MAST Visit to "Journeys Beyond Genocide: The Human Experience" includes Discussion with Survivors
As part of "Building Bridges," students engage with survivor testimony across 3 genocides
December 10, 2018
The opportunity to connect with survivors of the Holocaust and the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda is an inspiring experience for visitors to Chhange. On Wednesday, eleventh grade students from the Marine Academy for Science and Technology (M.A.S.T.) visited the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education (Chhange), where they had a chance to meet Claire Boren, a local Holocaust survivor, and Eugenie Mukeshimana, a survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, who previously lived in Newark. Students were able to further engage with survivor testimony in Journeys Beyond Genocide: The Human Experience, Chhange’s core exhibit focusing on local survivors of the Holocaust, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, and the Armenian Genocide. This opportunity was part of Chhange’s signature Building Bridges educational initiative, building a culture of mutual respect and understanding—creating a safe, welcoming school community.
Claire Boren was a toddler when World War II came to Mizocz, Poland (now Ukraine). She and her mother escaped, but her father was murdered along with most of the other Jews living in Mizocz in October 1942. Alongside her mother, Claire was hidden in a small ditch under the pigsty behind a peasant’s home for months before joining a Partisan group shortly before liberation. Looking back on her experiences, Claire recognizes that many of the thoughts she had as a five-year-old girl were extreme for someone her age. “That’s what war does to children,” she explained to the M.A.S.T. students, “It deprives them of their childhood.”
When tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi of Rwanda intensified during Eugenie’s high school years, her parents tried to shield her and her siblings from the discrimination. Eugenie told the students, “[Parents] didn’t want you to worry about your ethnicity. They wanted you to be a kid. Yeah, that worked, up until the war came.” Eugenie was in her early twenties and eight months pregnant when Hutu extremists entered her home and robbed her and her husband of everything they owned. Separated from her husband, Eugenie was forced to spend the duration of the genocide hiding in crawlspaces under beds, and gave birth to her daughter in an outhouse.
Eugenie expressed the disbelief many genocide victims felt when confronted by perpetrators. “How can you really believe that someone is going to come and kill you for no reason? Your neighbors? Your friends?” After the genocide, many Rwandans worked to reconcile their differences and live side-by-side with the perpetrators. Asked about how she feels about recreating her life after the genocide, Eugenie remarked, “There is no book. There is no script on how to survive.” For her, “The act of surviving is in itself revenge. So I should hold my head high so the people who wanted me dead feel less successful.”
Eugenie's and Claire’s testimony are both featured in Journeys Beyond Genocide: The Human Experience. Claire uses art to share the experiences she faced as a child during the Holocaust. When asked why she paints, Claire responded, “How do you describe terror?” For her, it is through art that she becomes an upstander against injustice. M.A.S.T. students were empowered to become upstanders in the exhibit’s interactive section, Stand Up for Human Rights. This sections explores contemporary humanitarian issues in our local community and provides students the tools to effect positive change.
To learn more about the Building Bridges program, Journeys Beyond Genocide: The Human Experience, or Chhange’s Survivor Speakers Bureau, please visit our website at www.chhange.org or call 732-224-1889 today!