You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Holocaust’ tag.
In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, a scholar and activist on the topic of gender and gender-based violence in the context of genocide and mass atrocities. Last year she published an article titled “Gender and the Future of Genocide Studies and Prevention” in the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention, and in addition to having been an instructor at the Auschwitz Institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, she will be contributing to a forthcoming volume on the prevention of mass atrocities, edited by the Auschwitz Institute.
Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Today we’re looking at an often overlooked and under-discussed aspect of mass atrocities: gender. Joining me is Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, a prolific speaker on the subject and author of an article last year called “Gender and the Future of Genocide Studies and Prevention.” Hello, Elisa. Great to have you with us.
Thank you so much. Great to be here.
Why do we need to consider gender and gender-based violence as factors in the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities?
Well, there’s several ways to answer that. I think the primary reason it’s important that we look at gender-based violence when we’re thinking about the prevention of mass atrocities is that it is a very early warning signal when a conflict is underway. There are specific types of gender-based violence that I believe have a high correlation with genocide down the road, and when we see them used by a certain perpetrating group — whether it’s a state, or a political party, or a cadre within an armed force — when we see them using these specific forms of gender-based torture and patterns of killing, and sexual violence in particular, we can predict with some accuracy the spread of this sort of violence to greater and greater numbers of people down the road, if it’s left unchecked. And that is if there isn’t any diplomatic, political, economic, or, as a last resort, military intervention.
It isn’t talked about very much, rape and violence against women, or at least they aren’t much focused on. What do you think that says about our concerns?
There seems to be an intellectual block, in a sense, in the study of genocide to considering rape as an integral part of genocide. Of course there are many scholars who do. But in policymaking circles, frequently the widespread presence of rape or mass rape in a conflict, when it’s not attended also by co-ed massacre sites, is seen to be a special category that we call mass atrocity but not genocide. So in other words, you have several cases where the existence of gender-selective massacres of men, alongside the mass rape of women who were allowed by and large to continue living, you see that pattern used as a way to argue that genocide had not taken place, but rather war crimes, or crimes against humanity, or this much less specific term, “mass atrocity.”
What roles do you think that culture and religion play in these occurrences? Do you think there’s anything to arguments for cultural relativity, cultural sensitivity, or are we dealing with human rights that transcend those borders?
Yeah, that’s a very interesting question, and I think it’s an important one. I see these as universals, simply because they occur in similar formats throughout most of the cases of genocide that I’ve looked at, and then also cases that aren’t commonly considered to be genocide that I would include within an understanding of genocidal processes, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, or the current conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. So there is a kind of a universal dimension to these, in that genocide expresses itself very similarly across cases. Where I think cultural sensitivity is really important, and where it becomes very interesting, is, you know, the differences in patterns. Why in certain places one kind of atrocity is more pronounced than another, for example. And what cultural factors lead to that, and whether or not those cultural factors then themselves have contributed to this genocidal process, or are they just being drawn on or implicated in the genocidal process because they exist. So those sorts of questions are very important.
I think genocide is a universal crime and that it is universally frowned upon, and should be, and so we can be safe to say that if there’s a culture that’s caught up in a genocidal logic over a long period of time that humanity needs to respond, that there needs to be some response to that. Where I think cultural relativism becomes problematic is when it treats different cultures in a kind of ossified and rigid way that actually shares some characteristics with genocidal thinking by imposing strict trenches between different groups that can’t be bridged through human conversation or dialogue. And I think that oftentimes one will find people retreating to that type of cultural relativism, when it appears, when the persons promoting the prevention of genocide are not investigating genocidal dynamics in their own societies. Where I’ve gotten questions related to cultural relativism is often in situations where it’s felt that Americans are always going around the world telling people to be aware of genocide and how to prevent genocide, without sufficient awareness of our own history of genocide and lingering patterns within our society that emerge from that history, as well as red flags that we have in this country. So to avoid that I think it’s very important that whenever we’re talking about genocide prevention, and in all of our studies of genocide, that we seek to be truly universal in the cases that we look at, right, and universal in the societies that we target for long-term prevention of genocide. And those should and have to include Western countries, including the United States.
In cases where we can identify those cultural causes that contribute toward genocide or can lead to that, do you think that it may be necessary, or do you think it may be justifiable, for the international community or for international actors to take a stand against those practices, against those factors?
Yeah, that’s a very interesting and sensitive question, and I’m glad you asked it. This question was very relevant of course to the debate about and the struggle against female genital cutting, right, or what’s often called female genital mutilation. And it was actually very harmful when there appeared to be a unidirectional command from on high that certain societies stop this practice. What was much more effective was when local NGOs — often aided by training or funding or dialogue with international bodies — but when local NGOs began initiatives to speak with the practitioners of this, to speak with parents, to speak with young people and leaders within communities to try and change the way that this practice was seen, and replace it with other practices that could ritually or culturally attain the same goals without actually harming young girls.
So I think that when we’re looking at long-term factors that contribute to genocide, one of the most important things we can do is be in dialogue with local human rights groups, local civics groups, local intellectuals, obviously — in a truly dialogic and equal fashion, where everybody’s laying out a set of ideas about what can lead to genocide. And so that you have, internally within a society, a genocide watchdog that is going to be much more sensitive and much more aware of the meaning of certain cultural practices and their potential dangers down the road than any outsider could ever be, unless of course they spent a great deal of time there and speak the language.
You’ve been talking a lot about Syria lately. There’s been a lot of concern in the international community about the possibility of genocide of the Alawites. Do you think that horse is already out of the stable?
Yes. I do. But it depends on how you look at it and how you’re defining things. Since we all agree, I think, that genocide is a process, I think we’re in the genocidal process. But perhaps we need to make a distinction between the process of genocide and the fact of genocide after the end of hostilities. It’s only of course in retrospect that we can be absolutely sure, right, or close to 100 percent sure, that something we would call a genocide happened. The Rwandan genocide looked very different at the beginning of the hundred days than it did at the end. And this was one of the problems with garnering international support for some kind of effective intervention there. And so it’s similar in Syria. However, what we do see in Syria is focused attacks on children. So not just killing by shelling, not that kind of impersonal killing, but very personalized, ritualized, torturous killing of children, both in front of their parents at the site of massacres, but also in detention, then I think that says something about the intent of the regime, or certain groups within the regime.
Can you tell us a little about your contribution to Deconstructing Prevention? Are there pertinent situations or issues you think we need to focus on that have cropped up since your 2012 article?
Yeah, that’s interesting. I think the rise of the use of the term “mass atrocity” is a very interesting thing, and it comes out of the despair that many felt during the genocide in Darfur, where it felt that a lot of the tension was taken away from the horror going on in Darfur and instead devoted to a very useless and highly politicized debate about whether or not this conflict conformed to the UN legal definition of genocide. So “mass atrocities” grew out of that sense of frustration. Who cares if it’s genocide, let’s just call it mass atrocities. But I think one of the reasons that could happen, that we needed to replace this powerful term “genocide” with “mass atrocity,” is that Darfur followed a very gender-selective pattern of genocide. And so you have men routinely massacred, whereas women were raped and allowed to continue living. And it was the fact of their continued existence that often was the reason that people were unwilling to call what was going on in Darfur genocide and instead wanted to call it ethnic cleansing, or civil war, or counterinsurgency. And so it’s out of a very gendered idea of what genocide is that this term “mass atrocity” has been created. So I think that we need to interrogate that. We need to look at why it is that we needed to create a term like “mass atrocity,” whether or not it’s effective to have an even more vague and debatable term, in a sense.
Gender and genocide was a long-term interest of mine. I didn’t know that’s what it was, but I’d always been interested in women’s Holocaust testimonies and the ways that the National Socialists sought to destroy women as women, and use children against them to do so, which is a common theme in testimonials and memoirs from the Holocaust. So I brought those two together and was doing work on gender and genocide, and then it was only through a fluke, in a sense, that Adam Jones, whose work I find to be wonderful and has been very influential on my own work, suggested me to the Auschwitz Institute to get involved in these genocide prevention — the Raphael Lemkin workshops and seminars that you guys hold. And so it was through that path, and it was really the Auschwitz Institute that got me thinking about how I can utilize my research on gender and genocide for genocide prevention.
Well, I hope you’ll continue to push our definitional outlooks on genocide and mass atrocities, and keep gender a part of the conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you very much.
Photo: Courtesy Elisa von Joeden-Forgey
Second Generation: Educating the Children of Genocide
Nineteen years ago this month, Rwandans experienced genocide at the hands of Hutu extremists who sought to destroy the entire Tutsi ethnic population in the country, along with Hutu moderates who refused to support an agenda of extermination. The slaughter was incredibly efficient, as more than 800,000 individuals were murdered over roughly 100 days by their machete-wielding neighbors while the United Nations and the rest of the world looked on. For Rwanda, it seemed, the promise of “never again” did not apply.
While it is impossible to compare the suffering of individuals targeted for death because of their identity, the horrors that unfolded in Rwanda in 1994 are reminiscent of the horrific and calculated destruction associated with the Holocaust in 1940s Europe. In both instances, specific groups of individuals were singled out in a systematic and premeditated manner, resulting in catastrophic death tolls and leaving behind countless survivors who have endured assaults on both their dignity and their humanity. It is this parallel survivorship that has begun to resonate with victims of both genocides, and it is a relationship that has developed and continued to grow into the second generation of survivors and victims.
On April 4, this shared experience manifested itself in an event that joined the remembrance of the Holocaust with the commemoration of the 19th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The panel discussion, which took place at the Museum of Tolerance in New York, was titled “Educational Challenges for the Second Generation and Beyond,” and featured five different speakers. As the title of the discussion indicates, the focus of the evening was on education and the imperative role it plays in helping the descendants of genocide victims and survivors understand the impact of their families’ suffering on their own lives. In this way, education can also be a tool for prevention, as it is centered on the belief that past hostilities and injustices can be overcome. As moderator Dr. Yael Danieli of the Group Project for Holocaust Survivors and Their Children stated in her opening remarks, the goal is to “try to prevent the transformation [of trauma] from generation to generation.”
The first panelist of the evening was Sue Lob, founder and executive director of the Voices of Women Organizing Project, whose father survived a year of internment at Mauthausen, and whose mother lived in hiding to escape the Nazi purge. Lob summarized the impact of the Holocaust on her family by referring to it as a “legacy of both trauma and resilience,” noting that her parents rarely discussed their experiences, indicating the lasting effects of what they had been made to endure. From a resiliency perspective, however, Lob affirmed that “what survivors bring to us is this real legacy of their ability to adapt,” along with a powerful sense of tenacity and stubborn will. Explaining that this was the first time she had chosen to speak about her family’s story in public, Lob concluded by offering her reasoning for finally doing so: “I didn’t want to stand by the way the world [had] stood by.”
Lob was followed by the organizer of the evening’s discussion, Eugenie Mukeshimana, a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and founder and executive director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network (GSSN). She began by stating that “it sounds very strange, but we remember [the genocide] as if it was yesterday,” referencing the unspoken issues that haunt survivors as constituting a “world they live in that is inside, not known.” In particular, Mukeshimana noted how children, impoverished and oftentimes orphaned after the genocide, were faced with these adult issues, but lacked access to resources like counseling that could have assisted them. While interventions have historically focused on the first generation – that is, adults and teenagers who were alive during the genocide and directly experienced its horrors – “the second generation is turning nineteen,” and such intervention initiatives cannot be sustained unless this second generation is taken into account. Specifically, Mukeshimana mentioned that many children attend school with the children of those who murdered their parents, which provides a platform for potential problems both now and in the future. As she aptly noted, “it takes much longer to get rid of the ideology that created [the genocide] in the first place,” and concluded by stating that “we need to begin looking at the way we can support education” in Rwanda.
Ed Ballen, a clinical social worker and the founder and executive director of the Rwanda Education Assistance Program (REAP), spoke after Mukeshimana. After visiting an orphanage in Rwanda in 2006, he stated that he felt a particular connection to the place, and in 2008 started the nonprofit REAP by opening a public school where children from that orphanage could attend classes. Expressing his adherence to the notion that “education is a fundamental human right for all children,” Ballen explained that REAP’s mission is to enrich the environment to learn for these kids. This is accomplished through a five-pillar approach, comprising community, engagement, education outside the classroom, health and well-being, and the environment. Ballen also noted a few challenges that the REAP faces, such as a lack of clean drinking water for students, and the fact that most pupils have a long walk to and from the school each day. Teaching also poses problems, as a teacher in primary school only has a high school education, and is often devalued in society for having chosen that career path. Yet Ballen is hopeful, saying that “when I feel overwhelmed, what keeps me going is holding on to the face of the children of Rwanda. I can see the hope.” He concluded by echoing this sentiment in a paraphrase of Levinas, saying that “our ethical behavior begins with the human face” of the Other.
After Ballen was Barrett Frankel, the development and communications manager of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), another education-based organization that serves Rwandan youth. Specifically, ASYV offers 500 Rwandan youth a holistic living, learning, and healing community, which they are a part of for four years. The mission of the organization is to help students realize their maximum potential, as well as to cultivate a sense of social responsibility, so that each student might become an “educator and an investor in the generation.” The main axioms of ASYV are the focus provided on the individual student, formal and informal education, health and wellness, and education on other genocides, such as what occurred in the Holocaust and Bosnia. In addition, Frankel talked about how instead of punishing students for misbehavior, ASYV has developed a “DNA” approach, which stands for discussion, negotiation, and agreement. As she explained, “life is about repair,” and the most important lesson one can learn from the incident is to understand the consequences of an individual’s actions on the whole community. In this spirit, Frankel also emphasized giving kids a voice, and instilling in them “the power to think for themselves, well beyond their four years” at ASYV.
The last panelist, Dr. Racelle Weiman, is the director of Global Education and Professional Training for the Dialogue Institute at Temple University. She also serves on the GSSN board, and underlined the importance of empowerment – that is, “how to help people help themselves.” In particular, Weiman promoted the ownership of Rwandans and all survivors of genocide in finding their voice and sharing their story, and that in doing so they should be cognizant of their audience. In other words, she asked, “What is the story that you want them to tell?” and repeatedly emphasized, “You are your own voice.”
Perhaps a few words from Dr. Danieli best capture how important education can be for survivors and the prevention of repeated trauma. As she states, education “must be embraced and contained within a healing environment” – “you don’t want successful people who can’t manage their heart.” Thus, the greatest opportunity education might provide is the chance to envision life differently, in harmony with one’s community, and in recognition of one’s individual agency to write a future that is different from the past, so as to ensure that “never again” means what it was always intended to.
Photo: Eugenie Mukeshimana
An Open Secret:
Remembering the Victims of Nazi Eugenics
Before the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the forced deportation of millions of Europe’s Jews, the Nazis’ plan for racial purity received a trial run at home, against Germany’s own handicapped and disabled. The idea for this operation was an outgrowth of eugenics, an applied science used by the Nazis with the aim of creating a super race, in which only those deemed “fit” would be allowed to procreate. This could be achieved through positive eugenics, which entailed promoting “fit” behavior, or negative eugenics, which meant that individuals deemed genetically inferior would be prevented from having children. By restricting births of those deemed less than human — individuals the Nazis often referred to as “life unworthy of life” — the master race could thus be progressively achieved within German society.
Initially, the Nazis approached eugenics by passing such legislation as the 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Progeny and the 1935 Marriage Health Law. The former included compulsory sterilization on the basis of nine neurological and physical hereditary afflictions, such as schizophrenia and hereditary blindness, and the latter further promulgated the idea of racial inferiority by disallowing Germans with particular hereditary disorders from legally marrying.
While discussion of genocide usually centers on the killing of members of a targeted group — the first of five definitions of the crime in Article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention — compulsory sterilization satisfies another condition for genocide. Specifically, Article 2(d) of the convention states that genocide includes “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,” as doing so would result in the eventual elimination of that particular people. In addition, given that many institutionalized individuals who were murdered by the Nazis during both its child and adult euthanasia campaigns were slowly starved to death, Article 2(c), “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” was also involved.
In short, euthanasia, an insidious plan that began under the guise of fake hospitals and the provision of allegedly legitimate medical care, swiftly evolved into the murderous campaign embodied in Operation Reinhard, and, ultimately, the totality of Holocaust extermination and death camps for Jews, Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, and all other “inferior” peoples under Nazi rule.
As part of its International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations, the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University hosted a panel on February 7 titled “The Unfit: Disability under Nazism and Fascism,” which focused on the plight of these oft-neglected, very first victims of Nazi genocide. The discussion featured Patricia Heberer and Susan Bachrach of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), as well as the Guido and Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò Chair of Contemporary Italian Studies at New York University, David Forgacs. Each provided a different perspective on how the Nazis’ quest for racial purity — and the memory of their victims — still has relevance for us today.
The first to speak, Susan Bachrach, focused mainly on the eugenics aspect of the Nazi campaign, and often referenced the USHMM travelling exhibition for which she is curator, Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race. In tracing the evolution of eugenics, which emerged as an early 20th-century field of study supported equally by scientists and academics around the world, she summarized the utopian vision that accompanied the science as being “aimed at some kind of perfection of the human race.” Citing both Darwin and Mendel’s work as starting points, Bachrach stated that “eugenics began as a reform problem that was looking at real problems — social and other.” Essentially, countries like Germany, Britain, and the United States saw eugenics as a potential solution to other issues that had plagued their societies. For Germany, a country devastated after World War I, this included in particular poverty and inflation.
As such, the stage was set for a leader like Adolf Hitler to translate eugenics from theory into practice. Indeed, as Bachrach showed during her presentation, Hitler was propagandized as the “doctor” of the German people, and he seized the ensuing political opportunity by employing both positive and negative eugenics tactics to establish a system of racial hierarchy that would eventually culminate in his “Final Solution” to “the Jewish problem.” As such, he exalted the role of the mother by issuing an Honor Cross of German Motherhood to women who had birthed various increments of children (positive eugenics), while also approving the implementation of hereditary family history cards and such hereditary laws as those previously mentioned (negative eugenics).
Bachrach was followed by her colleague, Patricia Heberer, who complemented Bachrach’s presentation on eugenics with her own work on euthanasia, the Nazis’ initial semantic justification for their murderous campaign. Heberer explained that the practice of euthanasia “aimed to restore the ‘racial integrity’ of the German nation,” and went on to discuss the Nazis’ shift from initially targeting children to eventually developing their adult euthanasia program, Aktion T-4, in which over 70,000 mentally ill and disabled Germans were murdered in six different gassing complexes from 1940 to 1941. During the one-year halt to this program, ordered by Hitler, Heberer stated that more than 100 T-4 workers were sent east, to use their “expertise” in the eventual development of death camps like Sobibor and Treblinka.
Importantly, Heberer emphasized that while hers and others’ research on the Nazi euthanasia program has had positive implications for our understanding of history, it has also “overshadowed [the victims’] individual existence and obscured their identity.” As such, the majority of her presentation was devoted to telling individual stories of victims of a Bavarian institution called Kaufbeuren, which was notorious for the savage starvation tactics it employed on its victims. In discussing her analysis of this institution, which has included extensive review of the medical personnel’s documentation, Heberer commented on “the ability or the inability to work” as one of the strongest indicators of a patient’s chances for survival in Kaufbeuren. This emphasis on keeping people around who were able to do work draws an obvious and eerie parallel to the selection criteria later used in concentration camps throughout Europe. In simplest terms, Heberer explained, “a constant need for care was a death sentence.”
The third and final speaker, David Forgacs, brought another element to the discussion by sharing a sample of his work on photographing places of social exclusion. Focusing primarily on mental health institutions during and after the fall of fascism in Italy, Forgacs commented on how the photography charged with telling this particular story had a “way of making these people ‘other’” by persuading its audience to “[look] at the strangeness of the person.” He accompanied his presentation by evaluating the shortcomings of photographic representation of social exclusion by discussing its sensational nature that ultimately “reinforces these people as different from us.”
As each of the panelists demonstrated, the stories of Germany’s handicapped and disabled are powerful and enduring. For her part, Bachrach concluded by saying, “I hope that all of this is a warning,” referring to modern scientific advancements like the human genome project and cloning initiatives — a warning about where we could go “without . . . thinking seriously where that kind of thinking [has] led us in the past.” Even more poignantly, Heberer summed up her remarks by simply reminding us that “those victims of silence still have much to tell us.”
Photo: Michelle Eberhard
Remembering to Look Forward:
Auschwitz, Argentina, and Genocide Prevention in 2013
By ALEX ZUCKER
On this day 68 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, created and operated by German Nazis. It is of course a day to remember. To remember the facts. To remember the horror. To remember the people. But it is also a day to remember to look forward.
More than 1.3 million children, women, and men lost their lives in the camp, according to the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum, which maintains the site for memorialization and education. The vast majority of the people killed there were Jews — murdered as victims of the crime that we now recognize as genocide. At the same time, tens of thousands of other people were also deported to Auschwitz to die because of their identity — Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and political prisoners. We remember them too on this day.
Each of the human beings slaughtered in Auschwitz–Birkenau, and killed in the Holocaust as a whole — beaten, worked, or starved to death, subjected to ghastly experimentation, raped, tortured, shot, hung, gassed and cremated — each of them came from a family. Each was somebody’s mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son, wife or husband.
The testimonies of those who survived are one way we know of the suffering and commemorate the loss. Scholarly research helps us to understand how it happened, if less clearly or satisfactorily why. In fact we continue to discover new information about the Holocaust, and with it, our understanding of what happened continues to change.
Yet the promise that emerged from those events, the pledge of “Never Again,” remains to be fulfilled. That phrase, according to the pioneering Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, first appeared on signs put up by prisoners in Buchenwald at the end of World War II. Very quickly it came to be understood to mean “No More Genocide,” and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations, in 1948, seemed to represent a concrete and important step toward making good on that promise. Since then, however, not a decade has passed without a genocide or atrocity crimes of a similar scale taking place.
In 2008, the Auschwitz Institute organized the first running of its Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, named after the man who invented the term genocide and held on the grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in cooperation with the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum. While the museum is focused on memorializing and educating about the past, the Auschwitz Institute’s mission — building a worldwide network of policymakers with the tools and the commitment to prevent genocide — looks squarely toward the future.
Our latest initiative — born in 2012 at the request of government officials themselves, with the Auschwitz Institute serving as catalyst — is the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. And today, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are proud and excited to present a new model for organizing government to prevent genocide.
Argentina’s National Mechanism for Prevention of Genocide, conceived by the National Directorate on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Ministry of Defense in collaboration with other national government institutions, is an attempt to put into practice the commitments Argentina undertook when it ratified the Genocide Convention in 1956.
Like the Atrocities Prevention Board created by the U.S. government last year, the Argentinean national mechanism provides for interagency coordination on the federal level. Unlike the U.S. board, however, Argentina’s proposal involves not only the federal government, but provincial (i.e., state) governments as well. Also unlike the U.S. model, it provides for ongoing training and development of education for all relevant civil servants in genocide prevention, human rights, and international humanitarian law, as well as “development of standards and criteria for evaluating mass media, communications, and public relations messaging.” Finally, it envisions coordination in policymaking and processing information with not only the UN but also relevant regional bodies.
The Auschwitz Institute does not believe there is only one way to prevent genocide. In every facet of our work, we support local solutions and insist that each state has the responsibility to develop a means of preventing genocide that makes sense for itself. We are encouraged to see a state like Argentina, with its own terrible legacy of state-sponsored atrocities, not only coming to terms with history but leading the way forward into the future.
So today, as we remember the horrors of the past, we may also take solace in knowing there is progress being made, and new ideas coming to life, in the effort to make “Never Again” more than a slogan.
Photo: Alex Zucker
Hitherto known only to a small group of academics, the United Nations headquarters houses an archive documenting 10,000 cases against accused World War II criminals, all of which belonged to the United Nations War Crimes Commission. The Commission was established in October 1943 by “17 allied nations to issue lists of alleged war criminals – ultimately involving approximately 37,000 individuals – examine the charges against them and try to assure their arrest and trial.” In 1949, the Commission was dissolved and the UN made the files only available to governments on a confidential basis. In 1987, the rules were changed to allow access to researchers and historians who possess authorization from both their government and the UN Secretary-General. Researchers in Britain and America are now campaigning to make the files public.
In addition to contributing to history’s understanding of the Holocaust, says Dr. Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, “The importance of this archive could lie in prosecuting today for crimes of aggression, rape, cultural crimes, environmental crimes, because there’s a wealth of precedent far beyond Nuremberg. In fact, these trials are 100 times greater in extent than the Nuremberg trials.” According to Plesch,
Records indicate that alongside the Nuremberg trials, where prominent Nazis faced justice, the UN commission endorsed war crimes trials for some 10,000 individuals. It is known that 2,000 trials took place in 15 countries including the United States. The case law of all of these has been forgotten. The Nuremberg trials only constituted one percent of the post-World War II prosecutions. A first look at the UN War Crimes Commission archive of the other 99 percent shows a gold mine of precedent and practice that can help hold modern-day war criminals to account.
Plesch and two other researchers have written a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging him to ensure full public access to all the records by pointing out how doing so would be beneficial not just to the public, but to the work of the UN. Paul Shapiro, director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, said the Museum is also seeking to open the War Crimes Commission files, as one of its mandates is to collect archival material.
In their article, How Mass Atrocities End: An Evidence-Based Counter-Narrative, Alex de Waal, Jens Meierhenrich, and Bridget Conley-Zilkic examine the narrative frameworks that inform today’s agenda of “protection of civilians” in conflict:
1. A teleological assumption that the occurrence of attacks against civilians will, unless halted or deterred from outside, inevitably escalate towards genocide.
2. An epistemological assumption that privileges coercive military operations conducted on humanitarian grounds by international forces.
3. An ethical imperative based on the above teleology and epistemology that forecloses the historical and political discussions of how mass atrocities actually end.
Using comparative evidence from a variety of cases, beginning with the Holocaust and continuing through Libya, they then provide “a counter narrative to the dominant civilian protection agenda by returning to the historical record of how mass atrocities end.”
As to the first point, Jens Meierhenrich (pictured above) has put forth a general framework for studying genocide termination that contests this teleology. He argues for separating genocidal acts, campaigns, and regimes to better distinguish between different endings and, significantly, how each informs different policy options. In addressing the aforementioned epistemological assumption, the authors divide the ending of mass atrocities into five categories: 1) violence halted by the perpetrators once goals are met; 2) elite dissension or exhaustion within the perpetrator regime; 3) victims of violence flee or otherwise resist; 4) interventions waged by interested outside parties; or 5) humanitarian intervention.
Finally, questioning the ethical imperative, the authors relate a question that they deem to have been inadequately engaged by policy experts and researchers alike: How does one recognize when genocide or mass atrocities end? As they explain, “This question, let alone the equally, if not more complicated, question of how such violence ends has been caught up in the normative assumption about how they ought to end.”
While an optimal ending of mass atrocities is outlined as one in which vulnerable civilians are rescued, perpetrators are punished, and the state is justly reconstructed to address the conditions that enabled violence to occur, actual endings can rarely be described as optimal. But it is important to pay attention to what forces have played a tangible role in ending violence in order to garner a better understanding of how to interact with complex situations, what tools might achieve which exact goals, and a realistic expectation in terms of ending mass atrocities when this objective is obscured by competing agendas.
The authors describe some endings as being “the successful completion of a genocidal campaign, called off when the perpetrator regime is consolidated or when the political landscape alters such that the political rationale for mass violence against civilians is reduced. Other endings occur when the genocidal regime is removed from power, through successful resistance or invasion, or is fought to a standstill . . . Some endings are simply respite—a gap between genocidal campaigns conducted by a regime with an intact apparatus of mass violence.”
The article concludes by contending that the current undertaking of preventing genocide seeks to go beyond this singular aim to decisively resolve conflict and achieve transitional justice. Instead of the sole and default response of establishing a new regime “with ethical credentials commensurate with the horror that preceded it,” the authors’ approach “[. . .] eschews arguing from ‘ought’ to ‘is,’ and instead addresses the complexities of real politics and develops a rich comparative evidence base.” It seeks practical responses in the details of particular circumstances as opposed to deriving analysis and policy from universals that stem from moral impulses. Ultimately, such an approach should result in more effective prevention policymaking and reactions.
“The First Killings of the Holocaust,” an op-ed by Timothy W. Ryback in today’s International Herald Tribune, describes the surprising impact of Joseph Hartinger, “little more than a middle-aged civil servant with a wife and five-year-old child at home,” upon the genocidal plans of Germany’s Nazi regime.
Ryback’s article focuses on the impact mid- to low-level officials can have on government policy, an idea the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation has made a cornerstone of its genocide prevention programs. In documenting the ripple effects of such a “small fish” in the Nazi government, Ryback exposes the fallacy that many to this day continue to believe: that genocidal governments are monolithic, void of dissenters, and impossible to change from within.
On April 12, 1933, “four Jews — Arthur Kahn, Ernst Goldmann, Rudolf Benario and Erwin Kahn — were executed in precisely that order at a Nazi camp in the obscure Bavarian hamlet of Prittlbach.” Ryback marks this as the first genocidal killing of Jews by the Nazis, and notes that the main characteristics of the process by which these four men were killed — intentionality, chain-of-command, selection, and execution — mirrored (scale and efficiency aside) the distinguishing traits of the Holocaust.
Hartinger was the lawyer assigned to investigate the men’s death, and instead of accepting the initial statement from his superiors — that the four men were shot trying to escape a detention facility — he initiated a formal inquiry. To Hartinger’s suggestion that a serial killing of Jews had taken place, his boss said even the Nazis wouldn’t do such a thing, and terminated the case. Hartinger persisted, launching indictments against the commanding officer and three other SS men at Prittlbach.
Surprisingly, the commandant was removed, and the killings of Jews temporarily stopped. To Hartinger, this revealed the weakness of the still evolving Nazi regime. At the time the Nazis were still very sensitive to international opinion, and had not consolidated power in Germany enough to ignore the orders of the president, Paul von Hindenburg, who possessed the constitutional authority to dissolve the Nazi government and dismiss Hitler as chancellor. Hartinger included all of this in his memoirs, which Ryback uses to pinpoint “that tenuous phase of an emerging genocidal process when intercession could have disrupted and derailed the horrific and now seemingly inevitable outcome.”
For would-be genocide preventers, this story is important because it shows that even genocidal governments are not monolithic. Their goals may not be universally accepted or even known, which leaves them open to undermining in the early stages of their consolidation of power.
With this in mind, the Auschwitz Institute encourages the mid-level government and military officials from around the world who take part in our programs to be on the lookout for opportunities like the one Joseph Hartinger had, so when the time comes, they too can help halt the genocidal process.
Photo: Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation
This week’s Guest Preventers on the AIPR blog are Michael Pertnoy and Michael Kleiman, codirectors of the 2010 award-winning film The Last Survivor, which follows the lives of survivors of four different genocides—the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, and Congo—as they struggle to make sense of tragedy by inspiring tolerance in a new generation.
From very early on, our goal was to make a film about genocide that left the audience with a feeling of hopefulness and optimism—that there was something they could do to end this tragedy. Now we are working with a coalition of groups to bring The Last Survivor to communities around the globe, spark dialogue about how to prevent genocide in the future, and bring much needed support and attention to the most vulnerable communities of survivors and refugees around the world.
As filmmakers, we believe the most effective way to raise awareness and, ultimately, to prevent genocide is by listening to and supporting the people directly affected by it. Too often, refugee and survivor communities are neglected by the genocide prevention movement, so, as part of our film’s grassroots campaign, we are working to bridge this divide by connecting refugees with anti-genocide activists in the United States. We hope this will help foster personal relationships and provide opportunities for activists to get to know the people they are advocating for, who are living in their own communities. If we learn from each other’s experiences, we can become a stronger force speaking and acting out against genocide.
We hope that you will consider joining us in this effort by bringing the film to your community so your friends and neighbors can learn about these atrocities and hopefully get inspired, like we did, to do something about it.
Everyone has personal reasons for getting involved in the movement to prevent genocide. These are ours.
Michael Pertnoy, founder and executive director, Righteous Pictures
When I was 18, I had the opportunity to journey to the concentration camps in Poland on a program called the March of the Living. Up until that point I had learned a lot about the Holocaust in school and in many ways it was overwhelming—thinking about the statistics, seeing the horrific pictures and graphic film footage, I felt helpless. But as I walked arm in arm with the Holocaust survivors from my home community, marching through the death camps into the gas chambers, the focus was no longer on the millions of lives lost, but the power of those who had survived; those who had passed through the worst that the world has to offer and emerged with something to give to the world—a renewed sense of purpose, an obligation to provide a firsthand account of one of history’s darkest times, and to share their story so future genocides could be prevented.
On that trip in 2002 I made a promise to the survivors that I would carry on their legacy to my generation and beyond. In 2006 I returned to the camps. By then, the genocide in Darfur had been raging for more than three years. Over 300,000 people had been killed and millions displaced. And I wasn’t even aware yet of the violence in Congo and the other nations around it. It was after this trip back to the camps, as a recent college graduate, that I decided to get involved with the growing anti-genocide cause that was mobilizing across the United States. It was the confluence of these experiences that birthed The Last Survivor, and the rest was history.
Michael Kleiman, cofounder and creative director, Righteous Pictures
My grandmother on my father’s side and her three sisters fled Belgium to escape the Nazi occupation in World War II. I remember hearing stories about how the four of them were hidden in the back of a pickup truck and smuggled out of the country to the south of France, where they hid in a barn for six months before escaping to Portugal and then the United States. I grew up with these stories.
When I was a junior in college, a friend of mine told me in passing about the genocide in Darfur, which had been going on for three years at that point. I was taken aback, not only by the horror but by the fact that I’d never heard anything about it. I considered myself politically aware at that time—mindful of the world around me. So I did what any film student would do: I picked up my camera and made what I now consider to be a terrible short film about the genocide in Darfur and its absence from the news. I always wanted to do more, so when Michael came to me with the idea for a film about genocide survivors, I jumped at the opportunity.
Discussion Paper #5 published by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme is “The Holocaust as a Guidepost for Genocide Detection and Prevention in Africa,” by Dr. Edward Kissi of the University of South Florida. The paper looks back at atrocities perpetrated against the Jews during the Holocaust to draw lessons from them for the prevention of future mass atrocities, especially in Africa.
Looking at the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, Kissi concludes that a state seeking to commit mass atrocities will generally succeed in doing so, and that society’s responses to the killings tend to be tepid. The key to preventing future genocides, he believes, is to get bystanders to do more than just stand on the sidelines and watch. And the three areas Kissi focuses on in this paper are early warning, regional and local initiatives, and education.
One way to do this is to closely monitor volatile situations that have the potential to devolve into genocide. Civil and ethnic conflicts—as well as related phenomena such as hate speech, demonization of target groups, and massive migrations of particular groups—are valuable warnings of future mass killings, since perpetrators of mass atrocities often use war or domestic power struggle as cover for their actions. Leaders who plan mass atrocities often look at past genocides and emulate their rhetoric and tactics, believing they will go unchallenged because past perpetrators of mass killings were not stopped. Kissi points out that hatred and prejudice sparking violence, while often targeted at ethnic or religious groups, may also be directed at groups defined in other ways, such as sexual orientation.
Kissi goes on to discuss the importance of the Responsibility to Protect and the practical means of achieving it. He notes that outside actors, such as the United States or the United Nations, have not had much success in preventing or intervening in genocides, especially in Africa, and that smaller initiatives led by neighboring countries and subregional organizations have a better track record in implementing rescue missions and civilian protection. Empowering civil society, especially local and community leaders, to speak out and exercise their traditional authority against hate speech and other warning signs of genocide may also help to build a local culture that does not condone mass killings.
While international actors can play a role in helping to develop these capacities, Kissi argues that local and regional initiatives, rather than international intervention, may be better suited to implementing the Responsibility to Protect. At the same time this may prevent perpetrators of mass violence from hiding behind criticisms of neocolonialism and accusations of meddling by foreign powers.
Another important component of building capacity to prevent future genocides in Africa is educational programs grounded in examining past atrocities like the Holocaust. The point is to teach children about respect and toleration so it is more difficult for them to accept prejudice against and dehumanization of other groups later on, encouraging them to be more than just bystanders if mass atrocities break out again.
Photo: The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme
Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:
Yannek Smith, Class of 2011, Political Science major
Professor Hinton’s genocide prevention course is the culmination of my undergraduate studies. I knew as soon as I heard about it that this was not something to pass up. Here was a unique opportunity to take a class sponsored by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, taught by Alex Hinton, one of the world’s top genocide scholars. It includes weekly visits by prominent actors in the field of genocide prevention who come to teach the class about their work and share their views on this expanding field. This is something special, and I am grateful to be a part of it.
When most people hear the word genocide, it evokes certain images: the Jewish Holocaust, the Hutus’ massacre of the Tutsis, perhaps Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and (increasingly) the genocide of the Armenians. These are the most infamous cases of genocide in the 20th century, the ones that stick out the most in our recent historical memory. What the course does a wonderful job illustrating is that these atrocities are not isolated cases. Genocide is far more common than most people imagine; it cuts across class, culture, and ideology. The targets include a wide a range of groups, real and imagined, albeit several that are not included in the 1948 Genocide Convention’s narrow definition. More important than academic debates over what constitutes genocide is adopting a utilitarian approach and looking at the roots of this phenomenon and what can be done to stop genocidal behavior in its early stages.
In class, we are learning to see genocide on a spectrum, as a series of steps or stages that can be identified and addressed. We demystify the concept and look at it through a sober lens. This requires accepting many difficult truths: genocide is a huge part of human history (the United States and the greater “New World,” for instance, were founded on genocide), genocidaires are rational actors (there is always some kind of logic to genocide), and it can happen anywhere. Fred Schwartz, the founder of AIPR, would add that genocide, like rape or murder, will never cease to exist. Humans have always done it, and will continue it, and the challenge therefore is to detect it and defeat it in its early stages, or if it is too late, minimize the damage.
The human rights movement is essentially a fight to improve the human condition; to protect people on a global scale from abusive governments, torture, the torments of abject poverty, and—the gravest crime against our humanity—the crime of genocide. Prof. Hinton and our weekly speakers teach us about the shifting paradigms in genocide prevention, the different legal instruments that are out there, and the challenges and barriers of our current international order and the United Nations system. Things are changing fast, and many questions linger: What is the future of Responsibility to Protect? Why is the world sitting and watching as Libyan and Ivoirian people are deprived of basic human rights? How should we address the delicate issue of sovereignty?
The students in our class are in a privileged position: we are intellectually equipped to address these important questions. I hope that this educational initiative will not end with our class, so that in the future a broader range of students can become active participants in the fight against genocide.