The Auschwitz-Birkenau retreat is the core 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, developing bonds and facilitating creative, healing action. This year was the 23rd Bearing Witness retreat in Auschwitz hosting a 100 participants from around the world.
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.
4. Members have led self-initiated retreats in Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany and more.
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.
8. 2019 Native American Bearing Witness plunge, the fourth program with the Lakhota community.
9. 2019 ZPI supported the coming of two educators from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe reservation for professional development and relationship building with a school in Staten Island, founded by Roshi Ken Byalin, a successor of Bernie.
10. Many of the 1600 ZPI members that have participated, and even organized, Climate-related actions in the US and Europe, partnering with Extinction Rebellion and other Buddhist action groups.
11. In December 2019, in collaboration with ZPI affiliate One World In Dialogue, ZPI will co-host a 24-hour meditation/prayer vigil “Belonging to Earth” in support of the climate awareness movement. Donations will be offered directly to indigenous communities in the Amazon as well as to Global ecology advocacy organizations.
ZPI is grateful to all participants, staff, donors and members who have helped grow the impact of Zen Peacemakers International’s Bearing Witness Programs and beyond.