2018-04-25 / Voice at the Shore

Stockton holds “Walk to Remember” for Genocide Prevention Month

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice Shore Editor


Stockton’s Sarah Albertson and University of Rwanda student Jean Paul Iranzi lead a moment of silence for the one million victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Stockton’s Sarah Albertson and University of Rwanda student Jean Paul Iranzi lead a moment of silence for the one million victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Roughly 50 years after the Nazi Holocaust, the world once again remained silent as one million Rwandan Tutsis were slaughtered in their homes, churches, schools and fields by their Hutu neighbors during a 100-day killing spree.

This year, Stockton University students held a “Walk to Remember” to commemorate the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide, as well as to educate people on genocide prevention. The event was held on April 9, the same day that the nation of Rwanda begins its 100-day commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, and just days before Yom HaShoah.

According to Gail Rosenthal, director of Stockton’s Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, the Walk to Remember was one of many Stockton events happening during the month of April, which is Genocide Awareness and Prevention month.

Roughly 30 Stockton students and faculty members participated in a mile-long walk followed by a film about the Rwandan genocide and presentations by students, faculty members and a representative from the Rwandan embassy in Washington, D.C.

Stockton Dean Robert Gregg described Rwanda as “a country with resilience that has learned to teach the world about peace and reconciliation.” Last year, he led a group of Stockton students to Rwanda for a peace-building institute offered by Never Again Rwanda, a peace-building and human rights organization founded by Rwandan students in 2002.

The organization works to help Rwandans heal and to reconcile as well as to prevent future violence elsewhere in the world. Thanks to these kinds of efforts, said Gregg, the former victims and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide have come to an understanding and are now able to live side by side in the same country.

It was at the Peace-building Institute in Rwanda that Stockton students came up with the idea for the Walk to Remember and developed connections with Rwandan students that led to the April 9 event. Over the past year, several Stockton student leaders and Sarah Albertson, program assistant for Stockton’s Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, worked long-distance with University of Rwanda Student Jean Paul Iranzi to plan the program.

The soft-spoken Iranzi was brought to Stockton to be part of the event. After welcoming everyone to the gathering, he briefly offered some facts about Rwanda and the 1994 genocide that were fleshed out by film footage shown about the genocide.

Rwandan embassy representative Bonny Musefano also spoke. “We gather here to remember because unity and renewal first demands an honest reckoning with the past,” he said, noting that in Rwanda, starting that day, the society would be beginning a 100-day period where people would engage in dialogue about the violence and killing that brought the country to its knees.

“There is no rule book for societies rebuilding from such horror,” said Musefano. “We had no tools to use beyond our desire to recover. We refused to surrender to despair and victimhood. Memory engenders both suffering and relief. This is why we remember year after year. Friends, this is why we must never stop fighting against genocide deniers,” he said.

In Rwanda, he explained, there are deniers who blame the victims, saying that it was the Tutsis and not the Hutus who carried out the killing.

Alison Hesser, president of the student society for Stockton’s Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, gave a presentation on the ten stages of genocide outlined by Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, for the U.S. State Department in 1996. “Genocide is a process that develops in ten stages that are predictable but not inexorable,” Stanton wrote. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it.”

Stanton’s stages include:

• Classification, in which people from different groups, such as Jew and German, or Hutu and Tutsi, begin to become polarized;

• Symbolization, where people of the targeted group are forced to wear a distinguishing symbol (such as the yellow star for Jews under Nazi rule);

• Discrimination, where the dominant group denies the rights of the other group;

• Dehumanization, where members of the discriminated-against group may be equated with “animals, vermin, insects or diseases”;

• Organization, where plans for killing are made by the state or a militia;

• Polarization, where extremists may use propaganda and new laws to isolate the discriminated against group from all others in the society;

• Preparation, where perpetrator group leaders plan their “Final Solution”;

• Persecution, where victims may be stripped of their property and assigned to death lists;

• Extermination (the mass killing known as genocide); and

• Denial, where perpetrators try to cover up what they’ve done by digging up mass graves and burning bodies, intimidating witnesses, and denying their deeds, often blaming the victims. This stage, which “always follows a genocide,” wrote Stanton, “is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres.”

“People like you and I can study these—how they happened in the past, and how we can prevent them in the future,” said Hesser. 

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