Nazi Holocaust and Cambodian Genocide

Introduction

In the study of crimes, there is none as grave and serious as genocide. Such a crime may tend to send the whole world into a state of utter shock and give rise to vows such as “never again,” but even then, it has been a great shame to humanity as history shows such crimes, having occurred again and again over time. The question tingles, that what really provokes a certain society to go after eradicating a group or class of people? How could hatred be so intense for people not to consider their neighbors as fellow humans who have full right to run their own lives but as an unbearable existence that must be secluded and eradicated?

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There is indeed a long list of victim groups during the genocide century. Some are familiar to the world at large, like Jews, Cambodians, Rwandan Tutsis, and Bosnians, while the annihilation of others has remained in a state of anonymity, like Armenians, Herero, Ukrainian peasants, Burundi Hutus, Bengalis, Gypsies, Guatemalan Mayans, and the Ogoni of Nigeria. (Hinton, pp. iv) So how did such victim societies deal with the genocide traumas, how did they move ahead without inducing any revenge, and how did they balance the need for justice and impartiality, and the imperative of stability, are the questions beyond the normal-leading life people’s imaginations.

Nazis Holocaust of the Jews

Very ordinarily, this particular type of genocide began with a simple boycott of Jewish shops and, and as horrible as could be, ended in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, with complete extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe, while Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers responsible for all this. (The History Place, n.p.)

After coming to power, Adolph Hitler, time after time, held the Jews responsible for Germany’s loss in World War I and the consequent economic adversities. He also engaged in racial discrimination, asserting the fair-skinned, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed Germans as a master race, while the Jews, the total racial opposite. He also alleged that the Jews were involved in activities against the master race so that it would fail to assume its rightful position as rulers of the world. Jews, who at that time made up merely one percent of Germany’s population, and proudly regarded themselves as Germans by nationality, were slowly but surely kept out of German society by the Nazis. Some endless decrees and laws were carried out, and German citizenship was divested from them. They were expelled from the schools, to work for any profession was made illegal, were forbidden to join any military services, and could not even share a park seat with a non-Jew. The public portrayal of Jews as Germans’ enemies, through different means of media, was made intensely, following which Jews had to leave behind everything, including their residences and professions. This was all done in the early 1930s. During the same decade, in later years, Hitler spread out the borders of the Nazi Reich by forcibly taking over Austria’s territory, treating Austria’s Jews almost the same way as they had done with the German Jews. (The History Place, n.p.)

The actual beginning of the Holocaust was triggered due to the murder of a German embassy official by a teenager as revenge for the severe treatment of his Jewish parents by the Nazis. This killing was made as an excuse for Nazis to operate a pogrom hostile to Jews, which started off killing around 90 Jews, burning down around 500 Jews’ worship homes, and smashing their shops’ windows. Above 25000 men were dragged off to concentration camps as the first attempt of mass arrest. (The History Place, n.p.)

As the Second World War provoked, Germany defeated Poland, a country that consisted of over three million Jews. These Jews, after Poland’s defeat, were amassed and compelled into ghettos at different sites, where thousands of them died due to hunger, sickness, and overall filthy living conditions. A leader of the Nazi SS, Heinrich Himmler, was given control of the ghettos, who instructed the construction of a concentration camp for holding the Polish prisoners. The camp was named Auschwitz by the Germans.

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In the meantime, Hitler continued overthrowing one country after another from Europe, putting ever-growing numbers of Jews under the control of Nazis. The situation raised the question as to what should be done to the millions of Jews now under Nazi jurisdiction. The next invasion by Hitler was of the Soviet Union. About three million Jews resided there who were all amassed in an organized manner and shot by four SS special units. On the other hand, a large new camp, Auschwitz II, was being constructed, which was to be the site of four large gas chambers in the future, intended to be utilized for mass extermination. This idea of such extermination was named “mercy killing,” regarded as a favor to sick or impaired persons in Germany and Austria.

The unimaginable horrible brutality had now begun. In Russia, Jews were either locked up and suffocated in air-tight containers by using exhaust fumes from the truck’s engines or were subjected to mass shootings for a quick killing. All in all, in a matter of two days, more than 33.000 Jews were shot. However, there was intense inhumanness still to come. In the year 1942, a type of mass murder was planned, which was unparalleled in the whole of human history. An official Reinhard Heydrich was to coordinate the plan, known as “the final solution.”

The final solution began with over two million Polish Jews sent to gas ovens as soon as the new camps became active. At other sites of concentration camps in Poland, Jews were brought together and misled by the SS that it would just be a transit stop, where they would be deloused while their clothes disinfected. Men and women and children were taken separately to the undressing barracks for clothes removal. Turn by turn, without clothes; they were all hustled along a pathway. The SS nicknamed it the Himmelstrasse (road to Heaven). A bathhouse, having tiled shower rooms, was there at the end of the path. With people all packed inside, the main door was forcefully shut, establishing an air-tight seal. A diesel engine was stationed outside the chamber, through which toxic carbon monoxide emissions were given in.

The same thing was told and done to the new arrivals that were taken to the adjacent gas chamber. But here, instead of carbon monoxide, tiny balls of the pesticide Zyklon-B (prussic acid) were discharged into gaps positioned above the chamber. Having contact with air, these tiny balls/pellets vaporized, discharging poisonous cyanide fumes inside the chamber, with mayhem exploding, when this bitter gas odor spread upwards. The adults climbed on top of each other, arising as a tangled, piled-up mass of dead bodies all the way up to the ceiling.

The victims were then untangled and removed from the gas chambers and were searched for any gold teeth fillings or other valuables. Different ways were used for the disposition of corpses, which included mass burials, incineration in open fire ditches or in ovens.

Extraordinarily, for the journey of Jews to the death camps, Nazis would charge them train fare for the excuse that they were being “resettled in the East.” While in the Poland ghettos, they were plainly informed that they were being transferred to work camps. Crammed into boxcars with no water or sanitation and poor conditions, many elderly and young died along the way. As trainloads of Jews arrived at Auschwitz, SS doctors conducted a selection process through which young adults suitable for slave labor were permitted to live, given an ID number, while others were sent to the gas chambers. Almost all other death camps were operated in the same manner.

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Through the annihilation plan, “Final Solution,” for the Jews, nearly 2,700,000 of them were murdered in killing centers either by gassing or by shooting. All in all, six million men, women, and children were estimated to be killed in the Holocaust, which makes up two-third of the Jews that lived in Europe once, before the Second World War.

Genocide in Cambodia

After this Holocaust, which was the first of many genocides to take place, the whole world believed that nothing of that sort could ever happen in the future. However, not much learning was made from the horrendous hate crimes of the Holocaust, as the Cambodian genocide took place just around thirty years after that. Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country, which was unknown to the majority of the world before 1979, is a part of today’s history. Starting in the year 1975, which marked the beginning of the most horrible and catastrophic war in Cambodia and the rest of the world, during the period of four years, till 1979, more than 1.7 million people are said to have died of overstrain, starvation, torment and slaying. It certainly amazes how the United Nations and the rest of the world had disregarded and taken no notice of the people of Cambodia.

In 1975, Pol Pot formed a Communist Party, Khmer Rouge, which took full control over Cambodia. An extremist social reformation occurred in the 20th century. The basic purpose was to form an entirely classless society. The learned, the well-off, civil servants, or anybody who refused to collaborate and adhere to the new communist leadership was slain. The basic goal of the Khmer Rouge was to remove the different classes of people and form one society consisting of peasants. There was no worth of Cambodian currency, or banking or finance, or religion, or any private property. (Selvakumar, n.p.)

Khmer Rouge, by their rebellious combat, seized a number of areas in Cambodia, and it was by 1973 that they got power over the whole country. It was later in 1975 that Khmer Rouge detained Phnom Penh and apprehended the government. With the capture of Phnom Penh, all the people in the towns and cities were ordered that they pack their luggage and tag along with Khmer Rouge troops to a new location where special centers were to be built for them. The excuse made to them was that it was only temporary evacuation due to the American Bombing threat. (Selvakumar, n.p.)

As the major plan implied, the Khmer Rouge intended to convert Cambodia into a classless society. This, they decided to do by evacuating the cities. The urban population was forced to live in concentration camps and work in collective agricultural farms. This era in history is known as the Killing Fields due to the fact that over a million people died. (Elbert, n.p.) Working conditions were intensely severe, with 15 hours a day of non-stop work, with merely one meal a day. Families were broken up, and any sort of communication was forbidden. It was a brutal life where people could be killed if they tried to find their wives or children. It was the same for all – civilians and officials.

It was terrorism and radicalism that prevailed under the Khmer Rouge reign. People, on past regime’s participation basis, or those having Western education plus contacts with international governments, imprisoned, tormented, and slew. The situation was near as if everyone, even Cambodian Christians, ethnic Vietnamese, Buddhists monkshood, and Muslims, was a victim of the Khmer Rouge. All of these were collectively driven in an inspection center. From here, it was their fate – either to be sent to work in agricultural farms or right away be killed in mass graves. Over 200,000 people were herded to the very center in 1974-1975. They would be forced to dig large trenches and stand inside as they were either gunned down or buried alive. An estimation of the total number of people killed through execution-only reports is almost 100,000. But then there were others who were buried alive in mass graves, and still others who died of starvation, disease, or exhaustion. Craig Etcheson in “Teaching about Genocide” suggested that the number of people who perished in this genocide was between 2.2 and 2.5 million, along with half executions out of the total population of the country – which makes up to a quarter to a third of the whole of the population of Cambodia that was wiped out by its very own rulers.

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Similar and different aspects

Amongst the two big genocides in the history of the world, the most similar factor was the extent of brutality by those who were in power and the huge scale on which the mass killings were conducted. Moreover, the actual reason is not very clear or substantial, as according to the study made, merely the subject of class difference appears. In both the catastrophes, the lower class was subjected to extermination for no considerable reason. It was only a matter of brutality. One’s thinking chokes beyond the thoughts of human beings subjected to gas ovens, or suffocated with chemical sprays, or starved to death. Even the physical, economic, physiological traumas that the survivors must have had are beyond one’s good mind.

The variance of the issue amongst the two genocides could be considered as a slight difference, as in the Holocaust, the purpose was to exterminate the lower class Jews, while in Cambodia, the objective was to form a classless society. Furthermore, the difference between the extents of torment is another point. The Holocaust was horrendous, with people burnt from gas or suffocated from toxic chemicals, or shot in a massive shooting. While in the Cambodian genocide, people were tortured in a different way by interrogation, starvation, and exhaustion.

References

Chalk, Frank and Kurt Jonassohn (1990) The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Elbert, Robert (1984) The Killing Fields, 2008. Web.

Hinton, Alexander L. Genocide: An Anthropological Reader (pp. IV).

Selvakumar, Lavinia (2005) Cambodian Genocide: Background History, 2008. Web.

The History Place (n.d.) Genocide in the 20th century. The Nazi Holocaust 1938-1945, 2008. Web.

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