By Dana Fleitman, Program Coordinator
“I’m trying to understand how someone could hate someone else without knowing anything about them, by just thinking they fit into a certain group” says Dana Burns, 25, a passionate anti-genocide advocate who facilitates international visitor programs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). Dana holds a degree in International Law and interned at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia.
Dana believes that everyone should be invested in preventing genocide and has a particular interest in how the public understands mass atrocities. She recalls, “In the museum, there’s part of the exhibition that we call the Tower of Faces with images from a shtetl in Eastern Europe from before the Holocaust. I remember when I walked through with a museum guest, and she started crying, because she said they looked just like her family. I remember that moment every time I walk through the exhibit, and I hope that any outsider looking at modern atrocities can look at the images and see their own face and feel that compassion, and not leave thinking ‘I’m not there’ or ‘these aren’t my people.”
Dana’s fascination with genocide history and prevention began in college, and it was not until later than she connected it back to her Judaism. “We have a responsibility as humans to help other humans, and I think some of that comes from my sense of tikkun olam, healing the world, though it didn’t start out that way.” She explains, “when I got to college, I was surprised by how interesting the history was. I grew up thinking it was one thing, and as I got older, I learned more.”
Dana is grateful for the support of the Jewish community, recalling that “when I was interning in Yugoslavia, word got back to the local congregation where I grew up. I got an e-mail from the synagogue’s Education Director congratulating me and saying that she was really proud of the work I was doing. For Jews especially, I think the resonance with Nuremburg makes it easier for people to understand what I’m doing and what I’m interested in.”
She hopes that all people take an interest in modern genocide. “Knowing is one thing, but acting is another…I appreciate the connection that people make with their own community’s past and struggles, but I would like people to see their connection with all people and not look at modern genocide and think, ‘well, where am I in this and how does it relate to me?”
Genocidal violence impacts women and girls worldwide. Genocide is defined as the intent to destroy a certain group, and systematic rape has become a deliberate weapon strategically used in places like Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) helps the United States lead a global response to gender-based violence. Learn more and urge your representatives to support IVAWA today.