Stories of Upstanders: Raphael Lemkin My name is Raphael Lemkin. Forty-nine people in my family died in the Holocaust. I couldn’t understand how an entire people could be destroyed. There was no name for what happened - and no punishment to prevent it. I became obsessed with creating a law that would make it a crime to exterminate a people.
Winston Churchill said that the Nazi massacre was “a crime without a name.” I needed a name, something to describe the extermination of people based only on who they are. I came up with a new word, “genocide.” I wrote the Genocide Convention and it was approved by the United Nations in 1948. We have the word, we have the laws to prevent genocide, but millions and millions of innocent people continue to be killed all over the world.
Stories of Upstanders: Taner Akcam My name is Taner Akcam. I was born and raised in Turkey. When I was a student I learned about the Turkish government’s vicious treatment of the Kurdish minority. I spoke out for minority rights in Turkey. In 1976, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for writing about Turkey’s persecution of the Kurds. Amnesty International adopted me as their first Prisoner of Conscience. I escaped from prison; I tunneling my way out and I fled to Germany for political asylum. I went to graduate school and I wrote my dissertation on the genocide of the Armenians in 1915.
The Turkish government systematically and brutally killed more than one and a half million Armenians. The Turkish government denies that this genocide ever happened. When Hitler’s supporters asked how he thought he could get away with killing all the Jews, Hitler replied, “Who remembers the Armenians?”
I write books and I give talks all over the world. The Turkish government calls me a terrorist and my life is in danger.
Last winter my journalist friend Hrant Dink was assassinated for speaking about the Armenian genocide. I want the Turkish government to admit its guilt in the Armenian genocide and I want people to know the truth.
Stories of Upstanders: Oskar Schindler My name is Oskar Schindler. I was a Nazi. I was a corrupt businessman and a gambler. When there was money to be made from exploiting the Jews, I was right there.
My Gestapo friends helped me get a factory in Krakow, Poland, and I ran it with a thousand Jews working as slave laborers. When Jews were rounded up in the ghetto and sent to be gassed and exterminated, I realized many were my workers, people I had gotten to care about. I couldn’t let these innocent people die just because they were Jews. I hired as many as I could into my factory and then I made sure they’d be fed and protected.
When the Jews from my factory were sent to a concentration camp, I moved the factory with them, so that nobody would be sent to the gas chambers because they couldn’t work. My new factory made weapons and I sabotaged the Nazi war effort. I made sure that all the weapons we made were defective, every single bullet, grenade, and missile. The weapons that we made didn’t help the Nazis at all.
I smuggled Jewish children out of the ghetto to safety with Polish nuns. I spent all my money bribing German guards to keep Jews alive. I wrote lists of people who were essential workers in my factory and I gave the names to the Gestapo to keep these Jews from being killed. I saved almost 1,300 Jews from the Holocaust.
Somebody found that list of names in one of my suitcases long after I died.
In 1967 I, a Nazi, was honored at Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, for saving Jews. A tree is planted in my name at the Yad Vashem Memorial. Today there are more than 6,000 descendants of my Jews.
Stephen Spielberg made a movie about me called “Schindler’s List” that
won seven Academy Awards.
Stories of Upstanders: Dith Pran My name is Dith Pran. I was born in Angkor Wat, Cambodia in 1942. The war in Vietnam spilled over into Cambodia and my country turned upside down in the 1970s. I worked as a photojournalist with Sydney Schanberg, an American reporter for the New York Times. We covered the conflict in Cambodia.
From 1972 to 75, the country fell into chaos. Many people believed that the ruling Communist Khmer Rouge, and the leader Pol Pot, would give us peace and a better life. This didn’t happen. The Khmer Rouge wanted to take the country back to the year zero in terms of development, to create a primitive society. Every single form of progress was destroyed. They banned all institutions, including stores, banks, hospitals, schools, religion, and the family.
Entire cities were emptied.
Nearly every doctor, teacher, lawyer, business person, nurse, journalist, judge – even everyone who wore glasses – was slaughtered. In 1972 there were 600 doctors in the country. By the end of the genocide, only 42 had survived. Nearly a third of the entire country was killed.
Sydney and I covered the fall of the nation. Bodies were buried in killing fields throughout the entire country.
In 1975 we were interviewing people and photographing the chaos when Khmer Rouge soldiers grabbed us. We were arrested, guns at our heads, and we were accused of conspiracy.
I was taken to a forced-labor camp. I was starved and beaten for four years, until the North Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and finally captured Phnom Penh.
I fled to Thailand, dodging the ten million landmines that the Khmer Rouge government placed there – one mine for every single person in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge killed my father, three of my brothers, and my sister, and all their families. My mother died of malnutrition. I lost more than 50 people in my family.
Sydney wrote my story, "The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” and it was made into a movie, "The Killing Fields." I became a one-man crusade to tell the world about two million innocent Cambodians who died in the genocide.
Stories of Upstanders: Paul Rusesabagina I never intended to be a humanitarian. I was a hotel manager.
My name is Paul Rusesabagina and I helped save a thousand lives during the hundred days of genocide in Rwanda.
I am Hutu, my wife is Tutsi. We had identification cards, and those labels, Hutu or Tutsi, were on those cards. Those words determined our rank in society and the privileges we could have. We had to carry those cards with us all the time, just like the Jews were forced to do in Europe during the Holocaust. Our government was run by Hutus. Tutsis were legally discriminated against in schools, government, and jobs. My wife faced discrimination just because she is
One night in April 1994, the President of Rwanda was flying back home when his airplane was shot down. That was when the killing started. Hutus murdered Tutsis and their sympathizers. They hacked them to death with machetes and clubs.
Pastors killed church members, church members killed pastors. Husbands killed wives. Students and teachers killed one another. Neighbors killed neighbors. Nuns and priests killed people who had fled to churches for safety. It's a situation no one can imagine.
I moved my family into the Hôtel des Mille Collines for safety. Other families just like mine came to the hotel looking for help. I couldn’t turn them away.
We were sheltering almost a thousand people by the end of the genocide. I thought we all were going to die. The whole country smelled of dead bodies. We heard a buzzing sound everywhere and realized it was the sound of flies as they swarmed on all the corpses. By God’s grace, all those who stayed with us, lived. You know my story from the movie “Hotel Rwanda.”
The genocide took away nearly a million people in a hundred days. The whole world closed their eyes and ears and left us alone to this nightmare. People must listen.