On January 29, 2018, The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education hosted an event - NeverAgain: A Jewish Response to the Rohingya Crisis. The event was organized by the Oregon Board of Rabbis and co-sponsored by the Never Again Coalition and Portland State University's Holocaust and Genocide Studies Project.
Evelyn Banko, a Holocaust survivor, spoke. These are her words:
I’ve been asked to address the question of whether what is happening to the Rohingya is a genocide. As a Holocaust survivor and a refugee, I am all too familiar with what can happen to people of a minority religion within nations when those with this religion are considered an inferior race. There are many unfortunate similarities between what is happening with the Rohingya within Myanmar and neighboring nations, and what happened to the Jews under Nazi control. So is this genocide? Let’s look at what we know:
The Rohingya are often described as the "world’s most persecuted minority”
The Rohingya are a minority religion and race who are forced into uninhabitable places to live with not enough food or supplies to meet basic needs.
In the past, the Rohingya were free to travel throughout the region and throughout the places in which they and their parents and grandparents lived. These places were their homes. Most knew no other place. Then, within one year, they were deemed as outsiders.
Many are currently in No Man’s Land. Very few countries will even allow these people in, even if they could get the necessary funds and transportation to out of countries in which they are now refugees.
The Rohingya are blamed for the violence, even when the violence is perpetrated by the military against them. In the few instances in which a small number have organized to fight back, thousands of Rohingya civilians have been slaughtered as retribution.
There is a campaign of false information and/or no information about how bad things have gotten for the Rohingya. Journalists have not been let in to see and report on the conditions in which they are forced to live.
There is a belief that this minority is to blame for the bad that is happening in these countries. And there is a false notion that getting these folks out by any means will somehow improve the problems plaguing the other citizens in these nations.
As you can see these are the same falsehoods that were used against the Jews during the Second World War.
As a refugee from a similar set of circumstances, I can understand their plight.
My parents and I came to the United States in September of 1940 to escape the Nazi invasion of Europe. I was born in Vienna, Austria in January of 1936. In March of 1938, the Nazis marched into Austria. Because we were Jewish, life became very hard for us. The Nuremberg laws, limiting the rights of the Jews that had been in place in Germany immediately became laws in Austria. My father could no longer work or own his own business. My parents realized that we needed to leave our homeland. Unfortunately, we did not have the required papers to enter the United States and did not know anyone who could provide an affidavit of support for us.
As Jews, my family fell victim to a systematic extermination of people of my religion within the borders of the Nazi regime. I was spared the hardships of ghetto life, work camps, and concentration and/or death camps because, by the skin of our teeth and with a lot of luck, my parents and I were able to escape. It took us two years and travel through three continents in order to find a place where people would allow us to live in peace. Unfortunately my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins and 6 million other Jews, along with 5 million others, were not able to escape and find a country in which they could live.
What happened under the Nazi regime beginning over 80 years ago and what is happening to the Rohingya today are similar. Both are genocide. Both require people from other countries to intercede and help. Genocides, unfortunately, have been going on throughout history. And throughout history, citizens and governments have turned a blind eye to the misfortunes of others.
To quote a journalist named Philip Gourevitch,
“The West’s post-Holocaust pledge that genocide would never again be tolerated proved to be hollow, and for all the fine sentiments inspired by the memory of Auschwitz, the problem remains that denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good.”
Recently Bangladesh’s foreign minister called the violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar “a genocide” or mass murder.
I will end with a quote that is think is appropriate. I don’t know the author.
“Ultimately our aim should be to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless, a world in which each and every corner is a true sanctuary, where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.”
May we all hope this for the Rohingya before too long.
*NOTE* We followed up on the deeply moving quote that Evelyn used at the end of her talk. It is a quote from Aung San Suu Kyi. We have been deeply saddened and angered at Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to protect the Rohingya people of Myanmar. We hope that she can find a way to heed her own words and bring about peace and justice for the Rohingya.
There is currently legislation in Congress to address the Burmese military's campaign of genocide against the Rohingya. To take action, visit our action page: http://www.neveragaincoalition.org/take-action/