What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Tibi Galis and I am from Romania. Transylvania. And I am currently living in New York.
What have you been working on during your time at SPACE?
I have been working with my colleagues from the Auschwitz Institute, which is an NGO which deals with mass atrocity prevention issues. So, we spent the week developing a bit of our evaluation and monitoring framework, basically understanding better and creating a more structured view of our method of engaging with our work. Really, what we do is assist government in developing policies to deal with mass atrocity prevention. We do that both through educational programs and through creating programs that are institution building in the government. This week, we spent mapping out the steps we have to pass through traditionally when we have a government that is willing to participate in our technical programs. We learned about ourselves and our theory of change and then trying to set up a monitoring and evaluation system based on what we talked on.
How long have you been a company?
We were created in 2006 as a not for profit and we got our legal papers in January 2007. In 2008, we had our first program. Now we’re in that tricky time after five years that a lot of programs in the US die. We made it past in May.
Could you tell me about the inception of the institution?
The Auschwitz Institute is the initiative of a New Yrok philanthropist, Fred Schwartz. It’s the result of his decades long work in Auschwitz in Poland. In 1989, he visited Auschwitz and was surprised to see that not only was it a concentration camp but it is also a larger space. It is next to a town called Oświęcim which was Auschwitz during German occupation times. He saw that there was a community, a very lively town. He was a bit surprised because most people think the camps are in the middle of nowhere and he started to be interested in what happened. He was surprised that almost half of the population of the town before the Holocaust was Jewish and found some cultural institutions of Jewish life that still existed. He renovated one of the 12 local synagogues, the only surviving synagogue at Auschwitz, and turned it into a cultural center and synagogue and a museum of Jewish life. Still, he felt like that wasn’t enough in terms of engaging with life. He was interested in making Auschwitz a place that talks about life past and future. After the creation of the Auschwitz Jewish Center he started to offer scholarships for researchers, military scholars, for cadets. He was interested in moving past the discourse of the past and looking to the future. And that’s how the Auschwitz Institute was created. To address the lessons of Auschwitz in today’s world, basically trying to make “Never Again” not just a slogan we talk about at commemorations but to make something relevant for humanity.
You don’t just work in Auschwitz, correct? There are other countries you work with?
Yes. We have had more than sixty countries go through our programs and we are lucky in that way because our global program and our Latin American program are co-organized with the United Nations. Beyond that, we don’t only work with Auschwitz as a memory site but also Esma in Argentina as a memory site. Some of our seminars and gatherings also happen there. Esma was the largest detention center during the dirty war that the military dictatorship used.
Could you talk about that phrase “Memory Site” and what that means?
We believe that memory sites are very important for our work. They are spaces that are somehow related to, in our case, past mass atrocities. Our curriculum director, Professor Jim Waller, talks about the power of place. The sites have a certain power that they exercise on the visitors. Of course, it’s not always predictable. How one engages with a certain space is dependent on one’s personality. Still , they have a strong voice that we believe in and make the conscious decision to use within our programs to provide for the emotional support that mass atrocity is. We provide for our programs both intellectual support for that through education training programs but memory sites are very important because they are the ones that create the opportunity for our participants to attach a very strong emotional dimension to their work.
How has your group being here in this SPACE affected your work?
I think everybody in our group can agree and everyone voiced that it’s been a really amazing opportunity to be here. It’s amazing beyond the discourse of creativity. SPACE is about practices of creativity and that was really mobilizing for us. That came through in our work. It is an environment that is perfect for creating new ideas and helping us improve what we do. It’s amazing to see how the place which is so wonderfully shaped as being helped by the wonderful people who assist in creativity and allowing us to do our work in the most comfortable way possible.
How have you been spending your time at SPACE day to day?
We structured the day in two parts. The first, we spoke about our theories of change. The rest of the day we spent on individual work, on reflection that would prepare the group work. Some of us had to deal with emergencies involving our work which was another reason that SPACE was an ideal place because we could dedicate some time to that because you’re not cut off from the world. The other part was very important, the rest of the day was spent relaxing and interacting with people outside of our group who were very inspiring and helped us get that energy for our group work.
What’s coming up next for your group?
Many things! We have a very busy Autumn. We work on regional projects in Latin America and Africa, those have very busy schedules of governmental meetings and projects. We also have our global UN seminar happening in December in Poland. Also, just trying to be a bit better in reaching out to new partners and keeping in touch with our old partners and activating them. That’s what’s in store for us in Autumn!
If you were to be reincarnated as a farm animal which animal would it be and why?
Ah! After this week I’d have to say Socks [the dog]. Am I allowed to say Socks? Definitely Socks because of his amazing capacity to get everyone to connect to him. He has been the true star of this week.
He’s the SPACE mascot. I’m making it official.
I second that.
Interviewed by Marisa Brau