Holocaust Memorial Day is on 27 January. It’s an occasion many schools mark each year and build into their teaching.
On the day, people all over the world remember the victims of the holocaust in Nazi occupied Europe during WW2, and victims of genocides that have taken place since then, including those in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia.
This year, the theme is Be the light in the darkness. It explores the ways individuals resisted the darkness of genocide to be the light before, during and after horrific events. You can find more information and resources for schools on the HMDT website. For HMD2021, the Trust asked young people to submit photos on this theme, the best of which will be used in an online exhibition to be launched on 27 January.
A couple of years ago, I ran a similar in-school competition that drew on the work of Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch. The aim was to encourage young people to think about the part they could play in countering the ten stages of genocide, including the denial of historical events.
The ten stages of genocide
- Classification: all cultures have categories that distinguish different groups of people, but these can become the basis of discrimination. A first step can be the denial of citizenship to a group. We can prevent classification by celebrating our shared humanity.
- Symbolisation: different groups are distinguished by symbols or colours, for example the yellow star worn by Jews under Nazi rule before and during WWII. We can prevent symbolisation by rejecting racist and derogatory language and attitudes.
- Discrimination: A dominant group, driven by an exclusionary ideology, uses custom, political power and the law to curtail the rights of other groups. We can counter discrimination by ensuring full citizenship rights, political engagement, and legal redress for all groups.
- Dehumanisation: the humanity of members of a group is denied by equating them with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. They may be vilified through hate propaganda in print, on radio & TV, and in social media. This subverts the normal human revulsion against murder. We can prevent dehumanisation by challenging such speech across all media platforms, and in everyday interactions.
- Organisation: genocide is organised by a state either directly or through militias or decentralised terrorist groups which allow deniability. This can be countered by national and international scrutiny, sanctions, and prosecution.
- Polarisation: extremists drive groups apart and target moderates who speak and work against genocide. Polarisation can be prevented by supporting the work of human rights groups and the legal challenge of extremist actions.
- Preparation: Leaders of the perpetrator group plan for genocide, perhaps using euphemisms for mass killing such as ‘Final Solution’ or ‘purification’. This may only be prevented by international action such as arms embargoes.
- Persecution: victims are separated because of ethnicity, religion or other factor. They may be confined to ghettos or concentration camps and subject to extrajudicial killing. Perpetrators watch for international reaction and accelerate their actions if it is ineffective.
- Extermination: the mass killing that defines genocide occurs. It is referred to as ‘extermination’ by the perpetrators because they do not regard the victims as fully human. This can only be halted by rapid international intervention to protect victims.
- Denial: this occurs during or after genocide. It includes attempts to cover up or discredit evidence, denial that genocide occurred, or even attempts to blame the victims. Denial can be countered by prosecution of perpetrators, and continued school and public education.
Where we can all most readily play a role in countering genocide is in the early stages, and in working against the denial that occurs following genocide. That’s why I believe that it is so important for educators to embrace events such as Holocaust Memorial Day. Steps like commemorating past victims of genocide, challenging the use of language to describe those who are ‘other’ today, and standing up for human rights, all help to guard against any future genocide.