Remains of Armenians who were murdered during the massacre at Erzinjan, during the Armenian genocide.

Remains of Armenians who were murdered during the
massacre at Erzinjan, during the Armenian genocide (1915-1917).

Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness—for the present only in the East — with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?

- Adolf Hitler

Genocide is the targeted killing of a specific group of people with the intent of exterminating the group in question. The term was initally coined by a Polish Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lempkin, in an effort to describe the systematic barbarism of the Nazi regime. He combined geno, an ancient Greek term meaning family or tribe and -cide, which is derived from the Latin word for killing. Genocide appears to be a uniquely modern problem. Although the pre-industrial era had as much violent conflict as the modern world, the notion that certain races or cultures should be completely eradicated from a particular geographical entity did not arise until the twentieth century.

The first genocide is generally believed to be the Armenian genocide (1915-1917), in which the government of Turkey attempted to systematically annihilate its Armenian population through starvation, massacres, and deportations. Although the atrocities committed against the Armenians were well documented by the United States, Germany, and Austro-Hungary, there were no serious attempts to stop the killing.

While the Holocaust is perhaps the most widely known instance of genocide in history, it is not the only one. Even though many survivors adopted the motto "Never again!" with regard to the atrocities committed in the Holocaust, there have been many instances of genocide that have occurred since World War II. Three of the most significant examples are briefly described below:

Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge.

Skulls of victims of the Khmer

Wanted poster for individuals guilty of the Rwandan genocide.

Wanted poster for individuals guilty of the Rwandan genocide.

A Janjaweed militiaman.

A Janjaweed militiaman.

A reoccurring theme in each of these accounts of genocide is that many of the Western powers that were in a position to stop or at least stem the impact of genocide, chose to do nothing. Individuals who are concerned about preventing and ending genocide should learn from the example of Harold Hirsch and the individuals who were involved in organizations such as German-Jewish Children's Aid become aware of human rights violations, educate others in your community about these issues, and lobby government officials for increased action on behalf of victims of genocide.

Works Cited

BBC News. "Rwanda: How the genocide happened." BBC News Home Page. April 1, 2004. (accessed July 22, 2008).

Hoile, David. "The Darfur Crisis." The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council Home Page." (accessed July 22, 2008).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Darfur." Holocaust Encyclopedia. (accessed July 21, 2008).

United States Holocaust Museum. "What is Genocide?" Committee on Conscience. (accessed July 21, 2008).