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Throughout history, man has been the perpetrator of some of the most vicious crimes against humanity. This has resulted in the mass killings of hundreds and thousands of innocent men, women and children around the world. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a) killing members of the group;
b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its psychical destruction in whole or in part;
d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
According to the Peace Pledge Union, a non-government organisation formed in 1934 to promote peace, there have been eight genocides in the twentieth century (Melicharova, 2002), as follows:
• 1904 Namibia
• 1915 Armenia
• 1932 Ukraine
• 1933–45 The Holocaust
• 1975 Cambodia
• 1982 Guatemala
• 1994 Rwanda
• 1995 Bosnia
The Holocaust refers to the period (1933–45) when Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party, killed approximately 6 million Jewish men, women and children (Gitlin, 2011). The Nazis believed that they were the ‘master race’, and therefore superior, and that the Jews were subhuman and enemies of Germany (Gitlin, 2011). They also murdered a number of Soviet prisoners of war, Polish intellectuals, Romani (gypsies), homosexuals and people with physical and mental disabilities (Tonge, 2009). The Jews were systematically exterminated in concentration or ‘death’ camps in Poland and Germany. If not directly killed, many were ill-treated, used as slave labor and died from lack of adequate food, exhaustion or disease.
Answer the following key questions:
- Did you learn about genocide in school? Should subjects such as the Holocaust be taught, and if so how (see Hirsch & Kacandes, 2004)?
- How do you think key historical events, such as war crimes, are dealt with in different countries? Is history always treated in a factual, non-biased manner? If not, why might this be the case?
- What is the role of international education in eliminating prejudice and hatred?
- Can international education achieve peace, tolerance of others and justice for all, or is it just an ideal?