November 21, 2011 | 3:54 pm
Posted Katarzyna Kotula
The 20th century is often referred to as an age of genocide – it began with the extreminations of Armenians in Turkey and finished with the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia. the Holocaust itself thus was not the only one example of manslaughter. So what makes the Holocaust open the list of infamous ranking of extermination acts ?
The Holocaust was not the only genocide-both before and after a similar crime took place.
You have mentioned the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, when – according to historians 600 thousand to 1.5 million people were killed.
This event is said to be the first genocide of the twentieth century.
The Holocaust was the second largest act of genocide, but, in the same time the first, when it comes to the importance attached to it. Why did this happen? First, between the Holocaust and other genocides there are some differences. Secondly, it is the Holocaust that will directly affect the issue of perception of genocide by the international community. the definition of genocide was formed on the basis of it. It was formed by the Polish Jew, Raphael Lemkin, who during the World War II repeatedly alerted the public about the ” deeds ” of the Nazis in the Europe.
In 1948 Human Rights Convention was formulated. Since then the European countries started to pay attention not only to following it, but also to prevent the future genocide.
Here we should pay attention to the specific way the Jews cultivate the memory about those who were murdered.
In the very beginning they did not pay much attention to the problem of the Holocaust, because they did not want go back to the history, in some way shameful, tragic, which showed how the Jews were subject to persecution. The heroism was more important for them to show it.
During this time, Israel was struggling with its neighbors, who were an existential threat to the state. Hence stressing of the heroism proved to be more important than the martyrdom. The situation gradually changed in the 50s with the rise of Yad Veshem in Jerusalem. The trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 was a turning point. As it was broadcast on the radio, many people had a chance to confront this difficult part of history. It was then that Israeli society began to change its attitude to the Holocaust, treating it as part of their national identity. The Holocaust started to be used as a unifying element for the society in danger, which was then and still is valid. The memory of the Holocaust is to make Israeli society aware of the fact that they are still in danger and if they lack solidarity the history may repeat. The Holocaust became a powerful political tool then.
What makes the Holocaust different form many other crimes done to different social groups ?
Yehuda Bauer, who is considered to be one of the greatest contemporary historians dealing with the Holocaust, said that this crime is not an exceptional event, but an unprecedented one.
First, this unique dimension of the Holocaust is manifested in the pursuit of the Germans in the total elimination of the Jewish people: for the first time in the history of mankind all the people belonging to the one ethnic group, regardless of age, sex and place of residence, were sentenced to death.
Secondly, the idea to exterminate all the Jews had no rational reasons as well as it was not compatible with the economic and political principles of the Third Reich.
All other features of the Holocaust can be found in other genocides.
The reference is inter alia the use of latest technology to kill people or the dehumanization of the victims.
Auschwitz has grown into a symbol of terror, genocide and the Shoah. Today, however, the image of “Auschwitz extermination site” is displaced with the idea of “Auschwitz-museum” - a place where tourists come to explore, see and buy souvenirs. Should we move in this direction and treat such places as museums or treat them as places of honor and memory of those who were murdered here?
Jacek Lachendro in one of his books “Demolish and plough ” tries to answer the question, that the prisoners immediately after the war had to face : what to do with such a place? Some argued that the camp should be destructed , others postulated to keep it as an eternal warning. When it comes to Auschwitz itself, the second approach was chosen. Instead, we know that there are several other camps that look completely different (I mean mainly Treblinka, where, in principle, outside part of the railway ramp, we have no other residues). Many people are convinced that Auschwitz can be used as an educational aid. Teaching in a place like that may result in the forming of certain attitudes, which in future will prevent similar crimes
Anyway – how to educate, if there is nothing to be seen or nothing to touch ...? That`s why a certain amount of many different artifacts or the barrocks were left there. What`s more, the Auschwitz and the Holocaust International Education Centre leads its activity there.
Its aim is not only to inform transfer about what happened there , but also education, education for peace, tolerance and for the prevention of crimes against humanity.
We can therefore conclude that a place like Auschwitz plays a double role: on one hand, it is indeed a place of memory, the largest World War II cemetery in the world, but on the other hand , it is a place where museum lessons can be conducted or where we can purchase educational materials.
What is important Auschwitz became an element of the contemporary culture what naturally makes its reception controversial.
We have to be aware of the fact that it is a place of memory concerning many nations and many ethnic groups, what makes it more difficult while estimating the role it should play..
Today, death and violence are no longer taboo issues because they are constantly present in our reality. It is true that the mass media show the unreal image of death, so we get accustomed to suffering and as the result it doesn`t impress us so much, So how should we teach young people about the Holocaust to make them understand its meaning and not to treat it as just another crime ?
Nowadays when our sensitivity to death devalued in some way , it is a very difficult task . We are bombarded with informations concerning various tragic events that happen around us and just get used to this - what else can surprise us? The problem is also that young people do not really want to go back to the past, believing that they are closed topics (the history as the subject depreciated and devaluated). Of course a visit to the memorial site plays an important role in the education. As has been already mentioned, in the Auschwitz Museum, you can literally experience what happened there. The knowledge gained in the authentic place where the crime was commited has a specific impact on the young man. And this perhaps is the way to make him realize it t is the real world where it really happened! But that’s not all. To educate for the prevention of crimes against humanity, we need to change people from inside and a thorough working out the attitude, which in future will not copy the negative patterns.
The basis for peaceful coexistence among people of different race, religion or culture is tolerance. Is it something that we can learn or it is just something generated by the others , I mean are we born with the sense of tolerance or not ?
It seems to me that tolerance can be learned (in the end many of the qualities and skills are acquired with time). But we must remember that this is not only the process of acquiring knowledge but also experience. Tolerance can be learnt in the process of meeting other people and revising our own ideas about them. This is what education for tolerance is based on - knowledge and stereotypes confronted during the contact with another human being.
From a Polish perspective these events are quite different than being seen from the Jewish point of view. There still exists the idea of Polish nation helping the prosecuted Jews, shopwing courage, empathy and generosity despite the severe punishment . However, are the Polish people aware aware of certain abuses associated with the tragic situation of the Jews? And if we can (should we ?) take responsibility for it?
It is well known that each of us tends to remember the good things only, and remove the bad ones from our consciousness. It is a process characteristic for every society, also this in Poland. For many years we didn`t talk about “shameful things” for various reasons ( first it was convenient, but some political factors in the time of the communism had a reasonable impact on what was told ). Then Polish feeling of justice , their help, giving as the example well-known people like Irena Sendler who died recently. Anyway certain facts were forgotten – I mean the fact that part of Polish society was actually following the Nazi propaganda, committing various crimes ranging from theft through collaboration with the Nazi to murder.
The Polish state wanted to be perceived as the only victim of World War II, therefore there was no place for even a single fault that could be commited. The situation changed after the fall of the communism, when the first attempts to revise recent history, including the Polish-Jewish relations were made . It turned out that, for example, July 10, 1941 in Jedwabne Poles have accompanied the German crimes, the murder of their 300Jewish neighbors . For many Poles it was a shock-some of them treated it as an insult and felt injured in their national pride. After long studies, it turned out that it was true.
What’s more, it was not the only incident in the region of Bialystok, there were several more acts of similar violence.
This discovery shaped the new picture of a Polish society and it still exists in the national memory than some of the crimes commited by Poles, anyway this fact is less controversial today, it is treated merely as purely historical fact.
Who does not remember the history is about to experience it again – how do you understand this, Doctor ?
These words by George Sante Jama, are engraved on one of the barracks in Auschwitz. I must admit that during one of my first visits to the camp, they stuck in my memory so much that I still often repeat them and I think about their meaning. The author of those words probably meant that the memory of the tragic events that can protect us from their repetition. I agree with Sante Jama, and I think that if we forget about what happened, it would be easier for us to commit a similar crime, but keeping the consequences in our minds, will be some kind of future warning .
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