their own way, but did not have the same absolutely evil quality that Auschwitz had. Auschwitz is a turning-point in history,changing our ethical view of mankind, our esthetics (
"can one still write poetry after Auschwitz?"
- Sartre) and metaphysics(
"It is stupid and reprehensible to continue philosophizing after Auschwitz just like before..."
- Lyotard). It was not ahistorical but a metaphysical and religious event, a kind of reverse theophany (God's manifestation in the stream ofhistory), or rather diabolophany (devil-manifestation). According to Rabbi Emil Fackenheim, the Holocaust was the onlyexample of Absolute Evil.A dispassionate historian cannot subscribe to this uniqueness claim. The Holocaust is
one in a series ofgenocides. Without anyhow denying the Holocaust, we should put it in the perspective of other crimes against humanity(nor just crimes against Jewry). And we should keep in mind that all people who suffer, who are pushed into suffering withtheir entire being and have little occasion to contemplate other people's suffering, tend to over-estimate the comparativehorror of their own suffering.
Within one century after Columbus' arrival, the entire native American population of the Caribbean islands wasexterminated, probably 8 million people. In continental
America, only 12 million people survived after acentury of colonization - while the population in 1492 is estimated at up to 90 million.
True, many died because ofnew diseases which the colonizers had involuntarily brought with them, and many died not by massacre but under thehardships of slavery (which also happened to many prisoners in the Nazi work camps), but the number of literallymassacred people still amounted to millions.In South America too,
the 2 million native inhabitants of Patagonia(southern Chile and Argentina) were gradually but systematically killed to the last, as were all the inhabitants ofTasmania in a single campaign, and most of the aboriginals of Australia:
in these cases, the genocide was entirelyintentional.
The number of Africans killed in the age of the slave trade and colonial conquest has been estimated at up to 50million. It has been said that Europeans found the Holocaust so gruesome because the things which they hadconsidered acceptable in the case of black
had now been committed on white Europeans. In theconquests of America and Africa, the same psychology was at work as in Auschwitz: the inferior races had tomake way (or Lebensraum,
) for the superior race.
In some cases the massacre was
, the resultof an unplanned escalation. In others however, the massacre was entirely
Between 1915 and 1917, the Turks massacred nearly 1.5 milion Christian Armenians, nearly the entire populationof Western Armenia, or almost half of all the then living Armenians.
Another million survived deportation thanks to thetimely defeat of the Ottoman empire: the Turks' goal was the total extermination of the Armenians, nothing less. In relativethough not in absolute figures this is worse than what Hitler did to the Jews
Western Armenia has been entirely cleared ofits original population, and the remaining church buildings are used by the army as targets for artillery practice.Even outside the Islamic and the European sphere, genocides are not unknown: the 19th-century Zulu emperor Shakapurposely exterminated subdued populations in the order of magnitude of a million. In antiquity, the Assyrians, like earlyStalins, both massacred and deported entire nations.
Of the Gypsies, at least 400,000 were killed in the same annihilation camps as the Jews, and some more Gypsieswere killed in
massacres. It is remarkable that the Gypsies are hardly ever mentioned in connection withthe Nazi extermination campaign,
as are the estimated 6 million Russians who died in Nazi captivity (apart from another20 million Russians who died in war circumstances
Then again, it is only natural: all people who have suffered, complainof (or at least notice) a general lack of interest from outsiders in their experiences.
The remarkable thing is rather theenormous attention which has been given to the genocide committed on the Jews.
This attention is not out of proportion, and is in principle a good thing; but its justification, viz.
"beware not to let this happen again"
, is in stark contradiction with the unicity claim. It is precisely because non-demonic, purely human factorsmay, in a given historical configuration, converge to cause a genocide, of which the Nazi Holocaust is merely anoutstanding example, that we have to study past genocides like the one in Auschwitz in order to avoid similar events in thefuture. If Auzchwitz had been a totally unique event beyond human understanding, there would be no fear of repetition andno need to study it.It would be a bit harsh to say it before a Jewish audience, but it is nonetheless an incontrovertible fact: one of the earliestgenocides has been described and ideologically motivated in their own sacred Scripture, the Tenakh (acronym from Torah+ Naviim + Ketuvim, i.e. Moses' Regulations, Prophetic books, and Writings; known to Christians as the Old Testament).The massacres of neighbouring nations and all kinds of
by the prophets and established kings of the PromisedLand were not even the worst. The worst was in the very beginning, when the Israelite people conquered this Land whichthey claim Yahweh had promised them.In the books Deuteronomy, Numbers and Joshua, we read how Moses and his successor Joshua receive orders from theirgod Yahweh to exterminate the entire population (women, children and even animals included) of the cities in the