Tag Archives: genocide

A precedent for the Holocaust: The Armenian genocide and The Promise

by Claudia Moscovici

As Peter Balakian points out in the Preface of his book, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian genocide and America’s response (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004), the Holocaust had a significant historical precedent: one which, unfortunately, is all too often ignored. The Armenian genocide, he states, “has often been referred to as ‘the forgotten genocide,’ ‘the unremembered genocide,’ ‘the hidden holocaust,’ or ‘the secret genocide’” (xvii). He adds that many historians—including Yehuda Bauer, Robert Melson, Howard M. Sachar and Samantha Power–rightfully consider the Armenian genocide as “the template for most of the genocide that followed in the twentieth century” (xviii). Over a century later, Turkey still refuses to acknowledge the systematic and premeditated mass killings of the Armenian population by the Ottoman Turks, even though this genocide, officially recognized as such by 29 countries, is very well documented: “In the past two decades, scholars have unearthed and translated a large quantity of official state records documenting the Committee of Union and Progress’s (Ottoman Turkey’s governing political party) finely organized and Implemented plan to exterminate the Armenians” (xxi). Balakian himself studied “hundreds of U.S. State Department documents (there are some four thousand documents totaling about thirty-seven thousand pages in the National Archives) written by American diplomats that report in depth the process and devastation of the Armenian Genocide. The extermination of the Armenians is also illuminated in British Foreign Office records, and in official records from the state archives of Germany and Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey’s World War I allies. The foremost scholar of the Armenian Genocide, Professor Vahakn Dadrian, has made available in translation body of Turkish sources both primary and secondary” (xxi).

The genocide involved the systematic mass murder and ethnic cleansing of approximately 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during WWI. The extermination started on April 24, 1915, with the deportation and execution of a few hundred Armenian intellectuals from Constantinople. It progressed to the forced conscription, imprisonment in labor camps and murder of able-bodied males. Soon thereafter, it led to the mass murder of women, the elderly and children, who were herded by Turkish military escorts for hundreds of miles across the Syrian desert, without sufficient food, water, medical care or sanitary facilities. The Turks periodically butchered entire villages and communities mercilessly driven on these death marches. Women and young girls were often subjected to rape and torture before being killed. Sometimes the victims were loaded on cattle trains for days, without any provisions, in a manner similar to the Nazi transportation of Jews to concentration camps almost three decades later.

Similarly to the Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian Holocaust didn’t happen out of the blue. Like the Jews in many European countries, the Armenians were considered second-class citizens in the Ottoman Empire. Even during relatively Enlightened times, when the Ottoman rulers granted the Christian and Jewish minorities relative autonomy and minority rights, non-Muslims were still considered to be “gavours”: meaning “infidels” or “unbelievers”. In the Eastern provinces, Armenian villages found themselves subject to higher taxation and often invaded by their Turkish and Kurdish neighbors. Moreover, like the Jews in the Pale of Settlement region, the Armenians fell victim to periodic pogroms.

However, discrimination and subjugation don’t necessarily lead to wide-scale genocide. Consequently, just as the Jews couldn’t have anticipated the extermination of their people by the Nazis, nothing prepared the Armenian communities living under Ottoman rule for their ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Turks. In both cases, world wars were used as an excuse—and incitement–for genocide. The Ottoman Empire entered WWI on August 2, 1914, when it signed a secret treaty with Germany to fight on the side of the Axis powers. The Turkish leadership wanted the local Armenian population to act on their behalf. It called for their insurrection against the Russian Army. The Minister of War, Enver Pasha, launched an attack on the Russians. He attempted to encircle and destroy the Russian army at Sarikamish in order to reclaim Turkish territories occupied by the Russians since 1877. However, his plan failed and his troops were defeated. The Turks blamed their defeat on the local Armenian population, claiming that they were traitors who helped the Russians. Subsequently, able-bodied Armenian men living in the Ottoman Empire were discharged from active military service, disarmed, and sent to forced labor battalions, where many were executed by the Turks.

In a move that would prefigure the Jewish genocide in the Eastern Territories during WWII, on May 29, 2015, the Turkish Central Committee passed a law of deportation (the “Tehcir Law”) that gave the Ottoman Empire the right to deport anyone they considered a threat to “national security,” which, in their minds, included women and children. The mass deportation—in grueling death marches–of the elderly, women and children soon followed. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died from starvation, disease, and being butchered in mass shootings. To carry out genocide, the Turks formed a paramilitary organization that has been compared to the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. The Turkish Committee of Union and Progress founded a “Special Organization”, comprised mostly of Turkish criminals released from prisons, who were put in charge of the deportations and massacres of the Armenians. They killed countless helpless civilians, decimating their numbers through forced marches, shootings, mass burning, drowning and even poisoning. Like the Nazis, the Turks experimented with toxic gases and biological warfare (inoculating healthy Armenians with the blood of typhoid patients). After the Allies defeated the Axis powers, on November 3, 1918 Sultan Mehmet VI was ordered by the Allied administration to hold war trials for the Turkish leaders of the Armenian genocide, which included Mehmed Talaat Pasha, Enver Pasha and about 130 high officials of the Ottoman Empire.

The contemporary movie The Promise (2016), directed by Terry George, captures the trauma of the Armenian genocide in an epic drama reminiscent of War and Peace. The movie traces the love triangle between Mikael, an Armenian medical student who falls in love with Ana, an Armenian tutor educated in France, who is engaged to Chris, an American journalist covering the war for the Associated Press. A small town boy from a poor family, before meeting Ana, Mikael himself becomes engaged to a wealthier neighbor, whose family gives him a dowry (400 gold coins) to cover his expenses for medical school in Constantinople. At a party held by his wealthy uncle, Mikael is introduced to Ana, his nieces’ tutor, as well as Emre, the son of a Turkish official, whom he befriends. He’s smitten with Ana as soon as he meets her. The young woman captivates him with her beauty, culture and sophistication. But the beginning of WWI nips their romance in the bud. Mikael is sent to a labor camp, from which he manages to escape. In one of the most harrowing scenes of the film, Mikael rides on top of a cattle train, hoping to elude the Turkish army and make it back to his native village to help his family. Suddenly it starts to pour. He hears strange sounds emanating from the train: terrible moaning and cries. Hands emerge between the grates of the train, trying in vain to cup the drops of water. To his shock, Mikael discovers that hundreds of Armenian civilians are trapped inside, dying of thirst and hunger. Before jumping off the train, the young man manages to pry open the lock to one of the doors and save the trapped prisoners. He finally makes it to his parents’ house, where the family has an emotional reunion. However, realizing that it would be too dangerous to stay with his parents, Mikael and his fiancée get married in great haste and move to a remote area, where they live together in a rustic cabin. A few months later, his wife becomes pregnant and experiences health complications.

Meanwhile, his friends, Ana and Chris, visit Mikael’s parents trying to locate him. They are helping a group of orphans escape from the murderous Turkish troops. As Mikael joins them on the back roads to lead the orphans to a safer area, he watches helplessly as a group of Turkish soldiers carry off his own family and other inhabitants of his little village, Sirun. He runs to their aid but arrives too late: most of his family and neighbors lie murdered in a ditch. Only his young niece and his mother have (barely) survived, left for dead by the Turks. The rest of the beleaguered Armenian community decides that it’s better to fight to the death rather than be butchered like sheep by the Turks. Armed with rudimentary tools and a lot of courage, the refugees fight valiantly and manage to hold off the Turkish onslaught until a French ship, le Guichen, comes to their rescue. As Mikael takes a lifeboat of orphans to safety, Ana drowns when her boat is capsized by Turkish artillery. Despite their rivalry for her love, both Mikael and Chris mourn her death. This tragedy resolves the tension of the love triangle that had divided them.

The Promise, I believe, follows in the footsteps of War and Peace in depicting war on an epic scale through the optic of a personalized family drama and love story. It alludes to the Armenian genocide, and captures episodes of it, without becoming too didactic. While viewers seem to rate the film highly, the critical reception has been mixed. Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator website, reports that, so far, The Promise received an average rating of 5.7/10. Benjamin Lee, the film critic for The Guardian found the film “soapy” but well intentioned. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times concurred, calling it “corny” and “a derivative of better war romances”. The Nation’s film critic, Pietro A. Shakarian, rated it more highly, claiming “The Promise captures the magnitude of this history [of the Armenian genocide] that no prior film on the genocide has done before.” I agree in part with both perspectives. Like Shakarian, I find The Promise to be a moving epic drama that tackles an important and often overlooked subject. At the same time, I feel that the film sometimes privileges the love triangle at the expense of offering viewers more necessary background about the Armenian genocide. For instance, when depicting the friendship between Mikael and Emre (the son of the Turkish official, who is eventually killed because he didn’t turn against his Armenian friend), the movie may give viewers the false impression that Turks and Armenians peacefully coexisted before the beginning of the war. But, as my previous discussion has described, the status of the Armenians living under Ottoman rule was similar to that of the Jews in many European countries: they were considered (at best) second-class citizens and (at worst) enemies to be killed in pogroms. In both cases, the sociopolitical conditions were ripe for mass extermination. World wars were the catalyst, not the cause, of genocide.

Comments Off on A precedent for the Holocaust: The Armenian genocide and The Promise

Filed under contemporary fiction

Could the Holocaust happen again? Simon Wiesenthal’s answer

Simon-Wiesenthalstudsterkel.org

Alan Levy’s study of the life and works of Nazi hunter and world-renowned author Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi Hunter: The Wiesenthal File (New York, Barnes and Noble Books, 1993), probes the question that is at the bottom of any profound understanding of the Holocaust: Could the Holocaust happen again? Wiesenthal’s answer, found throughout several of his works, is unequivocally yes. It could happen again, even though it’s not likely to start in the same country, or in the same conditions, or even with the same group of victims. But in raising this question, Wiesenthal’s underlying concern is not only will there be another Holocaust against the Jews in particular, but rather against any social groups that other groups wish to obliterate from the face of the Earth. The core of Nazism was racial hatred and intolerance. The Jews were the initial and most relentlessly pursued victims, along with the Gypsies. Both groups were deemed “inhuman” and a plague to humanity by Nazi ideology. The Slavs, whom the Nazis considered subhuman, were next on their list for enslavement and possible extermination. We never know where the Nazi mass murder hit list would have stopped had the Nazis themselves not been stopped by losing the war.

Wiesenthal argues that it’s not accidental that the Holocaust happened to the Jews—a minority group discriminated against in most European countries who didn’t have a country of their own—but the also maintains that genocide could happen again, to the Jews or to other groups of victims, if the following six conditions are met:

 

  1. Hatred. Wiesenthal believed that “Hatred is the juice on which those two monsters of human history, Hitler and Stalin, survived” (23). He argued that most of the Nazi leaders, including Eichmann, wouldn’t have used their skills for genocide had it not been for Hitler’s rise to power.

 

  1. Dictatorship. Genocide is the result of hateful sociopathic leaders who assume total or near-total power in a country. Without establishing totalitarian control of their nations, neither Hitler nor Stalin would have succeeded in killing millions of innocent people.

 

  1. Bureaucracy. Eichmann was first and foremost an efficient bureaucrat; a behind-the-desk mass murderer. The Nazi bureaucratic machine, set up in most countries controlled by or allied to Germany, enabled the extermination machinery to run smoothly.

 

  1. Modern technology. Wiesenthal believes that only modern technology facilitates genocide on such a massive scale. He speculates that had this technology been available to the Spanish Inquisition, they too might have killed the Jews en masse rather than given them the “choice” to convert or die.

 

  1. A world crisis or war. Without the war, and particularly without the World War caused by Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler couldn’t have engaged in such a massive and brazen genocide. WWII focused the Allies’ energies and attention on their primary objective—winning the war—as opposed to the enormous humanitarian crises caused by the Nazi regimes.

 

  1. Minorities as victims. Wiesenthal suggests that the targeted minority groups could be of any kind—racial, ethnic, religious, or political. If a given minority group is oppressed and blamed by sociopathic rulers for their country’s problems, they could become the victims of mass discrimination and eventual extermination in the right circumstances. Wiesenthal states: “when the Turks killed a million and a half Armenians almost a hundred years ago, those six components of genocide were there and they were there, too, when the Spanish Inquisition put twenty people on a stake and burned them. And I can promise you that Hitler has studied very carefully those holocausts.” (See Nazi Hunter, 24). The technology and mass media available to Hitler—which, of course, weren’t available during the Spanish Inquisition–only made his powers of destruction that much greater. As Wiesenthal asks, not purely rhetorically, “What will happen to this world when the haters today, the terrorists, come into possession of the technology of our time?” (Nazi Hunter, 25) We are still in the midst of grappling with this question, which has become increasingly relevant since Wiesenthal raised it.

 

Claudia Moscovici

Literature Salon

 

Comments Off on Could the Holocaust happen again? Simon Wiesenthal’s answer

Filed under Claudia Moscovici, Could the Holocaust happen again?, genocide, Holocaust Memory, Nazi Hunter by Alan Levy, Simon Wiesenthal

Remembering the “forgotten Holocaust”: The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang

ViktoriaNachtpinterestTheRape ofNanking

Iris Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of WWII describes one of the most brutal mass murders in world history: the massacre of over 300,000 Chinese men, women and children by Japanese soldiers in what she calls “an orgy of cruelty” in the (then) capital city of Nanking, during the winter of 1937. The blood bath took place in the span of about six weeks, from December 12, 1937 to February 10, 1938. As Chang states, “Indeed, even by the standards of history’s most destructive war, the Rape of Nanking represents one of the worst instances of mass extermination” (The Rape of Nanking, New York: Penguin books, 1997, 5). What is remarkable about the sheer cruelty of Japanese attack is not only the mass murder of countless innocent civilians, but the also the systematic rape, torture and maiming of women and children.
Chang describes in gruesome detail how Japanese soldiers would gang rape women, ranging from girls only nine or ten years old to elderly women in their 80’s and 90’s. Nobody was safe anywhere, at any time. The rapes occurred at all hours of the day and night, everywhere: in homes, in the streets, in apartments, in offices or stores. Often girls would die from these savage rapes. Not content with raping and humiliating women in a culture that prized female virtue and chastity, some of the Japanese soldiers went on to savagely beat their victims, maim them, cutting off their breasts or vaginas, disemboweling them, ripping babies out of the bellies of pregnant women, and even impaling them with bayonets. Their sadism knew no bounds.
Men were not immune from harm either. In fact, the Japanese first targeted soldiers—and prisoners of war–luring them in groups of about 200 men to designated parts of the city with promises of food, water, and humane treatment. Nothing could have been further from the truth than these false promises. After leaving them without food and water for days, thus weakening their health and spirit, the Japanese soldiers would round up the Chinese prisoners and murder them. Sometimes these mass murders would turn into game-like killing sprees, in which some of the Japanese soldiers would compete with one another in who could kill the most Chinese prisoners. After luring Chinese soldiers to their deaths, thus depriving the city of its defense, the Japanese soldiers turned their rage upon the civilian population of Nanking.
How can one explain this brutality? Chang traces historically the roots of Japan’s martial mentality, starting with the samurai warrior class. She also discusses the more recent, twentieth-century doctrine, of racial superiority to the Chinese. Then she outlines some of the economic factors—particularly the depression of the 1930’s—that, along with the doubling of the population of Japan to 65 million persons, made it “increasingly difficult for Japan to feed its people” (26). The country’s leaders came to view imperial expansion, particularly the conquest of China and its territories, as a solution to these economic and demographic problems.
Ultimately, however, part of the explanation has to do, as in Germany’s case with Hitler, with the malicious decisions of evil leaders. The Japanese leadership—perhaps Prince Asaka himself—issued a clear order to the rank-and-file soldiers: “KILL ALL CAPTIVES” (40). This command was motivated by a total disregard for human life (at least, for the lives of the Chinese captives), as well as by practical concerns. Killing their victims would mean having fewer mouths to feed, fewer people to shelter, and fewer worries about Chinese retaliation. Prince Yasuhiko Asaka (1887-1981), the temporary commander of the Japanese forces in Nanking, was known for his ruthlessness in war. Kesago Nakajima (1881-1945), the Lieutenant General of the Imperial Japanese Army largely responsible for the atrocities committed in Nanking, was far worse. By all accounts, Nakajima was a reputed sadist. According to Chang, David Bergamini describes him in Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy as a “small Himmler of a man, a specialist in thought control, intimidation and torture”. Even his biographer, Kimura Kuninori, calls him “a beast” and “a violent man” (37).
The rape of Nanking, the Holocaust, the Stalinist purges and the many atrocities of WWII don’t prove that humanity, as a whole, is evil. However, these massive atrocities across cultures do prove that there is a percentage of human beings who are capable of unleashing boundless violence in the right conditions. As Chang herself states, “Looking back upon millennia of history, it appears clear that no race or culture has a monopoly on wartime cruelty. The veneer of civilization seems to be exceedingly thin—one that can be easily stripped away, especially by the stresses of war” (55). The Rape of Nanking is a well-documented, remarkable history that goes a long way in making sure that “the forgotten Holocaust” will be remembered by generations to come.Iris

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

Comments Off on Remembering the “forgotten Holocaust”: The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang

Filed under book review, by Iris Chang, Claudia Moscovici, genocide, history, imperial Japan, Iris Chang, literature salon, mass rape, The Rape of Nanking, WWII

Remembering the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Ivy by Gansforever Osman

Ivy by Gansforever Osman

I learned about the Holocaust from my family, from school and from history books. The Holocaust was so horrific that we hoped humanity as a whole had learned something from history and would never commit such atrocities again. Yet I watched with my own eyes, on TV, as it happened again and again, only on a smaller scale: which, of course, didn’t take away from the suffering of the victims. It was the early 1990’s. Between 1992 and 1995, I followed with horror the news reports about the atrocities committed by Serbian soldiers upon ethnic Bosnians in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the span of a few short years, Bosnian Serb forces backed by the Serbian Yugoslav Army attacked Bosnian Muslims. They raped and tortured countless women and girls. They forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. This campaign of “ethnic cleansing” led to the deaths of 100,000 Bosnians. At the time, it was the worst genocide since the one perpetrated by the Nazis during WWII.

Surprisingly, these atrocities happened during an era in which Europe was filled with hope. By the early 1990’s, we had recently celebrated the anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe and the end of the somber Cold War. There was an atmosphere of renewed hope—and faith in democracy–throughout Europe, but particularly in the former communist countries. Yet with the death of totalitarian leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, and the end of the communist rule, the former Yugoslavia disintegrated into tension. It became a place of ethnic struggles and hatred rather than one of burgeoning democracy.

By 1991, the population of Bosnia included about 40 percent Bosnians, 30 percent Serbs and 20 percent Croatians. Tensions built between the ethnic Bosnians and the ethnic Serbs in the region. Under leadership of Radovan Karadzic, the Serbs in Bosnia created their own entity, the Serbian National Assembly. The problems began when the Bosnian Serbs sought to incorporate–by force–Bosnia into a Greater Serbia. Bosnia declared its independence. The U.S. and the European Community recognized Bosnia’s independence in May 1992: a well-intentioned diplomatic move that proved to have disastrous political consequences.

Soon afterwards, Bosnian Serb forces led by the ruthless nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic attacked Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital. This beautiful town, which many of us remember as the picturesque place of the 1984 winter Olympics, became in 1992 a place of death: murder, rape and “ethnic cleansing,” or the forcible expulsion of ethnic Bosnians by Serbian forces.

Although officially the policy of “ethnic cleansing” may not have the same goals as genocide—the physical eradication of a people—it often employs the same inhumane and destructive methods: rape, torture, even murder. Unfortunately, the U.N. refused to intervene and restore peace. This emboldened the Serbian nationalists and worsened the crisis in the region. In 1995, Bosnian Serbs attacked Srebrenica, a Bosnian town, and began a bloody campaign of “ethnic cleansing”. Serbian soldiers separated men from women and girls. They often shot the men in the forest while beating and raping the women and girls. About 8000 Bosnian men were massacred and about 30,000 civilians were expulsed from their homes.

I will never forget one particular incident from the massacre in Srebrenica that was covered on the news in the U.S. What troubled me most was a true story about a Serbian soldier who apparently “saved” a Bosnian girl from gang rape by fellow Serbs. He removed her from the dangerous situation, fed her, protected her and talked to her reassuringly and tenderly for several days. Once he secured her trust, gratitude and devotion, he raped and killed her himself. Afterwards, he boasted about his exploits in English, on an interview on the international news. This degree of psychological sadism exceeds even that of the brutes who raped and killed women without initially faking niceness and caring. What he did to her was more insidious, duplicitous and perverse.

Unfortunately, his action was not an isolated incident. This widespread cruelty was made possible by the cruelty of soldiers pushed to an extreme by misplaced nationalist feelings. It was made possible by a national policy led by unscrupulous leaders that encouraged one ethnic group to view another as, somehow, less than human. And it was also made possible, indirectly, by the U.N.’s lack of intervention until it was too late for tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

 

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

 

 

Comments Off on Remembering the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Filed under Claudia Moscovici, genocide, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, Remembering the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Genocide Indifference

Children starving in the Warsaw ghetto, Wikipedia Commons

Children starving in the Warsaw ghetto, Wikipedia Commons

Genocide Indifference

by Claudia Moscovici

Practically everyone knows that the Holocaust is the biggest genocide in human history.  But not everyone cares about this anymore. I’m not referring only to pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic groups. I fear that, as the last surviving Holocaust victims pass away, genocide indifference is becoming a mainstream phenomenon.  Part of the reason for this detachment may be that the Holocaust reminds us of an almost unimaginable horror and cruelty. The facts themselves are very difficult to absorb. The Holocaust involved the mass murder of approximately six million Jews: about two-thirds of European Jewry. Between the years 1935, when the Nuremberg Laws were established by Adolf Hitler, until 1945, when the Allies liberated Europe, the Jews were systematically deprived of their civil rights, source of income, jobs, savings and property. They were segregated and isolated from non-Jewish friends, neighbors and colleagues in ghettos, where they fell prey to starvation and disease. They were subjected to slave labor. They were rounded up by the SS and by paramilitary units to be shot in front of long ditches (which usually they, themselves, were forced to dig). They were packed up a hundred people into sealed cattle trains with no windows to concentration camps, traveling for days usually without food, water or the chance to relieve themselves. In the camps, they endured conditions of filth, forced labor, brutality, disease and hunger. Those selected for hard labor usually died within a few months from these grueling conditions. Those immediately selected for death were herded into facilities that resembled showers to die an excruciating death by inhaling a toxic gas that took fifteen to twenty minutes to work. Struggling to reach the last pocket of air, the strong trampled on the frail and small. Yes, almost everyone knows this. But does everyone care about it? Or are we becoming indifferent to this genocide of the past? I’d like to explore here some of the possible reasons for Holocaust indifference:

1. Knowledge doesn’t imply caring. In Israel one day is dedicated to remembering the Holocaust and its many victims at school and in the media. In the U. S., The Diary of Anne Frank is taught in most middle schools in a unit on the Holocaust. New generations are exposed to the subject, yet the depth of its tragedy may not register.  This brings me to my second reason: historical distance or presentism.

2. Historical distance. We are decades away from the genocide that the Nazis perpetrated on the Jews, Gypsies, Poles and Slavs during WWII. Why focus on this unpleasant past? Some say, let’s live in the present. There are so many horrible things happening in the world today. Why not work on fixing them instead? My answer is that without knowledge of history it’s difficult to confront the problems of the present. Without learning from history, we may not easily recognize the dangers of autocracy; the vulnerability of democracies; the toxic charisma of sociopathic leaders; the lies or partial truths we are told to justify inhumane actions. Only by learning about the dangers—and horrors—of the past can we recognize them in the present and avoid them in the future.

3. Desensitization. It’s well known that people can become desensitized to gruesome events by familiarity and repetition. The fact we hear often about the Holocaust in history classes or the media doesn’t mean that the horror touches us on an emotional level. In fact, as Raul Hilberg explains in Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders (HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), gradual desensitization to cruelty against Jews was one of the main reasons why so many ordinary people could participate in the killing machinery of the Holocaust.  Initially, the German soldiers hesitated to kill civilians. After a few months in the death squads, however, they felt comfortable enough to kill even children without a second thought: “Again and again, witnesses recall that small children were thrown out of windows, or tossed like sacks into trucks, or dashed against walls, or hurled live into pyres of burning corpses” (p. 54).

4. Ethnic or religious blindspots. Many people have a sense of ethnic belonging and care most about their social group. After all, nobody can care about every bad thing that happens in this world. But caring only about your social group not only diminishes the capacity for empathy, but also gives you a potentially dangerous blindspot. Those who care only about their ethnic or religious group are more likely to support harm done to other groups. They are also more likely to miss the obvious: the bad things that happened to others can happen to your group too. Ethnic and religious discrimination sets a dangerous precedent. Conversely, when you care about the rights of others you defend your human rights too.

5. Nationalist pride. I think nationalism and patriotism can be very positive phenomena. They give those living in a country a sense of cohesion and pride. But there is such a thing as misplaced patriotism. There are some things that your country has done that nobody should be proud of. Denying that they happened or shifting blame is not a constructive way to keep the glory and unity of one’s country intact. Now that so many formerly communist countries have become democratic, it’s time that they face the truth about their role in the Holocaust. Today’s generations are not to blame for what their ancestors did. But they are to blame for the truth that they deny. In short, there are no good reasons for genocide indifference.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memory

Comments Off on Genocide Indifference

Filed under Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, genocide, genocide indifference, Holocaust indifference, Literatura de Azi, literature salon, Nazi Germany, reasons for Holocaust indifference, the Holocaust