April 24, 2015 represented the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in which approximately 800,000 to 1.5 million people were systematically exterminated by the government of the Ottoman Empire (now part of Turkey). Others faced starvation, rape and forced labour.
Currently, there is also the trial in Germany of Oskar Groening, a 93-year-old former SS soldier who is accused of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews in the summer of 1944, as part of the Holocaust in which six million Jews and approximately five million non-Jews were killed in Nazi-Germany and German occupied territories. Most were killed in gas chambers.
Oskar Groening is described as a bookkeeper, but he gave evidence where he witnessed a soldier grabbing a crying infant (hidden among garbage) by her legs and smashing her to death against the iron side of a truck. He also described a time when he was awakened to help track down escaped prisoners who were then herded into a farmhouse which was set on fire and where they all perished.
The events reminded me of a visit to the Elmina and Cape Coast castles in Ghana, West Africa, and the feelings that I experienced, especially while touring the cold, dirt-floored dungeons which sat directly below the church and superior living quarters of the European slave traders. I certainly wondered about the God to whom they were praying in the church.
In the dungeon I thought that I could hear the cries of Black folks stolen from their homes and about to make the trip (if they survived) to a strange land and forced into slave labour and made to endure unspeakable horrors which included beatings, rape, and starvation.
Estimates vary from a few million to as many as 100 million Black folks who were taken out of Africa by European slave traders from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Again estimates vary, but there were countless numbers of Africans who were thrown overboard during the journey across the Atlantic due to the outbreak of disease, overload, and water running out. The cargo was usually insured but the owners were paid only for loss due to drowning and not for slaves killed by illness.
The wanton inhumanity also reminded me of the Rwandan genocide during a 100-day period from April to June 1994 in which an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were killed by the Hutu majority.
Machetes, clubs, blunt objects and other weapons were used by the Hutus to kill, rape, and maim their neighbours and steal their property.
More recently, we have seen videotaped beheadings and horrible atrocities, including starvation and rape, imposed on people living in Northern Syria and Iraq by ISIS.
Considering these and other such events it is extremely difficult for me to understand what is it that drives the individuals who commit these atrocities. What is it that’s going through their heads? Is it anger, hatred, or is it pure evil?
What is it that would drive an individual or individuals to herd millions into a gas oven or to kill someone because of their ethnicity? What is it that makes it okay to steal millions of people from their homes and force them into slavery and beatings which sometimes resulted in their deaths? What is it that would drive someone to hack a neighbour to death, especially someone with whom you would have previously been on good terms? What is it that would drive someone to slice off the head of another person for no good reason?
Even as a social worker and with all my worldly experiences I cannot begin to make sense of it. But for sure the legacy continues. Racism, anti-Semitism and man’s inhumanity to other men is alive and well and, as such, it is imperative for all victims to band together as a collective force to combat the evil regardless of the nature of that evil.
For sure there should be a common bond.