My partners in Dror Israel, who for years have led thousands of youth on trips to Poland – a journey to uncover the routes of the Zionist revolution, the Holocaust, and heroism – could not stand by and watch the horrors taking place in Rwanda and Yugoslavia in the 90s. In 1999, members of Dror Israel travelled to Kosovo to run a summer camp in a refugee camp in Stankovic. It felt natural to them to provide an educational response to the children who were taken from their homes during the attempted Genocide in Kosovo. Five years later, in 2004, we began to hear about the Genocide in Darfur. 100 years after the murder of the Herero and Namaqua in the German colony in southwest Africa, reports were arriving from Africa about a regime slaughtering three African tribes – the Massalit, the Zaghawa, and the Fur. In 2006, we established the Combat Genocide Association – a Jewish and humanist organization that aims to combat and prevent this horrible phenomenon. During this same period, refugees from Darfur began to arrive in Israel and their horrific stories taught us new lessons about genocide. With the establishment of the organization, we researched and were convinced that genocide is a phenomenon that has returned again and again during the last one hundred years. We discovered that the brutal and awful genocide that the Turks committed against the Armenians was not the first genocide. We discovered that tens of millions of people were murdered in genocides during the 20th century, and millions more were raped, expelled from their homes, and lost their family members with no ability to defend themselves or their people – in Europe during World War II, in Bangladesh, in Cambodia, in Biafra, in Rwanda, in Bosnia, in Darfur, and in many other places. We discovered that there is a connection between the different genocides, and this connection is exposed in Hitler’s terrible speech to German army generals just before World War II broke out. Hitler said to them:
Our strength is our quickness and our brutality. Genghis Khan had millions of women and children hunted down and killed, deliberately and lightheartedly. History sees in him only the great founder of states. It does not matter to me what a weak Western European civilization will say about me. I have given the order—and will have everyone shot who utters but one word of criticism—that the aim of this war does not consist in reaching certain designated geographical lines, but in the enemies’ physical elimination. Thus, for the time being only in the east, I put ready my Death’s Head units, with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language. Only thus will we gain the living space that we need. Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?
Hitler’s speech shows just how easy it is to destroy a nation. In every society and country there are laws against murder, but there is none against genocide. Twenty years after the Armenian Genocide no one spoke about it, researched it, or remembered it, except for a few. One of them, Raphael Lemkin, was a Polish Jew who studied the Armenian Genocide and the Massacre of the Assyrians during the 1930s. When the 2nd world war started Lemkin joined the Polish army. During the battles in Warsaw he was injured. Lemkin fled to Sweden and from there to the United States, where he continued to study the connection between the crimes committed by the Nazis and those committed by the Turkish only twenty years earlier. He discovered that it had to do with legality. There is a terrible phenomenon carried out in an organized manner by the authorities within a country: leaders, clerks, professionals, officers and soldiers all work together to exterminate a nation. Lemkin gave this phenomenon a name: Genocide. Lemkin understood what genocide is by studying the Armenian Genocide. He pointed out the need for a law forbidding genocide, and showed that genocide is a lengthy process, making it preventable.
The significant scope and level of organization needed to carry out genocide create an echo – that is why reports have reached the world regarding almost all genocides. All too often, the world has stood by without interfering. We know about Henry Morgenthau, who traveled around the Ottoman Empire, saw what was happening to the Armenians, and begged his country to stop it. We also know that the United States was aware of the attempt to exterminate the Armenians and didn’t raise a finger. Also Britain, Germany, and others.
Denying one genocide and failing to act against it amounts to approving the next genocide. The concealment of history makes it as if it had never happened, and that is what makes it possible again and again to wipe out nations without being punished.
That is why it is our duty to remember and memorialize any genocide that has taken place – to remember the victims, and also the murderers; to remember how the world stood by and did nothing to stop the murder of innocents. We must remember genocides in order to remember our history – the history of the human race – and in order to prevent the recurrence of genocide, any genocide, in the future. We need to fight all genocide denial, regardless of the political situation. This is the first step in combating genocide: recognizing that it has happened, and that it continues to happen today. Without this recognition, we cannot struggle against genocide.
Unfortunately, the world has not learned this lesson. The Armenian Genocide, which took place during World War I, has been denied again and again by Turkey, and by other countries as well. There are also people who try to deny the Holocaust and tell us that it’s all lies, that it wasn’t really like that, or that it didn’t happen at all. Genocide denial is an inherent part of genocide. It is like attacking the nation all over again. Denial is basically delegitimizing a nation’s existence, saying that it doesn’t have the right to exist. Denial does not allow the nation to fully heal.
We, as victims of genocide, as Jews and as human beings, have the right and the duty to stand with you, the Armenians, in the fight to recognize the genocide that the Turks committed against you during World War I. This is a fight for the future of humanity – a humanity that does not deny its past, but deals with it in order to create a world free of terror.
This year, a number of significant political incidents have taken place in the struggle to recognize genocides. First of all, there was a political struggle in France to put on trial anyone who denies the Armenian genocide. This groundbreaking law is not just one country’s declaration that they are willing to recognize history; it prohibits by law the denial of history and the concealment of its darkest chapters. Unfortunately, this law was overturned by the court. We hope that it is proposed again – it is of great significance to humanity.
Also, this month the German Bundestag will decide whether to take full responsibility for the genocide of the Herero and Namaqua in Namibia – 108 years after it accorded. This is a historic justice, which might help to heal some of the terrible wounds suffered by nations that have faced annihilation. We hope that the Turkish government will make a similar decision and take responsibility for its` dark past.
The ground is also moving in Israel: This year, for the first time, many Knesset members took part in deliberations of the Knesset’s Education Committee regarding the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. We call on the government and the Knesset to recognize the Armenian Genocide. We, the Combat Genocide Association and the members of the Dror Israel movement, will continue to march with you in the struggle to recognize the Armenian Genocide amongst the Israeli public and the world at large, until it is recognized by all the nations of the world. We will not rest until we succeed. We see this as a necessary step in realizing the command sounded following the horrors of the Holocaust: Never Again!
Aia Harel and Uriel Levy
Dror – Israel