Monday, July 19, 2010

July 17

Liverpool, England

Next week we have a meeting in London with Dr. James Smith, co-founder and Chief Executive of Aegis Trust. Aegis runs the Holocaust and Memorial Centre in the UK and the Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda. The organization advocates for peace in Sudan, promotes education about genocides, and has projects to bring suspected war criminals to justice. We look forward to hearing about current Aegis initiatives and to sharing information about World Without Genocide programs.

Before we go to London, we’re in Liverpool for the weekend to visit my cousin, Keith Levin, and his family. Keith is a judge who specializes in hearing asylum cases.

There are various classifications for people who have left their locations of origin. Those who move voluntarily are called immigrants. If people are displaced from their homes due to mass atrocities or natural disasters but remain in their home countries, they are called Internally Displaced Persons, or IDPs. Examples include the more than 1.2 million people from Darfur who remain within Sudan but have fled from the violence in their villages and communities; people displaced in Thailand’s tsunami; and those displaced in the U.S. because of Hurricane Katrina.

People who cross an international border in their flight from human rights abuses are called refugees. For those who enter another country with legal documentation to do so, they have refugee status in that new destination, giving them certain rights and protections. Often, however, people cannot wait for legal permission to leave their country because they are in grave danger. They flee and hope to get legal status after they have found safety. These people are called asylees, and they seek asylum in that new location. These are the cases that Keith hears: the stories of people who have a well-founded fear of persecution if they return to their places of origin. He is involved in adjudicating their requests for legal sanctuary.

Asylees are often escaping from genocides and other mass atrocities; the work that Keith does is directly related to the mission of World Without Genocide.

We met many of Keith’s friends and, as happens everywhere, heard about Holocaust survivors and their descendants here in Liverpool. One man, an Israeli, is the son of a German Jew who escaped from the Nazis by walking across the Pyrenees Mountains, finding refuge in France, and eventually arriving in Palestine. There is a legacy of genocide virtually everywhere in the world.

We saw a remarkable exhibit at the Liverpool Tate Museum: “Picasso: Peace and Freedom.” This huge exhibit chronicles Picasso’s anti-war work as both an artist and an activist from 1937 forward, after he painted the shattering mural Guernica. The exhibition focuses on Picasso as a ‘history painter,’ examining the themes of war and peace in his art in parallel with world events: the Spanish Civil War, the Holocaust, the Cold War, the Algerian war of independence, and the Cuban missile crisis.

Picasso said, “… artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at risk.”

Many of the works shown in this exhibit are based on Picasso’s experiences during the Holocaust, when he lived in Paris during the German occupation. He visited Auschwitz in 1948 and some of the paintings are harrowing echoes of extermination and brutality.

Some of the most powerful works included The Charnel House, about a family of Spanish Republicans killed in France during the Holocaust; drawings and studies for his murals War and Peace; a series called The Women of Algiers, examining the impact of the 8-year-long brutal war for independence from France; and the series The Rape of the Sabines, reflecting the devastating effect of war on women and children.

The hope for the future is represented in Picasso’s symbol of the dove of peace, now an icon used around the world by advocates for justice, equality, and peace.
Outside of the exhibit children gathered in a large tent and created their own doves of peace. See the photo of the little boy hard at work!

World Without Genocide currently participates with the Holocaust Center in Houston, Texas to create 1.5 million paper butterflies, memorializing each of the Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust. Students and adults in high schools, colleges, and at our events throughout Minnesota this past spring have made hundreds and hundreds of butterflies that we’ve sent on to Houston. We’ll include opportunities to make doves of peace at our fall programs and will use them in a permanent installation.

Tomorrow we’ll visit the Museum of Slavery here in Liverpool which has exhibits examining both historical and contemporary slavery. Liverpool was one of the major English port cities from which Africans were shipped across the Atlantic.

Adam Hochschild’s brilliant book, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, chronicles the antislavery movement in the British Empire; much of it deals with efforts to raise awareness and abolitionist action in Liverpool.

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