31.01.2019 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

UNESCO presents film about Warsaw Ghetto Archive to the Senegalese audience to mark 2019 International Holocaust Remembrance Day

@UNESCO/Mansoura Fall

UNESCO regional Office for West Africa (Sahel), the Senegalese National Commission for UNESCO, the UN Information Centre (UNIC), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS) held a film screening of “Who Will Write Our History” on 26 January 2019 in Dakar, Senegal. More than 100 students from three UNESCO Associated Schools and Cheikh Anta Diop University (UCAD), as well as the general public participated in the discussion about the Warsaw Ghetto Archive and its significance to Senegal.

Every year around 27 January, events are organized globally to mark the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. This year, UNESCO regional Office for West Africa (Sahel), and its partner organizations, joined the global screening of the documentary, “Who Will Write Our History – Resistance Comes in Many Forms,” which is the first feature documentary about clandestine group, Oyneg Shabes, which collected thousands of documents and testimonies from the Warsaw Ghetto between 1940-1943. The Warsaw Ghetto Archives (Emanuel Ringelblum Archives) was included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 1999.

In Senegal, the event took place at the Museum of Black Civilisations, an ideal place to reflect on the relevance of the debate on the Holocaust for Senegal, as the museum was created to illustrate the contribution of black civilizations to the Humanity.

The event started with the observance of a minute of silence in remembrance of each victim of the Holocaust, followed by welcome remarks of Mrs. Abibatou Sow of the Senegalese National Commission for UNESCO, who explained that UNESCO’s Associated School Network (ASPNet) promotes peace education through world history and curriculum pertaining to the Holocaust. She invited students from three ASPNet schools: John F. Kennedy (JFK), Cours Sainte Marie de Hann, and CEM Martin Luther King to raise awareness on the importance of the day, but especially to take part in the discussion on the film.

Dr. Alioune Deme, Professor of the History Department of UCAD, who facilitated the discussion, reminded us that the Senegal’s first President, Léopold Sédar Senghor, was a prisoner of war during the Nazi regime. He also mentioned that the Holocaust took place in countries where people were educated, highlighting the importance of educational opportunities that promote peace, justice, intercultural understanding, and acceptance of diversity.

Mr. Illan Acher of the OHCHR stressed the importance of upholding human rights to prevent mass atrocities. Indeed, he recalled how the marginalization of groups through the systematic denial of their fundamental rights is consistently at the root of mass atrocities. Mr. Acher called on everyone to play an active part in opposing discourses seeking to divide nations and people, and to refuse the scapegoating of minority groups.

Ms. Akemi Yonemura of UNESCO discussed the Organization’s activities related to teaching about the Holocaust and genocides history, which seek to promote understanding about the causes, consequences, and dynamics of such crimes so as to counter all forms of intolerance and discrimination that may lead to group-targeted violence, and to strengthen the resilience of young people against ideologies of hatred. Ms. Yonemura then introduced the film, which UNESCO is also screening at its global event in Paris, France.

After the film, the audience had a chance to hear the testimonies of Mr. Roi Rosenblit, Israeli Ambassador to Senegal, who shared the story of his grandmother who was born and grew up in Warsaw, then the Warsaw Ghetto, and was deported from the Ghetto to Chelmno concentration camp and finally to Majdanek death camp. She survived only because she was a strong young woman, while most of her family were murdered in Treblinka. Ambassador Rosenblit said that the Holocaust could take place only because ordinary people, from all over Europe, were ready to accept the idea that their Jewish friends and neighbors were sub-human and deserved to be killed. He warned we must not allow such ideas of hatred prevail ever again.

Dr. Armin Osmanovic of RLS, who has been supporting UNESCO’s program on teaching about the Holocaust and mass atrocities, expressed the Organization’s commitment to fight against discrimination and violence and promote diversity, pluralistic and transnational policies, as well as the development of transformative capacities among the Senegalese people.

Mr. Cardona of UNIC drew two important lessons from the film: first, the terrorist state created by the Nazi regime used fear and oppression to control the population; but this fear could also help with Nazi resistance. The second lesson centred on the importance of learning from the history of the Holocaust, which the younger generation is unaware of. Mr. Cardona, therefore, stressed the importance of education in preventing such atrocities.

Mrs. Kane, a teacher of an ASPNet school, spoke about the UNESCO ASPNet schools’ activities to promote peace, and she mentioned that this film taught us many important lessons. She stressed that we should organize such an event every year.

The reponse from both students at UCAD and the JFK High School emphasized the importance of commemorating the Holocaust history. For some students, it was the first lesson on the life of people affected by the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto, which is not a story of the distant past. Many parallels exist in Senegal’s neighboring countries and it is important for society to think about what can be done to prevent similar mass atrocities. The use of technology by the international community in rapid response and prevention and crisis management (e.g. Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, armed conflict in Mali) are pertinent examples.

Mr. Nelson Ndecky, teacher of History at Cours Sainte Marie de Hann spoke of how the film showed the intolerance to diversity and the apathy to human suffering and misery that are taking place everywhere. But, he noted, we can change the situation starting from the family and community where we live.

To the majority of the audience, the story of the Warsaw Ghetto was unknown, but the film screening and the following discussion provided a new opportunity for young Senegalese people to reflect on the history of the Holocaust, stressing that it is not the story of the past but it is a lesson that we can use to build sustaining peace in African society.

Mrs. Sow of the National Commission for UNESCO shared the UNESCO brochure on “Why teach about the Holocaust” which was translated into two national languages, Wolof and Pulaar and is available in digital form for use in future education activities.


<- Back to: All news