Third annual Genocide Awareness Week concludes

The events to commemorate genocides around the world took place at SCC April 13-18


Staff/Scottsdale Chronicle

Helen Handler, an 87-year-old Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz, the largest German extermintation camp in World War II, talks of her 18-month incarceration at the camp where she lost all of her family, including a sibling, mother, aunts and uncles. She said that she made it through by her faith in God, the ultimate goodness of humanity and the hope that some of her family would survive. She never knew each night as she saw the fire and smoke rise from the gas chambers if any of her relatives were inside. It is estimated that more than one million people lost their lives in the Auschwitz camp alone. After her discussion with a crowd of more than 150 people in attendance, Handler signed her book, “The Risk of Sorrow: Conversations With Holocaust Survivor, Helen Handler," that she co-authored with Valerie Foster, a retired Gilbert teacher.

Lindsay Nebgen, Reporter

Scottsdale Community College wrapped up its third annual Genocide Awareness Week this past week with a vast array of speakers, events and exhibits focused on sharing the horrors and humanism created by human atrocities against fellow human beings.

The week was filled with survivor accounts, scholarly analysis and humanitarian perspectives.

The opening day featured Holocaust survivor Helen Handler, an unveiling of a World War II era rail car that transported Jewish people to concentration camps, and the opening evening session in the Performing Arts Center (PAC).

Genocide Awareness Week had many different events going on during the week of April 13-18, along with exhibits placed throughout campus. The week coincides April’s designation as National Genocide Awareness Month.

This is Scottsdale Community College’s third year hosting a week-long event and each year it attracts more guests than the previous year, said John Liffiton, the co-founder and director of SCC’s Genocide Awareness Week program.

The Before I Die wall is one of the exhibits that the participants experienced. The wall gave students a chance to get a personalized look into what genocide could feel like for its victims. The exhibit was an interactive wall where anyone could write something short about what they want to accomplish before they die. It is a box covered in a black paint that is about 8 feet long and 8 feet wide. People wrote their dreams on it with chalk.

“I was walking into the cafeteria to get food one day and decided to write down what I wanted to do before I died,” SCC student Aaron Gonzales said. “I had never seen anything like this before and I felt like it was a great way to get the community more involved than just going and listening to the speeches.”

The Student Leadership Forum runs this exhibit and has experienced great participation for the past three years.

“The connection is that they understand that there are millions in the world who have not had a chance to live their full life ,” Student Education Services director Therese Tendick said. “Please take your life seriously and get as much out of it as you can.”

The Before I Die wall was available starting April 13 in the Student Center’s East Patio.

“My hope is, like last year, it becomes a way for students to reflect and become engaged on campus about issues of genocide throughout the world through interactive public art,” Tendick said.

The student organizers in the Student Leadership Forum with the Before I Die wall take their own pictures and put them up on a website where other walls worldwide can be seen.

That process is chronicled on the website to see all the pictures. The pictures from this year’s wall will be included.

“I want people to take away that we should never forget what happened to those in the past, be it the Holocaust, be it the Armenian genocide, or be it the Holodomor,” Liffiton said. “We should remember those, but we should also be aware of what’s happening today and that we need to be vigilant, educated, and aware so we can try and stop it.”

As the popularity of the program has grown, Liffiton gets requests from people who would like to present.

“It’s not just for students; it’s not just for faculty,” he said. “We are a community college so it’s for the whole community.”

All the events from this past week were free to the public. Most of the activities took place in the Turquoise Room in the Student Center.

A full list of last week’s schedule and locations can be found at