Despite all the lessons of the Holocaust and declarations by most of the nations of the world, genocides have occurred at distressingly regular intervals.
Teachers and students may therefore feel that it is just as relevant to consider alternative genocides rather than the Holocaust or to compare the differences between a particular genocide and the Holocaust.
The comparative approach
TheTask Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (now IHRA) produced guidance for teachers at the end of 2010 trying to address this topic. We reproduce below part of their analysis starting with the question:
"Why relate or compare the Holocaust to other genocides, crimes against humanity and mass atrocities?".
1. The Holocaust is often considered to have given rise to our conceptualisation of the term "genocide", which was coined during the Second World War, in large measure as a response to the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators. So the Holocaust may constitute a starting point and the foundation for studying genocide.
2. In comparing the Holocaust to other genocides and crimes against humanity it should be possible to sharpen understandings not only of similarities between events but also of key differences. In so doing, it may be an opportunity to better understand the particular historical significance of the Holocaust, and how study of the Holocaust might contribute to our understanding of other genocidal events. By the same token, learning about other genocides may contribute to deeper understandings about the Holocaust.
3. In comparing the Holocaust to other genocides and crimes against humanity it may be possible to identify common patterns and processes in the development of genocidal situations. Through the understanding of a genocidal process and in identifying stages and warning signs in this process, a contribution can hopefully be made to prevent future genocides.
4. Students should appreciate the significance of the Holocaust in the development of international law, tribunals and attempts by the international community to respond to genocide in the modern world.
5. To compare the Holocaust to other genocides may be a means to alert young people to the potential danger for other genocides and crimes against humanity to evolve today. This may strengthen an awareness of their own roles andresponsibilities in the global community.
6. To compare the Holocaust to other genocides may help to overcome the lack of recognition of other genocides.
7. Knowledge of the Holocaust may also be helpful in considering how to come to terms with the past in other societies after genocide, how communities can respond to genocide, and how survivors can attempt to live with their experiences.
8. The national history of a given country can be the reason for relating the Holocaust to another genocide: for example, because a genocide plays an important role in the national memory.
Pitfalls of the comparative approach
It is also important to note that there are many challenges in such a comparative approach. Care should be taken to avoid a number of pitfalls:
1. The comparing of two distinct historical events will be difficult without careful historical contextualisation, and so requires good understanding of both historical events. This is a particular challenge given the lack of educational material that actually does compare/relate the Holocaust to other genocides.
2. The differences between historical events are as important and significant as their similarities and care must be taken not to equate, diminish, or trivialise either the Holocaust or the genocides to which the Holocaust is compared.
3. It is important to be alert to the difference between comparing genocides, which is possible and legitimate, and comparing the suffering of individual victims or victim groups, which is not. Care must be taken not to create hierarchies of suffering or allow the value of a comparative study to be diminished by political or social agendas or competing memories.
It is important to be aware of the rationale behind comparing the Holocaust to other genocides. This being said, there are certain reasons or strategies for comparing the Holocaust to other genocides that are not fruitful and that definitely should be avoided. Some of these are:
1. The link to other genocides is made to hide certain aspects of one‟s national history, such as collaboration with Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
2. The Holocaust is seen as a means of political power in contemporary politics and the link to the Holocaust is made out of political considerations.
3. The link to other genocides is made to diminish or trivialise the Holocaust.
The path to genocide
Genocide does not take place by accident. Gregory H Stanton, President of Genocide Watch argues that there are always eight stages in any genocide. Being aware of these stages enables citizens to react early in the cycle and prevent the later stagesfrom becoming the reality.
These stages are:
The differences between people are not respected. There’s a division of ‘us’ and ‘them’. This can be carried out through the use of stereotypes, or excluding people who are perceived to be different.
This is a visual manifestation of hatred. Jews in Nazi Europe were forced to wear yellow stars to show that they were ‘different’.
Those who are perceived as ‘different’ are treated with no form of human right or personal dignity. During the Rwandan genocide Tutsis were referred to as‘cockroaches’; the Nazis referred to Jews as ‘vermin’.
Genocides are always planned. Regimes of hatred often train those who are to carry out the destruction of a people such as the training of the Janjaweed militia in Darfur.
Propaganda begins to be spread by hate groups. The Nazis used the newspaper Der Stürmer to spread and incite messages of hate about Jewish people.
Victims are identified based on their differences. At the beginning of the Cambodian genocide, the Khmer Rouge separated out those who lived in the cities and did not work in the fields. Jews in Nazi Europe were forced to live in Ghettos.
The hate group murders their identified victims in a deliberate and systematic campaign of violence. Millions of lives have been destroyed or changed beyond recognition through genocide.
The perpetrators or later generations deny the existence of any crime.
Genocides since World War II
On our website we are doing no more than giving the bare outline of the major genocides since World War II and providing links to more detail.
In the late 1970's Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge which embarked on an extremist programme to reconstruct Cambodia (under its Khmer name Kampuchea). The population were made to work as labourers in one huge federation of collective farms.
Any resistance was ruthlessly dealt with. Civilian deaths are estimated at 2 million.
The frenzied slaughter of the minority Tutsi peoples by the majority ruling Hutu population in 1994. Over the course of a few months it has been estimated that some 800,000 people were killed.
Comparative study of Holocaust and Rwanda by the Wiener Library in London
African farmers and others in Darfur are being systematically displaced and murdered at the hands of the Sudananese Government-sponsored Janjaweed. The genocide in Darfur is estimated to have claimed 400,000 lives and displaced over 2,500,000 people since 2003.
The former Yugoslavia
In July 1995 Serb troops and paramilitaries led by Ratko Mladic descended on Srebrenica and began shelling it. They had already dealt with Muslim soldiers in the countryside villages. Now they were besieging Srebrenica's thousands of Muslim civilians. Mass executions reminiscent of the Holocaust took place.