From War in Syria to Bearing Witness in Auschwitz

Story by Roshi Barbara Wegmüller, Switzerland, September 2016

BERN, SWITZERLAND. My friend Rabia is an extremely courageous woman and I am happy to share my story of how we met.

It was in 2006, only days before Beirut was bombed, and our friend Sami Awad from Bethlehem, Palestine, who is a Peacemaker, gave a talk against the planned war in Lebanon. He was invited to speak at a big peace demonstration in Bern the capital of Switzerland. The square was packed with people and I waited for him at the edge of the crowd. Small children with dark curly hair were playing right next to me, their mothers urging them to keep quiet.

I was playing with the children and tried to have a conversation with the women. One of them spoke a little French and was desperately fumbling for words. She told me she had arrived in Berne the day before and I spontaneously handed her my business card saying that if she learnt to speak German we could communicate.

Ten months later my phone rang and a female voice said, « this is Rabia speaking, I have learnt German and would like to speak with you.“ I immediately knew who it was and we arranged to meet for coffee and that’s how our friendship began. Rabia is from Palestine and her parents fled from there with small children. They travelled a long way through distant countries, from Yemen to Syria. The war in Syria made life for the extended family unbearable and with the help of Peacemaker Switzerland we could arrange to evacuate many members of the family and get them out of the war zone.

We had the entire family stay with us for one week in our home. On the last evening Yazer told us his story. He had not eaten for 3 months, just some leaves to have something in his stomach. He had given his last ration of food to some hungry children. Yazer, the brother of Rabia, a young dentist arrived in Switzerland after a long ordeal and totally famished. What helped him to survive and safe his life was a film he had seen several years earlier by Steven Spielberg — « Schindler’s List“. In the film a few people had survived despite of incredible pain and hunger and this memory helped Yazer to hang on one day at a time.

My husband Roland and I were very touched and near to tears listening to the story of this young muslim who had gained strength from this unexpected film about suffering and which helped him survive.

Now Yazer and Rabia are joining us to bear witness at the next Auschwitz retreat. To bear witness for their own family history. We are grateful for your contributions in making this possible.


Celebration of diversity has been a hallmark of the Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreats and in particular in Auschwitz-Birkenau, once a symbol of extreme intolerance towards others. Through the years the Zen Peacemakers hosted there countless nationalities, faiths and ethnicities. In 2015, our community collected donations to bring Lakota Native Americans, Croats, Bosniaks & Serbs, Palestinians and the indigenous of Australia.

Rabia And Yazer’s presence will connect the retreat and all its participants with the horrors of the present-day war in Syria and the excruciating difficulties encountered by those fleeing its shores. We are raising $5000 towards their retreat tuition, travel and lodging. Contribution in any amount will help us bring them there.

Thank you to all those who have already donated to bring Rabia and Yazer to Poland. We are still open for donations.

Donation can be made HERE
Zen Peacemakers, Inc. is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization for your tax purposes.

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From War in Syria to Bearing Witness in Auschwitz

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