Genocide: the Word and the Deed, Part I

Nazi Commander Hermann Göring on trial at Nuremberg

Lately I’ve read far more articles and opinion pieces on the Israel/Gaza war than is good for my mental health. I have friends and relatives on both sides of the conflict. Some of them say that Israel is committing genocide. Others insist that Israel is only defending itself against an enemy sworn to destroy it—that the attack of October 7 is part of a continuing attempt at genocide.

In this series of posts, I’ll look at the crime of genocide from a historical point of view, and then I’ll comment on the current conflict.

What Is Genocide, Anyway?

The word “genocide” was invented by law professor Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who escaped the Holocaust (although his family did not). In 1941, shortly after his arrival in the United States, he heard a radio broadcast where Winston Churchill declared, about the horrors of Nazi Germany, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”

Lemkin gave it a name.

Since the Second World War, lawyers and politicians have squabbled about what can officially be called genocide. Is it mass murder only, or can we include expulsion of a people from their homeland? What about destruction of their culture? Do you have to prove intention on the part of the murderers, via their speeches or publications, or are the heaps of corpses enough evidence?

Naturally, each government (with the sole exception of post-war Germany) denies that its actions constitute such a crime, no matter how many people they’ve slaughtered.

20th-21st Century Genocides

As I documented in my October 29 post, genocide is as old as human history. I listed a few instances, from the ancient Hebrews’ extermination of the Amalekites in the 11th Century BCE to the ongoing atrocities and “ethnic cleansing” in Sudan.

Here I have compiled a list of the genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries that I’ve read about—if you have the stomach to peruse it.

The numbers are only of those killed, not those expelled from their homelands or “ethnically cleansed” by forcible conversion or kidnapping of children. Omitted as well are accounts of mass rape, which has accompanied war since earliest times.

Perpetrators                 Victims                        Dates                           Est. Casualties

German Empire           Herero & Nama           1904-1908                   34,000-110,000
of South West Africa

Ottoman Empire         Armenians                   1915-1916                   1 million
“                                     Greek Christians         1914-1922                   300,000-900,000
“                                     Assyrian Christians     1915                            275,000

Soviet Union               Ukrainians                   1932-1933                   3.5-5.0 million

Nazi Germany                 Jews                            1941-1945                   6 million
“                                     Roma & Sinti                      “                          150,000-1.5 million
“                                     Poles                                    “                          1.8-2.8 million
“                                     Serbs                                   “                          200,000-500,000
“                                     Soviet POWs                      “                          3 million
”                                    Homosexuals                     ”                          10,000-15,000
”                                   Disabled persons              ”                          200,000

Pakistan                       Bengali Hindus           1971                       300,000-3 million

Khmer Rouge  (govt)  Cambodians                1974-1979                   2.0-2.5 million

Rwandan Hutus          Rwandan Tutsis          1994                            500,000-800,000

Islamic State in Iraq    Yazidis                        2013-2017                   5,000

China                        Tibetans                       1959-present               Ongoing
“                                  Uyghurs                      2014-present               Ongoing

Saudi Arabia               Yemenis                      2014-present            Ongoing

Myanmar                     Rohingya                     2016-present               Ongoing

The estimated total number of victims, not including the ongoing slaughters, is over 24 million. But even that horrific figure is dwarfed by the largest mass murder in history. It began on October 12, 1492 and hasn’t ended yet.

To be continued…

3 Responses to Genocide: the Word and the Deed, Part I

  1. NESTOR L. LATRONICO January 8, 2024 at 4:17 pm #

    DEVASTATING! This is the first time that I see a summary of human cruelty! It makes me shudder! Thank you Martha!

  2. Martha Shelley January 8, 2024 at 11:02 pm #

    Thank you, Nestor. This evening I posted part 2. I’m still working on part 3.

  3. Perry Brass January 9, 2024 at 8:51 am #

    It’s so wonderful that you are doing this Martha. What is so terrible, so unfathomable, is that these numbers mean nothing—they are only numbers. Behind every number is a face, with a human history and a personal story. I firmly believe genocide is part of our “animal past.” Chimpanzie tribes slaughter each other, so do baboons. The male baboon exists primarily for one purpose: to keep the other baboons from eating his children. They will. Having grown up in the Deep South in the 1950s and early 60s, I can attest what human hate is like: it is also unfathomable, and is always looking for a target. We keep thinking we’re past all this, but we aren’t. Humans have horrifying blood lust and it will come out in every generation. What the Israelis are saying is, “We will no longer be victims, we will be perpetrators.”
    Both roles are human and repugnant.

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