The Raoul Wallenberg Research Initiative RWI-70
2-2022 March 7, 2022
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The events of the last two weeks undoubtedly have shaken all of us to the core. Probably none of us have slept well in days.
War is hell: The apocalyptic images of destruction, with millions of people fleeing for their lives, resurrect memories of the violence and crimes we had hoped never to see again in Europe. Like most people, I feel a mixture of shock, helplessness, pain, outrage, and plain fear. Since I am unable to comment here, under the aegis of the RWI-70, in detail on the current crisis in Ukraine, I will release a separate statement on the conflict that reflects strictly my personal views.
I am sure in recent days we have all turned our thoughts to other recent mass atrocities, like the genocide in Rwanda, where in 1994 members of the ethnic Hutu majority slaughtered 800,000 people, most belonging to the Tutsi minority; the 1995 mass executions of 8,000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica (Bosnia); as well as the Chinese government current efforts to wipe out its minority Uyghur community in the most cruel way; and to World War II, to the massacres of Babyn Yar, when German Nazi forces in two days executed almost 34,000 Ukrainian Jews, and Katyn, where Soviet authorities ordered the execution of close to 22,000 Polish officers. And of course, I also think back to Hungary, where in 1944 the country’s Jewish population faced a similar barbarity. 500,000 of the country’s Jewish citizens were deported and murdered in a period of just six months. Desperate appeals to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz fell on deaf ears.
Words fail to express the horror. And yet, in this darkest hour, when any hope seemed elusive, a young Swedish businessman left behind his comfortable life in Stockholm to jump right into the fray. Wallenberg must have felt desperate, discouraged and afraid countless time, and yet he followed an almost reflexive impulse to come to the aid of his fellow human beings. With his humanistic spirit, fierce determination, and extraordinary courage – both physical and moral – Wallenberg came to represent what is best in us. Most importantly, he demonstrated the power of hope and possibility: that one person can indeed make a difference.
Professor Irwin Cotler, a former Minister of Justice of Canada and international director of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR) in Montreal, summarized these universal lessons of the Holocaust and Wallenberg’s mission in a memorable op-ed article this past January, emphasizing that Wallenberg’s actions laid the foundation for modern day international human rights and humanitarian law. You will find his text enclosed at the end of this circular. It will both comfort and inspire you.
Below I have put together a few items that cover the spectrum from providing relief to Ukraine’s civilian population, to seeking accountability and justice for the crimes committed. At the same time, let us not lose sight of the other serious human rights challenges around the world. Other autocrats will try to use the focus on Ukraine to crack down even harder on internal dissent and to shore up their regimes. Democratic values and the humanistic spirit are indestructible, but we are paying a very, very high price. May we never take them for granted again.
I will report on various research news regarding Sweden in the coming days.
I leave you with the international anthem to mutual love and understanding, from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, “Alle Menschen werden Brüder …” which also happens to be the official anthem of a united and democratic Europe.
Today, I wish us all one thing only – Peace.
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