The Holocaust and subsequent genocides took place because the local populations allowed insidious persecution to take root. Whilst some actively supported or facilitated state policies of persecution, the vast majority stood by silently – at best, afraid to speak out; at worst, indifferent. Bystanders enabled the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and subsequent genocides.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has written powerfully about the impact of bystanders: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
This blog is not silently standing by, either. The Holocaust must be remembered and all ethnic and religious genocide must NEVER be allowed.
What is Genocide?
The term ‘genocide’ was first used in 1933, in a paper presented to the League of Nations by the Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin. He devised the concept in response to the atrocities perpetrated against the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire, between 1915 and 1918.
On 11 December 1946 the General Assembly of the United Nations resolved that genocide was a crime under international law. This was approved and ratified as a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on 9 December 1948. The Convention defines genocide as:
‘any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, 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 group,
– forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
A number of specific actions have been deemed to be punishable under the Convention. These are:
– conspiracy to commit genocide,
– direct and public incitement to commit genocide,
– attempt to commit genocide,
– complicity in genocide.
Actions do not need to lead to deaths to be considered to be acts of genocide – causing serious bodily or mental harm or the deprivation of resources such as clean water, food, shelter or medical services can be regarded as inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction. Causing serious bodily or mental harm includes the infliction of widespread torture, rape and sexual violence. It is also a criminal offence to plan or incite genocide – even before the killing starts. This recognises that genocide does not just happen. There is always a path that leads to genocide.
Survivor Story: Sir Nicholas Winton
Sir Nicholas Winton was born in London in 1909.
When he was 29 Nicholas’ friend told him about the bad things the Nazis were doing. Nicholas went to see for himself. When he saw the bad things the Nazis were doing he could not stand by. He knew he had to help.
￼On Kristallnacht the Nazis killed and arrested people for being Jewish. The British government heard about Kristallnacht and said that children from Germany and Austria would be allowed to escape to Britain.
Nicholas asked the British government to let children from Czechoslovakia escape too. The British government said yes but only if the children had two things:
1) The children had to have £50 from their families.
2) The children had to have a family in Britain to live with.
Nicholas knew that it would be very difficult for the children to find these two things, so he decided to find them for the children.
Nicholas worked with other people to help the children escape from the Nazis on trains. Nicholas helped 669 children to escape. One of those children was Vera Schaufeld. He saved their lives. Nicholas said ‘I just helped a little, I was in the right place at the right time.’ Nicholas did not think that anyone would just stand by when bad things are happening.
Access more ‘easy to read’ Holocaust stories here: http://hmd.org.uk/education/hmd-2016-easy-read-life-stories
A special thank you to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) for the information in this post. The Trust is the charity which promotes and supports Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) and other subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/#sthash.jOm99z34.dpuf