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Awareness of real people suffering genocide is a way to make 'Never Again!' a reality

To personalize the reality of contemporary genocide, the Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust on Sunday, April 15, at Temple Beth Shalom will include survivors of genocides in Sudan, Rwanda and Bosnia who will light one candle. 

Golan Khotdiang came from Sudan

The theme, “Making ‘Never Again’ a Reality” arose as the planners reflected on the importance of remembrance.

The observance known as Yom Hashoah is at 7 p.m. at Temple Beth Shalom, 1322 East 30th Ave.  Yom Hashoah is the international day of remembrance of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews in Eastern Europe and 5 million others were killed.

 “Nazi genocide was directed towards the Jews and others considered a threat to their goal of a pure Aryan society.  Many survivors vowed that future generations should remember the Holocaust so that we could ensure that it never happen again, to anyone in our world.  We have, however, fallen far short of achieving that goal,” said Mary Noble of the planning committee.

Genocide and other crimes against humanity have continued to occur since World War II ended 61 years ago.

Mary knew from the experience of Immaculee Mukakalisa from Rwanda and from her own family experience that simply reading about crimes against humanity is not the same as seeing, meeting and knowing someone who experienced genocide.

“In this time of Holocaust denial, it is important to put a real face on current situations,” Mary said.  “We thought having survivors of contemporary genocide be part of the candle-lighting ceremony would be a first step.”

The planning committee also decided to look to youth for inspiration, and sponsored a creative-writing contest on the theme, “Making ‘Never Again’ a Reality.”  Holocaust survivor Eva Lassman will introduce the winner, Katie Rolli from University High School, who will read her composition at the observance.   Steve Smith of the Spokesman-Review will respond to her.

Two of the three who will light candles on Yom Hashoah shared their stories with The Fig Tree.

From experiences of war as a child in Southeast Sudan and the struggle to survive each day during school years in Addis Ababa, Golan Khotdiang understands that genocide—like that in Darfur—must end.  The war of North against South Sudan began in 1955.  The war grew worse in 1983, and the world became aware of it.

His parents died because war cut access to health care they needed when they were ill.  In 1983, when he was 10, he fled from Sudan to find a safe place to stay and opportunity for education in Ethiopia. 

During the war between North and South Sudan, children lost parents, wives lost husbands, people lost homes, and families scattered, he said.

In Ethiopia, life was also hard.  Golan lived with a group of students who shared whatever they found to eat with each other.

“Many people in South Sudan still live in refugee camps,” said Golan, whose sister is still in a refugee camp.  His niece now lives in Nebraska and his brother in Canada.

In 1994, Golan found his 14-year-old niece in Gambella, Ethiopia, and went with her to Kenya.  They came to the United States in 1995 as refugees.  He worked in a hotel and a warehouse in Atlanta.  In 1999, he moved to Omaha, Neb., and worked there until 2004 when he came to Seattle to try fishing.  He spent a year there and two years in the Tri Cities.

Golan decided to study international relations so he could make a difference for people who suffer.  He wants to prevent people from experiencing what he experienced as a child.

He came to Spokane in January 2007 and is studying at the Institute for Extended Learning of Community Colleges of Spokane to improve his English so he can enter college.

Golan grew up in the Presbyterian Church and now attends First Presbyterian in Spokane.

“Church has helped me deal with the bad situation,” Golan said.  “God took care of me and brought me to America. My life is safe here,” he said.

He wonders why people in other parts of the world did not help Sudanese people when they were suffering mistreatment from their government.

“Now that I am in America, I hope Americans can do something for us.  While some Sudanese here want to forget the struggle, I want to let Americans know what is going on in Sudan,” Golan said, concerned about Sudanese people who are still in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Darfur.

“I don’t know why people feel they can kill people,” he said, thinking also of the suffering of the Jewish people and others in the Holocaust.

Immaculee Mukakalisa, who lost her father, brothers, extended family and friends in the three months of genocide in 1994 in Rwanda, will light one of the candles during the Yom Hashoah to say, “Never Again!”

Immaculee Mukakalisa came from Rwanda

“The genocide wiped out families.  Some have no one left.  I am thankful that my mother is alive and I am alive,” said Immaculee, who hid during the genocide. 

She came to the United States 10 years ago to join her husband, who was studying in Idaho.  After they divorced, she came to Spokane to study nursing and in 2004, she completed her degree at Washington State University.

“I wanted to be a nurse because of the suffering and killing I saw,” she said.  “I want to help care for people.

“When I was asked to light the candle, I saw it as a way to remember all victims and survivors of genocide,” she said.  “In April, Rwanda commemorates the genocide there. 

“I see it as a way to help open people’s eyes and the eyes of the world, to help people understand what genocide is, what its consequences are and how to prevent it,” she said, aware that genocide continues.

“What can we do to stop it?  How can we come to the point that ‘Never Again!’ will be real?  It’s important that we never forget and that we see genocide wherever it happens today.”

Immaculee said too often genocide is kept secret so people don’t know about it or if they do, they don’t understand what happened.

She grew up in a Catholic family, in which prayer, God and going to church were important.  She now attends St. Augustine parish in Spokane.

While hiding, she said she survived day by day, praying each day, “God, please let me live today and tomorrow.”

“Praying helped,” she said.

Immaculee has told friends of  her experience and, on a few occasions, she has spoken to groups.

“It helps to talk about it, to help people understand more than what they saw on TV,” she said.  “My country is now known for genocide.  Most people did not know about Rwanda before that.  Few know what happened.

“It’s good to tell why it happened and exchange ideas on how to prevent genocide.  People often ask why they did not know.  They know it was terrible and are sorry no one did anything to stop it,” Immaculee said.

She said that tensions and animosity between the minority Tutsis and majority Hutus grew after colonial times.

Hutus and Tutsis spoke the same language, lived in the same area, followed the same traditions and intermarried.

Belgian colonists who came in 1916 produced identity cards and gave Tutsis better education and jobs.  After independence in 1962, Hutus took power and denied education and jobs to Tutsis. 

When Tutsis sought to share power in the 1990s, some in the government secretly prepared to kill them, despite the peace process that was underway.  Youth were trained, and media played on stereotypes and fears, creating the climate that led to the mass killings.

“Not all Hutus accepted or participated in the genocide.  Some died fighting it.  Some helped and hid Tutsis,” she said.

The new government includes both Tutsis and Hutus, and there is a reconciliation process. 

Some witnesses, Immaculee said, are still in danger, because they testify about what they saw. People accused of killing people are confronted. If they accept responsibility and apologize, they are released.

“What I experienced changed my life, opened my eyes to want to care about people,” she said. “I believe I survived for a reason.”

She still wonders why people lose their humanity.

For information, call 747-3304.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © April 2007