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Turning Point ’95
August 13 to 24, 1995
Turning Point ‘95, the first gathering of a multi-year initiative, was composed of three successive three and a half day seminars, August 13th to the 24th, 1995. The meeting was held at the Dialogue Center of Oswiecim, Poland, located in very close proximity to Auschwitz I.
The goal of the Turning Point was twofold: first, to honor and remember those who perished in the Nazi extermination camps, and second, to support the participants in deepening their personal commitment to actively co-creating a new context for humanity within which another Shoah would not only be unacceptable, but impossible.
367 people from 33 different countries came together for the Turning Point. Representing different religions, generation, countries, communities, and social and professional backgrounds, these individuals drew upon the physical proximity to the camps to engage each other and themselves in building a new forum for reflection, dialogue and action.
The participants represented diverse professional and social spheres. There were academics, leaders of Holocaust organizations, activists from a variety of human rights organizations, representatives from communities in conflict, clergymen, businessmen, scientists, health professionals, educators, students, artists, film makers, survivors of the Holocaust, children of survivors and children of perpetrators.
Some of the countries represented were the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, South Africa, Israel, the Philippines, Algeria, Italy, Turkey, Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Finland, England, Northern Ireland, Russia, the Ukraine, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Poland, India, Korea and the former Yugoslavia. These individuals embraced a variety of religions and schools of thought: Roman Catholic, Christian Orthodox, Druse, Protestants, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist and others.
Turning Point ’95 was organized and facilitated by the staff of A.C.C. International Institute (Au Coeur de la Communication), based in Paris with offices in Montreal and San Francisco. The primary facilitators were:
Claire Nuer, co-founder of A.C.C. Inter-national Institute and primary designer and facilitator of the ACC educational process. She was a hidden child during the War, and lost her father in Auschwitz.
Sam Cohen, co-founder of ACC International Institute, co-designer and co-facilitator of the ACC programs; engineer and businessman.
Marc-André Olivier, Director of Program Development.
In each session, participants confronted and explored ways their own individual, family, and social histories interact with the dynamics and realities that helped make Auschwitz possible. Participants visited the Auschwitz camps with guides and survivors; they worked individually on questions provided by the seminar leaders; they participated in round table discussions, heard lectures and panel presentations; they responded in small groups to integrative questions; and they proposed projects for future action. Although similar in design and methodology, the three sessions were different, reflecting the distinctive composition of each group–their backgrounds, interests and needs.
Each session began with a general welcome and the presentation of information about logistics and rules of functioning. Participants then responded to a series of questions designed to highlight the diversity of the group, the variety of social and cultural factors that influence how each person writes his or her own biography, and how each identifies his or her motives for participating in the seminar. The session closed with an exercise encouraging the definition of group goals for the seminar.
Each morning the group walked through the different camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Auschwitz III-Monowitz. Guides from the Auschwitz Museum provided the historical context, and camp survivors enhanced the participants understanding of the camps by sharing their personal experiences:
Bernard Offen: USA, born Jewish in Krakow, Poland, deported to several concentration camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau; Holocaust educator.
Zezette Larsen: USA, born Jewish in Belgium, survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Witness in the Educational Program of, and fundraiser for, Facing History and Ourselves.
Lucien Ducastel: France, deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau as a member of the French Resistance, witness in many schools.
These walks offered a personal and concrete dimension to a tragedy that is often difficult to comprehend.
Lectures by international speakers, followed by question and answer sessions, explored a variety of topics.
Claire Nuer, from France, introduced processes designed to support the participants in expressing and internalizing their experience of the camps, explored how individual actions are relayed and amplified through all segments of society, and addressed personal and social responsibility in a post-Holocaust world.
Father Stanislas Musial, (Poland, Jesuit Priest, member of the Polish Episcopal Commission of Dialogue with Judaism) discussed anti-Semitism in Poland, the “Carmelite Affair,” and his commitment against prejudice and intolerance.
Professor Eli Tsur, (Israel, historian, Holocaust specialist at Givat Haviva, the major Israeli institute that specializes in Palestinian-Jewish dialogue), explained the historical context that led to Auschwitz.
Dr. Samson Munn, (USA, radiologist, son of two camp survivors, founder of an Austrian dialogue group between children of Holocaust survivors and children of Nazi perpetrators), member of the dialogue group created by Prof. talked about his participation in the prestigious Dan Bar-On dialogue group that brings together children of victims and of victimizers.
Gottfried Wagner, (Germany, great grandson of Richard Wagner, whose family was very involved in the Nazi movement,spokesman and co-founder of the Post Holocaust Dialogue Group), shared his personal commitment to educating the public about the Holocaust and facilitating a shift from guilt and passivity into constructive action.
Daniel Kim, (USA, co-founder of and researcher at the MIT Organizational Learning Center ), discussed the crucial role business leaders will need to assume in creating a more humanitarian 21st Century.
Dr. Joel Cohen, (USA, biophysicist, son of a scientist who helped develop the atomic bomb), discussed the responsibility of scientists in guiding the world’s application of their research.
Round tables were also created so that specific participants could discuss topics or questions that were directly related to their personal and/or professional experiences. The round tablediscussions deepened the group’s understanding of the events and ideas of the day. Questions addressed included:
• “What are the roles and responsibilities of business and business leaders in historical events – past, present and future?” with business leaders.
• “What does it mean to be in Auschwitz when you come from a country or community that is in conflict today?” with witnesses of each of the communities in conflict in ex-Yugoslavia.
• “How can we build a sustainable society?” with leaders of humanitarian organizations.
• “When is it right to disobey?” with adolescents
Part of each session was devoted to the creation of projects and concrete action plans by small groups determined by areas of interest–education, health, business, conflict resolution and dialogue. These projects responded to the question “How can we contribute to creating a context of humanity rather than a context of destruction?”
This meeting has inspired in one participant a series of drawings, in another young woman a collection of poems , and in adolescent attendees a number of illustrations documenting their experience of Auschwitz.
There are 180 hours of video archives from the three sessions, composed of on-site survivor testimonials, participant interviews and the work done during the seminar. From this, an initial 40 minute video presenting the gatherings’ content has already been created by three young filmmakers.
In each session, a group of participants formed a committee to support the development of the next Turning Point meeting.
Since the end of the meetings, many participants have sent in written testimonials about their impressions of the Turning Point, sharing memories, thoughts, emotions and suggestions. These letters are an essential tool in A.C.C.’s self-evaluation process, and will also guide and encourage the development of Turning Point ’96.
Other Major Speakers and Panelists
Ilia Altman: Russia, President of the Holocaust Research and Educational Center .
Gerardo Budowski: Costa Rica, former director of UICN (World Union for Nature). Director of the environmental department of the Peace University.
Suzanne Chaumet: France, former member of the French resistance, survivor of the Ravensbrück camp.
Yaïr Dalal: Israel, author and composer of the song played at the Oslo peace agreement ceremony between Israelis and Palestinians .
Tommaso De Cataldo: Italy, co-founder of Umani Diritti, member of a Post Holocaust Dialogue Group.
Ety Edlund: Israel, co-director of the school in Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, an Israeli village where Jewish and Palestinian families have lived together since 1970.
Jakub Gutenbaum: Poland, Jewish survivor of several extermination camps, President of the Polish Association of the Children of the Holocaust.
Wajeeh Kayouf: Israel, Israeli government advisor on Arab Affairs, Ministry of Domestic Affairs.
Henry F. Knight: USA, Chaplain and Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Tulsa.
Stuart Muzinski: USA, President of the “Remember the Children” Foundation Tonci Majic: Croatia, President of the Dalmatian Committee for Human Rights.
Father Pierre: France, founder of the Emmaüs Communities.
Armand Volkas: USA, drama therapist specializing in dialogue between communities in conflict, child of Auschwitz survivors.
And many others, including children and relatives of Holocaust survivors….
Audio and Video Interviews
Martin Gray: France, writer, speaker, president of the foundation for human rights at the “Arche de la défense” in Paris, survivor of several extermination camps.
ACC Paris and ACC San Francisco are deeply grateful to all those who contributed to making Turning Point ’95 possible.