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Last month 3 Generations’ Board Chair Nadia Zilkha traveled to Toronto with our team to meet and interview Yazidi survivors of the 2014 genocide by ISIS. This work was facilitated by Project Abraham, a Toronto-based not for profit organization established to help Yazidi refugees resettle in Canada. This is her account.

Each female victim of the Yazidi genocide interviewed by 3 Generations in Toronto last month told her unique horrific story with the same fierce intensity and precision. The details varied, but they all spoke of their captors’ extraordinary brutality, their own vital will to carry on and their unifying luck. And each emphasized the goodness of the group, Project Abraham, now helping them resettle in Canada.

In 3 Generations’ most recent project, I’d felt more compelled than ever to join Jane Wells to meet and interview some of the Yazidi survivors living in Toronto: women who were kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery by ISIS after the genocide in their home of Sinjar. Because of my own family’s hasty escape from Iraq in 1927 (the Black Hand Society was hunting down my grandfather), I had felt a particular affinity with the Yazidis.

I quickly learned, however, that my family history had not equipped me to fathom the atrocities and hardships these women had endured at the hands of ISIS. It made me truly confront the terror that in our modern era, genocide continues unabated.

The women were all wearing black, against our dark backdrop. The only color in the room was the survivors’ red-painted fingernails. Their faces filled with pain as the horrors spilled out in their native Kumanji dialect. They spoke of their journey, traversing from Northern Iraq to Syria and back again. But Jane and I understood that their survival rested purely upon their own wits, bravery and outsmarting their captors.

Before and after they shared their stories, they were eager to make us welcome. They had prepared food — Middle Eastern dishes that would have made my grandmother pause in rapture, including sesame date pastries and burnt rice. These feasts were accompanied by tea, served in small glass cups. I felt transported back in time, to visits at my grandparents when I was little.

These Yazidi women have already lived in Canada for 18 months. Their children can now speak and read English with confidence and independence. As with so many children of immigrants, they are helping their parents navigate this new life.

But the Yazidis still maintain their traditions and cultural identity. They come together to celebrate weddings and new births. This frequent connection to community helps ground them in their newfound and strange surroundings. There is even discussion that inviting more of their closer relatives to join them in Canada will help them heal and reduce their sense of isolation.

What is many times forgotten is that it requires more than money to settle the Yazidis into their new life. So, thankfully, the Project Abraham volunteers have offered many other kinds of help to fill in those gaps. Many of them are the children of Holocaust survivors, who had immigrated to Canada themselves following genocide. Now their adult children have the opportunity to give back. Witnessing this kindness and commitment of strangers who have adopted the Yazidis was moving to say the least.

The volunteers see protecting the Yazidis as a near-full time venture. Theirs is an emotional, as well as physical, commitment. It was heartwarming to watch as the Yazidi women communicated to their adopted second families through broken English and sign language.

In the age of Trump, I was struck by the sharp contrast between the United States and Canada in addressing the humanitarian crisis. In the bitter cold of Toronto, the Yazidi tale was one of resilience and endurance.

Filmmaking is a slow process and 3 Generations has much to do before we can create a work that honors the resilience of these Yazidi survivors. I am grateful to have helped record and document these crimes against humanity. I believe 3 Generations’ mission of lending a voice to victims of human genocide and atrocities gives them dignity as well as the chance to be heard.

— Nadia Zilkha

New York City Feb 1st 2019

As we approach International Holocaust Remembrance day, the day the camp Auschwitz-Bikernau was liberated by Soviet forces, we must remain vigilant in making sure these painful memories and those who suffered are never forgotten. Without this remembrance, the sentiment behind “Never Again” will keep happening again and again.

Sunday January 27th will be International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as designated by the United Nations. It’s the day when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet forces in 1945. It’s a single day when we are asked to remember. To remember those who perished and the suffering of those who survived. It’s an International Day of Remembrance so that all of us, not just Jews, can pause and remember and collectively repeat “never again”.

Except never again keeps on happening again and again and again.

I want to dedicate this January 27th to the forgotten victims and survivors of this century’s most recent genocide: you remember, the one against the Yazidis. The one that happened back in 2014. Yes, there have actually been more recent atrocities: the burning of Rohingya villages in Myanmar, the civil war in Syria and the catastrophe in Yemen. All are beyond comprehension. But today I am focusing on the loss and suffering of a single woman I met last week.

 

  © Emmanuel Bastien for 3 Generations

Her name is Zozeya. This is her portrait. She is a young mother who witnessed the killings of her family, her friends and her community. She was kidnapped and sold as a sex slave by ISIS. She survived torture, starvation and repeated sexual assault. She saved her 3 young daughters and now lives in a small house somewhere in Canada. Those young girls witnessed everything that happened to their mother. They live alone in that small house thousands of miles from their ancestral home. They live alone with their memories. Their challenge is to unremember enough to rebuild their lives. They can’t do it alone, but if we don’t remember, they will have to. Remembrance is a practice. I would argue it is a spiritual one. Without memory we erase not only lives, but cultures and history. If we don’t remember we will first erase our common humanity and then eventually our own. And that’s when never again happens again and again and again.

 

–Jane Wells, Executive Director and Founder

A disturbing New York Times investigative piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eric Lipton confirms and amplifies what we’ve been screaming about for the last 4 years. The news from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation is ominous. The trade off between short term economic gains from fracking and its long term environmental damage disproportionately harms the residents of the reservation. Of course, this story from Fort Berthold is only one part of the larger crisis the Trump administration’s relaxing of environmental protections has wrought.

Key members of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations, the protagonists of our 2016 feature documentary, A Different American Dream, knew that this crisis was coming. If you haven’t already seen the film, watch it now on VimeoThis award-winning film takes the viewer deep into the world Eric Lipton recounts. 

Watch it and weep.

 

–Jane Wells, Executive Director and Founder

We did it. We deactivated Facebook. It’s barely a ripple in a small pond but I believe the Dalai Lama’s teaching about the power of a lone mosquito. All who have deactivated had their reasons, for many it was a combination of factors. For us there was a red line — the role of Facebook in fomenting the annihilation and dislocation of the Rohingya muslim minority in Myanmar. 3 Generations is a human rights and social justice organization. We couldn’t accept that on the other side of the world a huge American company had been playing a pivotal role in a genocide:

Members of the Myanmar military were the prime operatives behind a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade and that targeted the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority group — The New York Times 10/15/18

Imagine if a US corporation had been behind the genocidal propaganda spewed by Radio-Television Libre des Milles Collines during the Rwandan genocide? Or supporting the Nazis during the 1930s in Germany? Unthinkable. Unacceptable.

Filming with Imran in Chicago, 12.18.18

Another recent New York Times article recommended assessing collateral damage before deactivation: at 3 Generations we called a board meeting and received a unanimous vote that the risk was worth it. My co-workers and I followed suit because we support the Rohingya and the NAACP. Working in the human rights field, we know when enough is enough.

Deactivating will impact our work. We will have to find new ways to inform the public about what we are doing and thinking. At this critical end of year giving season it will affect donations but it will be worth it because we didn’t do nothing.

This week, when we had the opportunity to film a Rohingya refugee, it felt great to not post about it on Facebook. The hypocrisy would have been unbearable. The young Rohingya man, Imran, has literally lived his whole life without basic human rights: the right to an education, to travel freely, to have papers and a legal identity. And yet he sat before us a beacon of tolerance, hope and faith. For him being in America means freedom. For the first time in his short life he has papers, he is getting an education and has a job. He exists and his life is not virtual. He has a small group of friends who have shared his journey with him. He makes weekly phone calls to his mother and siblings, still trapped in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Everything about his presence and story is a rebuke to what is wrong with America today — xenophobia, intolerance, racism, monopolies and fake news.

Our job is to share his story widely, to help other refugees and to do so with integrity. We could do that before Facebook existed (and arguably we did so far better) and we will again.

That’s my promise to Imran and his fellow Rohingya. We will try to be a beacon of hope for your people and do so without compromising our standards. While Facebook is the tool of dictators and disinformation we will do so without its “help”.

 

–Jane Wells, Executive Director and Founder

A few weeks ago, I returned to work from a week in Guayaquil, Ecuador, a populous city in the province of Guayas, where half a century ago my maternal grandparents met while in exile from fascist Europe – two of the more than four thousand Jews who were welcomed as refugees in a country that would soon face a series of its own political upheavals. It has taken me this time to process my experience walking in their footsteps, particularly in an American political climate dominated by resurgent nationalist and exclusionary sentiments and policies.

My grandparents and their families managed to escape with their lives from Germany and Italy respectively. She was just 12 and he was 19. Their relationship unfolded in Spanish, a language newly acquired for both. Together they made a home in conditions of considerable poverty, and despite encounters with Typhus fever, earthquakes, and civil unrest, survived to emigrate to the United States in 1955, convinced – like many immigrants – that they would be met with an opportunity for a better life for their children.

My father’s parents had another story of survival, in Poland and the Netherlands, and I am keenly aware that my own life is a function of this odd confluence of fates that brought four people from different countries, on different pathways, together. At just eighteen years old, my grandmother was captured in Czechoslovakia, and taken on the third transport of women to the new extermination camp at Auschwitz. As the Nazis lost ground to the Red Army in 1944, my grandmother and countless others were marched across Europe. Many died of exhaustion. Others were shot where they stood. The SS were desperate to keep their prisoners out of the hands of allied forces, and took extraordinary measures to prevent that eventuality. In Auschwitz, my grandmother twice met the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele. Her experience, and that of her older sister Rena, with whom she survived the entirety of the war, was the subject of a best-selling memoir, Rena’s Promise. Her future husband grew up and was educated in Amsterdam. Though for a time he labored in a work camp, he mustered the nerve to walk out the front door when the opportunity presented itself. He escaped on a train, narrowly avoiding capture in part because he looked Aryan, but also through remarkable courage and cunning. Several times he faces SS officers and outwitted them, distracting them or using Wehrmacht officers as cover.

All of my grandparents built their lives from the ashes left by one of the most efficient genocidal war machines the world has ever known. Each, in their own way, felt it necessary to avoid allowing their experiences to make them in turn hateful of others. To hate, they would often say, was to let Hitler win. They thought their survival, and indeed of us, their children and grandchildren, as the best revenge. We rarely talked about their suffering. They poured their efforts instead into creating the conditions for an inclusive and happy family life. And yet, there has not been a single moment in my life when those memories have not, in one way or another, been present. That history, integral to my experience. To my being. And I carry their aspirations, their dreams, and to an extent, their suffering, with me every day. And I make sure everyone in my life knows how proud I am to come from such a family, and how much I admire my grandparents for all they were able to achieve and to make possible for us. All four of them have now passed on, but I carry them in my heart everywhere I go.

Spending time in Guayaquil, I found myself flooded by memories of my grandparents. My oldest brother is a cultural anthropologist and has for a number of years carried out fieldwork in Germany. Several times we have joined him there as a family. But for all we know, for as important as my grandparents and their stories are to me, the horror of that time never feels quite real to me when I am in Europe. And I had the same feeling in Ecuador. Something about violence always seems to evade us, slipping out of our grasp, impossible to capture. Scholars have said so for a long time, but there are very real consequences of this situation for our contemporary political reality. In the seventy-five years since the Shoah, much of the memory of those refugees has been wiped away. Of course, in Berlin, memorials, plaques, monuments and other signs of ostensive apology are everywhere. And yet, it also feels like any other city, no different for the crimes many of its residents committed only a few generations ago. In Guayaquil, there are today only about seventy members of the Jewish community. One would be hard pressed to find the traces of that history. In times such as these, both kinds of forgetting take on a harrowing quality. Everywhere we seem to be under threat of becoming unmoved bystanders to violence.

Every step I take is in honor of my grandparents. But now, walking in streets in so many cities that have been witness to horrors, it’s hard not to be shaken by the complacency with history. These memories are the driving force behind my decision to dedicated my life to human rights advocacy. Racist violence seems to fade easily from the oppressor’s sight. We forget all the time. Or continue to refuse to see what is right before our eyes. For many, these are not distant threats. They are not somewhere over the horizon. They are the reality of life right now. Visiting Ecuador has been a painful but important reminder for me. With my grandparents at the forefront of my mind, I am back at work this week hoping I can make a difference; hoping not only that violence on the scale of the Holocaust will never come again, but that we remain alive to dangers already present for our neighbors.

 

-Jamie Brandel, Production/Research Manager

GERMAN CONCENTRATION CAMPS FACTUAL SURVEY AT CONGREGATION BETH TORAH IN BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

Jane Wells

The full restoration of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2014. Since then, it has been shown around the world on hundreds of occasions, and I have attended screenings and spoken about it many times. The recent invitation to screen at Congregation Beth Torah in Brooklyn, New York was different. It was the first time we have screened the documentary in a synagogue and the first on Yom HaShoah. It was a memorable and moving experience for me, and I believe, for the audience as well.

Rabbi Ari Azancot has a very profound commitment to teach his congregation about the Holocaust, particularly since its members are largely from Syria. After, he urged the audience to go and listen to the stories of survivors. It was an honor to speak before the members of the Beth Torah community, to hear the Kaddish on that particular day and to represent my father and all those who made this film 74 years ago.

At 3 Generations, we have the educational and non-theatrical rights to German Concentration Camps Factual Survey for North America. I sincerely hope other congregations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, will consider showing this film. Reviewing it in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis described the restored film as “an extraordinary act of cinematic reclamation and historiography…you need to watch.” Here at 3 Generations, German Concentration Camps Factual Survey is the essence of our foundation story. The sharing of this film is the actualization of our mission. After the screening at Beth Torah, a member of the congregation wrote: “The feedback from those attending was unqualified in recognizing the film’s special place in the historical record and your special connection to the material—your presence made the night something that our Congregation will never forget.”

Won’t you consider sharing it with your community?

This year we are thrilled to once again announce our partnership with the The Women’s Fund Miami-Dade, together with Camillus House & Health, Switchboard of Miami and The Children’s Trust, to honor the winners of the 2015 Malone Prize on February 11, 2016, in Miami, Florida. The winners are:

  • Lt. Donna Gavin; Head of the Boston Police Department Anti-Trafficking unit
  • Special Agent Nikkole Robertson; FBI Violent Crimes Against Children, Chicago Office
  • Special Agent Victor Williams; Homeland Security, Miami, Florida

In conjunction with the awards, 3 Generations will premiere our new short documentary, Miami-Dade Takes on Sex-Trafficking, showcasing the work being done in Miami-Dade County to reduce and eradicate sex-trafficking in this community.


Invitation - Malone 2016-v3

Additionally, The Women’s Fund Miami-Dade will present the inaugural Annual Leslie Sternlieb Advocacy Award to Nancy Ratzan, a leader and advocate in the Miami-Dade Community whose work and tireless efforts has helped bring the issue of sex trafficking to the forefront of the Miami-Dade community. The State Attorney’s Office will recognize Assistant State Attorney Brenda Mezick, Chief of Program Development & Public Policy for Human Trafficking, for her exceptional leadership and tenacity with the Katherine Fernandez Rundle Visionary Award.

Congratulations to the winners, and a special thank you to everyone who nominated the winners, assisting in the planning of the event, and participated in our newest film.

By Lili Hamlyn

Tim Hetherington was a British photojournalist and documentary filmmaker who was tragically killed in Libya in 2011 while covering the Libyan civil war. Tim is perhaps best known for the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, co-directed with Sebastian Junger, which chronicles a year with a U.S. platoon in the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan. Tim also worked as a photographer on 3 Generations’ co-produced The Devil Came on Horseback. His body of work includes numerous photographic projects and magazine photo essays, as well as art installations, multimedia exhibitions and short films which included Diary (2010), a ‘highly personal and experimental film’ shown below:

Hetherington was an alumnus of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, which is where I studied for my undergraduate degree in English Literature. As an admirer of his work, I felt deeply moved by his untimely death. This eventually led me, along with fellow student Sara Edwards, to co-found the Tim Hetherington Society, an Oxford University-based documentary film and photography/photojournalism society, in his honor.

By running this society I not only became more closely acquainted with Tim’s remarkable body of work but was also able to meet those who personally knew him: his friends from Oxford, his photojournalism professor Daniel Meadows, his colleagues James Brabazon and Platon and his wonderful mother Judith.

Tim did not approach photojournalism with cool detachment or any misguided belief that he could be an invisible objective observer. Instead, he engaged with his photographic subjects on a personal level, and preferred to be called an  ‘image maker’ rather than a photographer.

In Sebastian Junger’s brilliant documentary on Tim’s life, Which Way Is The Front Line From Here?, we are repeatedly presented with Tim engaging in a chatty rapport with the people he’s photographing. In the film Tim states, “I want to connect with real people, to document them in real circumstances, where there aren’t any neat solutions.”

This is perhaps a perfect summation of his work and philosophy: It’s not didactic, and instead seeks humanity even in the most extreme of circumstances. Personally, I feel rather honored to have had the opportunity to connect with Tim’s impressive body of work and, through the stories of those who knew him, been able to gain some insight into this extraordinary man.

 

EPSON MFP image

 

As early as 1819, the United States government had policies in place to ensure the cultural genocide of Native Americans. With the Indian Civilization Act Fund, Native children were stripped from their homes and forced to learn the religion, language, and ways of their oppressors in the Boarding School Era.

Native children faced physical punishment for speaking their Native languages and practicing their spirituality. General Richard Pratt, the founder of arguably the most violent boarding school in the United States, created the motto of the Boarding School Era, “Kill the Indian…Save the Man.” If the United States could not commit literal genocide by murdering masses of Native Americans, they tried to destroy the cultural and spiritual ties to their internal being.

Generations later, the trauma is interwoven into our DNA, contributing to illnesses such as, diabetes, depression, and posttraumatic stress that run rampant throughout Indian Country. This trauma pervaded our communities, causing assimilation to white society and instilling fear of practicing Native spirituality, wrongfully driving traditional ceremonies underground. One hundred and fifty years after these oppressive polices were enacted, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 to protect the practice of Native American spirituality. With a revitalization of Native spirituality, came the revitalization of Native languages.

3 Generations’ upcoming film, The Dakota Project will shed light on the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation, who are faced with the North Dakota oil boom’s impact of environmental degradation to their ancestral lands. The film will showcase the work of spiritual leaders who are guiding younger generations to understand that spirituality and language are inherently tied to our lands, songs, and history. As a Lakota and Ojibwe woman, a graduate of Native American Studies, and an assistant to this film, I knew that to better understand the people of the Three Affiliated Tribes, I would need to learn their history, spiritual practices, and their languages.

Across Indian Country, tribes are working to revitalize their languages. Curriculum has been added to schools, immersion camps, immersion day cares, and many other efforts are celebrating Indigenous languages to keep our cultures thriving. The Dakota Project has joined in this celebration. Every Wednesday, I’ve taken on an initiative to share a word of the day and showcase a little of what I’ve learned from these affiliated tribes. As a student of Lakota language, I’ve come across similarities and differences between our languages. I am learning in this process that I am proud of my effort to learn from other tribes. During pre-colonial times, our ancestors of the Great Plains were multilingual and communicated across tribes. In my effort to share the vocabulary, I hope that it encourages our viewers and fans of our Facebook page to learn more the history of Indigenous languages and take time to learn from one another.

In case you missed it, here are a few of my favorite words that I’ve learned from the Three Affiliated Tribes. Take some time to learn a little too!

“Good”                                        “Spring” (Season)                                   “Mother”
Mandan (Nu’eta)                       Mandan (Nu’eta)                        Mandan (Nu’eta)
Shi                                                Wehinu                                        Na’e

Hidatsa                                       Hidatsa                                        Hidatsa
Tsạkits                                         Miawakute                                   Ikaŝ

Arikara (Sahnish)                    Arikara (Sahnish)                      Arikara (Sahnish)
AtíŝtIt                                           Hunaaneeká                                 Atiná

-Autumn White Eyes, 3 Generations

https://www.facebook.com/theDakotaProject
http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/05/28/trauma-may-be-woven-dna-native-americans-160508
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865
http://www.mhasi.com/
http://www.mandanlanguage.org/
http://hidatsa.org/
http://www.arikara.org/
Freedom, Law, and Prophecy: A Brief History of Native American Religious Resistance by Lee Irwin–http://www.sacredland.org/PDFs/Irwin.pdf

Invite
night-will-fall-2014-002-US-combat-cameraman

By Jane Wells, Founder and Executive Director of 3 Generations

At the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz how can there still be Holocaust denial? My own father was tasked with documenting what the Allied forces found when they liberated the Nazi concentration camps. Survivors and witnesses are still alive today — many were honored guests in Poland earlier this week. While much of the world did stop to remember and mourn, I still ask myself what lessons have we truly learned? Today’s refugee crisis dwarfs that of 1945, and genocide has not stopped. “Never Again” just keeps happening and amazingly we are witnessing the regrowth of holocaust denial.

My father, Sidney Bernstein, was a filmmaker during World War Two, working for the British Army and later S.H.A.E.F – the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. For five months in 1945 his orders were to film the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, collect footage shot by the American, British and Russian liberators and create a documentary that would show the German people what had been done in the name of Hitler and the Third Reich

This project and the ensuing film entitled German Concentration Camps Factual Survey was considered so vital at the outset that he was able to enlist the best writers, editors and experts Great Britain had to offer. His old friend Alfred Hitchcock came from Hollywood to help make a film that would provide “the visual evidence that nobody could deny. It was to be a record for all mankind”. It is not an exaggeration to say they anticipated Holocaust denial.

Yet his film was never seen, shelved in the fall of 1945 as geo-political forces changed priorities. He did not speak of this project for another 40 years and he was not alone in his silence. Witnesses, cameramen and documentarians were silenced, both by official mandate and by what I would call PTSD. How can we calculate the long-term damage this may have done?

Two films have been made to explore this strange episode in British history. In the first, A Painful Reminder, made in 1985 when the footage from the camps was first declassified (40 years after it was shot), my father’s comments about the purpose of his film are quite clear, “The film was not intended as propaganda. This was the visual evidence that nobody could deny. It was to be a record for all mankind”. Another interviewee, Rabbi Hugo Gryn, explains in the film, “the name Auschwitz didn’t mean anything. That which today is such a byword, at that time had no ominous significance for us at all.” It wasn’t until June 1944 when five inmates escaped that the world knew what horrors were being perpetrated in Auschwitz. First-hand accounts and newsreel footage were the only way the world got information. Then, as today, what happened when that information was known became political. The distinguished historian Sir Martin Gilbert explains that the Allies refused to bomb Auschwitz because a few British Civil Servants determined that information about death camps was “Jewish sob-stuff”.

Andre Singer’s Night Will Fall (2014) a contemporary documentary tells the story of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. Using archival footage and present-day interviews with survivors and liberators, it is an in -depth exploration of why the Allies, having initially encouraged the project later decided to shelve my father’s film.

In 2014 German Concentration Camps Factual Survey was painstakingly digitized and fully restored by the Imperial War Museums in London who are the guardians of the footage and the archives. It had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. The restoration precisely follows the script, notes and cameramen’s “dope” sheets from 1945. Its restoration brings a 21st century viewer face to face with irrefutable visual evidence of atrocities as if they had happened yesterday. Sequences showing Adolf Hitler are so strikingly “fresh” and clear that one can see sweat dripping down his face. He is brought to life anew. The concentration camp footage is brutally real. The filmmaking is skilled and under the influence of Alfred Hitchcock is careful to employ techniques that would refute accusations that the atrocities they document did not happen.

There are many tragedies within and surrounding these films. Obvious ones document unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. The issue of suppression of vital evidence 70 years ago and how that impacted history and those who bore witness is another. Today the question of who should and should not have access to this powerful and distressing material still lingers (the Imperial War Museums are adamant that the footage is too disturbing for broad educational use). And lastly we have to address the continued accusations that the holocaust and this evidence were fabricated. In the last few days I have read comments about Night Will Fall on my Facebook feed that included:

“It’s been proven there were NO. Gas chambers and that is a fact.” (sic)
“The Holocaust was a hoax”

With the persistence of Holocaust denial comes a renewed need for accurate documentation. As a social justice filmmaker I battle daily to tell the stories of survivors of crimes against humanity in an honest and believable way. This episode of my father’s history was the genesis of 3 Generations, the 501c3 organization I run. Last July German Concentration Camps Factual Survey and Night Will Fall were shown at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It was a complicated time to watch atrocity films in Israel, the Gaza war was raging, passions were heated and many Israelis felt threatened. As a visitor it was hard not to see parallels between the images from Nazi occupied Europe and scenes of devastation in Gaza. Since then many Jews in Europe feel at greater risk than at any time since the Second World War. Today I received an email from an Israeli who described feeling that his country has “become Europe’s whipping boy in some sort of pro-Muslim frenzy.”

Many people have asked me what my father would have made of all this. I can only speculate, but I am pretty certain he would have wished for a truly democratic Israel that respected the basic human rights of all its citizens. Whether that can be accomplished remains to be seen, but the message of his work as a suppressed witness and documentarian was clear:

“All we can do now is honor the dead and try to win the battle for peace”.

His words ring true to me across the decades, sad as it is that we still have to “battle for peace”.

 

A version of this article can be found on The Huffington Post

Filming the stories of Native American women over the past two years, I’ve been exposed to the high-rates of poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse that occur disproportionately on reservations. Listening to the women we have worked with, I’ve learned about their perception of their place in modern America. They wrestle with finding their way in the 21st century, fighting the legacy of exploitation, genocide, and abuse, while simultaneously trying to strengthen their connections with their spirituality and communities.

I’ve also spoken to a lot of non-Natives about their perceptions of American Indians, who unconsciously harbor harmful racist attitudes toward Native Americans.

My first encounter with the modern racism that affects Native Americans came a few months ago, when we were filming in an oil town in North Dakota. We were surrounded by international mining companies who had descended on the small town and were pumping oil out of the earth at incredible rates, with zero regard for their workers’ safety or for the town’s water table, which is no longer potable as a result.

When I asked two separate locals (who are educated and open-minded in most respects) about how they perceived Native Americans, I was told by both that Natives are “greedy”.

I could not fathom how the poorest, most at-risk segment of their town’s population was perceived as greedy, while all around them billionaires were getting richer by ruining their water, land and air.

It’s impossible to deny. Racist attitudes pervade even the most open and educated of minds. Native Americans face this modern racism, and in many ways it’s keeping them mentally ill, impoverished and addicted.

“Overlooked and Segregated”

Misty Upham, a 32-year-old actress known for her roles in Frozen River, Big Love, and August: Osage County, was outspoken about the depiction of Native Americans in film, and was striving to modernize the image of the American Indian. Many people, she said, are “trained to think” that Native Americans are either “symbols of nobility and spirit”, or poor, complaining, alcoholics, easily “overlooked and segregated”. Misty would at times go for years with out acting work, because of her insistence on only accepting roles that were honest portrayals of the “human aspect” of Native Americans.

Misty Upham at the premiere of August Osage County

Sadly, on October 5th, Misty’s promising career was cut short. After leaving her sister’s apartment on the Muckleshoot Reservation near Auburn, WA, Misty disappeared without a trace. Her body was not recovered until October 16th. In the meantime, Auburn police refused to conduct a search, despite her history of mental illness and her family’s concern that she could be in danger.

Her uncle, exasperated by the police department’s inaction, took it upon himself to form a small search party. After several days, Misty’s purse was located, which soon led the searchers to a cliff behind her apartment building. Misty’s body was found, with massive internal and external injuries, at the bottom of a ravine.

‘Auburn PD refused to help’

Although her death now appears to be an accident, accusations are flying that the Auburn PD bears some responsibility. Her family believes she was hiding from police when she fell. She had expressed fear of being taken into custody and committed for psychological evaluation, something that had happened four times since July. They claim that during previous encounters with Auburn Police, Misty had been verbally abused and harassed, which police deny, but which the family says they witnessed.

Following the discovery of her body, police Cmdr. Mike Hirman released a statement defending police response. In the statement, he highlighted that a “fairly clean” vodka bottle was found near her body.

‘The system failed her’

Law enforcement’s apparent disinterest in the missing person’s case and their subsequent statement suggesting that Misty was drinking at the time of her death have outraged her family and led to accusations of racial discrimination. Misty’s family has accused the police of taking “a cheap shot”, painting Misty as “a drunken Indian” before they’ve even completed an investigation. It seems questionable that the vodka bottle detail was necessary in the press release. Toxicity tests results were days away, and the only conceivable purpose of including it would be to diminish their own responsibility, or dismiss her death as stereotypical and to be expected.

Misty’s father, Charles Upham, charged that if it had been the police commander’s daughter who was missing, the case would have been treated differently.

It’s easy for the police, even unintentionally, to conjure up the image of the “drunken Indian”, and distance themselves from responsibility. It’s so much a part of American culture that we don’t recognize it as a harmful generalization. In this case, however, it may have cost Misty her life.

It should also be pointed out that despite being taken into custody four times this summer. The hospital, for some unknown reason, was unable to provide her the same medications that had kept her healthy before moving to Auburn.

The Auburn PD’s attempt to classify Misty as a drunk, mentally unstable Indian is an easy way to shrug off the city’s role in her death, and hope that her fans will dismiss her death as a tragic accident. This tragedy should also be treated as an opportunity to reflect on the larger issues facing Native Americans.

Misty was struggling, just as other Native American women do. She died in what appears to be a tragic coincidence of circumstances that affect many American Indians, both urban and living on reservations: lack of proper mental health care, tension with law enforcement, and society’s perception that a Native American is not worth our time.

Misty didn’t want to be used to perpetuate racial stereotypes. Her life’s goal was to bring everyday, modern Native American characters to life. She wanted to give people Native characters that were human and relatable. Let’s remember her as she would have wanted to be seen: not as a stereotype, but as a remarkably talented woman, with a complex past who lost her life too young.

jerusalem 3

July 2014 was an interesting moment to be invited to the Jerusalem Film Festival. I was a jury member for the Spirit Of Freedom Award. We watched 10 impassioned and geographically diverse films exploring the search for freedom in Mali, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Turkey/Kurdistan, Greece, The Netherlands, Rwanda, Darfur, Syria and Bosnia. My fellow jurors were the celebrated Palestinian actor/director Makram Khoury and the multi-award-winning Turkish Producer Zeynep Atakan. I was privileged to sit with them.

In addition the 31st Jerusalem Film Festival screened two films very close to my heart. German Concentration Camps Factual Survey – a truly harrowing documentary produced by my late father Sidney Bernstein in 1945 – was never completed and not seen fully until this year. The Imperial War Museum in London spent years of painstaking work restoring and completing my father’s film. The inspiration behind this effort Dr. Toby Haggith, was present to explain why and how he and his colleagues had restored this forgotten work, and to put this very difficult document of atrocity in a context. My brother David Bernstein also came to put the work in familial context. Night Will Fall, directed by Andre Singer, is an excellent 2014 documentary that details why my father’s film was not finished and shown 70 years ago. It was awarded Honorable and Special Mention at the Jerusalem Film Festival and Sheffield Doc Fest last month.

These two films by and about my father’s work documenting the Holocaust, and the Spirit of Freedom Award films all speak directly to what we do at 3 Generations: telling difficult stories, documenting atrocities, giving survivors opportunity to speak of their experiences and in the words of my father creating “evidence for all mankind”. As the narrator of his film explained in 1945, if we do not take heed, “night will fall”. For many people across the Middle East and beyond it seems that this July night has indeed fallen.

– Jane Wells

 

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alice

Remembering Alice

By Karine Shnorhokian

My childhood, like many Armenians in America and around the world, involved an understanding and a shared pain that something tragic and unforgettable happened several decades earlier to our ancestors. April 24th- the day Armenians around the world commemorate the Armenian Genocide- is a day not only of remembrance, but an ongoing battle to have the Government of Turkey take responsibility for these crimes, and stop their ongoing campaign of genocide denial. Whether it is attending a commemorative church gathering, protest, lecture, walk, or lobbying with members of Congress, April is an active time for Armenians. Year round however, we continue to seek justice for our ancestors and pay tribute to those who suffered and perished 99 years ago during the Armenian Genocide- the first genocide of the 20th century.

I remember during my youth, the first several rows at Armenian Genocide commemorative events were reserved for the survivors. The seats were filled, and during the night, these survivors were recognized, received flowers, and applause from community members. In our eyes they were our fedayees, our soldiers, and their stories were immortalized in our communities. Decades later, the first several rows are still reserved, but the seats are now empty. The survivors are not forgotten, but time has passed, and they have passed on. We read about their obituaries, and saddened to hear that the last genocide survivor in a well-known city has passed on. Their stories however live on through us, and although denialists- like the Government of Turkey- think that time will erase history, our Diaspora is too strong and too proud to move on and forget our past. We console and unite with others who have suffered genocide, and continue to educate anyone who will listen. We always find a way to tell our story.

My husband’s grandmother Alice was a resilient woman. Succumbing to illness in 2011, she was 98 years old when she passed away, and was determined to make her story known. In 2008, she made one of her final journeys to Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress to discuss the Armenian Genocide and the ongoing denials by the Turkish Government. She remembered her story clearly; how she and her brother rode in the side baskets in a donkey during the deportations and how luckily, right before the death march through Der Zor, they were saved. I was very fond of Alice and though my time with her was limited, I appreciated the time I did have with her. Honestly, I was quite intimidated when I first met her, being that she was a much respected woman within the Armenian Presbyterian community. I had heard she was quick to judge and had no intention of holding back her feelings. When we first met, however, we had an instant bond. Perhaps it was that we were both nurses or that she was excited that her grandson was dating an Armenian girl or she was fond of my extreme passion for educating others about our history. I knew she had a story, and she knew I wanted to hear it. Like many grandmothers, her cooking was exceptional, and it was an insult if you didn’t have seconds. She was known for her Sou Boureg, an Armenian dish made with sheets of pasta like dough and stuffed with a cheesy filling. She tried to teach me how to make it, and gave me much grief when she learned I did not know how to use a rolling pin.
So many people with similar ethnic backgrounds can relate to Grandma Alice. She was a proud woman who ran her household like a tight ship. She was well educated and was very knowledgeable on various topics. Always exercising her mind, body, and spirit, she went to Church every Sunday, had plenty of friends she visited with throughout the week, and she loved to cook. As a survivor of genocide, she wanted to tell her story and talk about what happened. She pleaded that the truth be uncovered and one of her final requests was “for justice of this great country and for the world to not forget the tragic suffering and terrible genocide of the Armenians.”

As I was writing my conclusion to this blog, I had an encounter that I feel compelled to share. It was a little after 1:00am on April 24, 2014, and I was anxious to get home from the airport after a long day of work and travel. My taxi driver was curious and asked me my ethnicity as I got into the town car at Newark Airport. Not even thinking twice, I told him Armenian. In return I asked him what he was, and he said Turkish. You could tell he was a little defensive in his response, however, very pleasant. Throughout the course of the ride home we discussed the history of the genocide, which he was unable to accept. He pleaded that he has never really “investigated” this topic. Whether it was shame, guilt, or the unfortunate consequences of the Turkish government’s forced teaching of genocide denial in public schools – he was simply unwilling to face the truth. Obviously it made him uncomfortable being that I was his client and the topic was sensitive, but it made me realize that the denial doesn’t just exist in Turkey, it exists here in America as well. For whatever the reason, it made me think of Grandma Alice – and her lifelong vigilance to speaking the truth. I know I will follow in her path. I, like so many other Armenians, will continue to be fedayees for our cause.

Watch the re-cut version of Alice Khachadoorian-Shnorhokian’s interview here.

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