What do victims of genocides across the globe who now call Texas home do with their lives after surviving horrific atrocities in their native lands? Their past and present tales will be part of an upcoming documentary about modern genocide. The film, currently entitled “Narratives of Modern Genocide,” is being produced by KTTZ-TV. It’s scheduled for completion late this fall and will be released in 2019.
Executive producer Aliza Wong, an associate professor of history at Texas Tech and associate dean of the honors college, says the survivors of genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Burundi, Dafur and Bosnia astonishingly don’t remember only the horrors they endured.
“They’ve been very careful to not just focus on the story of horror, but their story of home, of what it means to have a home and to witness this kind of destruction, to understand love and family and the fact that even though these people have experienced some of the most horrific, tragic, grotesque experiences, torture, that what they remember of home is not always ugly,” Wong says. “And it’s not always tainted. They remember it as a time of laughter, as a time of nurturing.”
Gilbert Tuhabonye miraculously survived the genocide in his African homeland of Burundi in 1993 during conflicts between his Tutsi group and Hutu extremists. In the 1970s, Shichan Siv lost 15 relatives to genocidal atrocities during Pol Pot’s Killing Fields in Cambodia.
Those are two of the stories that will be told in the documentary. Both have made remarkable contributions in America. But, Wong says, they likely wonder what might have been had they been able to remain in their homelands.
“Do they love that United States,” Wong says. “Absolutely. Are they grateful for being in Texas? Absolutely. Have they made homes and lives, and are they giving back here? Absolutely.”
The documentary is being funded by an $80,000 grant from the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission in Austin. Texas Tech is contributing about $62,000 in in-kind donations. Those included in the film were part of a project done by Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History.
Paul Hunton, the general manager of Texas Tech Public Media and three-time regional Emmy winner, is the documentary’s director. A few months ago, he traveled to Cambodia to gather footage and information for the film.
Most people know about the several million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II. But many don’t know that several genocides have happened since.
“What I’d like to see with this film is educating people on how genocides happen—opening their eyes to the fact that genocides are still happening now. And giving them tools to recognize these things and then also be able to talk about them and hopefully we can come to a place some day where these things don’t happen,” Hunton says.
Tuhabonye was one of scores of Tutsis taken captive by Hutu extremists near his school. He hid for hours beneath burning corpses of classmates before fleeing to safety. In 2006, he co-founded the Gazelle Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve life for people in Burundi without regard to tribal affiliations.
Siv escaped from Cambodia more than four decades ago. He survived a machine-gun attack and a fall into a jungle pit of punji sticks, but his family was killed. Siv became a U.S. citizen and later serve in the White House as a deputy assistant. In 2001, he was appointed by George H.W. Bush as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a post he held until 2006.
Hunton says those he’s interviewed for the documentary made a choice born out of the most harrowing of experiences.
“You can either retreat from the world, or you can engage with it and hope to make a difference. And the fact that everyone that I’ve talked to for the film has decided to engage with the world is really remarkable, heroic and takes a lot of courage,” he says.