The term genocide is difficult to define; thus, a universal definition of genocide does not exist. There are many controversies around what constitutes a genocide. Many sociologists such as Fein and Charny, as well as others have formulated their own definitions of the term, trying to determine its typological manifestations and conditions. (Fein, 1990) The term genocide was first formulated by Raphael Lempkin which he constructed from the Greek word ‘genos’, meaning ‘race’ or ‘tribe’ and the word ‘cide’ meaning ‘to kill’. Lemkin describes genocide as “the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group”, with a coordinated plan to exterminate that specific group on the sole base of their existence. Furthermore, he states that genocide is “not only a crime against the rules of war but a crime against humanity itselfâ€¦” (Destexhe, 1994) He devised the term during the Second World War with the Holocaust taking place in Nazi Germany. Perhaps this is the reason the Holocaust is often regarded as the highest of genocides or perhaps just the best known. Although the holocaust raised global awareness, nevertheless just fifty years after the Second World War Rwanda was repeating similar mistakes. The aim of this essay is to compare and contrast the genocide in Rwanda and the Holocaust of Nazi Germany and to find similarities or trends. The essay will start with a brief historical recap on the genocide in Rwanda and on the Nazi Holocaust, before engaging the main of the topic.
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In 1933, Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. At this time about nine million Jews were European residents. However by the end of the Second World War, two third of those Jews were dead, due to a systematic killing, carried out by the Nazis. The German Nazis believed in a superiority of their ‘race’ to other ‘races’. Besides Jews, Roma (Gypsies), mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals and several other people became victims of Nazi genocide. Most of these victims died in ‘special’ camps, which the Germans called concentration camps. In that same year they began to put into practice their racial ideology, forgetting that the Jews were not a race. This ideology was sadly supported by scientists who promoted “selective breeding” to “improve” the human race. (Landau, 1998) Furthermore, they spread hateful propaganda which unfairly blamed Jews for Germany’s economic depression and the country’s defeat in the First World War Jews were forced to quit their jobs and Jewish businesses were boycotted. A so called ‘euthanasia’ program was created for the death camps to systematically kill as many Jews as possible. This special program introduced an easier and more effective method of killing by gas. It was introduced to lift the psychological strain of the murderers as well as to screen the killings from public eye. Other deaths occurred in ghettos and other labour camps. In these ghettos Jews were confined and exposed to cold temperatures, starvation and various diseases, which led to the death of many prisoners. (Landau 1998, Shaw 2003) Those Jews who were able to flee persecution sought refuge in foreign countries but sadly many of them were denied it. Disappointingly the Nazis received support from other nearby countries. Towards the end of the war, when the Germans realised their defeat, they transported prisoners back into Germany and destroyed the concentration camps, in order to hide evidence of their existence.
The majority of the Rwandan population are part of the Hutu ethnic group who traditionally were crop-growers. Tutsis, who were traditionally herdsmen, immigrated into Rwanda from northern Africa. For many centuries both groups shared a common lifestyle, language, culture and nationality. They lived together in a nonviolent environment. This changed when colonists from Europe moved in. The conflict started when the Hutu majority were reined over by the Tutsi minority, who were put in charge by Belgian occupiers, because they believed that the Tutsi, due to their physical attributes (they did not correspond to certain Negro stereotypical features), were a far superior group than the Hutu. (Destexhe, 1994) Tutsis were placed in high positions. A political divide was created. This did not please the Hutu. At their advantage they controlled the militia as well as the popular anti-Tutsi radio station Milles Collins, which later pronounced evil propaganda against all Tutsis. By 1959 Hutu’s had seized power and were getting hold of Tutsi territory. Therefore the Tutsis sought refuge in their neighbouring countries and formed a Rwandan Patriotic Front, also known as RPF. However in April 1994, a plane was shot down. It was the plane of the Hutu Rwandan president. Hutus accused Tutsis of the crime, which triggered the ‘Final Solution’, planned by the Hutus. (BBC, access via: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/1288230.stm ) Hutus started their media propaganda against Tutsis and that led to the beginning of the genocide. Civilians as well as local representatives helped capturing Tutsis and all those who stood in their way. There were no exceptions made, both men, women and children were slaughtered and executed. Even people who formerly befriended Tutsis turned against their friends. An estimated 800.000 Tutsi were killed, before the government collapsed and a ceasefire was achieved. (Destexhe 2003, BBC access via: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/1288230.stm )
Comparing the origins of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide: Adolf Hitler started a propaganda against the Jews living in Germany, blaming them for the countries’ economical problems, without actual prove. The Jews did not attack, nor did they once rule Germany or exerted power over the country. And nor did they place an actual threat to German citizens. Helen Fein draws a crucial distinction between ideological and retributive genocide. Following her argument it is to believe that the Holocaust was an ideological genocide while the Rwandan genocide was a retributive one. (Fein, 1990) In Rwanda the Hutus strongly believed that they had to fight oppression and a threat going out from the Tutsis. Of course this does not excuse the genocide. The similarities that can be drawn are the way in which the propaganda was carried out and perceived. Both the Nazis and the Hutus ‘demonised’ their antagonists through media broadcasts. (Destexhe 1994, Shaw 2003) This in turn fuelled hatred and gave the perpetrators more incentive to kill. Yehuda Bauer (2001:42, 47) argues that “Nazi racial anti-semitic ideology was the central factor in the development toward the Holocaust”. Furthermore he adds that “one major difference between the Holocaust and other forms of genocide is that pragmatic considerations were central with all other genocides, abstract ideological motivations less so”. Hutus were not murdering Tutsis due to a racial ideology but because they felt oppressed by them. Moreover, the way the mass killings were carried out during the Holocaust was less humane and more aggravating. Hutus did not build concentration camps to wipe out Tutsis but the genocide was mainly carried out by hand, often using machetes and clubs. One other main similarity is that many people who opposed the Nazis or Hutus or helped Jews or Tutsis escape, when caught were themselves murdered. However, many Hutu were put in uncomfortable situations where they had to kill their Tutsi neighbours in order not to be accused of treason. One can argue that this dilemma occurs within every genocide. On the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, unlike the Nazis, no one tried to keep the genocide in Rwanda a secret. There were media representatives who reported what they saw during as well as after the genocide. Much could have been done to halt the slaughtering in Rwanda, but neither the United States, the United Nations nor other States did enough to stop the killings. (Destehxe 1994, Shaw 2003)
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Both the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide were severe crimes against humanity. The holocaust claimed over six million victims. Rwanda claimed over eight hundred thousand. Although there is a clear balance between those numbers, the Rwandan genocide should not be overlooked as a ‘minor’ genocide. It is genocide after all, which is a crime against humanity and therefore should weigh as much as any other genocide.
In summary, clear distinctions as well as similarities can be drawn between these two genocides. The Holocaust went after a cruel ideology, with the aim to effectively eradicate as many Jews as possible. The Rwandan genocide did not take off after an ideology but rather because of fuelled hatred and fear. In order to quicken and induce increased hatred, perpetrators of both genocides used media propaganda to ensure their goals were achieved. However, the method of killing was different. Nazis sent Jews to perish in special camps, while Hutus physically slaughtered the Tutsis. Furthermore, the Nazis tried to cover up their killings, while the Hutus cared little about this. In summary one can say that though these genocides provoked different responses in terms of severity, it should not matter how many people died but rather why and how those people were murdered. Though the Holocaust happened 50 years earlier, it seemed like humanity did not learn of its past mistakes.
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