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Why we must never forget

           Every year since 2001 International Holocaust Remembrance Day has been commemorated worldwide to honour the memory of the Jews and others who suffered and died under Nazi occupation in the 1930s and 1940s.  The date chosen is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945.            

            Scotland will commemorate this date as Holocaust Memorial Day in a national ceremony, and numerous other events will take place throughout the UK.  The Scottish Parliament hosted an in-person programme at Holyrood on 26th January and will be part of an online national event for Scotland at 10 am on 27th January organised through the Edinburgh Interfaith Association (free registration).  The theme for this year’s commemoration is ‘ordinary people’.

         Participants in the online event will include Holocaust survivor Henry Wuga, Bosnian genocide survivor Sabina Kadic-Mackenzie, FM Nicola Sturgeon, Minister for Equalities and Older People Christina McKelvie and students from Falkirk’s Graeme’s High School’s ‘Mentoring in Violence Prevention’ programme.  UN member states are encouraged not only to commemorate the date, but to set up educational programmes to help prevent future genocides.        

What counts as genocide?

      The United Nations in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part (does not include political groups or ‘cultural’ genocide).         

            Sadly the Nazis were not the last to inflict genocide, with a number of other atrocities in our time, such as Bosnia and Rwanda, and others not so well reported, showing that there is still much work to do to eradicate hatred.  It is important to remember that it develops over time and to be able to recognise the signs.

The 10 Stages of Genocide

           People don’t just wake up one day and commit genocide.  Gregory H Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, developed the 10 stages of genocide to show how it escalates from small beginnings.  At each of the earlier stages there is an opportunity for members of the community or the International Community to halt the stages and stop genocide before it happens.

          First is the stereotyping of people into ‘us’ and ‘them.  Next, visual manifestations which identify a group, like the yellow stars the Jews were forced to wear.  Discrimination follows, where a group is denied civil rights or citizenship, such as the 1935 Nuremberg Laws which stripped Jews of their German citizenship and certain rights.  Then the group is dehumanised and stripped of personal dignity.  Hutus in Rwanda referred to the Tutsi people as ‘cockroaches’, Nazis called the Jews ‘vermin’.            

            People are then organised by the dominant group and trained to carry out acts against the victim group, preceded by propaganda to spread hatred about them, creating fear and allowing the build-up of arms and weapons.  Careful planning is needed.  Death lists and property seizures often precede a whole-scale genocide, or ghettoization of people groups as in Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto.  Finally the death threats are carried out, first small- then large-scale.            

            But even worse is that the perpetrators and/or later generations deny anything ever happened.

          That is why we need to not only remember past atrocities but also stop them happening again. 

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