Survivor: Act now in Darfur

By Nesse Godin

SILVER SPRING (JTA) — Sixty-four years ago, my family and I were sent to the ghetto in Siauliai, Lithuania. Somehow, I lived through a concentration camp, four labor camps and a death march.

There is not a day that I don’t think about the family and friends I lost in the Holocaust. But this year, as the world is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps, my thoughts are not only about the horrors of Europe’s past, but also about Africa’s present.

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Today, I am also thinking about the people of Darfur, Sudan — chased from their homes, their belongings stolen, separated from their families and facing brutality and death every day. From experience, I know what this is like.

As we know, most of the world turned its back on Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust. But I survived the Nazis and their collaborators, thanks to the help of Jewish women who gave me a small bite of bread when I was starving, kept me warm when I was freezing and picked me up when I fell.

When I promised these women that I would never forget their courage, I promised myself to teach the world how hatred and indifference can cause terrible pain and suffering. I write this essay on behalf of those Jewish women who helped me and for all those dying in Darfur who need our help.

My heart goes out to these human beings who are being attacked because of who they are. It brings back awful memories of the attacks on the Jews during the Holocaust just because of who they were. Virtually every day, soldiers of the government of Sudan and its allied militias rape, burn villages and kill people of so-called “African” ethnic groups because of their identity.

Families that have done nothing wrong bear the weight of the violence. As someone who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, and as a human being who believes we must never forget, I cannot remain silent.

Last year at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, I stood shoulder to shoulder with Amal Allagabo, of the Darfur community in exile, in a special observance bringing attention to the crisis in Darfur. Ms. Allagabo has lost touch with her family and fears that they could be scattered in refugee camps, lost in the desert or dead.

Time is of the essence. With each passing day more lives are lost. On March 17, college campuses across America observed a minute of silence for Darfur, hoping that their communities, the governments of the free world and the United Nations would hear their silence as a call to action.

Seven weeks later, innocent people continue to be killed. What must we do to keep reminding the world that genocide is never acceptable?

As a survivor of the Holocaust, I have a special responsibility to Ms. Allagabo and to the people of Darfur.

As United States citizens, as leaders in the world community and as human beings, we all have the obligation to speak out and end the genocide. We must inform our children, we must encourage action, and we must lead the world in halting these crimes against humanity.

When I lived in the ghetto, before I lost my family, a young woman came to our home with papers that would help us avoid deportation, but she was one short — mine. My mother pleaded with her to get the appropriate paperwork so that I could remain with my family.

Eventually the young woman chose to provide one more document so that I could stay in the ghetto longer.

This young woman made a decision that saved my life.

One person can make a difference. Every time I speak about my experiences during the Holocaust, I also speak about Darfur.

Last summer, I addressed a group in front of the Sudanese Embassy rallying to end the genocide. In January, for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I told the assembled diplomats at the United Nations why we must do something for the innocent people of Darfur.

In February, I spoke to a group of 400 students from 90 universities across America who had traveled to Washington to learn how they can help stop the genocide. They prove that some young people understand that we must act, and now we must get others to act, urgently.

I will continue to speak out because I survived genocide. I will not — cannot — remain silent during another genocide.

Six decades ago, the world was horrified. The world claimed that it had not known about the Holocaust.

It was not true then, nor is it true now about Darfur. When are we going to learn the lessons of the Holocaust? When are we going to recognize our individual and national responsibility to put an end to genocide?

When will we stop merely saying “never again” and start acting on “not this time!”

Nesse Godin, a Holocaust survivor, lives in Silver Spring, Md., and volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.