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We should remember more than the Holocaust on Holocaust Memorial Day

Image credit: swlonder.co.uk
Image credit: swlonder.co.uk
Image credit: swlonder.co.uk

The 27th of January is an annual day of remembrance, promoted and supported by the charity Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, “to remember the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, the millions of people killed during Nazi Persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.” This date is chosen because it marks the liberation of the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

There are remembrance events all across the country; in York, City Screen is showing My Nazi Legacy, a film that looks at the relationship between two men who are the children of two high-ranking Nazi officials and contrasts their attitudes towards their fathers. At Greg’s Place on the university campus, a vigil will be held by York’s Jewish Students.

I believe it is important that we remember the terrible atrocities of the past in order to learn lessons from these events and prevent repetitions. This is an essential part of why I think studying history is so important.

However, from just the name of the event, you wouldn’t be blamed for just thinking the Holocaust. We should regularly remember more genocides than the Holocaust alone. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries saw more genocide than simply that which was atrociously perpetuated against the Jews during the Holocaust.

The United Nations’ definition of genocide reads:

any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious groups, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the groups; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group (Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide).

Here just a few examples:

  • Australia: the Black War. This was a period of conflict between British colonists and Tasmanian Aborigines in the early 19th Century. This conflict and the diseases it exposed the aboriginal population to had devastating impacts and they were essentially exterminated.
  • Ottoman Empire: the Assyrian Genocide. During the First World War, the Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against the Assyrian population in Northern Mesopotamia. The total death toll is unknown but estimated to be 750,000 (1914-1918). It was paralleled by the Armenian and Greek genocides, also carried out by the Ottoman Empire.
  • Bolshevik Russia: Decossackization. During the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks engaged in a Genocidal campaign against the Don Cossacks. It is estimated that 300,000-500,000 of a population of 3 million were killed or deported in 1919-20.
  • Dominican Republic: the Parsely Massacre or ‘El Corte’. The Dominican dictator, Trujillo, ordered the execution of the Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in 1937. It lasted five days. The programme resulted in the deaths of 20,000 to 30,000 people.
  • Pakistan: the Bangladesh war of 1971. The war lasted nine months and an estimated 300,000 to 3 million people were killed. There is also evidence that the Pakistani armed forces raped around 300,000 women and girls.
  • Laos: in 1975, the Communist party, Pathet Lao, overthrew the royalist government. There has been intermittent conflict between the Hmong rebels and the Pathet Lao. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation has claimed that the Laos and Vietnam government has killed a quarter of the population of the Hmong.
  • Guatemala: during the Civil War (1960-96), over 200,000 Guatemalans died and more than one million fled their homes. Hundreds of villages were destroyed. The majority of the human rights abuses were carried out by the government and aimed at the Maya Indians.
  • North Korea: millions of people have died of starvation since the 1990s in North Korea; many human rights NGOs and aid groups have claimed on many occasions that the North Korean government is deliberately preventing the food aid reaching the North Korean citizens who need it the most. One million have died in political prisons. There is also emerging evidence that North Korea has been systematically killing half-Chinese babies and persecuting members of the Christian faith.

Holocaust Memorial Day does get everyone thinking about genocide in general, and specifically mentions other genocides in its description, but it still very much focuses on the Holocaust, as is clear in its title. People can choose to think and reflect specifically on that which is most personal and pertinent to them or think about genocide in general. This would also be important in educating many who are unaware of the amount of genocides that has occurred in just the past century, as well as prior.

Even if it is uncomfortable for the modern states in which they atrocities occurred, we should remember each and every genocide – every life is equal. It is important that this day has a name less exclusive than specifically mentioning a single genocide.