Do you remember what genocide is?
I recently attended the presentation on this terrifying human-invented idea, which brought me back to some contemporary problems and made me once again think about historical lessons.
The first time term was used was in 1944 and was officially defined in the United Nations Genocide Convention in 1948 as an “act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” This may include physical systematic extermination or harm to members, the imposition of living conditions that are supposed to erase the group and preferably memories about it, and other actions that dehumanize and then destroy the target.
The first and the strongest word that comes to mind when we turn towards this topic is Holocaust, the major genocide in our history when Nazis prosecuted those who they considered racially inferior. Usually, most people remember that this term is used in a conversation about a mass slaughter of Jewish people during the Second World War.
Some recall that Roma people were also excluded from the Nazi’s classification system that outlined which categories of human beings had the right to live and which didn’t (Slavs were in the system, but in much lower quantity than living at that time).
Museums and exhibitions remind us that the first victims of the Nazi regime were political opponents such as communists and others, male homosexuals, whose orientation jeopardized the growth of German population, and disabled people, viewed as weak and not needed. Not too many remember that Jehovah’s Witnesses were also supposed to be exterminated since they refused to take weapons (which is against their faith) or swear their obedience.
The attitude towards the last group of people is still often mixed even in developed countries. Sometimes it might be caused by some pushiness of particular members, to a point dictated by the faith. Sometimes it is due to the lack of understanding of their foundations and stereotypes about them (which survive through history same with stereotypes other traditionally targeted minority groups).
Nevertheless, I’ve never met anybody who was hurt or offended by a Jehovah’s Witness, who are usually friendly and positive.
It’s not the notion that exists in my old country. They took the attitude towards Jehovah’s Witnesses to a new (well-forgotten I guess) level. I recently got to know that my aunt, who has been in that faith for probably 30 years, was arrested in October. The organization was prohibited and its activities were forbidden, which left those who kept believing and talking about their faith beyond the law. She still remains under arrest and, as far as I know, may face anything from the surcharge to up to six years in prison. And she is not the only one.
I talked to some journalists asking if they were willing to write about this human rights violation, but they pointed out that since the organization is prohibited and there is a law that allows arresting those who disobey, there was nothing they could do and nothing to talk about.
But what later received the name Holocaust also was legalized and systematized on the government level. Does it mean it was fine?
There are eight to 10 stages of development of genocide, which are gradual and often become obvious for those who are not directly involved only in retrospective. It starts with the classification of people and splitting them into “us” vs. “them” groups. Then comes symbolization, when those groups are ascribed some symbols to designate them and allow stereotypes to grow. Then discrimination that makes the “us” group feel entitled, followed by dehumanization when it is explained why “they” do not deserve any rights (quite often “they” are equated with animals, insects or diseases) and organization.
Then groups completely polarize (even though they originally could be a part of the same nation) and preparation that is followed by the final solution: persecution and extermination, which are denied after words.
Millions of people kept quiet for years when the Holocaust was happening. Millions of people were deaf and blind. But the fact that nobody was screaming for help didn’t mean that everything was well.
The hatred slowly and quietly finds its ways into people’s minds and souls. Under cover of irritation, it settles down and starts growing, fed by different “foods” through different stages. And unless addressed, analyzed and hopefully cleaned out it stays.
I love my aunt a lot. She is one of the kindest, smartest and wisest people I know. Her faith helped her fight cancer through her life. It made her stronger and gave her courage. She never hurt anyone or did anything to be in prison. But back home she is now a part of “them,” and I’m afraid to see what will be coming next.
When having freedoms, we forget the price we paid for them and forget how easy it is to lose them.
After the Holocaust, we swore “never again” and promised to remember, however as humanity we keep failing our oath and keep making the same mistakes.