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Another holocaust so difficult to understand

April 15, 2015 - Board of Deputies - Share: Twitter Facebook

By Vivian Wineman

Although the Holocaust is the event which epitomises genocide, the term was in fact coined by a Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael  Lemkin during the Nazi period to refer to the Turkish massacre of the Armenians in the First World War. Not surprisingly Holocaust Memorial Day fixed on the anniversary of the day the Red Army liberated Auschwitz is a commemoration of the Nazi genocide but also of four other genocides committed since the end of the second world war, in  Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur.

The worst of these was Rwanda when between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis were murdered in the space of a few weeks. The massacre began on 7th April 1994. Last week therefore was its 21st anniversary. A service of remembrance called kwibuka,meaning remember,  was held in North West London.

As a Jew conscious of our own Holocaust, which was the greatest crime in history, I had complex feelings about  attending this. First there was the outrage that 40 years after the end of the Nazi Holocaust the international community could allow such a terrible event to happen. My optimism that the undoubted change in international morality and law caused by the Holocaust would prevent a recurrence did not survive the experience of this event.

On the other hand there was incomprehension. We are told that genocides begin with differentiating the victim group and withdrawing respect from them. How this happened in Rwanda it is hard for outsiders to understand. That people who to outsiders seem so similar to their victims and who had a record of living together in relative harmony with them could turn on them with such fury and ruthlessness seems utterly incomprehensible.

There had been no centuries old record of persecution or demonisation nor was there the systematic humiliation over many years as in the Holocaust experience. Yet the speed of the killings matched anything in the Second World War. As on all these moving occasions one can only wonder at the depth to which human beings can fall while at the same time, hearing the survivors, being inspired by the heights they can reach.

Vivian Wineman is Board president