“Whether we have 10 years or more like 20 or 30, unless we systematically find new large-scale solutions, we are in the gravest danger of destroying our society, our world, and ourselves in any of a number of different ways well before the end of this century” (Platt 4). Humanity has an infinite obsession with race, ethnicity and identity. We spend most of our lives sorting and labeling other humans. These classifications have, throughout history, led to racial injustice, segregation and in some cases even genocide.
Genocide is the deliberate extermination of an entire race of people. The most infamous of genocides is a holocaust, this is the form usually associated with the Nazi’s attempted extermination of the Jewish race during the second World War. There are many other less known modern genocides. People do not associate these events with the World War II holocaust because they are occurring in present day. The Jewish holocaust is still the largest known case of human extermination. The Nazis systematic genocide of the Jewish population (and the “Mishlinge” or “half-Jews”) was a process they referred to as “Aryanization”. The process began with the removal of any members of the population that were deemed “Non-Aryan” from social, political and economic life in 1930s Germany. This segregation of the population allowed the general public to begin to view the Jewish residents as lesser or “sub-human”.
In November of 1938, following the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a young Jewish man was a catalyst to what would become the Holocaust. “The Night of Broken Glass” as it is now known, saw Jewish Synagogues burned and Jewish businesses destroyed through Germany. It was the fist sign to the Jewish community that antisemitism was becoming increasingly dangerous.
World War II began in September of 1939, and after the German occupation of Poland, Jewish Ghettos were formed. The ghettos were cramped and dirty, often filled to the point where there were 6 or 7 people to a single room. Food rations were small and consisted of mainly grains, turnips, carrots and beets. All Jewish residents were deported to the Polish ghetto following Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. This was done to give German’s more power over the Jewish people and all men, women and children over the age of 12 were marked with the yellow starts of David.
The first “death camps” began appearing soon after, filled almost exclusively with women and children. During the summer of 1942, heavy “shipments” of Jewish citizens began arriving to the camps. They were transported on trains. They were slow and many of the sick and elderly passengers would die en route. Every Jewish person being deported from the ghettos could take food for two days, a bowl, a spoon, two blankets, warm clothing, a pair of good shoes and one suitcase. They were then packed into open cattle cars – each holding up to one thousand people.
The camps were dark and were filled with the bodies of the dead and the smell of burning flesh. Up to six trains a day arrived in Auschwitz (the largest of the concentration camps). Condemned Jews were often made to wait entire days outside the gas chambers before it was their turn. Selections were made daily for the gas chambers and the crematories. Many Jews were hanged, shot, beaten or starved to death. Corpses which were considered to be anyone who could no longer stand, were for the most part burned. In many cases other camp detainees were ordered to burn their fellow inmates or dig their own graves. Young children and the disabled were automatically exterminated because they could not work in the factories.
The Nazis also subjected the Jewish prisoners to many crude medical experiments. They were injected with Malaria, Typhus, Gangrene and even gasoline. Some were subjected to live bone transplants and dissections, hypothermia, starvation and sterilization. In some cases the only way young children would be saved was if they were twins, in which case they would be subjected to many genetic and physical experiments.
The passive acceptance by the Jewish people of their fate has often been admired. Throughout horrendous torture and persecution they hold on, for the most part to their faith in God. The corpses of their families stolen and their skins, bones and body fat used for experimentation or used industrially.
Towards the end of November 1944, the SS men (Nazi soldiers) blew up the crematories, destroyed camp records and set storehouses containing the belongings of the dead on fire. Many Jews died in the last few days before their liberation, others died in the following weeks. “Suddenly, the door burst open and someone shouted: The Americans are here! We are free! We are free! No one moved. The words so long awaited were incomprehensible to our minds. They promised life and freedom to people who knew only hunger, despair and death” (Leipeiger 23). Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.
During the Holocaust one third of the Jewish population of the world was annihilated. Three million people dies at death camps; one and half million of those at Auschwitz alone. One and a half million died in shooting operations, and more than six hundred thousand in the ghettos.
Most see the the Holocaust as an appalling reminder of how savage humanity can be when driven by hatred. Unfortunately, the hatred is far from extinct, genocides continue to happen even today.
May 1995, war continues to rage in places like Bosnia despite efforts by UN forces and foreign aid. Some are calling the Bosnian genocide as “ethnic cleansing” as Bosnians were killed by the hundreds of thousands by Serbian rebels. It was not a civil war but a war of aggression and its main objective was genocide. “Genocide is being committed here too and Americans, Canadians and Europeans watch it on TV, but the world seems afraid to face the new fascism. They feel more comfortable with the old fascism(antisemitism). The hypocrisy is incredible. I don’t understand it” (Cerimagic A1).
Bosnian Serbs claimed over 70% of Bosnia’s territory, despite the presence of the Bosnian Army, UN forces and foreign peacekeepers. “They [Serbs] do not want foreign troops with guns, they want foreign guns without troops” (Barthos). Over one and half million refugees fled the country in hopes of surviving the genocide.
After years of bloody battle, one hope remained, that peace will one day return. For some the Brotherhood and Unity bridge that now connects the Bosnians and the Serb’s is the beginning of the dream. However, many fear that Sarajevo will one day end up with a “Berlin wall”; dividing Bosnians on one side and Serbians on the other. This fear is very real in the Serbian controlled city of Grbavica, where signs hung proclaiming the new republic of “Serbska”.
“There are too many ethnic groups, too many mixed settlement, and no real borders. There’s no easy solution and force alone can’t create one” (Barthos A2). It has become another gruesome examples of how, even today, people are choosing war as a way of creating the “perfect” society so many people dream of.
For years, Rwanda has been plagued by similar conflicts. A campaign of genocide against Rwanda’s Tutsi minority began in April 1994. The reason is believed to be in connection with the death of Hutu president, Juvenal Habarimana by RPA (Rwandian Patriotic Army} on April 6, 1994. The Tutsis are not only suffering, but as the Hutu majority attempts to exterminate them, the Tutsi’s are seeking their revenge. The United Nations was unable to intervene because they had to maintain neutrality, by they continued to provide aid to refugee camps outside of Rwanda.
Rwanda’s was left over half a million dead, one and a half million homeless and three hundred thousand children orphaned. The Tutsi led government; which came to power in 1994, kept the slaughter going by continuing to seek revenge on Hutu residents. The war escalated further when eight hundred people were murdered in two days. Their bodies were found sliced by machetes, cut in hald and many were found shot in tiny crowded rooms.
“He [McGreal, a Hutu government official] deplored the ‘horrendous’ slaughter, but despairs that the outside world cannot understand that Tutsis murdered by marauding militias have brought it upon themselves by backing the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which he said started the latest round of warfare” (Bizimungu). It is also difficult for the outside world to understand how deeply the hatred must run, for people to be in favor of genocide.
Governments, militias and people in general, search to find a reason why people are dying. In our own society we are faced with similar hatreds that have the potential to erupt into something much more dangerous. Racism is just as much a part of our lives as it is in war torn countries.
With all the ongoing wars and genocides occurring in the world today, people still see it as an acceptable fact of life. Perhaps, in some cases it is, but does it have to be? We are constantly causing widespread human disaster, yet no one accepts the blame for it. People believe that if it is in a far away country it has nothing to do with us. In our own country there is racism, and what is stopping that from escalating. The Jews in Germany had little warning that antisemitism was about to lead to their extermination. What warning did they have in Bosnia, Serbia and now Syria?
The racial tensions in our country may very well lead to genocide. It is everyone’s duty to prevent this from happening, Jesus said “I have set before you life and death…” (Deuteronomy 30:19). How many of us will choose life?
Barthos, Gordon., “Bosnian slaughter an everyday horror that Hungarians have to live with”, The Toronto Star., April 30, 1994. A2.
Borger, Julian. “Sarajevo expects worst as pact dies”, The Ottawa Citizen. May 1, 1995.
Dyer, Gwynne. “Faint hope for peace; As Bosnian Muslims regroup, it may be harder to secure lasting ceasefire in Balkan region.” The Montreal Gazette. June 14, 1994. B3
Farrow, Moira. “Springtime under siege: People of heartbreak city see real freedom as nothing but a distant dream; SARAJEVO: graves of war dead now bright with flowers of Spring”. The Vancouver Sun. March 26, 1994. A1.
“Genocide in Bosnia’, The Toronto Star. February 27, 1994. C2
McGreal, Chris. “Genocide survivors tempter to exact bloody revenge” The Ottawa Citizen. May 1, 1995.
“Remembering the Holocaust” Macleans. January 1995. pg 22-3
Reuter. “Rebels blast army hilltop in Rwanda”. The Toronto Star. June 1994. A12.
Schoenberner, Gerhard. “The Holocause: The Nazi destruction of Europe’s Jews”. Hurtig Publishers. Edmonton. 1960, 1969, 1985.
Wallace, Bruce. “Aftermath of Genocide” Macleans. February 1995. p 32-4.