The problems with genocide IIII: Shoah

Liberal Education 3010

A topics course

Instructor: Dr. Bruce McKay

“This course will consider the problem of genocide from a number of perspectives through a number of theoretical frameworks. We shall ask such questions as: Can we more fully define genocide? Why, in particular, is genocide a problem? Is it a solely modern phenomenon or do other aggressive acts in history constitute genocide? Why is it so difficult to take action when we know that it is occurring? What can we do about it? How can people bring themselves to enact such crimes against fellow humans? What should the role of the arts be in understanding genocide? How can we remember genocide while at the same time reconciling the events of the past with the necessities of the present and future?”

Topics: HolocaustShoah, Yiddish Literature, pogroms, Persecution.

The Yiddish language is being lost in the midst of generational changes.

Through the Shoah/Holocaust many of the Eastern European Jews who spoke Yiddish as thier primary lanagage were killed. Genocide not only destroys lives, but also culture. While genocide is unable to eradicate every person of a certain ethnicity, it does destroy culture, and aids in wiping out an entire generation of citizens. There is a great deal of community culture that is dependent on the passing down norms and values by the generation preceding.

I have learnt most of my social cues from my parents,  and my grandparents. The mentorship that happens in every community is integral, but as in all ethnic wars, that is torn away with the destruction bestowed.

Jewish people have been marginalized and persecuted for their culture and their region since the Roman empire made Christianity the only allowable region. While the Holocaust was unthinkable, it was truly the cumulation of the centuries long persecution. From the Roman empire, to Catherine the Great, the isolation and anti-Semitism has created a culture defined by persecution.

Lectures given from Philosophy, History, and English; the lens the Holocaust and Jewish history is studied from are varied and defined. The studies undercurrents are still shared though, and one runs parallel to the next.

Institutionally, I understand the mechanisms. I can theorize the strategy of certain decisions and certain schemes. There is always an underlying methodology to certain types of madness.

To understand that genocide is a bigger picture using Philosophical rhetoric, and to read primary sources, readings that are from the same mind that the eyes and ears are governed by. Fiction, which retells horrors some people are incapable of speaking about.

How do you connect with people who have been through hell?

To study theory and outcomes does not impart any understanding of the emotional turmoil people went through,but first hand accounts give qualitative evidence that resonates. The imagery of intense acts of violence and hate are profound and so very human.

Raised in a family who had deep ties to the allies in World War II, Nazi and Holocaust history has been fairly prevalent. When I was nine, I saw Schindler’s List for the first time, and while it wasn’t the first history lesson I had regarding the second world war and the Holocaust, it was the first to be truly profound.

When we speak of genocide, or the commiting of ethnic atrocities,  the Holocaust is the example most used. The killing of millions of people from the Jewish community,as well as other marginalized and suppressed groups is a blight on human history. To imagine the suffering that occurred at the hands, literally, of other human beings.

The Nazi regime created impossible situations, pitting people, neighbours, friends against each other, creating Kappos to divide and conquer.

It is frightening to think that it happened, that millions of people were wiped out in a few years only. To read survivor memoirs, knowing this is a direct history of people only two generations preceding.

I still grapple with the question: how do you respond to genocide?

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