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 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.