States and organizations around the country and the world have set aside April to be a month of genocide awareness, education and action against genocide.
Why April? Several genocides over the last century began in this month. The events leading to the Armenian genocide started in April 1915. The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh fell to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in April 1975. Hutu extremists launched their plan to exterminate the entire Tutsi civilian population of Rwanda in April 1994.
April 1943 is also the month in which the few remaining Jews in the Warsaw ghetto rose in a desperate but heroic revolt against their oppressors. Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, was later established to commemorate those events, which represent unprecedented destruction but also courage, resilience and hope.
At the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies we see anniversaries as a valuable opportunity to advance scholarship and education. It is a chance to encourage students, educators and the broader community to deepen their understanding of past events and their sequels, as well as awareness of current manifestations of genocide and massive human rights violations.
Our programs in the next weeks reflect this mission. We started the month with an educational trip to the Bdote (Dakota for “where the rivers meet”) at Fort Snelling State Park, guided by scholar and teacher Iyekiyapiwiƞ Darlene St. Clair. Bdote is where the Dakota creation stories locate their origins, and also the site of internment, starvation and forced removal in the aftermath of the US Dakota War. “A place of genesis and genocide,” as one Dakota author eloquently put it. We will close this month of remembrance and awareness on Holocaust Memorial Day with a lecture by Sidi N’Diaye, who examines the role of hateful representations in the murders of Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust in Poland and of Tutsi neighbors during the 1994 genocide.
As we move through April, it is important to remember the quote from Holocaust historian Robert Abzug: “We must recognize that if we feel helpless when facing the record of human depravity, there was always a point at which any particular scene of madness could have been stopped.” In that spirit, this month we remember the victims of genocide and honor those who have worked tirelessly to stop it.
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