26(Photo Credit: Laura Bernier)

TESTIMONIES/TEMOIGNAGES: Stories of Refugee Children Rescued to Switzerland During World War II

Fulbright scholars Samantha Lakin and Laura Bernier were invited by the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC to publish an essay and photo book of their historical and documentary research about Jewish children rescued to Switzerland during World War II. The Swiss Embassy has used Samantha and Laura’s book for education in over 100 embassies and consulates around the world. The book consists of historical information about the rescue efforts during WWII, detailed accounts of field research in Europe and Israel, and capturing professional photographs that bring the story to life. 

As an academic in comparative genocide, my appreciation for the necessity and challenge of working directly with survivors of mass violence developed during my research as a Fulbright scholar (2011-2012). Over the course of 15 months, I interviewed 70 Holocaust survivors who were rescued as children to Switzerland during World War II. I analyzed historical information in five national archives regarding the infrastructure created to care for these refugee children. Listening to the stories of survivors transformed me from researcher to historical witness. After the interviews, I noticed how careful collection of testimonies would reassure survivors that their stories could help aid recovery in their communities.

Follow this link to check out Laura Bernier Photography.

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Memorializing Genocide in Rwanda: Perspectives from Governmental, Communal, and Personal Memorial Practices

Kigali Genocide Memorial and National Memorial Sites in Rwanda

Similar experiences arose during my Master’s fieldwork at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. I had the privilege of performing research in Rwanda at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and several other memorial sites, where I applied the knowledge I had attained through Master’s level coursework in comparative history to design thesis research. I used my expertise in econometrics to analyze 170 surveys of museum visitors. In addition, I interviewed 20 Rwandan memorial guides and leaders of survivor organizations. My Master’s thesis analyzed three main components: first, how memorials can best create a space for dialogue for survivors to explore their histories with violence; second, the educational value of memorial sites for children of survivors; and third, international visitor attitudes regarding narratives of extreme violence. Whereas some survivors share their stories during commemoration periods, others subordinate their individual narratives to adopt the official state discourse being created in Rwanda.

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USC Shoah Foundation

I have also had the opportunity to work with the new series of Rwandan testimonies at USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, where I was one of the first researchers to analyze this collection. I included the data in my Master’s thesis.

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Commonwealth Secretariat London and Insight on Conflict

Invited to share a photo essay with visitors at the Commonwealth Secretariat London in December 2013, as part of an exhibit on memorialization and mass atrocities. The photos were about different local perspectives on peacebuilding after genocide in Rwanda. Here is the link to the photo essay on Insight on Conflict’s Blog.

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Genocide Survivors Support Network- Advisory Board Member

Since 2014, I was invited to serve on the Advisory Board of the Genocide Survivors Support Network.  “GSSN’s vision is to build an empowered, educated, driven, and thriving  community of genocide survivors, able to overcome the challenges inherited from the genocide and eager to help other survivors achieve the same.” I have been working with the Founder and Executive Director on the new Survivor’s Voice Program, which took place at Harvard Law School in February 2015.

Survivors Fund (SURF)- Board of Trustees

In 2015 I was invited to serve on the Board of Trustees for Survivors Fund, a UK-based NGO dedicated to serving genocide survivors in Rwanda.

Affiliations

  • Fulbright Association, Board of Directors
  • International Peace Research Association (IPRA)
  • International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP)
  • Museum of Tolerance, NYC
  • International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS)
  • African Studies Association (ASA)
  • Refugee Law Project, Makerere University School of Law
  • University of Kigali Faculty of Law
  • Fletcher Women’s Network

Publications

In print, Fall 2016, “Where is the Truth? An Analysis of Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Kenya Human Rights Commission edited volume of post-conflict justice mechanisms and victims in African countries,

In print, Fall 2016, “Transitional Justice in the Wake of the Rwandan Genocide: The contribution of criminal trials and symbolic reparations to reconciliation,” co-authored with Dr. Charity Wibabara, in the edited volume Memory, Justice, and Recovery in the Shadow of Genocide, Intersentia Publishers

“Leadership Mindsets: The Social and Political Development of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) of the Past Twenty Years,” Journal of African Union Studies, Issue 3:2, 2015

“Justice in Rwanda: Analyzing the ICTR and Symbolic Justice Mechanisms After the 1994 Genocide” International Bar Association, Human Rights: Mass Atrocities, and Transitional Justice, Vol. 2 Issue 1, March 2015

Book Publication, Testimonies: Stories of Refugee Children Rescued to Switzerland During World War II, Swiss Embassy, Washington, D.C. (2013)

Appendix, The Fate of Others: Rescuing Jewish Children on the French-Swiss Border by Nan Lefenfeld (2012)

Authorship-Social Media

Conference Presentations

  • “Memorialization, Justice, and the Social Psychology of Survivors of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda” Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability, Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights, New York (2015)
  • “Memory and Forgiveness in Post-Genocide Rwanda” Institute for African Transitional Justice, Makerere University, Uganda (2015)
  • “Transitional Justice, Legal and Symbolic Reparations” University of Rwanda Faculty of Law, Butare, Rwanda (2014)
  • “Being young and civic in sub-Saharan Africa: A comparative analysis of civic engagement and identity formation among youth in SSA” Panel Presentation, Comparative and International Education Society (2014)
  • “20 Years After the Genocide: Accountability and Memory in Rwanda,” The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Human Security Department (2013)
  • “Memorialization in Rwanda,” Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability, Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights, New York (2013)
  • “Consulates and Noncombatant Evacuation Operations,” Vienna Convention on Consular Relations at 50 and Beyond, The Fletcher School, Medford, MA (2013)
  • Lecture and Exhibit, Museum of Tolerance New York, “TESTIMONIES/TEMOIGNAGES” (2012)
  • “The Fate of Jewish Children Rescued to Switzerland During WWII” The International Institute For Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel, (2012)
  • Women Refugees in Switzerland during World War II”, The Wiener Library, London, UK (2012)
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