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George Baumgarten

 
U.N. Program Addresses Genocide: The Holocaust and Beyond

By George Baumgarten, U. N. Correspondent., January 29, 2015

 

 

 

 

     It was a concept coined by author Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, the first one to invent its modern name: Genocide (from the Latin gens occidere), the killing of a whole race or nation. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, in her Pulitzer Prize winning history, called it simply A Problem From Hell. It began, of course, with the Holocaust of European Jewry in the Second World War. But the “problem” is with us still.

 

     As a fitting prelude to its annual series of Holocaust Commemorations, the United Nations recently held a special conference on the subject. It was titled “Why have we failed in preventing genocides and how to change that?” The Conference, therefore, was concerning itself not only with the Holocaust, but with all the episodes of genocide and near-genocide since.

 

     The Conference was opened with a short statement from Polish Ambassador Boguslaw Winid, in whose country the Nazis built all six (6) of their major Death Camp complexes. Winid cited the need for “…genocides [to] be avoided in the future and all those responsible for past atrocities can be brought to justice”.

 

     The U.N.’s own Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, called for “…reflection on how better to prevent horrific crimes witnessed during the Holocaust and other genocides”. “Genocide can only happen”, he said, “when we ignore the warning signs—and are unwilling to take action”. And he asserted that “…the international community much stand ready to protect populations from genocide and other atrocity crimes”.

 

     In a comprehensive speech that showed both the nature and the horror of genocide and its protracted history, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power  reviewed the many incidents of genocide, from the Holocaust to Rwanda and beyond. She mentioned Lemkin, and his invention of the word “genocide”. She gave a moving account of places in the world today, where genocide is being committed, or attempted. She told especially of stories from Rwanda—stories of human heroism, of people putting themselves between killers and their intended victims…at nothing less than colossal risk to their own lives.

 

     She told of the dangerous—and little appreciated—rescue of the Yazidis from certain death an Mt. Sinjar. She told of Rwanda’s Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who just managed to get her five children to safety, only to be murdered with her husband thereafter. And she told of Captain Mbaye Diagne, who saved numerous children in Kigali, only to be killed later at a Hutu checkpoint.

 

 

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     Power went on—bringing the story up to date--to tell of Father Bernard Kinvi, who saved numerous civilians in the Central African Republic. Carrying one disabled teenage girl on his back, he brought her to safety at his clinic.

 

      The lesson was not unique, Power said, to Rwanda or the Central African Republic. There are countless stories—many no doubt never told—of those who hid Jews from the Nazis, and those of their liberators who found unspeakable horrors in the camps. Of people who saved those of other ethnic groups—in the Polish countryside, Sarajevo and many times since.

 

     Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin spoke with pride of the Red Army’s First Ukrainian Front, who opened the gates of the horrors of Auschwitz. He spoke of that army’s multi-ethnic composition—with Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Georgians, Azeris, Central Asians and others. And he spoke of the bitter trial of the Russian people, who lost the whole of there country West of Stalingrad, only to wrest it back from the invader with huge quantities of blood.  He told of the massacres at Katyn and Babiy Yar, where hundreds of thousands were mowed down without mercy.  And finally he told of the adoption of the Genocide Convention, in 1948.

 

     Britain’s Ambassador Sir Mark Lyall-Grant spoke of the words “Never Again”, etched in stone at the concentration camp at Dachau, outside Munich. He noted also that a possible, growing genocide may have been averted last year in the Central African Republic. This was due, he said, to “improving our response to early signs of genocide”. Also, we have more effective tools, including all those tools of the United Nations, both of diplomacy and of peacekeeping. But we still have a long way to go—as witness the situations in the Sudans, Syria, Nigeria and others.

 

     Adama Dieng is the Secretary’s Special Adviser on Genocide. A Senegalese, he previously served as the Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, so he certainly knows his subject well. Dieng noted that there has been “loss of life on a massive scale”, in such places as Darfur and the Central African Republic. The world has developed the concept of “R2P”, Responsibility to Protect, to concert efforts to identify and prevent outbreaks of genocide. But we still have to guard against incitement to kill. There is still often a lack of political will in such cases, and we must go from a reactive to an effective approach.

 

     Dr. Piotr Cywinski is a man who lives with the reality of the very greatest genocide. As director of the Memorial and State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, it is his daily work. He told how people are nearly always silent going through his camp complex. He tries to commemorate people’s whole lives, and use “before and after” photos—obviously of survivors.  He emphasized the idea of “protecting the

 

 

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authenticity” of his exhibits. His camp/museum complex will require an

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