How the politics of division can lead to atrocity

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85 years ago today, Adolf Hitler legally came to power as Chancellor of a Germany crippled by financial difficulty and plagued with issues with its fledgling democracy. Promising to restore strong government, morality and security to the country, Hitler’s leadership would commit one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century – the Holocaust.

Millions of Jews, homosexuals, disabled people, Roma, people of colour, Slavs and prisoners of war were sent to concentration camps across Europe and were condemned to death.

After the horror of the genocide that plagued Europe, humanity came together and pledged to never allow such atrocities to be committed again. However, it is clear from events since, such as Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and Darfur, that the lessons that should have been learnt from the Holocaust have repeatedly been ignored. Thousands more people have died as those lessons went unheeded.

On a day like today, it is important to remember how the politics of division and discrimination can, if left unchallenged, can result in abhorrent actions. Now more than ever, we should notice the signals that can lead to genocide and fight against them before its too late.

The route to genocide is surprisingly short, as Gregory Stanton (then President of Genocide Watch) explained in 1996. In a paper, he outlined eight (later updated to ten) stages of genocide:

  1. Classification – differences between others not respected, division based on stereotypes (eg. Germans and Jews)
  2. Symbolisation – visual division to show difference (eg. wearing yellow stars)
  3. Discrimination – civil rights denied to identified groups (e.g voting rights, employment)
  4. Dehumanisation – minority group perceived to be less than human (eg. Jews compared to vermin)
  5. Organisation – planning and training to commit genocide
  6. Polarisation – propaganda to spread messages of hatred to targeted minorities
  7. Preparation – fear of the minority perpetrated and euphemisms used to cloak sinister intent
  8. Persecution – minorities separated from the public and segregated or deported (eg. Warsaw Ghetto)
  9. Extermination – systematic murder of identified victims
  10. Denial – perpetrators of genocide and future generations deny existence of crime

With neo-nationalists and members of the alt-right spewing hate towards immigrants, LGBT+ people and other minorities, it is up to us to ensure that history does not repeat itself once again and that we don’t edge closer towards violence, hatred and potentially even mass execution. It is up to us to challenge the ‘us and them’ mentality adopted by some politicians and condemn those that label certain ethnic groups as sub-human. When we remember the Holocaust, we often say ‘never again’ – it is time we back up those words with action.

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