Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Guatemala. During the conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed in what is known as the Guatemalan genocide. Researchers are now collecting video testimonies of the survivors to preserve the memories of what happened to prevent future genocides.
As a child, Jesus Tecu lived through horrors most people will never experience in a lifetime.
"It was exactly like the other times that my father would return. The dogs ran out to greet him. They did the same that day, but that day, that day, my father didn’t return," he recounted.
Tecu is one of many survivors whose eyewitness accounts are being recorded in the first academic oral history project documenting their experiences. Their stories are being collected as part of a partnership between the USC Shoah Foundation and the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala.
Sandra Gruner-Domic, a consultant with the USC Shoah foundation, said, "The military came in and separated the villages in groups and made one group kill the other. The children — they had to witness everything. Many of the survivors we had interviewed were kids at that time, and they described the pain of seeing their families, their mothers raped or their sisters killed."
"Some 200,000 civilians, mostly indigenous Mayans, were killed during the 36-year civil war — with the peak of the genocide taking place in the early 1980's," said Gruner-Domic. She pointed out the massacres were carried out in the name of Cold War fears.
"After the Second World War, the fear of spreading communism in Central America was huge," she said.
The foundation says the Guatemalan genocide is one of the least publicly understood in modern history and collecting video testimonies not only will preserve the survivors' memories, but also will help researchers better understand what happened and why. So far, 30 audio-visual testimonies have been collected and with enough funding, the hope is to get 100 by the end of the year.
The testimonies will add to the foundation's Visual History Archive, which includes some 53,000 testimonies of survivors from genocides, including the Holocaust.