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A few months ago, after returning from filming with Syrian refugees in Jordan,  I attended a small Human Rights Watch event where I met Lama Fakih, the Syria and Lebanon researcher at the HRW Beirut offices.  She gave a talk outlining her current projects, missions and goals.  Both my colleague and I were floored by her intriguing stories, her tenacity, and her remarkable eloquence.  Immediately, I knew she had to become part of 3 Generations’ End of Atrocity series, where leaders and activists share their vision for a world free of crimes against humanity.

Unfortunately, Lama’s trip to New York was short, and we didn’t have a chance to film her.  However, I couldn’t let this opportunity get away.  End of Atrocity needed an infusion from an energetic young person who is active in the fight against crimes against humanity.

Using my connections in Beirut, I found a camera crew, a producer, and set a time to interview Lama.  I had no idea how this was going to work, but early in the morning on a Friday in late March, everything came together.  My good friend and talented producer, Joe Mokbel, was on hand at the Human Rights Watch offices in Beirut and, despite Lebanon’s famously atrocious Internet, was able to video-call me using Skype. It was like I was there in the room.  We did a 30 minute interview, the cameraman sent me the files via an online shared server, and we downloaded them here in New York to cut together what I think is a fantastic addition to our series.

Take a look at the result: a powerful two-minute video of Lama Fakih’s vision for a world without atrocity.

Thank you Lama, Joe, and the whole Beirut team.

-Elizabeth Woller

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The slight 30 year-old can’t be taller than five feet, with delicate bones and pale skin.  But despite her apparent fragility, Yasmine is about to prove her strength.  She enters the small office where we are meeting for the first time with a timid smile.  We’re in a city in northern Jordan, close to the border, interviewing Syrians who’ve sought refuge from the catastrophic violence that’s engulfed their country.

Yasmine covers her face for our interview.  Her in-laws are still in Syria, and speaking to media puts them at risk for retribution, especially with what she is about to tell us.  Yasmine is from eastern Ghouta, which some will recognize as the location of the horrifying chemical weapons attack that put Bashar Al-Assad’s regime under intense pressure from the international community and the U.S.  Up to 1,700 of victims died in Ghouta on August 21st, 2013, including hundreds of children and babies.  Her own husband was killed by the gas while trying to take a neighbor’s son to the hospital.  Yasmine tries to describe the chaos and death, calling that night “Judgment Day”.  She and her two children escaped the non-stop shelling and managed to find their way to Jordan.

Six months later, she’s still ravaged by grief, but hasn’t allowed herself to be weighed down with anger at the unfairness of her husband’s death.  Instead, every day she goes to work, recording the deaths of refugees family members.  The organization she is part of has amassed a catalog of thousands of deaths, complete with photos of injuries and detailed descriptions of the event.  They aim to collect this evidence so Bashar can be put on trial and will have no way to deny his crimes.  To the hundreds of refugees in Jordan that she’s helped, Yasmine is a blessing.  There is relief in knowing that the deaths of their loved ones are being recorded and acknowledged, and will not be forgotten if their killer is tried.  Despite her own losses, she is helping an entire community cope with theirs.

Help give Yasmine a platform to tell her story.  Donate to our project.

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John-Keith Wasson and Jutta

John-Keith Wasson and Jutta discuss Surviving Hitler: A Love Story

By: John-Keith Wasson

I was in Kigali for the 12th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. It was my first time, and hopefully my last time, witnessing a mass burial of unknown genocide victims.

After the ceremony, a Holocaust survivor shared his story. For several teenagers, it was a momentous speech: it was the first time that they realized genocide had occurred elsewhere in the world. Genocide wasn’t just Rwanda’s problem.

Two weeks later, I began my first documentary, SURVIVING HITLER: A LOVE STORY. The film focused on Jutta, a teenager in Nazi Germany who discovered that she was Jewish. She joined the German resistance and met Helmuth, an injured soldier. The two became sweethearts and co-conspirators in the final plot to assassinate Hitler.

It’s a harrowing tale of war, resistance, and survival, but at the center of the documentary is a love story for the ages, with riveting narration by Jutta herself, original 8mm footage (shot by Helmuth) and, miraculously, a happy ending.

SURVIVING HITLER: A LOVE STORY enjoyed a successful festival run and aired on over a dozen TV stations including the BBC. Jutta’s main message was well received: stand up to evil– that and a little luck can change the world. With Jutta’s encouragement in mind, I set out to find a contemporary human rights story.

Jane and I met during that remarkable trip to Rwanda. While I went off to make a documentary, she set up 3 Generations. In 2011 we decided to join forces on TRICKED.

During the course of filming, the landscape of domestic sex trafficking evolved: computer solicitations turned into smart phones apps, Craigslist was replaced by Backpage, and plea bargains turned into multiyear sentences. We didn’t have the advantage of historians, time, or distance to offer perspective. Domestic sex trafficking was happening here, in America. We were chasing a moving target.

When I look back at how SURVIVING HITLER: A LOVE STORY influenced TRICKED, I realize that both films focus on people who struggle against evil. In WWII the evils happened to be well defined and Jutta lucked into a Hollywood ending. Meanwhile, sex trafficking has no ending. In fact, we’re only just reaching the first critical turning point.

Over the course of filming, Jane and I noticed a few promising changes. Press coverage, public awareness, and the culture of law enforcement all showed signs of improvement. There is real progress. It’s just slow. I hope TRICKED does its part to further the national dialogue.

In the words of Jutta, “Stand up against evil—that and a little luck can change the world.”

 

Interested in seeing TRICKED? The film will run from Dec. 13th-19th at the Quad Cinema in NYC. Check out the Quad Cinema’s listings on movietickets.com. Admission is free for law enforcement with ID.

To purchase VIP Premiere tickets for the 7pm showing, please go to our donation page. We hope to see you there!

Billy Mills (far left) crosses the finish line.

Billy Mills (far left) crosses the finish line.

By: Dawn Bjoraker, Lakota Nation

October 12th. The day an unknown individual took the Gold Medal in the men’s 10,000 meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This individual was the only American to ever take the Gold in that race. He was born in 1938. He was born four years after Columbus Day was declared a federal holiday by Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.

The Individual who took that gold? Billy Mills. An Oglala Lakota born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It’s safe to say that all know about Columbus Day, but few know about Billy Mills. Why is that? When Billy Mills took his victory lap, it consisted of U.S.A. being brandished across his chest, with a flag of the United States over his shoulders. The victory of Columbus? Selling his men 9 and 10 year old indigenous girls to do with as they wish. Filling his ship with 500 Arawak men, women, and children so they could be brought back to Spain to be sold into slavery (roughly 200 of the Arawak died in transport).

In the words of Columbus, “They…brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… . They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants… . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

Subjugate. This was his first idea. This is who we honor in this country by declaring every second Monday in October Columbus Day. How do we explain the justification to our children? Do we lie to them? Do we omit historical facts to make them feel better about this day? How do I explain it to my children? We are indigenous, like Billy Mills, we too are Lakota.

Concerning the Indians, Columbus also reported, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone…”

In the words of Billy Mills, “I was constantly told and challenged to live my life as a warrior. As a warrior you assume responsibility for yourself. The warrior humbles himself. And the warrior learns the power of giving.”

We are warriors. We are not conquistadors. We do not explore others. We explore ourselves. We do not take. We give. We do not celebrate the exploit and genocide perpetrated against indigenous men, women, and children. We also choose to not ignore it. We are not doomed to repeat history, because we choose not to ignore it. Are you?

A friend of 3 Generations shared her outrage at this photo of a Philadelphia Eagles fan brandishing a knife through an Indian man’s head, a most bizarre way to demonstrate loyalty to a football team. By any standard it is a sadistic, racist, ugly image. But how does it look and feel to a Native American?

Our friend, a member of the Lakota Nation, told us “I like football, I like the sport but this picture embarrasses me as a football fan. It pisses me off. It offends me. For any other ethnic/racial/sexual orientation group, had it been their heads sitting on that knife, there would be a tremendous uproar, and rightfully so. But since we have been de-humanized by being mascots, mainstream society says it is ok, it’s not ok”.

For her and others this is really a double whammy – an evil image and the misuse of Native American culture to create mascots. Some people argue that being a mascot is a way of honoring Native American culture, but our friend does not agree: “It’s hard to raise children to be humble, to truly have an interest in the old school culture, when they are constantly seeing pictures of Indians as mascots, how can you be proud of yourself when everyone views you as a cartoon? I’m not a cartoon, my children are not cartoons, we are human beings”.

Nor are these mascots representative of what being a Native American really is: Redman Tobacco, Fighting Sioux, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians hardly reflect real people living real lives. As she also pointed out: “I’ve never run around doing a war hoop. I don’t run around patting my mouth making noises. I often wash clothes, go to work, play board games, play with my dog, play with my cat, talk to my children, drink coffee in the morning, have deep conversations with my husband, and pray. So I ask society, why is it ok to have Indians as mascots? Is this how you really view us? Why?”

The term redskin has a murky history depending on whose version you have been taught, but it is always considered disparaging. Indeed the only context in which it is acceptable today is when referencing mascots, but acceptable to whom? Most Native Americans associate it with the 18th and 19th Century practice of bounty hunting. Under the colonial government huge bounties were offered for the scalps of Native men, women and children. They were a manifestation of a cruel and genocidal practice. “Bounties were placed on the scalps of Indians. Bounties were placed and given, for the scalps of my ancestors. Who paid for those bounties? Trappers, traders, and yes, the government”.

She finished by explaining that when she sees this picture she sees an expression of imperialism and colonialism. “Speaking up and speaking out when things like this happen, includes speaking for my relatives who were never given the opportunity to do so. We may ask for respect, but we never ask to be honored. Being honored in the real sense, is humbling, not infuriating”.

Mascots do not honor, they betray. Time to rethink the obvious.

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Incredible experience today in Detroit, Michigan filming the story of Holocaust survivor Mania Salinger for the upcoming documentary film Night Will Fall. The filmmakers are using a green screen and a red camera so they can place Mania alongside footage of her younger self from the liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in Germany. She was one of the survivors who greeted liberating British troops on April 15th, 1945. She was filmed by the British Army film unit and is part of my father, Sidney Bernstein’s film Memories of The Camps – the film that was never shown. Today Mania identified herself in a still from my father’s film. She told us that of all the camps she lived in during the war (including Auschwitz) Bergen-Belsen was the worst: “It was a death camp. You lived day after day waiting for a piece of bread”.

Since the conclusion of the Bosnian genocide in December of 1995, recovery has been slow and steady. Today, however, a considerable step in the path to justice was made with Aleksandar Cvetkovic’s indictment for the genocide of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Further history was made today with Holland’s Supreme Court order that the Netherlands compensate the families of three Muslim men who were expelled from the UN compound in Srebrenica and consequently killed by Bosnian Serb forces. The case opens the Netherlands up for further compensation and “sets a precedent that countries providing troops as UN peacekeepers can be held legally responsible for crimes.”

Check out the articles below.

Indictment filed for genocide in Srebrenica, World Bulletin, September 6, 2013

Netherlands to pay compensation over Srebrenica massacre, The Guardian, September 6, 2013

It has been 10 years since the genocide in Darfur began and 6 years since our director, Jane Wells, helped produce the Emmy nominated documentary, The Devil Came on Horseback, starring Nicholas Kristof and Brian Steidle. While it seems that the lull in the Darfur conflict has caused the media and general public to tire of the issue, Kristof is still at it. Reporting on Darfur, Kristof warns that the increasing reports of massacres and killings are beginning to sound all too familiar. Check out the his New York Times article below.

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