April 2009 Archives

Forgiveness...Jean Paul Samputu & Ingeli

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Jean Paul at UNHLast evening, April 27th, it was a pleasure to see my dear friend, Jean Paul Samputu, and the newly restructured Rwandan musical group, Ingeli, perform at UNH.  The Strafford Room at the MUB was nearly full as the audience was treated to traditional Rwandan music, drumming, and dancing along with original compositions by Jean Paul.  It didn't take long for many audience members to get onto their feet, move to the front of the room, and DANCE!!!!! I was also delighted that two of my former students, Rachel and Kara, were instrumental in organizing this event...awesome!!! 

I'm always tremendously moved by hearing and seeing Jean Paul and others who perform with him.  He is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide 15 years ago, although he lost his parents and several siblings in the atrocity.  He is also a survivor of the aftermath of the genocide, struggling for yIngeli @ UNHears with alcohol and drugs as he fought with himself and the world to come to terms with the loss of family and the destruction of his country.  When I first met Jean Paul several years ago, I was immediately swept up by the spirit and energy of his music.  But even more unforgettable is the conversation I had with him after his performance when he shared his story of recovery with me and told me how he has forgiven all the perpetrators of the killing of his family members.  It was inconceivable to me that he could open his heart so fully that he could forgive the people who brutally murdered people he loved.  I knew immediately this was a person I wanted to get to know more about and I felt a special connection with him that is rare.

Ingeli @ UNH 2Over the years since I met Jean Paul, I have been so privileged to have opportunities to not only work with him, but to spend time talking with him and becoming his friend, and he mine.   He and some of the other performers he's worked with have stayed in my home a few times and brought memorable events with them....I will always remember Jean Paul's impromptu musical composition of "Deborah's Cats" (at the time I had six of them) inspired by his wife's fear of them while staying with me. In fact, when I saw Jean Paul last night, he asked about the cats!

Jean Paul's ability to forgive and his belief in the power of forgiveness inspires not only me, but many, many other people.  Jean Paul travels the world performing his music and speaking about forgiveness, peace, and reconcilliation. Last night as he spoke about his own forgiveness of the man, a neighbor of his family, who murdered his parents, the room was very still as we all absorbed the power of his actions and words.  He then went on to tell us that he now works with this man as well.

Jean Paul works tirelessly to spread the word about the power of forgiveness and to bring

P4272256.JPGhope to others.  He also has established a foundation, the Mizero Foundation (www.mizerochilren.org) to help children who have been orphaned by the genocide - lost parents during the killings or due to HIV/AIDS infection - by getting them off the streets, helping build schools, etc.  A group of these children have been trained in the traditions of Rwandan music, dance, and drumming, and tour the United States periodically.  As a result of his important work, the United Nations has named him an Ambassador for Peace.

Jean Paul has once again brought together a group of Rwandan musicians, Ingeli, which is now touring the United States.  Through this group, as well, Jean Paul continues to reach out to others to share the message of hope and reconcillation through music.

Ingeli @ UNH 3Seeing, hearing, talking with Jean Paul always leaves me with much to think about.  He always leaves me at peace and re-energizes me personally and with my work.  Hate...fear...anger...they're all destructive.  So much of that comes from lack of understanding and being influenced by others who harbor these feelings.  Again, so much education is needed to help address the challenges we face around us and so much good is done when it's done face-to-face and we get to know those we fear and hate.  Jean Paul is doing remarkable work.  I know first-hand the impact he has on people...not just me...I've seen him with teens, very young children, adults, young adults...and no one is left untouched by his message.

"Forgiveness is the most powerful weapon against terrorism and atrocity."          Jean Paul Samputu

JP @ UNHmerci beaucoup, mon ami, Jean Paul!


Over the past 15 years, Holocaust Studies have been an important part of my life.  I could possibly identify this area of study and teaching as one of the initial phases of the journeys that have led me to where I am today.  I taught a unit about the Holocaust (or Shoah) for many years as part of my Freshman English classes.  Unbelievable as it may seem, it was my favorite unit to teach...guess it really tapped into what was lying dormant inside me regarding tolerance and diversity.  As I taught the unit, I became more curious about this unprecedented event in our history and attended workshops, seminars, read, viewed films, and talked with others as I tried to grasp some understanding of the complexity of those years in Europe.

As Awareness Day Coordinator at Kearsarge Regional High School, I became acquainted with Tom White, Education Outreach Coordinator at the Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies at Keene State College, as he became an annual presenter at Awareness Day.  Over the years, he shared insightful and thought provoking presentations with the students and staff about the history of the Holocaust, antisemitism, and more recent events such as the genocide in Darfur.  I always envied the participants in his workshops for having such a special opportunity to share in all that Tom had to offer (I was always too busy to actually sit through an entire workshop).

Last summer, however, Tom offered ME an incredible experience through insisting that I apply to participate in the CCHS Summer Institute for Educators.  I did...I was accepted...and it truly was a remarkable week.  I met wonderful people who are also involved in teaching the Holocaust, survivors and others who lived through the Holocaust, scholars and academians....all of us invested in making sure we "Never Forget."

And that's what today's remembrance is about....taking time to focus on the lives that were taken (born and unborn) and the lives that were changed in so many ways because of the events of the Holocaust.  I am tremendously fortunate to have met many people associated with various elements of the Holocaust and I want you to get to know these special folks  through programming at Awareness UNlimited and also through this blog.  Today, as part of Yom Hoshoah, let me provide brief introductions as I remember these amazing people...a few among many who constantly remind us how important it is to always remember.

Tom Weisshaus

Tom Weisshaus:  survivor from Hungary; rescued by Raoul Wahlenberg 









Martin RumscheidtMartin Rumscheidt:  child of a German industrialist during WWII









Sybille Niemoeller

Sybille Sarah Niemoeller von Sell:  resistance worker during WWII; widow of Pastor Martin Neimoeller  








Ernie Michel:  Auschwitz survivor









Rena Jacques

Rena Jacques:  child in Nazi Germany 










These folks are helping us all be witnesses to the Holocaust.

You may also find the following interesting:


  • This is a link to a segment from 60 Minutes in which you will hear and see the story of a Jewish survivor with an unusual story of becoming the mascot for a Nazi unit when he was a very young child:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3cxZtVYvuI


  • The following article was printed in the Jerusalem Post today...appropriate for today's remembrance:

"A Transfer of Memory" by MENACHEM Z. ROSENSAFT

On April 24, 1945, my mother, Dr. Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft, gave one of the first eyewitness accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust on a Movietone News newsreel that was filmed at the recently liberated Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.

When British troops had entered Bergen-Belsen near the German city of Hanover nine days earlier, they encountered a devastation of human misery for which they were utterly unprepared. More than 10,000 bodies lay scattered about the camp, and the 58,000 surviving inmates, the overwhelming majority of them Jews, were suffering from a combination of typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, extreme malnutrition and numerous other virulent diseases.

My mother, a not yet 33-year-old Jewish dentist from Poland, was among the survivors. Her parents, first husband, five-and-a-half-year-old son and sister had all been gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she had spent more than 15 months before being sent to Bergen-Belsen in November 1944. With the war still ongoing, Brigadier H. L. Glyn-Hughes, the deputy director of medical services of the British Army of the Rhine, appointed her to organize and head a group of doctors and nurses among the survivors to help a skeleton military medical team care for the camp's thousands of critically ill inmates.

One week after the liberation, British Movietone News arrived at Bergen-Belsen to record the evidence of Nazi Germany's crimes. In the newsreel, my mother spoke forcefully and defiantly in fluent German, choosing her words carefully, without faltering. Dressed in a white medical coat, she looked straight into the camera. "It is difficult for me to describe," she said, "all that we inmates experienced here in the camps. As a small, very small example I can relate that we inmates were thrown onto the earth of a filthy, lice-filled camp, without blankets, without bags of hay, without beds. We were given a 12th of a piece of bread daily and one liter of turnip soup so that almost 75 percent of the inmates were swollen from hunger. A severe typhus epidemic broke out, and the hunger and the typhus devoured us."

Through the camera she told the world how the Germans had refused to give starving inmates food shipments sent by the Red Cross until shortly before the arrival of British troops, and how the camp's SS commandant had stolen large quantities of chocolate intended for Jewish children to enrich himself on the black market.

Five months later, my mother was one of the principal witnesses for the prosecution at the first trial of Nazi war criminals. In her testimony before a British military tribunal at Lueneburg, Germany, she described in detail the brutality and sadism of the SS officers and guards at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

On her second day on the witness stand, one of the court-appointed defense attorneys suggested, according to a report published in The New York Times of September 23, 1945, that my mother's statement that she had seen one of the defendants kick and beat the inmates was "pure fabrication." "I would like to point out," my mother replied, "I was present and not the defending counsel during those conditions that I have described."

This incident might be dismissed as one lawyer's overzealous trial tactic, were it not for another news item published on the same page as the report of my mother's testimony. There, Gen. George Patton, head of the US military government of Bavaria, is quoted as saying that "this Nazi thing is just like a Democratic and Republican election fight."

Fast-forward to Patrick Buchanan, senior White House official under presidents Nixon and Reagan and one-time arch-conservative candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, who wrote in his March 17, 1990, syndicated column that it would have been impossible for Jews to perish in the gas chambers of the Treblinka death camp. In the same column, Buchanan referred to a "so-called Holocaust survivor syndrome" which he described as involving "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics."

And then fast-forward still further to Bishop Richard Williamson, the renegade Roman Catholic cleric whom Pope Benedict XVI sought to rehabilitate earlier this year, who declared on Swedish television that "I believe that the historical evidence is largely against, is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler... I believe there were no gas chambers."

Bishop Williamson is not alone. In December 2006, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad convened an international pseudo-academic conference in Teheran entitled "International Conference on 'Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision," in which such luminaries as David Duke, the erstwhile Imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, "debated," in effect, whether or not my grandparents and my brother had in fact been gassed at Auschwitz.

Six months after my mother died in October 1997, I was at Auschwitz-Birkenau with our daughter Jodi, then a college sophomore. We walked in silence past the decaying wooden barracks. After 15 or 20 minutes, Jodi turned to me and said, "You know, it looks exactly the way Dassah [which is what she called my mother] described it." I realized that a transfer of memory had taken place. My daughter, born 33 years after the Holocaust, had recognized Birkenau through my mother's eyes, through my mother's memories.

For the past 64 years, the survivors have fought against those who seek to deny or trivialize the genocide of European Jewry. Now, as the Holocaust's witnesses fade into history, we as a society must make their cause our own by absorbing their memories into our collective consciousness. The survivors' personal testimonies, including my mother's words on the Movietone newsreel and her posthumously published memoirs, are their lasting legacy. They are also our most powerful antidote against contemporary and future Holocaust deniers.

**Menachem Rosensaft is general counsel of the World Jewish Congress and adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School. He is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and also has four moving poems and related commentary in the anthology, Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust (Time Being Books, 2007).


Let us never forget...


Columbine - remembering 10 years ago

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Ten years ago today, the lives of many people were changed as the result of the tragedy we now refer to simply as "Columbine".  Understandably, the lives of the families and friends of the thirteen people who died as a result of the events at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado felt a tremendous impact, as did those who were injured, those who found themselves staring at a gun pointed in their faces, those who crouched under tables or desks or anything that might provide what they hoped was protection from the bullets and watched others become victims of those bullets.....those who were able to flee the building but were privy to the screams for help, the explosions, the rounds of gunfire...those families and friends who heard about the terror taking place at the high school where their loved ones were supposed to be in class, just as they were during any other "normal" day...those emergency response workers who arrived on the scene and did their best to do whatever it was that could be done....those reporters and cameramen who quickly descended on the scene, eagerly trying to get the scoop and the gory, tantalizing details...those 911 operators who answered the frantic calls from people both inside and outside the school, trying to gather information and piece together details of the situation...those watching the events unfold, live, on television, imagining what those students, teachers, parents, policemen must be feeling and thinking - believing nothing like this could or would ever happen where they lived...

Other "school shootings" had taken place in years prior to Columbine but none had the impact on individuals, schools, and communities that this did.  It was, after all, the largest number of people killed in an incident of this type at that time.  Thirteen dead (including the shooters)...an unthinkable number!!!  But should it take a "large number" to get our attention?   To cause outrage in us? 

I clearly recall turning on my television after I got home from school that afternoon, having heard only snippets of information about what was taking place at Columbine, and being stunned by what I saw and heard.  I had watched news coverage of other school shooting incidents but once the coverage stopped, usually after a day or two, I moved on much the same as others did.  Those prior events had been small, seemingly isolated situations.  I definitely had taken note of them, chatted with others about them, and was upset that such events were taking place. The impact on me that day, however, was immediate for several reasons.  At the time I was a high school teacher and it didn't take much imagination to put myself in the places of the faculty and staff at Columbine.  I am a mother and it also wasn't difficult for me to think about my own children possibly being in such a situation.  I also have a connection with Colorado having lived and taught there in the Colorado Springs area.  I knew some people who taught in the Denver area (Littleton is a suburb of Denver) and I hoped beyond all hope that no one I knew was at Columbine High School.  This also meant I was truly hoping that my children's high school age cousin wasn't involved as I knew his family lived in the Denver suburbs but wasn't sure which school he attended.  And simply as a human being trying to comprehend what could cause two high school students to walk into that school and open fire as they did...I knew the reason would never make any sense to me or justify their actions, but it left an indelible mark on my soul because I can't imagine the pain, fear, anger, or whatever the feelings that would cause anyone to do this to other human beings.

I have that same feeling about many things I see and hear around me...a foot away, across the street, on television and radio, in newspapers, online...from people I know and people I don't know.

I can't say that Columbine is what motivated me to do the work I do, and have been doing Rachel_Scott.jpgfor years now, but it certainly has a role in it.  I had already begun early work on awareness and diversity programming, and this certainly added to my conviction that more was needed...even in the relatively small, rural high school in which I was teaching.   The world reacted strongly to the events of April 20, 1999, and good has come out of this tragic event.  There are many programs that have evolved from the debris of Columbine and one I've worked with is doing important programming with several issues. Rachel's Challenge is a powerful program and an organization that is expanding its outreach continuously:  http://www.rachelschallenge.org.  The organization was founded in honor of Rachel Scott, the first person shot and killed at Columbine.  Rachel believed in the power of showing compassion and kindness to others and that in living these values, "You might just start a chain reaction."    

The same is true of too many other events in our country and in other parts of the world as well....reaction causing us to take action to try to prevent such things from happening again.  Nothing wrong with that...but it's time to do more proactively so lives don't have to be lost or damaged to get us to pay attention!!!  We must pay attention to what is going on around us and become active to help each other understand and respect diversity... and acknowlege our differences as being worth CELEBRATING!!!






Hampton Earth Week Awareness Schedule

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FYI:  Looks like a fabulous program! 




April 18th through April 22nd Earth Day


Saturday April 18th

Earth Week Awareness Fair 10:00 to 2:00

Presentations, Information, Eco-Friendly vendors

Drawing awareness to the 3 R's~Recycle, Reduce and Reuse

Centre School, 53 Winnacunnet Road


Sunday April 19th

Earth Walk (approximately 2 miles) 1:00 to 3:00

Make a pledge to help the Earth

Meet at Bicentennial Park at North Beach or join in along the walk

Water Shed Demo - 12 Noon


Town Cleanup 1:00 to 3:00

Pick up bags and gloves at the Fair on Saturday


Monday April 20th

"The Power of Community" - ages 10 & older welcome

Presented by: Dick Wollmar~Discussion to follow

Winnacunnet High School (WHS) Lecture Hall 6:30


Water Shed Demo

Presented by: Bruce Montville and Skip Webb

Hampton Library 6:00 to 7:30~all ages welcome


Tuesday April 21st

"Human Footprint" - ages 10 & older welcome

Winnacunnet High School (WHS) Lecture Hall 6:30


"Spirit Bear" - all ages welcome

Hampton library 6:00 to 7:30


Wednesday April 22nd Earth Day

Spring Flower Container Demo

Tuck Recreation Building 6:00 to 8:00


"Six Degrees" - ages 13 & older welcome

Winnacunnet High School (WHS) Lecture Hall 6:30


"Hoot" - all ages welcome

Hampton Library 6:00 to 7:45


So many gifts...

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There are days when I'm sitting here in our office in Dover dealing with the business end of our operations (not my forte...nor a love of mine) that it's easy for me to get bogged down and frustrated with my work.  This, after all, is not why I left teaching almost two years ago...as a former English teacher, paperwork was not part of the vision I had in creating Awareness UNlimited.  But with the decision last summer to transition AU from a sole proprietorship to a not-for-profit corporation, paperwork has become unavoidable.

There are more days, however, when I am reminded of the wonderful gifts I have been given through my work which far outweigh the drugery of the paperwork I complain about.  These gifts are the people I have become connected with over the years of my involvement with awareness and diversity programming.

They are on our Board of Trustees...

They are people I meet through the programming we are involved with...

They are participants in this programming...

They are our members...

They are colleagues...

They are volunteers...

They are people who ask, "What do you actually do at Awareness UNlimited?"...

They are folks who live nearby and folks who live far away...

They are old friends and new friends...

They are family...

They are great joys and constant reminders of what is truly important....


It is my privilege to know you all...and I so look forward to connecting many of you through our continued work at AU and through this new blog where I plan to introduce you to many of these people who touch my life, and many other lives, in such special and profound ways.