Jonathan R. Beloff
Researcher of the African Great Lakes

Remembrance as part of Identity

Nearly every day, my attention seems to be constantly occupied by my research on the post-genocide nation of Rwanda. Its history and current development, whether in terms of economic, political or social growth fills my each day with continual purpose. It seems that my identity is saturated by this small central African state. Many of my close personal relationships reside there despite currently being thousands of miles away. This personal and professional relationship with Rwanda sometimes clouds other parts of my identity and every day.

I had the good fortune to travel outside my every day. The research on Rwandan foreign policy and constant examination of the events in Rwanda as well as the African Great Lakes was put on temporary hold. I had the ability to escape my mind and recent stresses by being able to take a series of walks throughout, a nice little neighborhood with its own uniqueness that I cannot describe. During one of my walks, I stumbled across a Holocaust memorial that I had not known of before. To enter, I walked down a few steps to see on top of me a metal sculpture representing the Jewish Star of David. It seemed to reflect a much larger one on the ground made out of a black stone. Where the metal supports of the sculpture rested are six concrete blocks. Five out of the six supporters hold metal sheets with the names of everyone who died in this particular area. People ranging in age from a few years to over seventy have their names inscribed onto these haunting plaques. The most eastern concrete block contains writing, stating the hope for the memorial to be a place of remembrance for those who had died during the Holocaust.

Throughout my life, I studied the Holocaust and visited more memorials and Nazi death camps than I can remember. Since I was a little boy, the Holocaust was such a large part of my identity as it was with the rest of my family. We had lost over a dozen members during the genocide, but still consider ourselves lucky. It was only a small section of the family who decided not escape Nazi persecution. They believed that the Nazis were just a political phase that would soon be over. They did not imagine the horror, which would inflict upon them. I remember stories from my Mother of when she was a little girl. She overheard the family debating and often yelling about why someone did not force the dozen family members to leave their homes in Austria and come to safety in America. Tears would often flow and questions of what the final years, months and days were for the family that did not survive. However like I said earlier, my family is lucky. We were not all killed and the family survived, unlike so many others.

I write all of this, as it still is part of my identity despite been covered by layers of Rwanda-focused material. Most people know or at least are aware of my identity as the Rwandan researcher. But only a few see how I carry the Holocaust deep within me. In all honesty, it has been a very long since I have seriously contemplation of the Holocaust in terms of being part of my character. That is perhaps why this memorial stands out to me. Its simplicity and focus on the victim’s names strikes to an old layer of my identity. It is not here to change the world or causes a macro shift in how we remember and prevent future horrific events. It is just here for this community to remember what it lost so many decades ago.

This contradicts so much of my research and drive, which focuses on trying to better understand human events in order to help prevent future horrors such as the Holocaust and Rwandan Genocide. Sometimes we all need moments like at this memorial where we are forced to sit and reflect on the importance of what is around us, how to improve ourselves and the world we exist in, as well as who we are as individuals. This Holocaust memorial has made me do all that and reconnect with a past self.

About the Author
Jonathan R. Beloff, PhD, is a researcher focusing on the regional politics and security of the African Great Lakes composing the nations of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have published several academic journal articles, book chapters, book reviews and editorials on issues facing central Africa. Since 2008, my travels to the region have led me to work and consult with numerous Rwandan and international government officials. Within these periods of foreign residence, with particular reference to my multiple extended stays in Rwanda, I developed unique skills to engage and consult with a range of different foreign officials as well as Rwandan elites and policymakers in the understanding and formation of public policy.
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