Testimonial of Diane Bannon

Diane Bannon
Adjunct Professor – US Government
Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Adjunct Professor – Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Camden County College, Blackwood, New Jersey
2015 Asia Study Tour Participant

Being accepted as a member of this 2015 Study Tour was an honor for me.  My research preparing for the trip exposed not only the horror of what the Chinese citizens endured but how the history had been buried in terms of educational resources.  Facilitating courses in U. S. Government and Holocaust & Genocide, I arrived in China with preconceived notions and bias, which were formulated by my interpretation of both media articles and U. S. government interaction with this country.  Every one of my courses covers the topic of bias at length, where it comes from and how it is swayed.  My focus as an educator was to gather as much first hand testimony as possible in an endeavor to return to the U. S. prepared to present this topic within the realm of genocide and medical ethics.  I found myself, during the first few days, saturated with cultural overload, overwhelmed by the loss to communicate, and struggling to adapt to having all interaction interpreted by another.   I quickly realized that “trust” was at the heart of this journey.

We were privileged to meet so many survivors who had traveled great distances to meet with us.  Knowledgeable authors, professors, film makers, web designers and historians were our guides.  This trip was meticulously planned.  As our group formulated a sense of family, we became united in our commitment to ensure the voices of these individuals were heard.

Reviewing all of the experiences where we had the privilege of meeting Survivors, and the unique experience each one shared, there was one encounter that stood out for me.  It was when we were in Beijing and met with Mr. Tian Chunsheng who had traveled a distance with his son to share his story of being taken as a child to Japan as a slave laborer.  At each prior interaction the Survivors had been treated in a manner similar to how we care for our Holocaust Survivors, with kindness and attentiveness.  It may have been the proximity of where he was seated, or that he was seated alone, or that he just looked anxious, I am not sure.  He sat through a lecture and waited patiently for his opportunity to speak.  I found myself unsettled as he waited, a feeling that became more intense as time went by understanding how difficult it is to recall the life changing experience he had endured.

Arriving home and reflecting brought that experience back to me and I recognized the connection.  My connection with the Holocaust Survivor community is very personal.  These individuals are a part of my extended family and I care about them deeply.  I avoid asking them to speak during my evening classes understanding the lingering impact these testimonies have on them once they leave the classroom.  My heart aches for what they had been forced to endure and no matter how many times I witness their first-hand account, I feel that same pain over and over.  What happened that day in Beijing was that throughout the trip I had personally made that same connection with the Chinese Survivors and they have been added to my “family”.   They took the journey to meet us driven by trust that we would listen to their accounts, acknowledge their suffering, and carry their story forward.  I am now responsible for ensuring this happens.   Leaving the building that day I saw Mr. Tian Chunsheng in the distance standing to the side as our group left.  I paused when I reached him and we made eye contact.  He extended his hand which I held with both of mine as I thanked him.  My pledge had taken place not in my head but in my heart and my commitment grows stronger every day to make sure these Survivors have a voice in our country.    China’s survivors can trust that I will remain dedicated to this commitment.

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