They say the people who forget history are likely to repeat what happened in the past. This underscores the significance of looking back to major events of the time. Amongst the countries that carry so much history on massive killings is Germany and Rwanda. This paper looks into the Jewish Holocaust and the Rwanda genocide that mark a dark side of the history because of the widespread killings. Finally, comparison on the two genocides will come later.
The two words ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ needs understanding to avoid confusion. Genocide is the intended and planned destruction, either wholly or in part, of a group ethnically, racially, religiously, or nationally. The definition of the term may refer to other international bodies, like the United Nations. However, such broad definitions go further in describing the means of executing a group or the system of killings. On the other hand, ethnic cleansing is the purposeful determination by one group of people to remove, often violently and through terrorism, another group or population of people. Ethnic cleansing relates significantly to genocide since it involves a massive execution of humankind.
The word “holocaust” (Greek word for sacrifice by fire), widely understood by scholars nowadays, was the genocide systematically undertaken between the years 1941 and 1945 in Germany by the Nazis and led by Adolf Hitler. Approximately 6 million people, European Jews, perished during the time. On a different year, nearly fifty years later, massive killings took place in the Rwanda nation. The Rwanda genocide took place in 1994 between the months of April and June. The violence was aimed at exterminating the ethnic group Tutsis by the main perpetrators Hutus. The two genocides resulted from different triggering factors. The magnitude of the two genocides varies. After a short recap of the two genocides, a comparison seems rather natural. The recap focuses on the time before the genocide, cause, massive killings, and the end.
Discussion of the two genocides
Holocaust is a historic, planned, systematic, bureaucratic persecution and murder of Jews. Approximately 6 million Jews died in Germany during the reign of the Nazis who came to power in 1933. The Nazis believed that they were racially superior and that Jews were infiltrating their German community as threatening aliens. The Jews were not the only target of this discrimination. Groups perceived racially inferior became victims too, e.g., Roma (Gypsies), the disabled people, and Slaves from Poland, Russia and other countries that suffered too. Together with other Soviet civilians, non-Jewish Polish people received deportation for forced labor, either in Germany or in Poland. Many individuals exposed to hard work under deplorable conditions died systematically with time. The Nazis also maintained prescribed social norms and killed people who went against them, for example, homosexuals. As an extension of their tyranny, the Nazis targeted political opponents and even other religious dissidents. Political opponents inclined to communism, socialism, and trade unionism, were viewed as a threat. Many religiously different people, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, died through direct incarceration and maltreatment.
The Nazis and anti-Semitism
The hatred started long before the times of Hitler. Immediately after the Jews from Palestine had come to Europe, they were unwelcome by the local populations. It was feared that the Jews were infiltrating political and economic institutions, e.g., they introduced money lending and loans. With time, accusations developed that Jews held responsibility for communism, capitalism, liberalism, socialism, and other revolutions. Firstly, the Nazis started boycotting Jewish stores. The Nazis also formulated a number of discriminatory laws against the Jews. Especially forceful was the law requiring that Jews wear cloths with a yellow star. Other laws barred Jews from certain places in the society. The explicit imprisonment of Jews at the “Night of Broken Glasses” and imprisonment into concentration camps became more radical signs of anti-Semitism. Jewish businesses and synagogues perished in the wave of the Nazi violence too.
Administration of the Final Solution
To emphasize the system of killing, the National Socialist government in the early years of the Nazi regime established concentration camps used to detain people in opposition. Whether the opponents were real or imagined, politically or ideologically different, they all went to detention camps. In contrast to the widely used term “concentration camps”, there were different kinds of camps: transit camps, forced-labor camps, and death camps. The camps used purposely reduced the chances of surviving, thus easing the control over large populations of people. Jews were pushed out of their homes and crammed in tiny, overcrowded quarters called ghettos. Ghettos built in a small section of the city had barbed wire all round. Some of the camps established were Auschwitz concentration and death camp, Majdanek concentration and death camp, Sobibor death camp, Aktion Erntefest, and Babi Yar. Camps equipped with gas chambers for the extermination of people were one of the unique features used by the Nazis. In other camps, physicians used victims for medical experiments. It is essential to look at the camps as separating the target group from the society.
Jews tried to fight back during the Holocaust. However, with little weapons the Jews had, the Nazis thwarted their efforts. Other people were more creative to subvert the Nazi system way before their execution. Those people who read the writings on the wall early enough ran from Germany. A part of Jews worked with partisans in the jungle fighting to the last man. Others revolted in Warsaw Ghetto and Sobibor death camp and blew up the chambers used in Auschwitz.
The End of the Holocaust
Towards the final months of the war, in an attempt to avoid the liberation efforts of the allies’ powers, camp inmates were moved by train or sent on “death marches”. During such marches, guards encountered resistance from the allied forces across Europe and somehow forced to liberate prisoners. Prisoners could move from one camp to another, a routine that continued until May 7, 1945 when German armed forces surrendered.
In the aftermath, many survivors found shelter in camps for displaced persons (DP camps) established by the Allied powers. What followed was a massive migration of Jews out of Germany. Most of the Jews migrated away from Germany into Israel after the Allies took over. Others went to the United States and other nations they preferred. The camps closed after the survivors moved with the last one closing in 1957.
It was in the year 1994 that darkness fell on Rwanda. The killings took place between the months of April and June. An estimated population of 800,000 Rwandans died during the time that marked one of the historic mass killings in Africa. The genocide became as an ethnic cleansing with one community Tutsis having suffered the most from the perpetrators of the violence Hutus. Rwanda’s turbulent history still fails to explain the magnitude and speed of manslaughter, thus leaving people bemused.
The death of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimama (a Hutu) sparked the violence. Juvenal died his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994. Many blame games have since followed as to which group shot down the plane. While some people blame the Tutsi rebel group led by President Kagame, another section points fingers to the Hutu extremists’ pretext to execute organized plans to exterminate Tutsis. A few hours after the death of Juvenal, violence spread from the city of Kigali throughout the country going on for three months. Professionals argue that, by no means, only the death of President Juvenal had sparked the genocide; so much was lying underneath.
History of Violence
Hutus represent the majority of Rwandans and Tutsis are the minority. The two communities have had a history of tension and disagreements from the colonial times. These ethnic groups share a lot at the same time. They speak the same language and inhabit same area in addition to similar cultural and traditional practices, with the only difference in appearance. Tutsi people are relatively taller and thinner than Hutu. When Belgian colonialists came in 1916, they issued the Hutus and Tutsis identity cards that identified people on their ethnicity. In addition, Belgians favored the Tutsi community over the Hutus community considering the former as superior. The discriminatory segregation favoring the Tutsis crept to job places and educational sectors. Tensions had escalated among the Hutus leading to violence in 1959. After the independence of Rwanda in 1962, the Hutus assumed dominance. Subsequently, over the decades that followed, the Tutsis became scapegoats in every crisis.
Build-up to Genocide
During the time of President Juvenal, the economic situation of the country worsened. Juvenal, therefore, lost his popularity. At that time, the Tutsi refugees in Uganda formed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), with their leader Kagame. A section of oppositional Hutus also supported the Tutsis. The refugees wanted to overthrow Habyarimana and return home. In a turn of events, Juvenal used the threat of RPF to make the dissident Hutus side him. On the other hand, the accusation of Tutsis in Rwanda as collaborators of RPF flourished. The government of Juvenal clashed with RPF on several occasions, but negotiations led to signing of a peace accord in 1993 between Habyarimana and RPF. However, this accord did not stop the unrest. Therefore, the shooting down of Juvenal’s plane eliminated every chance of mending things between the government and RPF.
Mass Murder (Execution)
Immediately after the death of Juvenal, the presidential guard went on a mission of retribution. The political leaders of opposition suffered brutality and murder. The slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda also began. Recruits were dispatched throughout the country within hours with a sole reason of executing the Tutsis through slaughter. Military officials, politicians, businesspersons, and later other associates organized violence against the Tutsis.
The media played a major role in the spread of propaganda of hatred and mobilization of attackers from different corners of the country. With the encouragement of soldiers and police officers, ordinary citizens took part and rose against their neighbors. Motivation of the participants came from the incentives of money, food, and promises of land ownership. The major weapons used were guns, machetes, and other crude weapons. At the same time, RPF renewed their attack on the government forces despite the efforts of the UN to cease-fire. In fact, the UN withdrew after the death of its ten soldiers. The violence then thrived, but RPF did not give up.
End of Genocide
RPF captured Kigali and declared ceasefire in July that same year. The government collapsed and, apparently, RPF became victors. Many Rwandans became refugees in Zaire following the genocide.
Later, a government representing both ethnic groups was formed. Pasteur Bizimungu became the president with Kagame becoming his deputy. Later, Bizimungu went to jail for inciting ethnic violence and Kagame became the president.
Comparison of Jewish Holocaust and Rwanda Genocide
Hatred or Superiority Issue
The two genocides built up from hatred to a particular group of people. The Nazis directed hatred on the Jewish, as expressed openly by their leader Adolf Hitler. Hitler, during his early times, promised to wipe out all the Jews immediately he goes into power. In a gross way, he exercised his hatred by leading the Nazis to kill the Jews. On the other hand, the hatred of the Tutsi from Hutus had piled up over a long time. History, which goes back to Belgian colonization, bred hatred as explained early. This conflict pushed the Hutus and Tutsis to a breaking point after Juvenal died.
Administration of Death
The killings executed by the Nazis and Hutus were through shooting, among other ways. Soldiers and recruits provided with ammunition were able to wipe the other group out. The presidential guards through radio propaganda encouraged ordinary people to kill their neighbors. The Nazis’ profound armament led to the execution of millions of people.
Both genocides led to the emigration of people to neighboring countries in search of refuge. Jews fled to Israel, the United States and other countries in Europe, just as Rwandans rushed to Zaire and Uganda. The massive killings scared the hearts of people throughout the world, but mostly the victims. The involved countries have invested much in rebuilding their nations too and learning from their mistakes.
Time-line for Planning
While the Nazis took a relatively longer time to plan the execution of Jews and other opposing groups, Rwanda genocide was sporadic. The Nazis prepared for longer with the introduction of laws that were discriminatory and separated Jews. The formation of concentration camps and ghettos by the Nazis came before escalation of killings. However, the hatred in the minds of Hutus and Tutsis was unintended for genocide.
Duration of War and Killings
The systematic Nazi execution of Jews took a longer time, from 1941 to 1945. On the contrary, perhaps because of poor planning, the genocide in Rwanda lasted barely three months. Apart from direct execution, the Nazis used forced labor under deplorable conditions to oppress the Jews to death, while others were left to starve to death in the camps. This differs from the sole mission of instant death that the Hutus used against Tutsis.
Casualties per unit time
The different methods used by the perpetrators led to different casualties in a given time. While the Nazis used gas chambers and work camps, which were slow to kill, Hutus used machetes and guns. Within just 100 days, Rwanda’s death toll hit 800,000 – a figure that can give a relative higher figure than six million ‘scored’ by the Nazis.
The system used by the Nazis kept the better part of the public in the dark not knowing what was happening. In contrast, the media propaganda used by the Hutus resulted in the spread of information virtually throughout the nation. Hutus executed the beatings and killings of Tutsis in public and even in the streets.
Massive killings have devastating results. The genocides that occurred in Germany and Rwanda genocide led to the death of many people. As discussed, violence starts from a conflict usually overlooked or ignored overtime. The Nazis led by Adolf Hitler carried out the extensive execution of Jews over a period of about four years, while Rwanda’s Hutus turned against Tutsis over a short time. Although the means of execution were quite similar, the Nazis were systematic and slow, unlike the sporadic activity of the Hutus. The repercussions of the two genocides are both devastating.