As American officials warn of a renewed wave of violence in Darfur, the walls of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum have been transformed, for one week, into huge projection screens carrying the images of the African genocide.
The facade facing busy 15th Street, only a block away from the Washington Monument, is now bringing pictures of Darfur to commuters, passers-by and tourists in downtown Washington, with 40 square-foot photos of children who have lost their families, villages burnt to the ground, and warriors, carrying machine guns, who have terrorized the region.
The exhibit, “Darfur: Who Will Survive Today?” will be projected on the exterior of the Holocaust museum every evening through Thanksgiving week. It’s the boldest attempt to call attention to the Darfur genocide, which so far has claimed the lives of about 400,000 Sudanese and has displaced more than 2 million people. It is made up of photos shot in Darfur in the past three years by a former U.S. Marine and by several photojournalists who contributed their works to the museum.
Andrew Natsios, President Bush’s special envoy for Sudan, said Monday that violence in Darfur has escalated since the signing of an accord last year. Natsios added that there is new optimism following the signing last week in Ethiopia of a U.N.-brokered accord under which Sudan has agreed to accept a stronger international force.
Taking on the issue of the Darfur genocide is part of the mandate of the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience, which states that the committee should “alert the national conscience, influence policy-makers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.”
While the Jewish community has been at the forefront of the campaign to save Darfur, there are some who feel that the Holocaust museum was wrong in making Darfur its number-one priority. “If they want to go into politics and talk about current concerns, then the existential threat Israel faces from Iran should be the first issue,” said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom synagogue in Washington. Though the Holocaust museum did put out a press release condemning the antisemitic rhetoric of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his threats against Israel, Herzfeld claims that this is not enough. “The moment they get into contemporary politics, then their relative silence on Iran becomes deafening,” he said.
John Heffernan, director of the Committee on Conscience’s Genocide Prevention Initiative, responded by defending the museum’s decision to focus on Darfur. “There are a lot of issues out there that do pose threats, whether it be the Congo, Darfur or Chechnya,” Heffernan said. “But Darfur — when you have three or four hundred thousand people dead, and most of these people have been killed for who they are, it was an obvious connection for us.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.