Taking part in this series of seminars becomes a real privilege when you realise that you are listening to world experts in their field. You frantically scribble down your notes, trying to capture if not every word at least as many as you can (I am already up to 29 pages of foolscap notes). How then to share that without reducing it to unconnected bullet points? The beauty is that the lectures are presented in chronological order and so there is some logic in just taking what you consider to be interesting and informative it, because after all this is a blog and not an essay. So the next couple of days may appear to be more academic ponderings but hopefully they will be thought-provoking as well. So let’s start at the beginning:
Shoah and Genocide
Professor Yehuda Bauer* states that the main question we should be concerned with is how to prevent the mass murder of one group of humans by another because genocide ‘disfigures the world’. International law talks of genocide as the ‘crime of crimes’ against ethnic and national groups with the intent and action of annihilation.
Why then do human groups murder other groups? Perhaps we have to go to the very beginning. Human beings were and are inherently predator mammals; more specifically we are hunter predators, and although nowadays we don’t dash out to spear a passing hairy mammoth for supper we do, as a group, raise animals and farm fish specifically for our food. We are ‘programmed to be killers’ as well as collectors.
We are also members of a herd, a group, a nation, but ‘to kill inside the herd destroys the herd’, so to justify killing we have to turn to laws and principles in opposition to our predator instincts. But what about the fifth commandment I hear you say… what the commandments actually says if you accurately translate the Hebrew word is ‘You shall not murder’ not ‘you shall not kill’; therefore killing is permitted murder whilst murder is prohibited killing.
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’
Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)
The crux of the matter revolves around racism and religion, and yet there are no racial groups because we are one race – the human race. Nevertheless racism exists, although this wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until Christians reconquered the Iberian peninsula and expelled the Jews and Moors (Arabs) in 1492 in Toledo that the first racial law was passed. Since then there have been many ‘racially’ motivated incidents that we can classify as genocide but there was something different about the Shoah or Holocaust
It has parallels with other genocides in that it was mass murder; it was committed by the best possible means at the disposal of the perpetrators (whether gas chambers or machetes) and it mirrors the suffering of victims which is unquantifiable. The difference, however, lies in the motivation. All other genocides were committed for pragmatic reasons, in that the perpetrators were seeking power, domination or revenge. Yet the Jews had no real political representation in any European countries, they had no army, they didn’t really control any large national companies and didn’t have control over the economy. They were therefore murdered for ideology.
It showed itself in anti-Semitism (which is a singular contradiction as you cannot have a positive, i.e. Semitism) which was happening even pre-Christian times as shown in the allegorical story of Esther (Chapter 5). By killing Jews you are attempting to eliminate cultures different to yourself, which explains the roots of anti-Semitism and it arises not at a biographical level but a cultural level
However, it then reaches a theological level beginning with St Augustine of Hippo’s tract of 429BC Adversus ludaeos, which eventually mutates into nationalism, so that by 1941 Nazi ideology has reached the stage that it is necessary to kill ALL the Jews in the world. This has a new global element in that by the twentieth century it was physically possible to reach all corners of the world. So despite being very clearly part of genocide it is also very different because it was so unprecedented.
Where then does this leave those of us who profess a Christian faith, because after all the Jewish culture is part of our inheritance, and a Jewish man is the Messiah
*Yehuda Bauer was born 1926 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In the 1930’s his father tried to raise money to get his family to the British Mandate of Palestine. On 15th March 1939, the day that Nazi Germany annexed Czechoslovakia the family managed to get past Nazi officials onto a train that took them over the border to Poland and from there they moved to Palestine via Romania. He continued his studies, including studying history at Cardiff University in Wales on a British scholarship. He returned to Israel, completing his doctorate in 1960 and began teaching at the Avraham Harman Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University. He served on the central committee of Mapam, then the junior partner party of Israel’s ruling Mapai (Israel Labour Party), and was a visiting professor at Brandeis University, Yale University, Richard Stockton College, and Clark University. He was the founding editor of the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and served on the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust, published by Yad Vashem in 1990. He continues as a professor of Holocaust Studies at the University as well as travelling around the world talking out genocide and discussing ways to prevent it.