Is the Holocaust unique? Answer by focusing on events in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia? The uniqueness of the Holocaust has always been controversial. Was it a singular event where latter atrocities could not match in ideology, degree, or characteristics or was it a predecessor for where similar events could be used as a depiction of the Holocaust simply in another place and time?
Firstly, the Holocaust, commonly referred to as the Nazi slaughter of Jews, Gypsies and other ‘racial undesirables during World War II , is based on a general ideology of racialism that myths of justification in the national mass murders of Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia adopt in their search for mass support. The victims and the types of atrocities in each case would also be considered to determine that despite different targets, the intent and consequences of genocide in all these cases would be traced.
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Though the Holocaust is unique within its own context, these parallels with the German Holocaust will show that that other events in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia also hold equal significance in their own demonstration of ideology and genocide. The underpinning denominator at the root of these killings was that they were all rationalised in the guise of ideologies , endorsed by the government and the state.
The German ideological commitments towards racial superiority in the Holocaust was a forerunner for a repeating cycle of one political justification after another regarding the atrocities committed by the governments later in the 20th century. In the words of Deputy Fuhrer Hess, German national socialism was really only ‘applied biology’ . Hitler underpinned the national political policy of what was acceptable in the German Aryans as a superior race, by an ominous development of the modern biological racial science in the 19th century .
This led to the legitimacy for actions against Jews, Gypsies, and the handicapped because they were perceived agents of racial pollution that threatened the purity of German blood. Political ideology was legitimized into a state institution when in 1935, the infamous Nuremberg laws that made the Jews second class citizens and also outlawed marriage and sexual relations between Jews and ‘Aryans’. Gypsies were liable to the same laws and also confined to special camps, and andicapped Germans were subjected to compulsory sterilization to prevent them from passing on their ‘tainted’ genes. The similar concern for Nazi racial superiority was replicated in Cambodia’s context, as a concern for national and racial grandiosity . In the case of Cambodia, with a Marxist view of history, the political worldview of the Pol Pot group was that Cambodia did not need to learn or import any thing from its neighbours , and it was important to resurrect a precolonial past that was devoid of influences by foreign cultures.
Mirroring Hitler’s political reasons of eliminating of the Jews and other minorities from German society, the Cambodian mass murder was designed to save the ‘authentic’ peasant culture masses from the contamination of the foreign, Hinduized, Buddhist, and urbanised bourgeoisie. This included any of the religious groups, the Vietnamese, the Chinese and the Khmers, which prevented the government from creating ‘a nation of indentured labourers’.
The Khmers Rouges regarded the Vietnamese and the Chinese as animals, much like the Nazi endorsed labels of Jews as ‘parasites’ and microbes and this mythology of the need for absolute Cambodian and peasant supremacy was frequently circulated widely among Pol Pot himself, and many of the party leadership. The infusion of ideology based on racial and national superiority could be identified in both Nazi and Cambodian commitments towards their political policies.
In the words of historian Donald Niewyk, the Nazis were Jewish racists from the beginning that initiated their ideology. For Cambodia, it was the desire for a Marxism-Leninist motivation for a national and a peasant revolution in society that underpinned the latter atrocities. In Rwanda, it was the semblance of democracy that served as the ideological framework for the Tutsi persecution that followed.
Rwanda, as a country built on pre-colonial strife between the former Tutsi bourgeois and the Hutu majority provided a solid foundation for the spread of new ideologies. The Tutsis were portrayed as cruel foreigners hell-bent on making slaves of the Hutu, and this belief, derived from a history of ethnic tension and conflict, was portrayed vigorously through national radio as a propaganda weapon in using this racial doctrine to find justification in their demonisation of the Tutsi.
The rationale was that because Hutu was the majority, therefore, they had legitimacy to rule. The pro-Hutu message of the national radio was communicated by transmitters owned and operated by the government’s Radio Rwanda. Just as racial doctrine found solidarity in Nazi use of legal reinforcement from the Nuremburg laws, the government supported and propagated an ideology stamped at discrimination of the Tutis among the Hutus in Rwanda.
Consistent in each national story of eventual genocide was that ideological commitments became genocidal reality when the state gave it a new legitimate meaning and emotional resonance to a political agenda. The uniqueness of the Holocaust based on a politically advocated ideology is challenged also in the treatment of ethno-regional nationalism in former Yugoslavia to redraw geographical boundaries around self-proclaimed ‘national’ communities, even if it eventuated in the extermination and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.
The Holocaust utopia of a German Aryan race free of the undesired human species could be transcribed to a Greater Serbian desire for a homeland that ignored the rights and existence of the Muslim or Croat minorities. In the Bosnian genocide, Muslims were the targets held by their historical and biological links with the Turks. Violence towards Muslims was upheld according to the Greater Serbia ideology to ‘cleanse Serbia of foreign elements’ and authorities strived to spread the potency of the hateful philosophy by setting up party flags in the centers of towns and villages.
Further examples could be seen in party graffiti painted on private homes and public buildings and loyal party cadre placed in municipal offices. Riots and anarchy were also instituted among Muslims and non-Muslims, particularly providing arms to villages populated by a Serbian majority to create a sense of immediate threat from the Muslims.
Congruent to the legal institution of Nazi racial ideology towards the Jews and Gypsies, the Cambodian government endorsement of racial labels of Vietnamese and Chinese, and the Rwandian propaganda against the Tutsis, the Serbian authorities promoted their ideology to the people to gain lawfulness and justification in this case by installing violence and chaos between their own people and the Muslims. The Holocaust incorporated a unique ideology based on Aryan superiority and Jewish and Gypsy degeneracy that appeared to be legitimized by the overnment under the pretext of legal forms. However, the appearance of political endorsement in order to gain people’s support for their racial theories could be traced in all the cases of Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia. In all these countries, the government established a national and a racial doctrine that announced the superiority of one group while denouncing the inferiority of another. In Cambodia, it was the government’s reinstitution of an original Khmer peasant society by wiping out the other ethnic, educated, and religious groups in the country.
Hutu supremacy by the acts of extermination and persecution within the pretext of ancient myths of Tutsi tyranny was the story of Rwanda while Bosnia replaced the Aryan superiority with the dominance of Greater Serbia and the target of Jews and Gypsies with Muslims and Croats. As a result, the Holocaust could not be identified as exclusively unique in the sphere of ideology due to so many parallels between racial endorsements and the intent of governments to implement them as a form of legitimacy.
Victims (numbers, types) and Atrocities ??? intent and consequence of genocide According to historian Sarah Gordon, she argued that the Holocaust could be understood both in terms of uniqueness and normality. She outlined a few factors had come together to produce the Holocaust: ‘systematic extermination…carried out only by extremely powerful government, where…the process of organized exclusion and murder required cooperation by huge sections of the military and bureaucracy” .
However, Zygmund Bauman stressed that despite these unique factors within the Holocaust context, that brought the killing of millions, the factors of victims and atrocities are ‘constantly present in every modern society, and their presence has been made both possible and inescapable’ . He understood that Holocaust is unique only ‘among other historical cases of genocide because it is modern’ as it was the devastation of peoples by the Nazis which provided the impetus for the formal recognition of genocide as a crime in international law, hence laying the foundation by judicial process.
Therefore, by outlining the victims and atrocities within the cases of Rwanda, Bosnia, and Cambodia that was also compatible with UN Genocide Convention, it will be shown that the Holocaust is unique is providing a precedence within the atrocities of its context, but cannot be unique in comparison to other cases because they are also unique genocides in their own right. The atrocities committed by the Khmers Rouges have been given a variety of names, and “Cambodian Holocaust’ is one of them.
But is it fair to relate it in this term just because the Khmers Rouges left the populace in such a state of trauma that is reflected in the inability of the Cambodians to come to terms with the events linguistically? Cambodia was termed by Uwe Makino as a genocide that ‘represents the final form of social engineering’. Social engineering is the radical and total transformation of a society where it attempts to experiment in an atmosphere of persecution to create a utopian society, and it inevitably leads to crimes against humanity, in extreme cases, to genocide.
In agreement with UN definition of the persecution of religious and racial groups, eyewitnesses testified to the Khmer Rouge massacres of monks and the forcible disrobing and persecution of survivors , including Vietnamese, Chinese and the Muslim Chams also massacred until almost 20% of the population were eradicated by 1979. However, the Nazi did not transform German society to the extent of the Red Khmer Cambodia.
In terms of the atrocities, Protestant and Catholic churches both survived, on the other hand, the National Library in Cambodia was lotted and books were burned indiscriminately . The economic and intellectual elite was wiped out or driven out of the country. So while Nazi Holocaust were exposed to the terror of concentration camps and death by gas chambers, permanent, gruelling forced labour in the killing fields according to Uwe Makino was ‘everybody’s lot’ as were disease, terror, executions on the spot, staged executions for propaganda purposes, and further hunger.
The country, like Germany was ‘transformed into an enormous labour camp and the people were exposed to radical policies that are without precedent in contemporary history. ‘ Therefore, compatible to Uwe Makino’s perspective, Cambodia performed as a special form of genocide that is unique from the Holocaust, and hence, should not be termed as the ‘Cambodian Holocaust’. According to Calk and Jonassohn, the implementation for a belief, a theory or an ideology is an important feature of modern genocide.
As discussed in the Hutu iinvention of ideology, the mass murders committed in Rwanda was planned, engineered and executed by the state, and as indicated in the UN Covention, genocide is preeminiently a state crime. Niewyk, Donald L. , Introduction in Niewyk (ed. ) The Holocuast: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997, p. 1 Rene, Lernarchand, “Comparing the Killing Fields: Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia” in Steven L. B. Jensen, ed. Genocide: Cases, Comparisons and Contemporary Debates, Copenhagen: Danish Center for the Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 2003, p. 155 Lerner, Richard M. Final Solutions: Biology, Prejudice, and Genocide , University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 1992, p. 37. Niewyk, Donald L. The Holocaust: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation p. 4 Berenbaum, Michael, eds. A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis, New York Univerisity, 1990, pp. 227.