A memorial rock at Sonoma State University dedicated to victims of the Japanese Imperial Military during the Pacific War anchors the university’s study of genocide with the work of local activists.
A mathematics professor at Sonoma State, Jean Bee Chan, had a brother who died of starvation and inadequate medical care during the Japanese Imperial Military invasion of China in World War II. For the past year, Chan has been working to include a memorial for the Asian holocaust in Sonoma's Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove. Chan is also president of the Rape of Nanking Redress Coalition, which seeks an apology from Japan for 14 years of brutality against civilians in Asian countries from 1931 to 1945.
Twenty-six bricks in scripted with messages to victims -- one reads “For my sisters who died under Japanese Imperial Military occupation at ages 2 and 3 rest in peace" -- were dedicated along with the 11-foot rock bench. Chan said the rock bench is the first memorial in North America to honor Pacific War victims.
“Words cannot capture the overwhelming tragedy of genocides and wars, and of human capacity for inhumanity,” Chan said during a dedication ceremony. “This memorial rock speaks volumes to express the weight of the forgotten Asian Holocaust.”
The grove honors survivors and victims of genocides, including Native Americans and Armenians, those in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur, and Jews during the Holocaust. The site also features a sculpture, a brick walkway engraved with memorial messages and a sapling derived from a tree behind the annex where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis.
The memorial reflects the university’s ties to academics who study genocide and to members of the community affected by genocide. Sonoma State opened the Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in 1987 because of the efforts of two professors who had survived death camps during the Holocaust, as well as other community members.
“The dream of having this grove was really a coming together of all of that,” said Myrna Goodman, director at the center.
Now, 100 upperclassmen sign up each spring to take Perspectives on the Holocaust and Genocide. The lecture series welcomes prominent Holocaust scholars and the university has become a well-known hub in the academic community for those who study genocide, Goodman said.
The center serves as a forum to educate both about the details of Holocaust and other genocides and to discuss the prevention of prejudice and genocide, she said.