Editorial: Remembering the Shoah – DTNext

Posted By on January 30, 2022

Chennai:

Last week marked a solemn moment as the world observed the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. The date was chosen to commemorate the day on which the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945. The observance is held in the memory of the victims of the Nazi pogrom during World War II which saw the killing of 6 mn Jews, i.e. one third of the worlds and two-thirds of Europes Jewish population. Millions of others including Romani people, homosexuals, prisoners of war, Soviet civilians, and the disabled were also massacred as part of the Third Reichs endgame of achieving racial purity and Nazi supremacy across Europe. The Jews refer to the Holocaust as Shoah, a Hebrew word that denotes catastrophe.

For those of us, born much after the WW II, it might be hard to fathom the notion of genocide, and that such unspeakable acts of cruelty could be perpetrated by one group of people, on another. However, its naive to presume we have not been defined by the shared history of violence that cuts across geographic and ethnic boundaries. History books are rife with descriptions of colonial and post-colonial atrocities and the systematic destruction of populations and cultures.

Way back in the 1500s and 1600s, the colonisation of the Americas by the English, the Spanish, and the French had claimed millions of lives and led to the destruction of culture, and loss of identity of indigenous people, a wound carried to this day, by members of such native communities in the two American continents. Last year, over 1,000 unmarked graves were found on the grounds of former residential schools in Canada, a development that attracted international attention. The schools were set up by the Canadian government in the late 1800s and were aimed at isolating indigenous children from the influence of their own traditional customs and rituals; and in turn be assimilated into the dominant Canadian culture.

Other former colonies such as Australia have also witnessed such acts of inhumanity. From the beginning of the 19th century, white settlers and Native Mounted Police in Queensland are known to have murdered over 10,000 aboriginal individuals, considered vermin, and hunted down for sport. In India, the British Raj remained mute spectators to the Bengal famine of 1943. Historians have characterised this famine as anthropogenic i.e. man-made. Britains war-time colonial policies had led to the death of over 2 mn Indians. Throughout its occupation of India, Britain had perpetrated mass murder in the jewel in its crown, simply through statecraft.

Later, the Partition of India also caused as many as 2 mn deaths, and the displacement of 10-20 mn people. But humans havent come around after two World Wars, and thousands of independence movements. The Khmer Rouge regime perpetrated genocide in Cambodia, under dictator Pol Pot, who wiped out 2 mn people between 1975-79. Decades later, massacres have continued relentlessly, from Bosnia to Iraq and Rwanda. Closer home, a UN report had revealed that 80,000-1,00,000 people died in the 26-year conflict of the Sri Lankan Civil War, in which the rebels sought to carve out a separate state for the Tamil minority. More recently, the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar has also been described as a humanitarian crisis, and a similar situation is panning out in Tigray, Ethiopia.

In the words of Holocaust survivor and acclaimed author Primo Levi, If something happened once, it can happen again, which almost brings us to the realisation, the world hasnt changed much since the 1500s. While the impact of colonisation has contributed significantly to the casualties, many such atrocities these days are perpetrated by members of the same nations, against their own populations. It might appear futile to dismiss the notion of genocides as a thing of the past, but it must be stressed that it should not have any place in modern society.

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Editorial: Remembering the Shoah - DTNext

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