When the Allied forces first discovered the Nazi concentration camps in 1944 and 1945, the soldiers were horrified by what they saw. The evidence of gas chambers and other torturous devices as well as the starvation stamped on the bodies of the survivors seemed like something out of a horror story. The world reeled in disgust as more and more came out about what the Nazis did to the Jews and the gypsies, and a cry went up that this must never happen again.
That is what we are taught as children in history classes, that this was a particularly dark moment in human history and that it must never happen again. However, if we are truly being honest with ourselves, genocide is not just in the history books, but outside our front doors as well. Mass extermination of a particular group of people doesn’t happen overnight and there are definite warning signs, but we have perfected the art of denial because we are scared and we don’t want our own lives affected. It is easier to just believe the lies.
It first starts with a lot of propaganda teaching hate which leads to targeted businesses losing customers and families losing friends. Freedoms will then be slowly taken away like the right to marry outside your ethnic group and the right to go wherever you wanted without having to wear special identification. This is what happened to European Jews before they were forced into concentration camps. A web of hate-filled lies are spread as warrant for the deaths.
More recent history has been rocked by genocide as well in places like Rwanda, Syria, Central African Republic and the South Sudan and so many more places then we’d like to admit. In an opinion piece last year in The Washington Post, “A Prelude to Murder: Calling Humans Vermin,” Susan Benesch and Michael Abramowitz discussed the power of dehumanizing language and how it is a slippery slope to genocide. The Nazis referred to the Jews as rats while the Hutu in Rwanda called the Tutsi cockroaches. How many of us feel guilty for crushing a cockroach with our shoe?
If we truly want to learn something from dark moments in history like the Holocaust and other genocides, then we need to be more aware of the psychology of hate and to not be so afraid to stand up against those groups who would deny others their humanity.