by Luke Farmer
A horrible stench hit me on entering the grim interior of Gas chamber I in Auschwitz I camp. It wasn’t death. But it was a reminder of the heart-breaking suffering that occurred here, between 1941 and 1945. In the next room, ovens lay open just as they would have been before bodies were shovelled, heaped and pushed in: which will wipe their physical existence and trace from the earth forever. If not for the victory of the Allies in the Second World War it is possible the victims’ ordeals, punishment and abuse would have gone unheard.
This United Nations World Heritage Site stands as a tragic monument, a testimony, to those who died. Yet, in the end, death was a release. A release from the chains of enslavement and a tyrannical regime which had made them endure every pain possible. As George Santayama said, and was prominently displayed on our tour of the site, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And it is true that the horrors of Auschwitz have prevented much persecution and brought positive outcomes. The site of one of the main concentration camps during the Holocaust has a purpose to remain, a purpose to remember and a purpose to prevent us from once again descending into such cataclysmic chaos of human society.
Europe has taken action to prevent such persecution again as was imposed by the Nazis: the creation of a safe haven for Jews in Israel; legislation to protect homosexuals; democracy where human rights and freedom of speech are protected; international intervention taking place when genocide occurred in Bosnia in 1995. Yet there have been slips in the way the West has responded to ghastly genocide over the past few decades, with neglect of the horrors occurring during the Rwandan genocide being a prominent example. In Europe, Gypsies, one of the main groups to suffer in the Holocaust, are treated like vermin on occasion, and with suspicion and hostility by communities. No one deserves to be discriminated. No one ‘deserves’ to be beaten into a coma, as happened to a gypsy teenager dumped in a shopping trolley in Paris last year. European governments’ attitudes towards this group are varied: France deports them while Spain attempts to integrate them into society. But, the heart of the matter is that racism will never fade from reality, there will always be tensions between different groups within society; it’s unavoidable. There will always be small minorities who discriminate but the current situation is appalling and shocking: with a rally last year in London even calling for “Jews to be gassed”.
And although a ‘guilt complex’ in Germany, developed by advertisement of the German States crimes against humanity during WWII, has unnecessarily made contemporary Germans feel guilty for crimes they weren’t even witness to, it has prevented discrimination from prevailing in their country. Germany has had a benevolent attitude to migrants: taking in 800,000 in comparison to Britain’s measly empathy accounting to 20,000.
So is genocide indeed now truly confined to its right place, the past?
Well, no. As recently as 1994 Rwanda descended into tribal-based genocide for 100 days: the official figures by the succeeding government estimating a death toll of over 1 million. That’s 10,000 a day or 400 per hour. It’s true that the industrial levels of indiscriminate slaughter experienced during the Nazis ‘reign of terror’ were unusual. But, the reality is that genocide is continuing on, without stop. Think what the stats would look like if the Rwandan Genocide had continued at the same rate for 1000 days, a comparable amount of time to that which the Nazis had to carry out their slaughter of 11 million. And Rwanda wasn’t an isolated incident that contradicts trends in genocide post-1945. Countries which have experienced significant genocide since 1945 include Bangladesh, Bosnia, Equatorial Guinea and Cambodia.
In their 2014 report, Genocide Watch- an NGO coordinating ‘the International Alliance to end genocide’- listed 13 countries as having elements carrying out extermination of certain minorities. With the advent of ISIS in Syria and Iraq the reality of mass killing on a huge scale is now possible, while the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma has amounted to an “ethnic cleansing”- according to the Human Rights Watch. Ghastly Genocide is not going away, unless we make it. As you can see from the map of genocide throughout the world, many countries are still denying that it even took place- ranging from the USA’s persecution of Native Americans to Turkey’s ‘Armenian Genocide’. Genocide has prevailed in the past but we must make sure that it doesn’t in future.
The world is an increasingly complex situation, with actions having impact on so many. Take Tony Blair’s admission that there are "elements of truth" that the Iraq War led to the rise of ISIS. Whatever people’s intentions, the outcomes are unpredictable. Thankfully, the vast majority of countries today are free from genocide, but an incredibly hard fight must continue on: to eradicate genocide from the face of this planet.
Information on the ten stages of genocide noted on the map can be found here: