Genocide

 


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The story of Nazi atrocities is supposedly an old one. Long before the war ended, indeed before it began, we were hearing the story-through the press, through the radio and occasionally through the testimony of eyewitnesses who managed miraculously to escape the giant abbatoir which was Europe to reach America in safety. Many of us believed what we read and heard, some of us half-believed, some of us-blinded by a faith, political or otherwise-refused to believe. The scores of thousands of GI's who liberated Buchenwald, Dachau, Nordhausen, Mauthausen, did not need the evidence produced at Nuremberg to dispel doubts. They saw the evidence on the spot-saw it and smelled it and helped to bury it in common graves so big they looked like subway cuts. But Nuremberg did more than furnish incontrovertible documentary proof for today's skeptic and tomorrow's historian.

It showed that the Nazi atrocity technique was as modern a weapon of war as the V-bomb, and infinitely more sanguinary. The difference was that it was less designed to win this war than the next, the war which Germany, having established hegemony over Europe, planned ultimately to wage for domination of the globe. So modern, indeed, was Nazi barbarism, that in no language did there exist a word to describe it until shortly before the Nuremberg trial began. In 1944, Raphael Lemkin, expert in international law and historian of the legal aspects of Nazi territorial expansion, invented and formulated the concept of the word genocide, defining it as the purposeful destruction of nations, races, or groups. The authors of the Nuremberg Indictment incorporated the new word into their document as part of Count IV (Crimes Against Humanity). The word was used repeatedly during the trial, especially by the British prosecutors.

It has become as significant a contribution to our vocabulary as quisling, coventrize or blitz, and with a far firmer etymological foundation. So I think it misleading to refer to Nazi “barbarism, " which implies a reversion to something out of the past. Genocide is a new concept, part and parcel of that newest and most dangerous of the socio-political diseases of our time: fascism. It is a concept involving specific socio-political goals, specific techniques and specific and terrible consequences for all mankind.

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