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Survivors Remember Guatemalan Genocide

Researchers are recording the stories of survivors of the Guatemalan civil war and genocide.

Fighting in Guatemala started in the 1960s and lasted more than 30 years. Tens of thousands of native Mayans were killed. The video collection will save the memories and descriptions of survivors. It is hoped that this will help prevent future genocides.

As a child, Jesus Tacu lived through tragedies most people hope they will never experience.

The day his father was killed was just like any day, he says.

“The dogs ran out to meet him. … But that day, my father did not return.”

Jesus Tacu is one of many survivors whose statements are being recorded on video to document their experiences. Their stories are being collected by partners in the project: The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala and the California-based USC Shoah Foundation.

Sandra Gruner-Domic works with the USC Shoah foundation.

She says, “The military came in and separated the villages in groups and made one group kill the other. The children, they had to witness everything. Many of the survivors we have interviewed were kids at the time, and they described the pain of seeing their families, their mothers raped or their sisters killed.”

Some 200,000 civilians were killed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, she adds. Most were Mayans, whose ancestors had lived in the area for centuries. The killings took place mainly in the early 1980s.

Sandra Gruner-Domic says the killings were carried out because the Guatemalan military was fighting different rebel groups. Many Mayans wanted to oust the country’s rulers. At the time, the United States and Soviet Union were competing for control of many areas.

She says, “After the Second World War, the fear of spreading communism in Central America was huge.”

The USC Shoah Foundation is based at the University of Southern California. The foundation says the Guatemalan genocide is not well understood in modern history.

The group has already collected 30 audio-visual statements from genocide survivors. It hopes to tape 100 by the end of the year. They will be added to the foundation’s Visual History Archive. It includes about 53,000 recordings of survivors from genocides, including Europe’s Holocaust during World War II.

Elizabeth Lee reported this story from Los Angeles. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

tragedies – n. very sad or bad situations, often involving great loss

anthropology – n. the study of human races, societies and cultures

foundation – n. an organization or group that operates with donations from people who want to help society

audio-visualadj. able to see and hear something at the same time

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