What Is Genocide?

In the 20th century humanity stooped to unimaginable evils, evils that in their very existence threaten all of humankind. Auschwitz and Treblinka are clear symbols of this evil: the largest death camps ever created, in which over 2 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of others were murdered. Mass murders and massacres became a common political tool in the 20th century and led to the deaths of 262 million unarmed civilians. Another expression of this evil is the development of nuclear weapons, which, the only time they were used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, led to the deaths of a quarter million people “at the push of a button.” The development and production of large amounts of nuclear weapons by the superpowers brought about the real possibility of the destruction of all of humanity.

In the wake of the threat of genocide and “omnicide,” survival itself becomes the “utopian core” of humanity. The prayer for a better life is replaced by the plea for survival; our humanity is threatened. The creation of a world without terror is the only possibility of maintaining the human spirit. “Hitler has imposed a new categorical imperative on human beings in their state of unfreedom: to arrange their thoughts and actions in such a way that Auschwitz should never be repeated, that nothing of the sort should ever happen again.”

If we can bring ourselves to deeply examine the motivations that bring people to murder entire nations, populations, and cultures, we must cross the valley of tears separating bad from horrific. It is obvious that all murder is bad, that all war has injustice and that all mass murder must be condemned. However, condemnation of all evil without making any distinctions essentially means taking no stand on evil, and on the differences between necessary injustice, bad, and horrific. Therefore, the first step in understanding genocide is to separate the wheat from the chaff. The deliberate distortion of the term “genocide,” when it is used to refer to any murder or atrocity, conceals the true nature of this terrifying phenomenon, which has reared its ugly head in many places and times throughout human history. That is why it is necessary to provide a precise definition of genocide. The Combat Genocide Association bases its work on the following definition:

The Necessary Conditions for Genocide

Condition 1: Genocide is based on a value system that designates the murder of innocent people (who pose no threat) who belong to a given group as a moral act. These acts of murder are given a positive moral value and possibly even the ultimate value. This ethical inversion is a necessary condition for the existence of genocide. When a given society, led by its political establishment, creates such a value system at its core, genocide is liable to occur. An example of this moral inversion can be seen in Himmler’s repulsive speech to senior SS officers at Posen, October 1943:

“I shall speak to you here frankly of a very serious matter. We shall now discuss it absolutely openly among ourselves; nevertheless, we shall never speak of it in public. I am referring to the removal of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish race.  It is one of those things that are easy to say. Every party member says ‘The Jewish race is to be exterminated.’ ‘That’s clear, it’s part of our program, elimination of the Jews, extermination, right, we’ll do it.’  And then they all come along, eighty million good Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. Of course the others are swine, but this one is a first-class Jew… None of them has tried this. Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred, or a thousand. To have gone through this and yet – apart from a few exceptions, examples of human weakness – to have remained decent fellows, this is what has made us hard. This is a glorious page in our history that has never been written and shall never be written.”

Condition 2: The means to carry out mass murder – means that are used to kill large numbers of people. This does not just refer to the weapons of destruction themselves, but also, and far more importantly, the necessary bureaucracy for the implementation of mass murder. Such bureaucracies have only been made possible by modern developments, and thus, genocide is primarily a modern phenomenon.

The reality of genocide is manifested in the following three ways:

The extermination of human beings, mainly innocents –people who do not pose a direct or indirect physical threat to the attackers. Intentional extermination can be identified by the use of a systematic method and by the murder of women, children, the elderly, and other weak populations.

The phenomenon of genocide is also characterized by most of humanity standing on the sidelines and not opposing the executioners. During the Holocaust the Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin came to the following absurd observation: “In every organized society, the murder of one person is a crime. Why isn’t the murder of millions a crime?” After the Holocaust the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was signed by the nations of the world, but genocides continued to take place and the nations of the world did not intervene.

Denial is an innate element of every genocide and after every genocide. The goal of denial is twofold: to hide the terrible crime from the world, and to deny the existence of the exterminated group. No “perfect” genocide is mentioned in the annals of history.


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