On Auschwitz, Phnom Phenh and Darfur

20020627skulls.jpgThis Saturday, JRC will commemorate Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) with a memorial service for the victims of the Shoah, followed by a presentation from a survivor of a more recent genocide.

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge invaded the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and initiated a genocidal campaign against the Cambodian people that would last for four years. The day Phnom Penh fell, a young Cambodian medical student named Leon Lim was forced from his home and was sent to a labor camp. After the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979, Lim, his wife and her family walked for six weeks to the border of Thailand. They spent the next three years in refugee camps, where Lim worked as a medic.

The Lim family eventually managed to move to the United States in 1981, settling in Chicago. Leon now teaches at Northside College Preparatory High School, where he and his students have developed an important curriculum that uses the Cambodian experience to explore the universal concept of genocide. He is also a founder of the Cambodian Association of Illinois, which houses the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial. When I met Leon earlier this year, he told me his powerful story and gave me a tour of the center – a small but exquisite gem of a museum located in Albany Park.

The great Israeli Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer has written:

killing-fields-memorial.jpgEach genocide is different, but it would be a mistake to dismiss the similarities. Foremost among them is the suffering of the victims. There is no better or worse genocide, just as there is no better or worse murder, no better or worse torture. There is no scale to measure suffering. Jews, Armenians or Poles who were martyred and murdered all suffered the same.

I do believe that we honor to the victims of the Shoah whenever we honor our common humanity with all victims of genocidal persecution. (It is tragically serendipitous that April 17 – two days after Yom Hashoah – is the day the Cambodian community has chosen to be their communal memorial of the Cambodian genocide.) If you live in the Chicagoland area, I invite you to JRC’s Yom Hashoah memorial to hear Leon Lim’s testimony. (Click here for further information.)

Postscript: The genocide in Darfur – the first genocide of the 21st century – has now shamefully entered its fourth year. I encourage you to learn more about the upcoming “Global Days for Darfur” (April 23-30) a week-long series of events that will give us all the opportunity to speak out. (More about Darfur in upcoming posts…)

1 thought on “On Auschwitz, Phnom Phenh and Darfur

  1. cultivate-peace

    Thank you so much for this, I work with students in an institution in California and we are currently focusing on genocide. We have worked on the holocaust, including a Wings of Witness Workshop and are about to start looking at Cambodia. We use the CBL Curriculum found here…


    We will be reading Children of The River shortly so this will really help support my students background understanding.

    Thanks again!


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