Survivors of Genocide: Ending Violence and Fostering Peace

By Maureen Mespell
By Rachel Martin

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April 16, 2012 Updated Apr 17, 2012 at 12:07 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – The Allen County Public Library hosted an anti-genocide forum where three activists shared their stories of survival.

As part of National Remembrance Week, three individuals from different walks of life were at the Allen County Public Library Monday night, all to talk about what they have in common—survival.

Turning 78 in two weeks, Doris Fogel is one of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust. Born in Berlin, Fogel says she and her mother fled Nazi Germany in 1939, and arrived in Shanghai as Jewish refugees. Fogel was only 4-years old. She was too young to remember her time in Germany, but Fogel can recall living in Shaghai’s Hongkew ghetto in an internment camp like is was yesterday.

“As children, we went to school when there wasn’t any bombing, we read books, we did sports, we didn’t know that we were poor. We didn’t know any better,” Fogel said.

Fogel says she lived on rationed food with no running water and sanitation facilities. She used the bathroom in a “honey pot”, and water had to be boiled before she could drink it. After eight years, Fogel and her mother finally received voucher papers from American Jewish sponsors. They moved to America and settled in Peoria, Ill, where her mother, although educated, worked in factory welding cans.

“When I had my 13th birthday coming to America, I weighed 65 pounds,” she said. “We lived in one room. You know, people don’t talk about that. We lived in one room and I slept with my mother.”

Now, decades later, Fogel is the Executive Director of the Fort Wayne Jewish Federation, and she still shares her story, and warns people about the dangers of discrimination.

“When you meet somebody, don’t just look at them on the outside, see how they are on the inside,” Fogel said. “My mother used to say to me when I was primping in front of a mirror, ‘pretty is who pretty does,’ and that’s very important.”

Myo Myint Cho is a former political prisoner from Burma. After high school, he entered the Burmese military as an engineer. Myint says he worked the front lines setting up bombs and land mines. During his time in the military, Myint says he noticed the actions of soldiers—raping women, looting properties, burning down villages, and forcing people to live in internment camps to be tortured. He was released from the Army after encountering a land mine, where he lost part of his left arm, leg and left eye. He says it was then he noticed the Burmese government was conducting an “ethnic cleansing.”

“I’d like American people to know, this is very different from normal crimes,” Myint said. “This is crime against humanity.”

Myint has spent the rest of his life as a Democratic Activist and Human Rights activist. He spent 15 years as a political prisoner where he was tortured for trying to stop the civil war. After threats to imprison his family, Myint fled to Thailand as a refugee and arrived in Fort Wayne in 2008. Myint now part of the Board of Directors for the Allen County Crime Victim Care (CVC) and works to bring Burmese families to America. He is also featured in the documentary, “Burmese Soldier.”

“The civil war [has been going on] since 1948 to today. You can say this is the longest civil war in the world,” Myint said. “So I participate in politics and I demand democracy and human rights to stop the civil war.”

Carl Wilkens was the last speaker of the night. Wilkens and his family moved to Rwanda in 1990, to do humanitarian aid work. The Wilkens’ were the last Americans to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Wilkens says he was urged by close friends, church members and the U.S. government to leave, but he refused. He says it was because of the love he and his family had for the two Tutsi workers at his Rwandan home.

“It wasn’t really a choice. I mean, how are you going to leave these people here to be tortured and slaughtered?” he said. “My wife and I, we didn’t have to discuss it or convince each other, we just both knew we had to do something.”

So, he and his wife risked their lives daily—hearing bombs and gunshots everyday, and fighting through angry mobs of soldiers and civilians to bring food, water, and medicine to hundreds of suffering orphans. The Wilkens returned to the U.S. in 1996, and was featured in the PBS documentary, “Ghosts of Rwanda,” in 2004. In 2008, Wilkens quit his job and now tours the country speaking and sharing his story.

“I’m certainly hoping that people will see themselves in the pictures and stories in Rwanda, even though they’re on another continent, and then they’ll see the decisions people made, the courage that people showed, and that people will be aware that they always have a choice no matter what the situation,” Wilkens said. “Those choices not only affect our lives, but the lives around us. Sometimes it just takes one person to stand up and say, ‘hey this is not right.’”

During his speech Myint said, “You don’t have power to change the past, but power to change the future.” After hearing each speaker share their separate stories of survival, it was clear what their message was—to inform everyone and inspire people to make a change and help prevent genocide in the future.

“A lot of times we understand that stories can move people, but once we move people by a story, what are we going to do about it?” asked Wilkens.




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