spots come into focus, so the long process continues to be long. She did say she felt I would be a good volunteer, so that's promising and that keeps me hopeful. But I am really concerned about doing business, as every bone in my body wants to divorce business and leave it to the wolves.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Poland -- Jewish Presence vs Presence of Jews

Articles like this one rip me apart. What am I doing working in a job and a company that I can't stomach, when I can be in Poland doing something worthwhile, similar to what this article talks about?

I feel like I am literally wasting my life away. Doing work I hate and work that isn't close to the topics that interest me. It's not right.

How to break out of it all? I can only hope the Peace Corps is a passage way to a better future, a means to an end.

We are not on this planet long enough to be doing work we HATE.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cambodia Tribunal: 19 Years for 16k Dead

In my genocide class last semester we learned all about the Khmer Rouge regime and their efforts to turn Cambodia into an agrarian collective. The rounding up of people in the capital city of Phnom Penh and moving them out to the countryside was done in such a way where, threatened by the intelligentsia, Pol Pot's regime targeted anyone wearing eye glasses, for their ideology dictated that eye glasses were a sign of having smarts.

The decision today to finally hold one member of Pol Pot's regime accountable for his crimes is a monumental one, coming 31 years after the fall of the regime. It continues the process that was started with Nuremberg, but with fits and starts in between, to hold accountable those who have committed conscience-shocking crimes against their own people. With the advent of the ICC, founded only in 1998 and operationalized only in 2002, it is thought that such atrocities will become less frequent given the court's presence as a major pillar in deterrence, assuming there exists such a thing, which was an argument we had in my Transitional Justice class (what a great field!).

While it's possible to view the decision today as a victory in holding those who have committed unthinkable crimes accountable, 19 years for 16,000 dead gives victims and heirs to victims much less to celebrate. At 67 years old, it is possible that Duch can live to walk out of prison a free man.

In short, Duch was convicted of the crimes against humanity of persecution on political grounds, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, one instance of rape, and other inhumane acts. He was convicted of the war crimes of willful killing, torture, willfully causing great suffering and injury, depriving civilians and prisoners of war of the right to a fair trial, and the unlawful confinement of civilians. 

19 years for that?

More here:

Post-Judgment CTM Interview with Theary Seng from Cambodia Tribunal Monitor on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kosovo's Independence

This Fall, in addition to moving the Peace Corps process forward, I'll also be seeking acceptance into the New School's International Field Program. They offer programs in some 8 or so countries, with this year being the first time in Kosovo. This one-time autonomous province of Serbia, considered the Serbian "Jerusalem", is some 90% Albanian. Sound familiar?

My hope, being fascinated with all things Europe and specifically the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, is to gain acceptance into the Kosovo program.

In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia and today, the International Court of Justice declared its secession from Serbia legal. Stated here:

"International law does not have an active provision that limits independence declarations, therefore Kosovo's declaration of independence is not in breach of international law," the court president, Hisashi Owada of Japan, said.

Obviously, Serbia does not agree with this opinion. Also found on b92.net,

"all state organs would analyze the ICJ decision", while his emissaries would be dispatched over the weekend to 55 countries state worldwide, where they will deliver his personal message.

"Serbia will never recognize the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo, since we believe that unilateral and ethnically motivated secession is not in line with UN principles," said he.

Some 69 countries have recognized Kosovo's independence, the U.S. being one of them, but Kosovo needs 100 to achieve official statehood status. In contrast, Serbia's rejection is supported by two of the permanent UN Security Council members as well as five of the 27 EU members.

In these articles, Serbia is pledging to resolve the dispute through political means, not through violence. With that said, tensions continue, making it a very compelling place to spend 8 weeks next summer.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Escaping Auschwitz article

I read this article on the Huffington Post today. A compelling story about a Polish prisoner who is able to dress as a German, forge a pass and then walk right out of the camp. While I imagine the reason this story is being told is because it's the July 21th anniversary, but what I have trouble understanding is why is the story being told now, and not earlier? And how does a journalist come across a story like this? Do they put out an ad asking for someone to come forward with a compelling war story? Why now, why not 30 years ago?

Clearly, this story has movie written all over it. But I hope there is no movie, for it would certainly create all sorts of scenes that never happened and distort the truth. Similar to the movie Defiance, where for Hollywood purposes, Zwick took Nehama Tec's book and created scenes that never happened. One prime example is the fight between Tuvia and Zus. It didn't happen, but certain embellishments have to be added for dramatic affect. The problem with exaggerations in the context of the Holocaust is that it runs the risk of feeding the deniers, who will speak up and say "see, we told you this was all a big lie..." We can't have that. So as with all mass atrocities, everything has to be handled with care as relates to how the story is told. Lest we have this happen again.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jan Karski and the Kosciuszko Foundation

The Great Crusade isn't just about gaining acceptance into the Peace Corps. It's the totality of what makes up the effort to make a career change, one from the doldrums of business to one where the topics discussed are so thought-provoking and inspirational, it depresses me to think just how much longer I have before 'change' can occur.

Today I attended an event at the Kosciuszko Foundation on the Upper East Side about Jan Karski, given that 2010 is the anniversary of his passing. Announced during the panel was a four year commemoration project currently in the works which will honor the heroics of this man during the war. The four year span covers the 10th anniversary of his death whereas 2014 covers the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Under the auspices of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the program will entail cooperation between the museum, corporate partners, VIPs such as Bill Clinton, who was a student of Karski's at Georgetown University, and most importantly, an educational component. The latter piece is perhaps the most critical given the dearth of common knowledge out there about who Karski was and what he attempted to accomplish, both among the American public and among the Polish people.

One of the panelists and author of this book, Laurel Leff, discussed at length America's lackluster response to the Holocaust as it was unfolding, both at the government level as well as in the media. Leff's book investigates how the NY Times consistently buried the story of the Holocaust well within the paper, like on page 36 for instance, rather than giving it the coverage it needed to drive outrage and action.

During the Q&A session, I asked if the program would include a formal volunteer program and was told that while the program is still in its infancy, volunteers would be welcome.  Helping to get the word out about Karski and what he stood for, in a world where mass atrocities against minorities are more common than not, is a worthwhile venture.

I was also shocked to hear that in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, one of the largest Polish neighborhoods in the country, there remains a healthy level of anti-Semitism among the Poles living there. This was only one person saying this, so I'll take it with some grain of salt, but suffice it to say, it would be absolutely unforgivable for Poles to come to a city with a large Jewish population and continue to carry with them whatever it is that they think is wrong with the Jewish people. But like I said, it's one person, and it's not like there's anything in the news that suggests tension between Poles and Jews living together in Brooklyn.