The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., documents and displays the horrors of the World War Two Nazi Holocaust, in which as many as six million European Jews and other ethnic minorities were rounded up into prison camps and systematically murdered. The Museum's mission also includes documenting and raising awareness of new holocausts occuring around the world. One way it does that is with an annual Days of Remembrance Week. This year's observance, which began Sunday, April 15th, focuses on the most innocent victims of genocide: children, especially the children of Darfur.
"During genocide, the most vulnerable victims are children," says Museum spokesman Andrew Hollinger. He points out that during the Holocaust in the 1930s and 40s, Jewish children were frequently among the first to be murdered by the Nazis, and says that situation has not changed. "Children clearly do not represent a threat to a government, but they do represent the future of a people," he explains. "So if a government is attempting to systematically murder, kill children, it's obvious they are intending to destroy the future of an entire culture, the future of a people."
This week's Days of Remembrance observance, the Holocaust museum is calling attention to the fact that children are being targeted again in Darfur, Sudan.
The conflict in the north African country, which began in 2003, involves rebellious tribes of Darfur farmers and Arab paramilitary groups known as the Janjaweed, whose attacks on Darfur civilians have been supported by the Sudanese government. The government has refused to allow United Nations peacekeepers to enter the region to assist an existing but largely ineffectual force of 7,000 soldiers from the African National Union.
John Heffernan, the director of the Genocide Prevention Initiative at the Holocaust Museum, says there's been no stopping the violence against the Darfur villagers and their children.
"The government of Sudan and their proxy army, the Janjaweed, enter the Darfur villages," he says, "and they loot anything of value and destroy everything that sustains these people. People are thrust into a desert death trap. Clearly, children are vulnerable in terms of being exposed to the elements. In the case of Darfur, we have more than 2.5-million people who have lost their homes. Many of those people are living in displaced camps within Darfur."
Andrew Hollinger ticks off the statistics: "Approximately 250-thousand refugees are in neighboring Chad. Hundreds of thousands of people have died. More people are dying from disease and starvation rather than from actual violence. So clearly children, who don't have access to water and healthcare, who are exposed to furnace-like temperatures where there is very little shelter, are the most vulnerable."
John Heffernan observes that history seems to be repeating itself because most international organizations and governments appear unable, or unwilling, to protect the people of Darfur from further violence. The security situation in the region is complicating the problem, he adds. "[It] has gotten so bad in Darfur that many of the humanitarian organizations that provide assistance can't do their work so they're pulling out of Darfur altogether."
The Holocaust Museum recently launched a public information campaign in partnership with Google, the giant Internet search engine developer, to bring images of genocide in Darfur to the personal computers of millions of users.
High-resolution satellite imagery of the devastated Darfur region is now available to a global community of witnesses, Heffernan says, "Over 200 million people have downloaded Google Earth, and now people will be getting pictures of essentially what genocide looks like in Darfur in their offices, in their living rooms. That makes it very difficult to ignore what's happening there." Heffernan hopes the Google Earth project will put international public pressure on heads of state and leaders of international organizations to stop the genocide in Darfur.
Ceremonies during the Days of Remembrance in Washington, D.C., are scheduled to include a gathering of survivors of the Holocaust, retired members of the U.S. armed forces who helped liberate them in 1945, as well as a teenage girl who survived the genocide in Rwanda in the late 1990's.
Museum officials say the goal of this year's observance is not just to dwell on memories but to take action and give new meaning to the post-Holocaust promise, "never again."