Courage in humanitarian crises

Dr. Floyd Olin Smith and his family

Dr. Floyd Olin Smith, who worked as a missionary with his wife, Bessie, arrived in Dyabakir, Turkey, in 1914. After he heard about atrocities committed against Armenians in 1915, he treated hundreds of victims of deportation and torture despite warnings by Turkish authorities to not do so. Almost 30 years later, Dr. Smith again became a medical rescuer, treating fellow inmates in Japanese prisoner of war camps in the Philippines.

In the early 1940s, Dr. Julius de Clercq Zubli defied Nazi orders by tending to the medical needs of segregated Jews in Amsterdam. He distributed forged food rations stamps to Jews in hiding and issued false medical certificates that enabled many Jews in Holland to avoid deportation to extermination camps. Arrested in May 1944, Dr. Zubli survived two concentration camps and restarted his practice in Amsterdam after the war.

Dr. Julius de Clercq Zubli

Health providers perform heroic acts almost daily, but their efforts are even more remarkable when they occur during humanitarian crises. A traveling exhibit produced by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), which debuts at Des Moines University today, highlights some of these health care heroes. “Doctors and Nurses as Rescuers in Humanitarian Crises,” on exhibit in the DMU Library through May 1, describes individuals who worked tirelessly to save others during war, genocide and other atrocities, even when it meant putting their own lives in danger.

The exhibit is one of three genocide awareness events this month, sponsored by multicultural affairs; the DMU Library; the DMU department of behavioral medicine, medical humanities and bioethics; and UNI. The events are free and open to the public.

On Friday, April 21, the Grinnell College Dance Ensemble/ACTivate will perform “Inventive Connection,” an excerpt from the spring production “Staying with the Trouble,” based on a book by Donna J. Haraway. The dance, which will take place over the noon hour in DMU’s Olsen Center, is a moment for regeneration, an abstract breathing space for the spirit.

Dr. Stephen Gaies

Then on Monday, April 24, Dr. Stephen Gaies, professor and director of UNI’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education, will give a talk beginning at noon in the SEC Auditorium titled “Genocide Awareness in a Challenging World.”

Plan to attend these events to help us all become more aware of genocide and its consequences.

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