April 24, 2015

100 Years of Armenian Genocide

On April 24th, the systematic massacre and deportation of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire is commemorated. From 1915 to 1923, the Armenians were persecuted, stripped of their homes under arrest and immediately deported into the Empire to be murdered. The brutal mass murders resulted in the death of 1,500,000 Armenians.

The mission of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation is to develop educational programs and public awareness campaigns based on the values of solidarity and civic courage, ethical cornerstones of the Saviors of the Holocaust.

The Armenian Genocide also had saviors. There were stories of bravery and heroism peaceful resistance. Beatrice Rohner, like Raoul Wallenberg, used her diplomatic protection to save a lot of orphans, whose parents were killed by the Ottoman authorities.

Beatrice, coincidentally (or not), was born on April 24.

Beatrice Rohner

Beatrice Rohner was born in Basle on 24 April 1876 and grew up in Switzerland. After working as a teacher in both Paris and Istanbul, in 1900 she moved to Marash (today Kahramanmaras) where she joined the Hülfsbund für christliches Liebeswerk im Orient, a humanitarian organization set up in Frankfurt in 1896.

Entitled to the protection granted to German diplomats between 1915 and 1917, she became a leading member of the Aleppo resistance movement that tried to counteract the extermination of the Armenians. The temporary permit that allowed Beatrice Rohner to run an orphanage effectively enabled her to rescue a large number of Armenian children whose parents had perished during the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman authorities.

Despite knowing all too well that her actions were absolutely unacceptable for the Ottoman government, and that her position as a woman made things even more difficult, Beatrice Rohner took full responsibility for them. She also accepted the risk of managing the very considerable funds donated mainly by Swiss aid organizations and by the German and American consulates. Though sizeable, these were never enough for the enormous task in hand or for the corrupt and avid Turkish government officials. Despite all this, Beatrice Rohner continued her dual existence with one official job and another clandestine activity under the threat of martial court, going far beyond any formal observance of legality. In her humanitarian aid work she was fortunate enough to count on an extensive network of volunteers from the local Armenian communities. They shared her strong moral convictions and carried on working despite incessant threats and persecution. In the end, many of her collaborators lost their lives. In spite of all this, the orphanage held out until 1917 when the children were abducted by force and sorted into different government-run orphanages. Only then Beatrice Rohner was forced, against her will, to give up her brave and tireless efforts and return to Europe, where she died at home in Wüstenroth on 9 February 1947.

Thanks to her efforts, a large number of children escaped the genocide (it is calculated that in 1916 Beatrice Rohner managed to save 720 Armenian orphans, the only ones to survive out of approximately 3336 child deportees). Her courage also provides us with fundamental historic testimony of what happened in Aleppo between 1915 and 1917, thanks to her reports, regularly filed in the archives of the German Foreign Ministry and by the American Committee for Foreign Missions.

Translation: IRWF