Impact Report: Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat

Impact Report: Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat

The Auschwitz-Birkenau retreat is the central program of ZPI’s Bearing Witness programs – designed to bear witness to specific and collective expressions of human suffering in various places around the world, to develop bonds and facilitate creative and healing action.

Since 1996 the Auschwitz retreat has been an interfaith and immersive cross-cultural gathering event for over 1500 peacebuilders from different war-torn countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Palestine/Israel, Syria, Native American Nations and over 20 other countries.

The Auschwitz Retreat has been the model for further bearing witness retreats:

1. 2014 Rwanda, to the Tutsi genocide and the Hutu, Tutsi and international communities.

2. 2016 Bosnia-Herzegovina, to the ethnic cleansing of Bosniak Muslims.

3. 2015 – ongoing, Annual Native American Bearing Witness retreat in South Dakota.  This program evolves every year according to the needs of our hosts and our participants, from periods of hands-on service, pilgrimages to sacred and memorial sites, and a large-scale bearing witness retreat. They are co-created and co-led by Native American leaders.

ZPI staff has brought the insights learned at the Auschwitz Retreat to high schools and colleges, in presentations on diversity & non-violence, and to international summits for indigenous leaders.  It co-facilitates an ongoing, multinational, multidisciplinary human rights strategic think-tank for Civil Society NGOs in Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa, Cambodia, Turkey, Australia and more.

Key highlights of high-impact actions implemented by past retreat participants:

1. 2000 Retreat participant founded Monument-Hospice of the City of Oświęcim, the closest town to Auschwitz, to preserve the memory of those who risked their lives to help prisoners of the camp.

2. 2016 volunteer delegation to Greece, supporting Afghan & Syrian refugees.

3. 2016, 2018 bearing witness delegations to Italy supporting North-African refugees.

4. 2016, Minnesota Native American Bearing Witness Retreat.

5. 2017 Nationwide Winter Coat Drive & building of Year-round Hothouse in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

6. 2018, Palestine, a multi-national delegation met with West-bank peacebuilders.

7. Ongoing support, fundraising and outreach for Lakota Native American Wounded Knee Survivors’ Descendants, and representation at Standing Rock in 2016.

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