Genocide in the 20th Century
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Now, we had genocide in the twentieth century. It started with the Herero people in what is now Namibia, at the hands of German military in the first decade of the twentieth century. When these people, who had acquired arms from the Europeans and who were defending their land from encroachment by settlers, opposed the German Army and were expelled or deported into the desert, the remnants of the Hereros came back into what is now Namibia; and are now in fact part of, let us say, the ruling circles in Namibia.
Then came the Armenian genocide in the First World War at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, the Young Turkish regime at that point, 1915 to about 1921-22; and then a series of other events that are on the borderline of the definition of genocide. And then you have the genocide of the Jews, the thing we call the Holocaust; the genocide of the Gypsies -- the Roma, as they should be properly called -- and of the Poles. And after World War II, again, a series of events that are on the borderline of genocide, with one clearly defined genocide, namely the one in Rwanda in 1994. Those are the events that we deal with when we discuss genocide.
But there is a crucial thing which one has to remember: that these are our definitions of certain realities, and the realities are much more complicated then our definitions are. Our definitions are abstractions from these realities. And the reality is mass murder that humans commit against other humans, from time immemorial to this day. And the motivation for these mass murders is the fact that every human being -- including everyone, including myself -- have in themselves the potential to annihilate others. We are the only mammals in the animal kingdom that murder each other in large numbers. That is an urge we have to free the way in front of us, to defend ourselves from perceived or real dangers.
But we also have in us the opposite urge: to rescue, to cooperate, to collaborate with others, to help others. So, we are constantly swinging between these two extremes, and the possibility of fighting against genocide lies in the fact that we are capable of the opposite as well.