Many are alarmed to hear some Indo-Guyanese say we should forget the Wismar Massacre -- let bygones be bygones and focus instead on the present and development. Must the world let slavery or independence or indentureship or the American revolution or Gandhi’s peace struggle for freedom go to rest – forget about them? Must the massacres of Jews, Koreans, Sepoy Mutiny, Black Hole of Calcutta, and others be forgotten? The record would show that Wismar Massacre was forgotten for decades. Did this lapse in memory prevent election rigging in Guyana? Did the country experience development between 1966 and 1992 when the Massacre was forgotten? Has it stopped the racial discrimination that Indians have experienced from May 2015 to now? Were the Indian ancestors of Guyana that bad that some Indo-Guyanese joined members of other ethnic groups to say forget about the ancestors? Almost the entire Indo-Guyanese population in the diaspora and in Guyana disagree. They say we must remember tragic horrors like Wismar massacre and let them be permanently etched in our memory.
The massacre was the culmination of growing anti-Indian sentiment leading to racially motivated violence. The public need be reminded that many Guyanese personally saw the horrors that occurred at Wismar and McKenzie. Many grew up with the stories of survivors of Wismar. The country must not forget what happened to the Indian people in the 1960s and the period of rigged elections. We are the last surviving generation of that era. We must let our descendants know the history of the terrible things of that era. We must commemorate the Wismar massacre. Remembering it and similar tragedies are necessary to ensure that nothing like that ever happen again.
The Wismar massacre was planned violence against Indians that led to the death of many and the uprooting of over 3,000 Indians in Wismar/McKenzie area of Guyana – the first official ethnic cleansing of a people after the Jewish Holocaust. Indians were beaten, robbed, murdered, raped, and driven from their homes and forced to leave.The independent international media described the attack on Indians, who were an ethnic minority in the area, “as an orchestrated orgy of violence. It was an ethnic cleansing.”
The official British government report on the Wismar Massacre said it “was politically and racially inspired….and the fact that the security forces were in no case able to apprehend arsonists forces us to conclude that the destruction was not ‘spontaneous’, but was organised, and well organised”.
Reports say the Indians were beaten and robbed; regrettably, some of their (trusted) neighbors took part in the pogrom. Indians who gave gold and cash to neighbors for safe keeping were robbed. Some 3,000 Indians were victims of terror, murder, physical barbarism, and psychological trauma. They were uprooted from their homes, other properties, businesses and jobs. They lost gold, money, and other valuables in the tens of millions of dollars of value at that time (tens of billions in today’s value). They fled for their safety and were not allowed to return to their properties or recoup valuables. They received no compensation for their humongous losses. The victors celebrated the defeat of the Indians who offered no resistance to the attackers; Indians were simply outnumbered.
At a recent conference on the Wismar Massacre in New York, eyewitnesses (survivors) said several Indians were murdered, hundreds of women raped (including little children), over two hundred and twenty-five Indian homes and dozens of businesses razed to the ground, and temples and masjids desecrated as Indians fled for their lives. Shortly after the Wismar massacre, there was a massive celebration in Wismar in which speakers spoke gleefully of running the Indians from the area and seizing their wealth.
As speakers noted, the attackers were cruel, evil people who didn’t care for the sanctity of life. They killed Indians at random and at free will like they were non-people. It was noted that a volunteer soldier was caught carry a bomb to blow up a bridge where the fleeing Indians gathered. He was disarmed by an Indian volunteer. Had the soldier succeeded in his demonic plot, hundreds more Indians would have been killed.
In 1965, Indians commemorated May 26 as a day of remembrance of what happened to them. News reports in 1966 stated that Forbes Burnham deliberately chose May 26 as Guyana independence day to celebrate his triumphalism over Indians that took place at Wismar. Speakers at the Wismar conference echoed that claim. Why chose May 26 for independence? Why not another day when May 26 was a day that Indians used to commemorate the victims of the massacre. Dr. Jagan and the PPP opposed May 26 as Independence Day and largely boycotted celebrations. Indians are told to forget what happened to them on May 26. Let it be, some say, in the interest of unity. What unity? Where is the unity? How can there be unity if you tell half of the population ‘forget what happened to your people on May 26’!
The appalling Wismar massacre of Indians caused very serious suffering of the Indian people in Guyana and the country as a whole. Commemorating it is a moral duty of Indo-Guyanese everywhere (in Guyana and in the diaspora). It is felt that May 26 should be the Indo-Guyanese ‘Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Wismar-McKenzie Massacre’, including little children, pregnant women, all who were killed, robbed, raped, and victimized.
May 26 should not only be commemorated as Guyana independence but it must also serve as a reminder to all Guyanese that it is a date of infamy. This is the first incidence of official ethnic cleansing of a community in any part of the globe after the Jewish pogrom of Europe. It is a historic date that the country must not forget. Memorial service should also be held for the victims. Compensation for the victims should be considered. If Independence Day May 26 is significant to one segment of the population, then May 26 must also be significant for the other segments of the population -- those who were victims of the massacre. We cannot commemorate one event of the day and exclude the other. We cannot tell one group to conveniently forget what happened to them and move on while the other group celebrates their victory over the Indians.
Every community commemorates massacres – Armenian, Ukranian, Chinese, American Indian, African, Jews, etc. Why shouldn’t Indians do same? It is important to journey into the past. What we learn today is drawn from the past that has not been forgotten. Recognition of what happened and holding people accountable is an important aspect of history. To say we should forget the past and concentrate only on the present is to forget important lessons. We cannot pick and choose what we commemorate and what we remember. We are historical beings. And those who try to forget history are doomed to repeat it. In short, there will be more Wismar Massacres unless we understand why it happened and what must be done to prevent its reoccurrence.