WASHINGTON – When she was a teenager during the Holocaust,Nesse Godin promised the women in her concentration camp that,if she survived,she would dedicate her life to educating others about the horrors they experienced.
More than 60 years later,she continued to honor her promise by speaking Friday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. But this time,the genocide she spoke against was in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Darfur is the western-most region of Sudan,Africa's largest country. Fighting between ethnic groups has claimed from more than 100,000 to 400,000 lives since early 2003,said Jerry Fowler,staff director for the museum's Committee on Conscience,which organized the event.
Godin,of Silver Spring,Md.,told the audience of more than 160 that those who remain silent are as guilty of the proliferation of violence as those participating in the genocide.
“It is a combination,” she said. “It's not just the killers; it's also the bystanders and the informers.”
When she was 13,Jews in Godin's village in Siauliai,Lithuania,were assessed by Nazis to determine if they were fit to be sent to ghettos for hard labor. While the rest of her family was issued passes for admittance,Godin was not.
It was not until her mother bribed a young Lithuanian secretary to issue Godin a pass to the ghetto that she realized the power of a single person striving to make a difference.
Godin,77,survived a concentration camp,ghetto,four labor camps and a death march before she was liberated by Soviet Union troops on March 10,1945. She has been involved with the Holocaust Museum since 1981 and has continued to speak about the violence she witnessed during World War II.
She said people often ask her why,when she was younger,she did not simply run away from the violence of the Holocaust.
She compared her lack of ability to escape – and that of Darfur residents – to that of a child being beaten by a bully.
“If a kid is beat up,what can he do … if somebody doesn't intervene?” she said.
Godin said the best way for U.S. residents to help end the violence is to get involved. She recommended writing letters to members of Congress.
“Together,if we all speak,we can have an influence,” she said. Ending genocide is “not just the responsibility for the country where people suffer; it's the responsibility for the whole world.”
Fowler said,“We want people to realize genocide is the product of choices,including bystanders who speak up or be quiet.”
The committee strives to organize events that will continually draw attention to Darfur until the violence ends,he said. The museum has scheduled several programs about Darfur through the summer.
“Darfur will eventually come to an end,” Fowler said. “But whether that's done through the world's efforts or by perpetrators remains to be seen.”