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The Native American Holocaust 500 years in the making-Wounded Knee Massacre

When it was announced that I would be going to Mission, South Dakota for my spring break I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive. I had envisioned helping elderly in Miami or working a soup kitchen in New Orleans, but instead I was assigned to drive over twenty hours into the most barren and desolate part of the United States. Looking back on my ignorance, I am astounded by the memories that will forever be with me. As soon as I arrived on Rez (local term for reservation) I immediately felt as if I was not in the United States. Trailers were the only hope for a home, hot running water was rare, and there were no hospitals or any sources of recreation. I immediately made a pact with myself that no matter what obstacles I was met with, I would force the people I came in contact with to see past my race and see my true intentions. I put myself in their shoes and quickly realized, I would hate the United States government and any Caucasian that came on Rez to ‘help’. This realization turned into motivation to make a contribution.

Growing up I have always excelled in athletics and I pride myself in my ability to form a bond or connection with any person, anywhere, through the competitive spirit that all sports bring out. Naturally, I volunteered to help teach gym at a middle/high school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the effects of racism, misunderstanding, and genocide were easily visible. The young men and children I spent my time with were very reluctant at opening up to me upon first impression. But as soon as I showed them my passion for basketball and lacrosse, color and race took a back seat and I was accepted as their equal (even though I was still called snowflake by one third grade boy, but he always smiled after he said it).

On our day off we traveled thirty miles to the site where the Wounded Knee Massacre took place over 120 years ago. The Wounded Knee memorial is a massive grave site that pays homage and respect to the Lakota people that were killed at the hands of the United States 7th Cavalry. A picture or brief description can in no way, shape, or form elicit the emotional response I received when I stood on the mass grave site were hundreds of bodies had been thrown into only a century ago. I imagined the United States army soldiers killing the friends I had made during my time as a teacher on the Reservation. It was this emotional response that inspired me to take a deeper look into the long and slow genocide of the American Indian, with an emphasis on the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Wounded Knee background-

The events that led up to the most infamous massacre in American Indian history were spawned by a string of small misunderstandings, which collectively had dire repercussions. The various treaties that were agreed upon by both the United States and The Sioux nation (Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota tribes) during the late 1800’s were barely worth the paper they were written on. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 promised peace between the two parties, protection against oppressive and violent eastern settlers, and that the Sioux had the right to hunt in the Bighorn Mountains and any area north of the Platte River (present day Montana, Wyoming, and western South Dakota). The second treaty leading up to Wounded Knee was the Black Hills Act of 1876. This treaty effectively eliminated 9 million acres of Indian land (Montana and Wyoming), and required the United States Government to give the Sioux people all aid necessary for civilization and subsistence rations.

This led to the Sioux people becoming extremely dependent on these government rations due to the extermination of their primary life source, the North American buffalo. While there was no ‘official’ policy to purposefully eradicate the buffalo, there is a significant amount of evidence that indicates the US Government issued statements to Army Generals to remove the American Buffalo from existence. The Army saw this is an opportunity to reduce the Indians ability to fight back. By stripping the Indians of their only sustainable resource, the slaughter of the American Buffalo severely reduced the Indians’ capacity to fight back and preserve their way of life. Without a food source many smaller tribes were forced to settle on Government quarantined reservations. This helped the US Government keep track of the dwindling Native American population and allowed for European settlers to move West without any apprehension.

The third event that would have an impact on Wounded Knee was the new religion formed by a Paiute Indian Known as Wovoka. This new religion was known as ‘Ghost Dancing’ and was prophesied to bring back the North American Buffalo, lost loved ones, and eliminate the white man from native land.

In the months preceding the massacre, Lakota men were seen partaking in their relatively new ceremony hoping to escape the presence of the white man that controlled their lands. During this same time the skittish and inexperienced Daniel F. Royer was named the agent at Pine Ridge and had no experience in dealing with the American Indian people (Lauderdale, 19)[1]. Royer misunderstood the Sioux Indians intention’s and believed that the Ghost Dance was the sure sign of a violent uprising. He put in a request for troops for ‘preventative purposes’. Brigadier General John R. Brooke arrived at Pine Ridge in November of 1890 and was ordered to maintain a presence and put down any hostile Indian. While tensions rose between the Lakota and white men in Pine Ridge, Sitting Bull was also assassinated by tribal police; Sitting Bull was one of the last remaining leaders of the Lakota people and strongly opposed seceding anymore land to the white man. His death was among the latest in a long string of assassinations of prominent Indian leaders; leaders who did not conform to what the government considered ‘progressive’ (Lauderdale, 20)[2].

Sitting Bull’s followers grew scared and went to join Big Foot, a well-known and prominent Lakota Chief. The groups that Big Foot was under control combined to form a group of 370 men, women, and children of which, only 100 men were fighting age. The United States Army stopped Big Foot’s ‘war party’ and ordered that they surrender and give up all their weapons. History is a little fuzzy on who actually fired the first shot, but after the first shot, total carnage ensued. General Whiteside had over 500 armed soldiers at his disposal along with four rapid fire Hotchkiss cannons, not to mention that he and his men surrounded the Lakota and had the advantage of higher ground.

As you can imagine the 7th Cavalry of the United States Army decimated the 370 Lakota men, women, and children. A soldier from the 7th Cavalry shares his first-hand account “Wholesale massacre occurred and I have never heard of a more brutal, cold-blooded massacre than that at Wounded Knee…children powder burned by the men who killed them being so near as to burn the flesh and the clothing with the powder of their guns” (Miles, letter)[3]. As news of the Massacre spread throughout the Reservations the overwhelming response was fear, not anger or revenge.

Wounded Knee Massacre Photo

Unlike many of the other genocides that have taken place throughout the world, the genocide against the American Indian has very few actual photographs of the events as they took place or the aftermath. The photograph I chose to focus on was the best photograph captured of the Wounded Knee Massacre. The first interesting fact about this picture is that it was taken three months after the actual massacre had taken place. Wounded Knee massacre occurred in late December but due to the harsh South Dakota winter, the ground was impossible to dig into. Instead of digging the mass grave themselves the 7th Cavalry hired civilians to collect the corpses and make the grave. All the Army did was come back in March to pose for a picture. The word ‘pose’ is an important clarification because in this era the camera man had to take his time in order to be ready to capture a still photograph. All of the soldiers seem eager and proud of their “victory” over the band a Native Americans that had surrendered peacefully. Some of the men on the right side of the photograph are even looking down at the corpses with a haughty demeanor, indicating that these Natives deserved their fate.

Wounded Knee memorial

The present day memorial was erected in 1903 by what is now known as the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, today the association is independent and works to protect and preserve the memorial site. The reason for the lone tombstone is because all of the bodies were buried in a mass grave. Over the years relatives of the original victims were buried alongside their ancestors. The irony behind this was that many of the grave markers I personally saw were of veterans, these men fought and died for the same Army that killed their ancestors. This shows how desperate the men of the Pine Ridge Reservation are for a stable job with some benefits. There was little to no hope in finding a job anywhere near the reservation so they are forced to sign their allegiance to the United States military. In fact Native Americans have the greatest record of military service compared to any other minority (Ward Churchill)[4].

Lakota people-Present day

Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota is the poorest and has the worst living conditions of any county in the United States.

  • Ø The unemployment rate is 83-85%, even higher during the harsh winter.
  • Ø 97% of the population lives below the Federal poverty levels
  • Ø Average life expectancy is 45 years old
  • Ø The school dropout rate is over 70%
  • Ø 80% of adult males are affected by alcoholism at least once in their lifetime.
  • Ø Extreme weather and winds make growing any kind of sustainable food source impossible.

Any decent person has to wonder how a group of people has fallen so far below the rest of the country in every single category. That answer seems to lie in 500 years of misunderstandings, cruel misfortune, and government policy aimed at eradicating the Native American from this continent. The tension between Native Americans and White Europeans was spawned centuries ago during the time that the ‘first settlers’ came to North America. Natives often welcomed the newcomers until the cavalier and colonizing attitudes of the immigrants stretched Indian patience thin (Bird, 16). This tension was born out of a common misunderstanding for one another. This misunderstanding led to hatred and one of the most forgotten and ignored genocides in the history of mankind. One of the many reasons this genocide is so overlooked is due to the length of time the United States has taken to slowly but surely deteriorate Native American culture and way of life. The genocide against the indigenous people of North America began over five centuries ago and continues to wreak havoc in today’s society. The ideological viewpoints that gave the British justification in carrying out their conquest of the indigenous people of North America are known as legal utilitarianism and racial eliminationist theory. Under the legal utilitarianism doctrine native peoples have no right to territories they inhabit, owing to their failure to exploit them in the ‘correct’ way (Jones, 107)[5]. Under the racial eliminationist theory the eradication of native people from their land is an eventual product of ‘civilized’ populations expanding their territory.”Genocide began to be regarded as the inevitable byproduct of progress” (Jones, 107)[6]. Both of these ideological viewpoints have evolved over the centuries but still hold true, this is why denial of this genocide persists in today’s culture.

Jones mentions that the genocide of the Native American population in North America is a debated issue which is the final stage of genocide. Many scholars who contest to this fact of genocide are ignorant of the facts. In fact the UN Convention defines genocide under Article II. As “Killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in the whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group (Jones, 12)[7]” The first three traits of the definition of Genocide are easily distinguishable in many genocides. People are well aware of the infamous Trail of Tears and various massacres that have been committed against the Native American people. Proving that a group orchestrated a program for preventing births in a population and forcibly transferring children are often harder traits to prove.

However, many scholars and people around the world are unaware of the massive boarding school program enacted in the 1880’s to effectively “kill the Indian and save the man” Children as young as five were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated across the country into poorly managed schools. I happened to get the chance to speak to a man in his seventies that went through the American boarding school system. What he described was unbelievable; 25% of his classmates died during their time at the school, beatings for speaking a native language were commonplace, and the Christian religion was thrust upon every child like a plague. The worst part about the reform schools was that they were effective, it took the man I spoke with over ten years to become recognized as part of the Lakota people once he returned to his reservation.

During the 1970’s President Herbert Walker Bush enacted a program to make Native American women infertile. This Act was known as the Family Planning Act, the act appropriated federal funds in order to sterilize members of ethnic minorities, particularly the American Indian (The Canary Effect). In various reports it was found that 30% of women able to conceive a child were sterilized by medical professionals in the span of ten years. Armed with these facts I am confused at how any sane person could come to the conclusion that a genocide has not taken place against the Native American population.

Hopefully this post has shed some light on the most forgotten and unrecognized genocide in the world.

[1] [1] Lauderdale, J. V., & Green, J. (1996). After Wounded Knee. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

[2] [2] Lauderdale, J. V., & Green, J. (1996). After Wounded Knee. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

[3] Lauderdale, J. V., & Green, J. (1996). After Wounded Knee. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

[4] The Canary Effect

[5] Jones, A. (2006). Genocide: A comprehensive introduction. London: Routledge.

[6] Jones, A. (2006). Genocide: A comprehensive introduction. London: Routledge.

[7] Jones, A. (2006). Genocide: A comprehensive introduction. London: Routledge.

FINAL: Genocides From Germany: Africa and Europe

The old saying “history repeats itself,” is one many are familiar with, but it can be difficult to rationalize until you have a good example.

In terms of genocide, it’s tough to comprehend how something so atrocious and anti-humane can reoccur so frequently, yet it seems a different group of people are targeted for mass-killing at almost any corner in world history.

I feel that most Americans would be quick to point to the Holocaust when the term “genocide” is brought up. Nazis from Germany were the perpetrators in that case, but could you name another genocide that the Germans took part in? There is at least one more, and it’s not taught in any school-issued history books I’ve encountered.

This one is the case of the Namaqua (Nama) and Herero people of German South-West Africa (current day Namibia) from approximately 1904 to 1907.

My objective is to argue, aided by photos, that the intervention by Europeans in German South-West Africa served as a trial-run mechanism that primed the ideology for the Holocaust.

The sets of corresponding pictures are quite similar and the parallels between the two cases are disturbing; the first is from the affairs in German SWA, and the second is one of the more recognizable photos from the Holocaust during World War II. Before I get into the specifics of how the genocides modeled by these pictures are connected on a micro level, it’s important to know a basic account about what happened in German SWA.

In the late 19th century, the Germans were in the process of expanding their empire, which included colonizing parts of Africa. The official occupation of Southwest Africa did not begin until 1884 when a German merchant fraudulently purchased some land from the Nama people, but there had been German missionaries in the area for some time before that[1]. Over the next couple years, other Germans were able to pry plots of land from the natives.

Prior to the occupation, the Nama and Herero had been engaged in a drawn out power struggle to establish a single state[2]. The Germans used this uneasy time to exploit the tribes. They advertised the area to be rich in gold and thus gained a foothold in the “land-grab” that ensued.

Meanwhile, the Nama and Herero people continued to skirmish for territorial domination. The Nama had, for the most part, ignored the German intervention, instead focusing on the Herero. Conversely, the Herero engaged in treaties with the Germans with expectations of protection from the Nama. Protection and aid never came.

A series of unfulfilled treaties and increasingly intrusive behavior followed over the next several years. Soon, a power shift created a hierarchy based on race, leaving the Africans disadvantaged. The tribes would lose their economic and political autonomy and work with whites on farms[3]. The Herero were full of complaints that the Germans were flouting their customs and habits and raping their women and young girls[4]. This led to a series of revolts led by the Herero people beginning in 1904. The Nama tribes, under similar treatment and now facing pressure to rebel, followed suit a few months later.

In August of 1904, German General Lothar von Trotha, who now felt he must respond to the uprisings, stated his intentions:

                “I believe that the nation as such should be annihilated, or, if this was not possible by tactical measures, have to be expelled from the country…This will be possible if the water-holes from Grootfontein to Gobabis are occupied. The constant movement of our troops will enable us to find the small groups of nation who have moved backwards and destroy them gradually.”[5]

From there, there was no hope for the inferiorly equipped African natives. At the “Battle” of Waterberg in 1904, German troops surrounded Herero people. The ones that weren’t killed were only able to escape to the Kalahari, where the arid desert killed off the large majority of escapees. Others that were captured (mainly women and children) were put in concentration camps.

At the beginning of German-occupied SWA, there were an estimated 80,000 Herero and 20,000 Nama living within those boundaries[6].

In 1907, when the authorized extermination of natives was largely ceased, there were 15,000 Herero and less than 10,000 Nama remaining in German SWA[7]. The period is classified as genocidal not only for the planned assaults on predetermined tribes, but also because of the resulting deaths that occurred in the desert. In addition, there have been reports of Germans poisoning the few water wells that existed in the desert in order to kill off any people that attempted to keep alive in the desert.

Considered the first genocide of the 20th century, the incident in German SWA is just one example of a series of assaults known as the “Scramble for Africa.” This was a period where established European imperialists all looked to exploit the country’s resources and people, largely due to technological imbalances.

Knowing a bit of this history, let’s re-examine these photos.

The group photo on the left is of Herero genocide survivors in 1904. This was taken after the group (one of the few) came out clean on the other side of the desert. The setting for this must have been a safe zone for Herero because tribesmen remaining in German SWA were put into camps or executed, though the exact location is unknown. If there were a quintessential picture for cruelty during the wars and genocides in Africa, this is it.

The other group picture on the right is of prisoners at a work camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp consisted of Jewish Polish, Russian and other inmates, including domestic criminals. This was considered one of the most inhumane Nazi-controlled camps of all due to the working and living conditions. The camp primarily forced prisoners to tunnel and mine through limestone, an exhausting and dangerous job. At the camp’s peak of brutality, there were up to 350 inmate deaths per day; the site’s crematorium was unable to keep pace with the fatality rate[8]. This picture was taken in May of 1945 after Americans liberated the camp. I think it’s safe to assume that an American soldier from the US 80th Infantry Division took the picture.

The first thing that grabbed my attention about this picture is likely what most see: the physical appearance of the prisoners. Most notably, because (unlike the Herero picture) they are wearing shirts, are their legs. You can look at every detail of the legs and perhaps get a small glimpse of the kind of rations they were provided. The thighs are so thin, the knees are disproportioned and unstable and the calves are indistinguishable from the ankles. If you only looked at the legs and had no background of the people, you would guess that they are in their 80’s or 90’s.

I would like to back this photographer up to get a look at the landscape and camp. This was a mining camp and from what I gathered, the barracks that were designed to hold 100 men were housing up to 750 prisoners at a time. While the physical appearance is shown, it’s impossible to see the intangibles, the diseases, the injuries and scars, or anything like that. Perhaps that’s a good thing. It’s also probably a good thing that they are all wearing shirts because I don’t doubt that their upper bodies are as bad as or worse than those of the Herero.

The path across the desert is commonly referred to as the “Trail of Bones.” While that name is directed towards the death toll, it’s also quite indicative of the conditions fleers endured. This picture is the definition of a skeleton with skin on it. The fact that most of the Herero in the shot are standing on their feet is amazing. The people from the other picture were liberated, but I have no idea what the future holds for these Herero men and women. Honestly, the malnutrition looks like something that’s as close to incurable as you get; hopefully wherever this picture was taken offered some kind of accommodations following the struggle through the desert.

It is quite interesting to note that both of these photos were taken post-tragedy because it offers an opportunity to look at motives and possible emotions at the time of the shot. The Jewish concentration camp survivors are photographed standing in their Nazi-issued work “uniforms” after being liberated. What I think is interesting is wondering about the state of mind of these people at the time of the photograph. The Jews and Poles have just been freed and are standing in a line almost as if the photographer called out for them to gather around. Should they be happy? Do they smile? Was smiling for the camera even a standard for that time era and culture? I can’t help but point out a couple distinguishable characteristics that indicate happiness. Perhaps it was the timing, but I see about five or six (what I would call) smiles in the group. If this is true, think about this: after months or years of living in camp conditions, how can one find the strength to care or react at all to a photograph? Of course being freed from that treatment is something to be “happy” about, but at that exact moment, where can someone even begin to feel positive about anything? I’m not sure what to make of it, but it does contrast to the picture of the Herero.

The desert survivors all have the exact same look on their face: confusion. I think that’s an appropriate look considering the technology in Africa indicates that the majority of Herero people have never seen a camera before. This also suggests that it was another race of white people taking the picture. Maybe this particular group of Herero escaped to South Africa where there were English and Dutch colonists. I imagine there wasn’t much communication between the photographer and the group. Maybe the photographer had a difficult time communicating with the tribe trying to get them lined up and looking at the camera device they’ve never seen before. They are all looking into the lens, perplexed, while some of the Jews pay no attention to their photographer.

What I can conclude from both of these is that on the whole, I really don’t think they are at all concerned with the camera, in either photo. I think they’ve been so desensitized to everything that exists in a normal world. For years there wasn’t anything to expect from life other than forced work and torture. When someone shoves a camera in your face after all that, there isn’t a particular reaction that comes to mind.

Perhaps the most important part of these two pictures is the similarities. There are three big things I see in common here: genocide, concentration camps, and the presence of German power. The ribcage is perhaps the most gruesome symbol of camps and genocide. The two groups of prisoners have the same kind of hair. I know that in the Nazi prison camps they shaved them off in part to help control lice and other bacterial problems, but I can’t say the same for sure of the Herero. I think it’s just genetic and cultural to keep their hair short, as I’ve yet to come across a photo of a Herero with longer hair.

In the end, these are the kinds of bodies that are left behind if you are not of the elite race. If not for difference in physical characteristics of the two victim groups, they are mirror images of each other.

these were made to rationalize the cruelty the Germans brought unto the Herero and Nama in their imperial endeavors.

These propaganda were made to rationalize the cruelty the Germans brought unto the Herero and Nama in their imperial endeavors.

Yet to be talked about yet are the two gentlemen pictured underneath the groupsof prisoners, whose photos correspond to their respective genocides. The man pictured on the left is Heinrich Ernst Goering, German Imperial Commissioner to German Southwest Africa. He was one of the primary perpetrators of expansion and forceful entry into Africa.

There were several instances of Goering’s agenda to eliminate the natives from Southwest Africa. During his tenure as Commissioner, he did not succeed in imposing an immediate militant onslaught of Herero and Nama, but he was able to stoke the fire that provoked the uprisings. In 1885, the Herero signed a treaty with the Germans, drafted and supported by Goering, who promised protection from the Nama attacks[9]. As mentioned earlier, their end of the bargain was not held up.

In 1887, Goering garnered public attention to the colony when he created a false claim that there were large deposits of gold[10]. As the governing leader, Goering goal was to attract as many Europeans to settle the area and quickly transition the colony’s biological makeup. As a result, there were huge cultural gaps. Germans impeded indigenous lands, imposed alcohol on to the tribes, and were described as “taking liberties with the Herero women[11].”

Goering was also one of the first to suggest military involvement in German SWA. As settlers were slowly realizing the claims of gold were false, the German government has less reason to remain in the area. There was rapid emigration of former settlers who came for the mineral. Just as Goering had planned, the government faced a dilemma in its quest to further establish the colony: abandon or conquer it by force?

Goering demanded hundreds of men and artillery to be made available in SWA. After several proposals for military intervention were denied (again, this is before the revolts and genocide occurred), Goering fell on to his backup strategy: furthering the conflict between the Herero and Nama. Eventually, a small number of German soldiers were sent to the colony, which further provoked the tribes[12].

As you can see, much thought and work was put into this African colonial expansion. While Goering’s position as Commissioner ended in 1890, his aggressive and imperialistic tendencies laid the groundwork for the resulting wars, genocide and concentration camps.

As for the other picture, the man on the right is Hermann Goering, son of Heinrich. What’s most important is Hermann’s role as a Nazi officer during World War II. For this reason, perhaps he is more recognizable than the older Goering.

A quick account of Hermann will show that he could be considered the right hand man of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Party’s fascist leader. This was the result of his military experience, loyalty to the Nazi Party, and of course, his anti-Semitic beliefs and actions. His official military rank during the war was Reichsmarschall, the highest rank of the armed forces at the time. He was tried at Nuremburg and held responsible for the Nuremburg Laws (which made Jewish people targets), though he profusely denied any anti-Semitic ideals throughout the trials[13]. In short, Goering can be pointed out as a supporter and activist of the horrific treatment of Jews during World War II. If you can take everything you know about Hitler’s agenda and apply it to Hermann, son of Heinrich, you can get the gist

So the question is, was the most recognizable genocide in world history influenced, and even perhaps modeled, after the imperialistic maneuvers imposed by the Germans in German SWA? It’s foolish to believe that a single father-son relationship is responsible for such a sequence of events, but the power connection is there. It at minimum demonstrates that the German Reich had this “superior race” attitude for far longer than is commonly thought.

I’ll end with a quick summary of parallels to keep in mind when attempting to connect the two genocides.

The German government was successful in carrying out genocides in both the mainland and in colonies. They were about 40 years apart, yet they are identical in so many ways. The groups made inferior were put into camps, forced to work until their deaths. Perhaps the most staggering fact is the mentality that existed from that genocide in GSWA through to the Holocaust.

There was a geneticist named Eugen Fischer who came to GSWA during the genocide to study racial differences. He studied and tested the heads and other parts of dead Herero and Nama only to determine that the Africans were an inferior race. He studied children that were born of a German man and an African woman and found that these mixed-race children were biologically disadvantaged. His work was published and his findings spread. His research influenced many German laws including the banning of interracial marriage in all German colonies in 1912[14].

Studies done by Fischer and others not only influenced the Second Reich in Germany, but clearly carried over to the Third Reich the Nazi Party promoted so brutally. With the extermination of the Herero and Nama people carried out so efficiently in Africa, Hitler and the Nazi Party had to have looked to that genocide for reference and a model in which to carry out their own.

[1] “Herero Heroes: A Socio-Political History of the Herero of Namibia,” Jan-Bart Gewald, 1998, pg. 31

[2]Let Us Die Fighting,” Horst Drechsler, London 1980, pg..18

[3] “Genocide in German South-West Africa,” Zimmerer and Zeller; Berlin 2003, pg. 25

[4] Drechsler, pg. 133

[5] “Rethinking Resistance,” Brill Publishing; Leiden 2003, pg. 284

[6] Drechsler, pg. 18

[9]The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide,” David Olusogo, London 2010, pg. 53

[10] Drechsler, pg. 35

[11] Drechsler, pg. 38

[12] Drechsler, pg. 42

[13] “Hermann Goring: Hitler Paladin or Puppet?,” Wolfgang Paul; London 1998, pg. 264

[14] “Holocaust Encyclopedia,” p. 420

these were made to rationalize the cruelty the Germans brought unto the Herero and Nama in their imperial endeavors.

Representing the Children of the Holocaust

The word “genocide” evokes many strong thoughts, feelings and images, and each instance of genocide tends to have a specific image or icon associated with it.  For instance: the figure of the machete as the weapon of choice in Rwanda, the black pajama and red bandana wearing Khmer Rouge soldiers in Cambodia, or the mortar shells used to bombard the safe areas in the Balkans during the Bosnian genocide.  Despite the strength of these images, there is one that is still stronger: the children of genocide.  The Holocaust has many intense figures and icons associated with it—like Adolf Hitler, gas chambers, barbed wire fences, the swastika, and so on—but the children of the Holocaust still seem to have a more intense impact concerning the genocide. Mark M. Anderson says in his article “The Child Victim as Witness to the Holocaust: An American Story?”, the children “have consistently proved to be the most moving and believable witnesses” of the Holocaust. [1] My question is: how are the children of the Holocaust represented?  Why are their images so prevalent in the information we have from the event?  And another thing to consider: what is seen or not seen in these pictures, and why?

Now let’s start out with some background information

The Holocaust, as define by the United States Holocaust Museum, was “the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.” [2]  After they came to power in Germany in 1933, the Nazi party made it their goal to rid Europe of the Jewish “threat”.  Although they were not the only victims (Gypsies, Socialists, Communists, homosexuals, physically and mentally disabled people were targeted as well), they were the main target and were seen as “inferior” to the German Aryan race and they were sought out and murdered mainly by use of death camps and gas chambers.  This systematic mass murder was known as the “final solution” to the “Jewish problem” in Europe.  When Allied forces intervened, the Nazis moved the prisoners from camp to camp by means of “death marches” in an effort to evade the Allies.  It wasn’t until May 7, 1945 that the Nazis finally surrendered—ending WWII—and the prisoners were all set free.

Why children?

Why is there so much emphasis put on the children of the Holocaust?  In almost any institution or website you can find entire photographic galleries devoted solely to photos of children.  Some of the most popular Holocaust literature was written by, or from the perspective of, a child—like Anne Frank’s Diary or Elie Wiesel’s Night.  One might argue that it could sheer numbers that makes their stories so significant.  Of the six million Jewish people that were murdered, about 1.5 million of them were children.  The numbers are startling, but not enough to explain the extent to which children are represented.

The real reason that the kids are portrayed so much, in my opinion, is the sheer fact that killing a child is an act that is so evil that many people cannot even fully comprehend it.  Children are the epitome of innocence and helplessness, and that makes their murder all the more atrocious.  Presenting this cruelty seems to give victims a certain rallying point that truly embodies the evil of the murders. Again Mark Anderson sums up their effect by saying “[the children’s] defenselessness serves as a metaphor for the general plight of Holocaust victims […] their fate constitutes one of the most powerful indictments of Nazi criminality and the most heart-rending evidence of the victims’ loss.”


There is something so inexplicably haunting and heart-wrenching about seeing a child in pain and desolation.   Like this image of the three homeless children sobbing on the side of the road. This is the sort of thing that I believe forces people to share the photos and testimonies of these young victims.


Now comes my next question: what do we see when we look at the photos of these children? Or more interestingly, what do we NOT see?  Many pictures of the children came from before the genocide.  There are countless family portraits taken by the family members that depict the children as they were before the Nazis came or during the time they stayed in the ghettos.  For instance, there is this picture of two brothers sitting for a family portrait in the Kovno ghetto (one month before they were deported to the Majdanek extermination camp.  This photo is evidence that not even toddlers were spared the branding by the Nazis (as denoted by the Jewish star attached to their clothing).

Source: []

Then there are the pictures taken during the marches and at the camps.  Most of these pictures would, presumably, be taken by the Nazis.  Although there is often no proof of who exactly took the pictures, it is probably a safe assumption to say that the Nazis would have been the only ones with access to cameras, because the belongings of all of the prisoners had been confiscated.  The fact that it is the perpetrators behind the lens is a very important aspect of analyzing the photographs.  The images that we see are only the ones they would have wanted to be documented and seen by others in the future.

So what did the Nazis think was worth photographing?  There are countless photos of starving, dead, and dying children.  There are the ever-iconic photos of the emaciated children in the camps that are on the very brink of death and also photographs of piles of corpses of children that died from malnutrition, gas chambers, or disease.


Source: []

Clearly, the Nazis had no reservations about showing the death of these children.  After all, these kids were a part of the “Jewish problem” that they wanted to rid the world of, so why shouldn’t depict their demise.  After looking through hundreds of these photos, I had to ask myself: what is missing?  What aren’t they showing us?  And my answer was: actual photos of children dying at the hand of a Nazi.  All of the photos depict the effects of the treatment the Nazis gave to the kids, but they do not actually show them killing the children.  I thought this was incredibly interesting and wondered why I was not able to find an actual photo of a child being murdered by the soldiers.  There are many pictures of Nazi soldiers holding guns up to the heads of Jews, like this iconic image:

This photo exemplifies the preferred method of execution by the Einsatzgruppen  and SS squads: to shoot them by hand.  This particular photograph shows a young man watching from the Nazi youth labor organization.  ( ). So they were not shy about photographing the deaths of the adults, but they didn’t seem to photograph the children.  The closest images I could find of children dying at the hand of a Nazi soldier don’t actually show them killing the child:

The photo on the left is of a Russian Jewish woman in Ivangorod, Ukraine (1942) trying to run away with her child as an Einsatzgruppen officer takes aim at her head.  The child is not technically being shot at, but this is the only photo I was able to find in which a gun was aimed at, with intent to fire, the general direction of a child.  It is highly possible that the soldier was trying to save ammunition by taking out two Jews with one bullet, but it is still not a direct shot at the child.  The photo on the right is of a mass execution of Jews in Ukraine.  These men are all stripped naked and are lined up before a pit to await their imminent death.  If you look to the right of the picture, you can see a small boy following the line to the firing squad.  He too has been stripped naked, and there can be no doubt as to what his fate shall be, yet there is not photo of his actual death.  Photographic evidence is not necessary to prove that the Nazis did in fact kill all of those millions of children, but why wouldn’t they photograph it like everything else?  What makes the children any different than the adults?  Is it possible that the Nazis did in fact have some sort of moral dilemma with killing innocent children?

My answer is a firm: maybe.  From accounts of German soldiers, we can see that they did in fact have issues with killing children, despite their orders.  In Christopher Browning’s novel Ordinary Men [3] he presents accounts of Reserve Police Battalion 101 in Poland as they attempted to carry out the Final Solution.  Whilst the soldiers were clearing out towns, they spoke about the different reactions to the order of killing infants:

“Some claimed that along with the elderly and sick, infants were among those shot and left lying in the houses, doorways and streets of the town.  Others, however, stressed quite specifically that in this initial action the men still shied from shooting infants during search and clear operation. One policeman was emphatic ‘that among the Jews shot in our section of town there were no infants or small children,  I would like to say that almost tacitly everyone refrained from shooting infants and small children’” (p. 59).

It is evident that there was a sense of unease and discomfort associated with killing the children.  Another instance in the book showed even a higher-up official showing sympathy to the children: “a ten-year-old girl appeared, bleeding from the head.  She was brought to [Major] Trapp, who took her in his arms and said, ‘You shall remain alive’” (P. 69).

So did the Nazis avoid photographing the direct murder of children out of a sense of morality?  It is probably not wise to go so far as to say that, though, psychologically, most would not quite be able to stomach that type of photo.  It is highly unlikely that morality alone would have kept them from taking such a photo.  Certainly an aspect of culpability would have played a part in the documenting of murdering children. Photos of starving children, those that were experimented upon and those that had died could possibly bear a different explanation if the necessity arose (explanations like: “the experiments were for their own good” or “blame their parents for the fact that they have no food”, etc).  However feeble these explanations may be, they could possibly be plausible if they were forced to defend them, but a photograph of them holding a gun to a child’s head—there is no way escaping the guilt in that image, because there is no legitimate reason for killing someone so young and innocent.  It seems improbable that the Nazi officials would not have beared in mind that the international community would not have approved, nor would they have been able to turn a blind eye to, evidence of the murder of children.  None of this is to say that absolutely no picture exists where a Nazi is obviously murdering a child—it is absolutely possible that at least one exists somewhere—but I also believe that it is no accident that such a picture was not an abundant one.


In essence, the plight of the children of the Holocaust serves as an embodiment of the torturous struggle that every victim of the Nazi’s reign had to suffer through.  This is the reason why their photos and testimonies are so greatly represented in Holocaust literature.  To most people, the idea of harming something so innocent is almost unfathomable, and this is even evident in the fact that the Nazis rarely portray the actual act of murdering a child.  Despite their pride in ridding the world of the spawn of the “Jewish problem”, they notably leave out photographic depictions of this whilst still presenting images of the emaciated bodies and corpses. To me, this is a sort of commentary on the innate human morality concerning the sanctity of the life of a child.  Even those who have no problem exterminating hundreds of adults were met with uncertainty about harming children—if not uncertainty within, then a sense that the world would not be blind and overlook an act that violates human nature.


[1] Anderson, Mark M. “The Child Victim as Witness to the Holocaust: An American Story?” Jewish Social Studies 14.1 (2007): 1-22. Project MUSE. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <;.

[2]  “Holocaust History.” Introduction to the Holocaust. UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM, WASHINGTON, D.C., 1 Jan. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <;.

[3] Browning, Christopher R. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Print.

Answering Bosnia

Abstract About the Beginning of the End.

The collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s, 10 years after the death of Josip Broz Tito[1]was nothing but a recipe for disaster. Once the snake lost its head, the atrocities were almost inevitable. With no leader at the top, and the country in a vulnerable position, it was an opening for individuals like Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, and Ratko Mladic to take full advantage of the situation. The division of Yugoslavia into three separate ethnic countries was the end of neighbor-like friendships. Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, once all under one roof are now divided into categories of Christian Orthodox, Roman Catholic’s, and Bosnian Muslim’s respectively. The theories and ideologies that will spread from rising leadership movements during this vulnerable time will forever have the Balkan area remembered as the grounds for the greatest atrocity on European soil since the Holocaust


The aftermath of the Bosnian War was nothing but a reality check for the modern generations. We all know that lives were lost, families were torn apart, and vicious crimes against humanity occurred. Those are givens based on the endless amounts of evidence that exist after the conclusion of the biggest atrocity in Europe since the Holocaust. It is fair to say that all sides participated in some sort of genocide and mass killings. Even though that is true, most of the barbaric activities occurred on the backs of Bosnian Muslims. Adam Jones writes in his book, “Bosnia promptly became the most brutal battlefield of the Balkan wars. Serb gunners launched a siege and artillery bombardment of Sarajevo that evoked global outrage. Apart from killing thousands of civilians, they also staged a systematic campaign of urbicide, targeting the cultural repositories of the Bosnian Muslim and cosmopolitan Sarajevan civilizations.” (Jones 321) Millions of people were forced from their homes and put in a position to search for a new home. Bosnia has been torn into pieces and is unlivable immediately after the war. People cannot return to their homes because of the horrible memories and scenes that will reoccur in their minds like they happened yesterday. Keeping in mind all information given, my goal with this is to conclude how these men, women, and children, that lived and survived through times, find a way to get some sort of closure and move on. We know that the pains and the mental images will go to the grave with most of these individuals. Those visuals will never leave the minds of these people because of how monstrous those actions were. We have also talked about in class that there isn’t a way to get complete closure after genocide, but that there is some sort of way to move on. I want to get an idea of how these individuals can wake up everyday and go on about their business normally. How do these individuals live with images of something so surreal that it seems like a dream?

Visuals of the Reality.

The saying that pictures tell a thousand words cannot be more correct. In today’s society images are the new way to get someone’s attention. Images are used in advertisements, they are used in Presidential campaigns, but they are especially used in situations where people are fighting for a cause. Whether it is the images of children being kidnapped by Kony, or if it is the images of gas chambers and concentration camps during the Holocaust, nothing hits a person more emotionally than these images that show the violence. The only other visual that can leave a person speechless, is if you actually are there to see the action in person, where you can walk the same steps that those people took. To try to explain this, I want to show you some images that I took on my trip to Bosnia in the summer of 2008.

Taken by Anes Ademovic, July 2008. Gradacac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Image taken outside of a Serbian Armored Train.

Taken by Anes Ademovic, July 2008. Gradacac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Image taken inside a Serbian Armored Train.

Weapon on the Armored Train. Taken by Anes Ademovic 2008.

Taken inside Armored Train by Anes Ademovic 2008

Heavy Artillery. Taken by Anes Ademovic 2008

Images like this are all over the Internet and when you come across something like this, you think about how intense this looks and you can see the effects of a powerful war. You will find yourself clicking on the image and staring at it for a little bit, and then move on to the next and forget what you even saw five minutes ago. I’ll be the first to admit that when I see disturbing images online or in textbooks about war and genocide, I most of the time do not find myself connected emotionally. At the end of the day, the picture to me is just another image. This changed in 2008 when I went back to Bosnia to visit family and they decided to take me on a reality tour to this Serbian Armored Train. This heavy duty train was a destruction monster for the Serb forces, it would go from town to town, and take down everything and anything in sight. This trains final run came in the outskirts of the city my uncle resides in; Gradacac. Had this train made it to the center, the entire

City of Gradacac. Taken by Anes Ademovic in 2008.

city of Gradacac would have been a ghost town like many of the other towns that fell victim to this superman of a vehicle. Nothing connects you more emotionally than seeing images come to real life. Walking outside and inside of this train had me speechless and at one point I didn’t even consider taking pictures because it

Taken by Anes Ademovic 2008

was so out of this world that you have a reality check initiated without anything real happening. In a way it was as if time had stopped and the only things present were myself and this chunk of iron.

It is a surreal feeling being in a place where you can physically see, smell, and touch, the effects of a war that left thousands dead and millions displaced. Growing up away from the violence I always knew my history and have heard the stories from my parents and relatives. You start to question how people that were once neighbors and friends, commit acts like this against one another. If seeing this train 20 years after the atrocities affects an individual like myself who was only a baby when this occurred, then how can you describe the feelings and thoughts of the people that were actually present? How do you go on with life after witnessing these images take place live? Being there 20 years later made my experience feel like a dream, How can you describe what the real victims saw 20 years ago? This image below that shows a mother and her child that were executed by Serbs soldiers and thrown into a mass grave is an image that is remarkably telling. There were individuals that committed this crime and there were people that saw this happen. No one will be able to explain his or her thoughts and feelings moving on about how they cope with what they saw. It is mind blowing that these people that witnessed this or committed this can go on with life almost in a way like it never happened. Maybe this is where you get the connection of being in a situation that it seems so surreal that it is almost like a dream. Is this how you can wake up in the morning and go on with life? Is it because it all of this seems like a dream and that it never happened?  Adam Jones says, “Genocide may also be depicted as an act of pre-emptive self-defense, based on atrocities, actual or alleged, inflicted on the perpetrator group in the past- sometimes the very distant past.” (Jones 518) In a way, that explains how someone can commit something atrocious as the image below depicts. Maybe that is why it is easier for the perpetrators to sleep at night and pretend like nothing ever happened. There are open cases that quote survivors of these horrendous times that show how difficult it can be to go on with your life when little things can remind you of what you have lost as a victim of genocide. A young mother that was a survivor of the genocide in Srebrenica is quoted testifying, “This youngest boy I had, those little hands of his, how could they be dead? Every morning I wake up I cover my eyes not to look at other children going to school.” [2]This is one of hundreds of stories of personal pain that people have to deal with on a daily basis. Little things will always reminds an individual of the pain that is being held inside of your heart and mind. It is impossible for us to even consider imagining how they feel when they wake up in the morning.

James Dawes said in his book, “You have the beginning and the end but no idea what went on between.” (Dawes 201) [3] I found that quote by Dawes very interesting in the fact that a lot of the times we know the beginning and the end, but seem blind to what happened in between. Society today sees genocide as a two-step process. The first step, the perpetrators infiltrating the vulnerable people, the second step is seeing the numerous bodies of victims being dug up. The moments that come between the beginning and the end are what fuel the passion and pride the people will carry with them for generations. The suffering and the cries of pain and grief during the inhumane times are what has people remember, and it is what seems to makes most sense of what makes people want to spread the stories from generation to generation so you do not forget. Taking a step forward after genocide is a problem for many. Individuals are in a way able to move forward but the lingering effects are still there. Many years pass and survivors are still reliving the past in the present day. “The long-term after-effects of Holocaust traumatization are far-reaching. More than half a century after the war, the Holocaust continues to make its presence felt on survivor families and others in a variety of ways. Like an atom bomb that disperses its radioactive fallout in distant places, often a long time after the actual explosion, the Holocaust continues to contaminate everyone who was exposed to it in one way or another.” Says Natan P.F. Kellermann in his article; The Long-term Psychological Effects and Treatment of Holocaust Trauma. This is the same case for the lady quoted in the beginning of this writing where she talks about how she doesn’t want to open her eyes because seeing children going to school will have her think about her murdered child and husband. It is inevitable to not think about your lost ones, especially if it happened in such a horrendous way. This is where answering the question on, how do these individuals live and go on about their day with mental images of something so surreal that it seems like a dream becomes so difficult to even consider answering, because you just don’t know. Is it even fair to try to answer a question that seems unanswerable unless you have walked in those shoes? The only thing we can learn about genocide using visuals and images is the fact that the pain and grief of the people that were victimized is unexplainable because we cannot look into that area as a bystander.

Remains of a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) child and a baby killed by Serbs around Srebrenica. The victims’ remains were excavated from the mass grave Suha in the Srebrenica region.

The People.

2008 Photo taken in Srebrenica by Amel Emric

The image above is one of the many examples of the pride the Bosnian people carry with them. During this march in Srebrenica thousands of Bosnians gathered as one big family to show respect to the fallen individuals of the massacre in Srebrenica. The reason I decided to use this image over the many others that could have easily depicted the Bosnian people is because this one has the younger generations marching. Even though this image is not just young adults; they do include older individuals like the gentleman in the front on the right side of the image. The young ones like myself don’t remember what it was like during the beginning of the war, and they don’t recall the images of bodies and mass graves, yet the stories are passed down from generation to generation. It becomes interesting when people that were there in the early 1990’s are able to walk the same roads that at one point in their lives were considered the roads of death. How does an individual find it in them to go through the same area where they were nearly slaughtered? What makes them do this? Is it the search for closure or is it the search for an answer to why everything happened? Those are questions that you cannot answer unless you have walked those same steps.

The stories instill the message that no matter what and no matter how hard the times get, Bosnian people must believe in each other and stick together. The stories of the War must be passed down so the world may never forget what happened in the Balkans during a time where society has developed an ideology that an act like the Holocaust will never again occur on European soil again. Now, I’m not saying that only the victims of the Bosnian genocide have pride and want the world to never forget what happened in the Balkans. People of Rwanda, Cambodia, and even the new generations of the victims of the Holocaust, all have made efforts to show the world that sitting there and watching the vicious crimes happen in a modern time where Super Nintendo’s and Sega Genesis’s were in most households, is unacceptable. Whether you are Bosnian, Jewish, or Cambodian, the most important thing you can do as you live through your generation and create new generations is keeping the memory alive of what happened in your respective homeland. Even though memory can change over time, especially when going from one person to another, it is important to understand that people die, images and memories last forever.


Can we answer the question of getting some sort of closure after genocide in a realistic way that makes sense without depleting the true effect of the situation? Understanding how people that were part of the genocide wake up everyday and go on about their business normally the next day seems impossible to answer. Genocide in a lot of ways looks like a bunch of unanswered questions on a math exam. You kind of have an idea on how to do the problem, but deep down inside you know you don’t really know the answer or how to even start. You can always scribble something down that looks like legitimate work and hope it gets you some credit. In cases of genocide you can have all the images and all the sources to help you answer the simplest questions, but in the end of the day it is far fetched to pretend like you can answer the questions as a bystander. Images depict a lot of pain, grief, sorrow, and loss, they just don’t tell us how the individual can get up everyday, 20 years after the fact and go on about their day as if nothing happened. Images of genocide show us a lot, but they leave us with unanswered questions. Images also hide a lot about the situation at hand. They at times don’t affect the average Joe because they can’t emotionally attach the person who is so far from the problem that they don’t really feel a connection. Maybe this is a reason why we cannot answer certain questions about genocide. At one point I was an average Joe until my trip in 2008 that opened Pandora’s box on a reality check for me. Even though I’m Bosnian and I have Bosnian Pride, I did not have the emotionally connection when seeing horrendous pictures of my people until I went back in 2008. It takes a moment of seeing something so surreal in person that when it hits you like a ton of bricks you cannot help but sit there and think, is this just a dream that I have yet to wake up from? The image below was taken in 2008 at the annual funeral of Srebrenica Genocide victims.

Many people consider burying their loved one as closure; they believe that it will help them heal and put an end to the grief. This image is touching because of the child in this picture looking for his relative. He looks too young to have been even born during the beginning of the war but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know what happened before his time on earth. This is because of the memories that are transferred from generations to generations so the world and the people of Bosnia do not forget what happened in a time where something like Genocide seemed impossible to commit in a modernized time.

Photo by Sulejman Muratovic. 7/11/08. Taken at the annual funeral of Srebrenica Genocide victims.

[1] Josip Broz Tito was the first socialist president of Yugoslavia in rule for nearly 30 years. His socialist Yugoslavia was liberal by the standards of Central and Eastern Europe. Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2011)

[2] Witness DD (she testified with her name and identity withheld from the public), a Bosnian Muslim woman, speaking about how she lost her husband and two sons in the July 1995 Srebrenica genocide. She testified on 26 July 2000 in the case against Radislav Krstić. Source:

[3] James Dawes, That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity (Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007

Works Cited

1. Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2011)

2. James Dawes, That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity (Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007

3. Natan P.F. Kellermann. The Long-term Psychological Effects and Treatment ofHolocaust Trauma. 1992. New York. Web. 3 Apr. 2012. <;


Ukrainian Holocaust and War Memory

Part 1: Introduction

Ukraine has been called an ethnic borderland, and is just that. A young country, Ukraine’s history during the Second World War is as fascinating as it is confusing and muddled. With approximately 1.4 million Ukrainians killed by the hands of the Nazis and their own Ukrainian neighbors, war memory in Ukraine is tainted, diverse, and very much alive in the country today. Because of the high death toll in Ukraine, as well as the high amounts of collaboration, the country is now littered with protected monuments that are held in high esteem to those wishing to honor those who were killed in Ukraine during Nazi occupation. Photographs of such atrocities make events of the past undeniable, and often times indict people for their collaboration with the Nazis. Other photographs make viewers unable to forget the image that they saw. Yet some locations of mass executions in Ukraine have very little documentation at all, and certainly do not have photographic evidence available (at least to the public). The viewing of a photo can raise an emotional response within the viewer, perhaps even more so than verbal or written testimony. Therefore, this paper aims to address the impact of photography on Ukrainian memory of the holocaust in Ukraine, as well as to address how the lack of photographic evidence of an event or a group can impact memory. The controversial memory of war heroes, collaborators, and victims, is difficult to navigate. One question posed by Elizabeth Jelin is “who has what rights to determine what should be remembered and how?”[i] These are questions that will be addressed in this paper. The memory of locations and of people is determined by those alive today, and is constantly in flux. Photographic evidence lends itself to the answering of these questions by preventing an erasure of Ukrainian history during the war, but what happens when there is a complete lack of evidence? Or the evidence can be viewed in multiple ways (as will be addressed below in the case of Stepan Bandera). Ukrainian history has been erased in the past, but the ability to view photographs as evidentiary support for past events may prevent such an erasure from taking occurring again.

Part 2: History of Ukraine: Division and Invasion

One of the most notable features of the Ukraine is a distinction between the East and the West. The Eastern portion, has been under Russian and/or Soviet rule since the 1600’s, while the Western portion was under the control of Poland-Lithuania, Austria, and later under Poland, and Romania until its integration into the Soviet Union in 1944.[ii] This dichotomy is necessary to note, as the difference between the two regions bring difference in culture, politics, and language all impact national identity. Also important to note of Ukrainian history is that with the exception of the brief time from 1918-1921, Ukraine was never an independent state in modern times, this independence was not achieved until 1991.[iii] This distinction may play a significant role in war memory because of the impact of collaboration by Ukrainians (especially in auxiliary police units) who actively participated in the massacre of Ukrainian Jewry and other undesirable citizens. The time during which Ukraine was independent was ended by the Soviet Union in 1921. This period of Stalinization brought with it Stalin’s goal of crushing Ukrainian nationalism, as well as the destruction of any voice that the peasantry of Ukraine had, especially with the Famine of 1932-33, accompanied by the ongoing cleansing of Ukrainian intelligentsia which began in 1930.[iv] In order to make way for Communism, nationalist ideology needed to be subdued because the two ideologies could not coexist in a productive state. Accompanying this goal was the Stalinist goal of full-scale socialization of the countryside. The result was that any peasant deemed an anti-Soviet activist would be shot, imprisoned or exiled.[v] Those peasants deemed rich exploiters were to lose all of their property and be exiled, while those deemed politically harmless had to accept inferior land while being forbidden to join collective farms.[vi] Along with harsh conditions for the peasantry, the years of terror under Stalin also reached a political realm, where those posing a threat to Stalin’s agenda because of their real or perceived goals of national Ukrainization were subject to execution. This broad category was not aimed at the peasantry, but rather affected party state officials, those who had non-Bolshevik political affiliations (past or present), intellectuals, those in industrial management or engineering, clergy, and national minorities, with 122,237 “enemies of the people” executed between the years of 1937-1938.[vii]

“I will never forget the day that Nazi troops chose, for some reason to ride through the village of Kortiless. The Ukrainian people cheered them…”[viii] The Nazi invasion of Soviet Ukraine began on June 22, 1941. By mid-September of the same year, Red Army forces were surrounded, and by the end of September, the Nazis had taken control of Ukraine.The knowledge of oppression under the Soviets is necessary to understand the state of Ukraine upon the Nazi invasion, and to why Ukrainians were likely to welcome the Nazi’s, particularly in the West, an area that was not as “russified”. Many saw the war as an opportunity to gain independence from Russia. This historical knowledge impacts war memory in Ukraine into the modern day, and may impact the erection of monuments to protect the nationalist sentiment that aided in the massacre of Ukrainians during the war. Upon the outbreak of war, Ukrainians were unaware of the racial hierarchy of Nazi ideology, by which the majority of Ukrainians were deemed unfit, but ranked slightly above those facing immediate destruction (Jews, Gypsies, and other “Asiatics”) meaning that only few were seen to posses the racial qualities that would allow them to be “Germanized”.[ix] This may also have contributed to willingness to collaborate with the Nazi invaders, and to a guilt that may tarnish the war memory of Ukrainians, especially in the heavily nationalist Western Ukraine. Ukrainian participation in the massacre of Jews and other Ukrainians makes the memory of victims and of their massacre difficult in Ukraine because the memory indicts the perpetrators, who were often collaborators.

Part 3: Stepan Bandera

The “Hero of Ukraine” is a Ukrainian national honor established in 1998 to honor those deemed to have taken part in either acts of heroism, or achievement in labor. Lately, one historical figure has tarnished the honor, causing Ukrainian protest, public petition, and court rulings to overturn the awarding of this honor to a controversial “hero.” Stepan Bandera, former Ukrainian Nationalist and accused Nazi collaborator during the Second World War, was awarded the title in 2004 by Ukrainian president Victor Yushchenko. However the scandalous award is not only causing issue in Ukraine, but around the world. The European Parliament has called on Ukraine’s new president, Victor Yanukovich, to strip Bandera of the title, saying that the European Parliament “deeply deplores” the decision because of Bandera’s leadership of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) who collaborated with Nazis during the war.[x] The issue of whether or not to strip Bandera of the “hero” title divided the country in January 2010. During this time a court ruling declared that Bandera was not fit to carry the title and the title was stripped January 1st was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Stepan Bandera, and one reporter in Ukraine noted that: “Suddenly, just as Lenin’s statues had peppered the Soviet Union, statues of Bandera started appearing all over west Ukraine. If Yanukovych dishonours the memory of Bandera, there is likely to be a new epidemic of statues in the west, while those in the centre and east could be vandalized.[xi] One such monument is pictured below, and is located in the Western Ukrainian town of Ivanovo-Frankivsk, others like it can be seen in L’viv, and Ternopil, as well as other Western Ukrainian towns.


More recently, as of October 2011, Russia has denounced the Ukrainian honor again, as the renaming of a street from “Peace Street” to the “Nachtigall Battalion Warriors Street” has caused a similar situation to the awarding of the national hero title to Bandera. The Nachtigall Battalion Warriors Street was made to “honor members of the auxiliary formation that fought alongside the Nazis in World War II.”[xiii] The Nachtigall battalion was established by the German military, and was staffed with members of the OUN.[xiv] After learning of the name change, Aleksander Lukashevich spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Minister said, “The actions of the Ukrainian authorities cause surprise and outrage. Do not they see the sacrilege in such actions? We still count upon the local and central authorities in Ukraine to hold a thorough investigation and return the street its noble peaceful name.”[xv] The history of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and their militant branch the Ukrainian Insurgent Army is one that continues to divide Ukraine because of their work alongside the Nazi occupiers during World War II. Photographs taken during the war in Ukraine can be helpful for historical purposes, but also can be damning for those photographed. Pictured below is a photograph taken of the Nachtigall Battalion Ukraine, who actively collaborated under Stepan Bandera with the Nazis prior to Operation Barbarossa. Photographs of Ukrainian nationalists actively participating alongside the Nazis’ are undeniable, and the link from Stepan Bandera to the Nazis is undeniable as well, therefore, these historical images are able to bring to light a history that verbal testimony (which can easily falter or be rebutted) cannot do. They place the people in scenes that they cannot deny being in. However, many deny that the work of men like Stepan Bandera should be considered collaborationist, because as Ukrainians, they were also victims to the war, and to the previous communist regime. Therefore, conflicting memory results in a torn Ukraine. Can the perpetrators (in this case, nationalists) also be the victims?


Part 4: L’viv

Also in the midst of controversy over war memory is the city of L’viv. The Golden Rose Synagogue complex was rumored to be demolished in the spring of 2012, where a new hotel would take the historical synagogues place. In 1941, much of the complex was burnt down, with Jews inside by Nazis, being one of 43 synagogues to be destroyed by the Nazis in L’viv.[xvii] The history of L’viv in Western Ukraine, and with the invasion of the Nazi’s saw the erasure of a centuries old Jewish community. There were approximately 110,000 Jews living in L’viv prior to the outbreak of WWII, only 3,500 are known with certainty to have survived and returned to the city after the war.[xviii] A similar situation in L’viv centers around what is now the Citadel Inn Hotel, a building originally constructed in 1850, but remodeled in 2009. Owned by Volodymyr Gubitsky, the deputy regional governor responsible for the preservation of culture and heritage; the hotel was the site of mass torture and executions of tens of thousands of people during the Nazi occupation of L’viv (pictured below).[xix]


Like many other locations of mass murder in Ukraine, however, L’viv does boast monuments in remembrance of those killed. There are many small placards throughout the city that commemorate sites where synagogues were destroyed, and  two large monuments which were erected to commemorate the lives lost in the ghetto that was erected in L’viv by the Nazis from 1942-1943, where approximately 200,000 individuals were tortured and murdered[xxi]. The juxtaposition of the sites today contrasted to the photographs taken during the war is stark in contrast. The picture on the left is a picture of female inmates of the L’viv ghetto in the Spring of 1942, the right, is the monument to honor the ghetto which stands today:

[xxii] [xxiii]

The murder of the peoples of L’viv is undeniable and is documented through photography. There are numerous photos on any search engine that allow a viewer to see bodies strewn across streets or stacked into piles, victims in the ghettos witnessing hangings and mass execution, people being dragged through the streets by soldiers…the list of atrocities in photographs continues. This makes the history undeniable. The proof is in black and white, staring the viewer in the face. The city of L’viv, which had a long standing a rich Jewish culture was practically erased of its Jewry during the war. However, the city also boasts nationalist sentiments to this day. Within the city, there are countless sites commemorating nationalist “heroes” such as Stepan Bandera, as well as sites commemorating those killed by both Nazis and collaborators.

Part 5: Sudilkov

The Western Ukrainian town of Sudilkov is an area where approximately 7,500 Jews were executed, with approximately 471 killed at this site pictured below. Many other Jews killed were marched from Sudilkov to nearby Shepetovka for execution. In Christopher Browings book Ordinary Men gives more information about the murders in Shelptovka, stating:

“Postwar judicial interrogations in the Federal Republic of Germany, stemming from scant documentation, uncovered further information about the murderous swath Police Battalions 45 and 315 cut across the Soviet Union in the fall of 1941. Police Battalion 45 had reached the Ukrainian town of Shepetovka on July 24, when its commander Major Martin Besser, was summoned by the head of Police Regiment South, Colonel Franz. Franz told Besser that by order of Himmler the Jews in Russia were to be destroyed and his Police Battalion 45 was to take part in this task. Within days the battalion had massacred the several hundred remaining Jews in Shepetovka, including women and children.”[xxiv]

It lacks a large monument or heavy tourist and foot traffic. There is also very little documentation of the executions at Sudilkov, other than those that came out during the war crimes trials against Engelbert Kreuzer in April 1969:

“The German Reserve Police Battalion 45 stationed in nearby Slavuta perpetrated one of the first massacres of Sudilkov Jews. On August 21, 1941, the Battalion Commander Martin Besser, ordered Company Commander Engelbert Kreuzer to round up the Jewish population of Sudilkov.  Kreuzer and his men rounded up 471 men, women and children. The victims were transported to a large bomb crater about 20 kilometers outside Sudilkov.”[xxv]


The overgrown and rarely accessed small covered ravine in Sudlikov desolate and underwhelming. But the lack of photography of the events that took place here, have seemingly impacted the memory of the events. One man’s’ account of visiting the property stated that:

“An elderly Ukrainian woman, who had witnessed the killings, showed us to the memorial. We entered through the gate and went around the corner to the backyard…We entered into a small courtyard where we could see a small memorial with a Yiddish plaque.  The memorial and courtyard appeared as though no one had visited in over a decade. Then, she explained what had happened in this place. Germans and Ukrainians took the Jews of Sudilkov—all of whom were too old or unable to walk to the ghetto in nearby Shepetovka—to this courtyard.  There they dug a pit into the earth and buried Sudilkov’s Jews alive.  The Ukrainian woman told us that when the pit was covered, the earth continued to move for days because beneath the ground people still struggled for life. Jews who knew of the atrocity erected this tiny memorial after the war”[xxvii]

This area is not recognized or protected as a monument or landmark, but is maintained by private property owners. Sudilkov is interesting because while there is a monument erected in Shepetovka, there is nothing recognized to commemorate those nearly 500 people who were unable to walk to Shepetovka, and were therefore shot or buried alive. The story of Sudlikov stands out because there are undoubtedly so many places like it that have been forgotten, or are left without recognition.

PART 6: Conclusion

War memory in Ukraine has often been determined by the government, however, within the past couple decades, there has been an outcry from the peoples of Ukraine and many Jewish organizations (as well as the international community) to view the history from the perspective of those who were killed, the victims. The memory of the holocaust in Ukraine will continue to change and evolve over time, as distance from the past changes how it is remembered, as new research uncovers more facts, and as history is manipulated by those who benefit from such exploitation. The histories of massacre in Ukraine are well documented, and are especially revered in the Eastern half of the country, where the nationalist movement was not as widespread during the war than in the west, which identified more with western ideologies than the eastern and Russian ideologies of the Eastern Ukraine. Western Ukraine, however, did experience remarkable atrocities, which are remembered through various landmarks and monuments throughout the small region. The largest massacres and those which now have erected monuments are well known and have piles of photographs of the atrocities that took place at the site(s). This may lend to the impact of the event, the ability to visibly witness the massacres, this therefore leads to more recognition of the events, and a more public and recognized need for monuments and memorials. But what of places like Sudilkov?  Places where mass graves and those who lay in them seem forgotten? Unable to locate any photographs of the events at Sudilkov, one must wonder if the lack of imagery from the event lessens the impact of the memory. Many in Ukraine do fight for the memory of those killed, however, Meylakh Sheykhet, one of Lviv’s last Jews, who stated: ““It is hard to imagine these sites being treated less respectfully,” he says. “Over the tombstones of some of history’s greatest rabbis, there are now movie theatres, discos and car parks.”[xxviii] War memory in Ukraine has often been determined by the government, however, within the past couple decades, there has been an outcry from the peoples of Ukraine and many Jewish organizations (as well as the international community) to view the history from the perspective of those who were killed, the victims. The memory of the holocaust in Ukraine will continue to change and evolve over time, as distance from the past changes how it is remembered, as new research uncovers more facts, and as history is manipulated by those who benefit from such exploitation.

[i] Jones, Adam. “Memory, Foregetting, and Denial.” In Genocide: a comprehensive introduction. 2nd edition ed. London: Routledge, 2006. 502.

[ii] Paul Kubicek, The History of Ukraine (Connecticut: Greenwood Press 2008), 7-8.

[iii] Ibid., 9.

[iv] Yekelchyk, Ukraine, 104.

[v] Ibid., 108.

[vi] Ibid., 109.

[vii] Ibid., 115.

[viii] Laizer Blitt, No strength to forget: survival in the Ukraine, 1941-1944 (London: Vallentine Mitchell), 33.

[ix] Wendy Lower, Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine (North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press), 27.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiv] Serhy Yekelchyk, Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 141.

[xv] Ibid.

[xxi] Bartov, Omer. “Travels in the Borderland.” In Erased: vanishing traces of Jewish Galicia in present-day Ukraine. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. 29.

[xxiv] Browning, Christopher R. Ordinary men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

The Armenian Genocide

           The Armenian Genocide is a story of malicious extermination and vicious killings, much like any other genocide. The way in which this genocide differs from most is that the aggressors, in this case Young Turks ruling the Ottoman Empire, do not acknowledge the killings as a formal genocide. This has caused much distain towards the Turkish nation from all regions of the world, and a lack of closure for the Armenian people. With such an injustice done to the Armenian people it would at least bring about some form of closure for the Armenians if the Turkish government would acknowledge their mistakes of the past and present a formal apology. Sadly it does not appear as if Turkish government will ever issue an apology in the foreseeable future. I intend to further prove the validity of this genocide through the investigation of it’s many images.  The images I have chosen primarily focus on the Armenian children. The killing of children may be the best evidence for the genocidal nature of this event, as children are a symbol of innocence throughout most cultures in the world.

Facts of The Event

            The Armenian Genocide first started in 1915 and the killings officially continued until 1922. The total numbers of the extermination are debated but most historians agree that roughly one and half million Armenians were killed (Armenian National Institute, 2012). The killings were carried out by the then ruling group known as the Committee for Union and Progress. This group was comprised of Young Turks. Like many Genocides, this one took place during a time of unrest within the World. The genocide was veiled by the World’s preoccupation with WWI. The Turkish government counters claims of the genocide occurring by saying that the death toll of the event is greatly inflated and that the two groups were equally at war. They also say that what really occurred was an evacuation of the Armenian people from the war zone, and that there were casualties on both sides. Though some aggressors were eventually brought to trial and convicted the Turkish state to this day denies that the genocide ever took place and instead prefers to refer to the events as a mutual conflict between both groups. These statements are ludicrous and blatantly disrespectful to the Armenian people. If the accounts of the event do not affirm it’s genocidal qualities, the photographs of the defenseless child victims of the catastrophe surly will.

The Proof is in the Photographs

            There are many photographs of the Armenian refugees and the public hangings that took place. These photographs can be used as evidence that genocide occurred, but they could also be twisted and used as a way to show that the Armenian people were merely relocated and those being hanged were war criminals. Amongst these photographs there are some that stand out as indisputable images of genocide. These images that serve as irrefutable evidence are those of weak, emaciated child victims. Armin T. Wegner can be credited with a large majority of the photographs displaying the horrific genocidal acts. Wegner was a military nurse and served in the German Sanitary Corps of the Turkish Army during the Armenian Genocide. During his time of service he documented the horrific acts done to the Armenian people through descriptive writings and photographs. Wegner did all of this documenting against direct orders and was eventually arrested by German forces at the request of the Turkish Command. Wegner was forced to relinquish all of his photographs and journal entries to be destroyed, but he was able to save a small number of photographic plates that he hid in his belt. These photographs that Wegner managed to get through the oppressive hands of authority are some of the best evidence we have to date of the atrocities carried out in the Armenian Genocide.

An Image of Despair


Child Casualties of Genocide

           Out of Wegner’s array of photographs one in particular seems to show the sheer disregard for Armenian life during these turbulent years. The Wallstein Publishing Company of Germany published the photograph of interest. The picture shows five Armenian children scattered on a roadside gutter. Three of the children appear to be deceased, while the other two are sitting in a daze about fifteen feet apart. In the top right corner of the photograph a group of five men in uniform are visible. The men are in uniforms that seem consistent with the Turkish party at that time. The group is walking away from the scattered children with their backs turned away from the horror of the deceased and starving youths. The first living boy in the lower right corner of the photograph doesn’t look any older than seven years old. He is looking directly at Wegner as he takes the photograph. Even though the boy’s face is hard to make out due to the low resolution of the picture it can be seen from his general slumped posture and baggy clothing that he is emaciated and orphaned. There are no caring adults in sight as the boy sits just a foot from the slumped corpse of one of his fellow Armenian youths. The boys gaze looks as though he is distant and somewhat removed from the entire horrific situation, possibly due to the trauma he has endured. Three corpses separate the first living child from the second. The second deceased child lays flat on his back, naked in the street. Some may say that the boy in the street is not dead due to the fact that his arms appear to be up and not laying sprawled at his side. The child being alive or dead might not be an important detail to most, but I think that it needs to be acknowledged that he is dead in the middle of the street, because his positioning means that his corpse cannot be ignored by the passing officers. He is centered in the middle of the road, and therefor requires any passerby’s attention.  I believe that the process a human body goes through after death can explain the boy’s odd position. He seems as though he is recently deceased due to the lack of deterioration, and this time period of his death would fall perfectly within the time frame that rigor mortis sets into the limbs of the body. The time frame would be about six hours after death for rigor mortis to set into his limbs (Iserson, 2003), and this would match up quite well with how long the boy appears to have been dead. His corpse is just as emaciated as the other youths present in the photograph. The third dead child positioned in the upper right of the photograph is barely visible. He or she’s legs can only be seen, as the rest of the body is covered by what appears to be a black cloth of some sort. To me it appears as if the child had covered him or herself before death, seeing as none of the other corpses are blanketed. The cloth covering to me may signify that the child knew that he or she was at the end of life and wanted to have the dignity of being covered before death instead of being put on display as a casualty of the genocide. The final child in this photograph is in the upper right corner of the photograph. The boys is alive and sitting up in a slumped position only five or six feet behind the Turkish soldiers retreating from the scene. This boy is not looking at Wegner, but instead has his head turned toward the uniformed men. It is as if the boy is watching death passing over him and his people and retreating in an organized manner. His position is weak and feeble. It seems to perfectly reflect his role in the entire affair. The boy is powerless and can only look on as his tormenters pass by calmly and confidently, destruction left in their wake. The photograph is an image of the ramifications and effects of genocide. The image shows the path of death left by the aggressors. The children are all emaciated and malnourished, which suggests that they have been denied any food or nourishment. They appear to be alone and orphaned. They are not sitting in the wake of war; they are sprawled out in the ravaged path of genocide. What the photograph doesn’t show is just as powerful as what it does show. The picture is absent of any caring parental guardians, or anyone for that matter who seem concerned with the welfare of these children. This lack of adults suggests that these children have lost their parents due to the genocide. They are left to fend for themselves in a land of the dead. This image of dead children reflects so greatly on the genocidal nature of this event because we do not see images like this in wars. Gruesome images of war are often pictures of fallen soldiers, or mutilated enemy troops. The victims in this photograph are not in uniform. They are unarmed. They are lame and defenseless. And above all the victims in this photograph are young children. This is an image of genocide.

Significance of Child Victims

            When writing about this topic I realize that the majority of the World does acknowledge this event, as genocide, but it must also be noted that the state of the aggressors chooses to ignore the event and even denies it’s existence. My purpose in investigating images of this event is simply to further drive home the irrefutable fact that this catastrophe was started with intentions of exterminating the Armenian people as a whole. The reason I choose to focus on the child casualties of this event is because I feel that they are the greatest proof of the genocidal nature of this atrocity. The killing of adults occurs both in genocide and in war, therefor it’s not always the best evidence in defining genocide. There seems to be more logic around the idea of killing those who are older. Adult men and women may be targeted due to the possible physical threat they pose to soldiers of the opposing side. They can actively resist, and cause damage to aggressors. They may also be targeted because adults are more likely to assume leadership roles in a resistance; this is due to the fact that they usually have strong convictions about issues that they have developed through life experience. They also command more respect from the general public and their peers. Adults pose a huge threat to aggressors. Children on the other hand, especially young children, such as those seen in Wegner’s photograph, pose little or no threat to assailants. They are usually not independent in thoughts or action, and they rely heavily on the direction and care of those older than them. The killing and starvation of children truly reflects aggressor intentions to exterminate a group in its entirety. This unjustified distain for a group along with the goal of complete and definite annihilation of a group strikes at the core definition of genocide.

An Image of Turkish Control 

Turkish Children Teased With Bread

            An image that I feel is extremely effective in reflecting the crippling power the Young Turks had over the Armenian people is one that can be found in the Collection of The St. Lazar Mkhitarian Congregation. This photograph is another image of young Armenian children. The photograph shows a well dresser Turkish man teasing seven young starving Armenian children with a loaf of bread. The children in this photo are emaciated and weak, just as in Wegner’s photograph. Judging by their fully outstretched hands, they appear to be begging for the bread in the Turkish officer’s hand. You cannot see the faces of the children in this photograph, but judging by their body language, they seem to be extremely anxious about getting the small chunk of bread. All of the children are reaching for the bread, but some seem more enthusiastic than others. The boy all the way in the back of the group has both hands outstretched, but is lying down on his side. The boy just to his right is up on his toes, reaching with his entire body outstretched. Their physical positions seem to reflect their hope for receiving this bread. The boy laying down in the back looks far skinnier and more sickly than any of the other children in the group, at this point in his starvation he may be less hopeful for Turkish generosity than those around him. His begging looks more pitiful and desperate instead of hopeful like some of the children around him. The Turkish officer in this photograph should be focused on as well. The man is well dressed and looks to be nourished; everything about him is in contrast to the starving children around him. He is standing while all but one of the children are sitting. This posture and positioning reflects the power he has over these children and the Armenian population as a whole. The officer’s face is stern and unfeeling in the presence of these starving and lame children. He is uncaring and unremorseful. He is in a position of ultimate power over these children, and holds the key to their survival in his hand. This overwhelming power over a people is greatly reflective of the genocidal nature of this event. In wars or conflicts there may be a side that is stronger than the other, but there is not one side that is completely dominating and in full control of the other. Through the this image of taunted children we are able to pull deeper meaning for the event as a whole. This picture reflects complete control on the side of the Yong Turks. The soldier symbolically holds life in his hands, and teases the Armenian children with it. Life is just out the of the Children’s grasp.

Importance of Recognition

            It seems clear that the event that occurred was clearly genocide, and it’s surprising that the Turkish nation could disregard its existence. The two images discussed above reflected the malice of the event through the investigation of the child victims. The killing of children seems to be more highly reflective of a desire to exterminate a population. One may ask though, why is it even important that Turkey acknowledge the genocide if the rest of the World knows the truth? What is the significance of the perpetrating nation acknowledging their wrongdoing? The solution to these questions can be answered by a concept that Adam Jones brings up repeatedly in his book, “Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction”. The term that Jones references is called, “Restorative justice”. Restorative justice is the idea that steps must be taken by aggressors and victims after genocide has occurred in order to find some sense of closure in the affair. Jones says that the goal of restorative justice is that it, “Seeks repair of social connections and peace rather than retribution against the offenders” (Jones, 2011, p. 552). Even though some of the offenders of this genocide were convicted shortly after the atrocities ended, very few of these convictions were followed through with, and ultimately the entire process of trying the criminals fell by the wayside. This form of justice (if any was truly done) was not restorative in the least and instead was striving for more retributive outcomes. This retribution and punishment many times is not what victims truly need in order to feel closure in an event. Simply telling offenders that what they did is wrong does not bring about closure, the offenders must say on their own accord that what they did was wrong and they are truly sorry for what has occurred. This restorative justice was not able to occur in the case of the Armenian genocide due to the fact that the offending Young Turks never admitted to their wrongdoings and ultimately never apologized for what they did to the Armenians. It is so important that the Turkish nation at least recognize the events that took place as genocide because without that recognition from the aggressors there will always be a felling of emptiness and lack of resolution for the Armenian people. Even though the rest of the World recognizes the validity of the Armenian Genocide there will never be closure until the Turkish nation admits to their wrongdoings.

Drawing Conclusions

            The images of this event clearly exhibit its genocidal nature, and it’s malicious control over the fates of the Armenian people. More specifically the images of Armenian children seem to strike at the core of what was motivating the Young Turks. The Young Turks were not in a violent engagement with the Armenian people, but were instead part of a one-sided brutal massacre of the Armenian’s as a whole. The act of killing children reflects desires to exterminate a group as a whole because young children pose no direct or urgent military threat to an opposing army. These events cannot be labeled as anything other than a genocide and it would be ignorant and in poor taste to say otherwise. Until the Turkish nation recognizes the events that took place as genocide there is no hope for closure or reconciliation between the two groups. The silence hurts more than what has been done.


Armenian National Institute (2011, January 1). Biography of Armin T. Wegner. ANI. Retrieved April 10, 2012, from http:/

Armenian National Institute (2011, January 1). Frequently Asked Questions About The Armenian Genocide. ANI. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from http:/

Iserson, K. V. (2003, January 1). Rigor Mortis and Other Postmortem Changes.Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. Retrieved April 28, 2012, from http:/

Jones, A. (2011). Justice, Truth, And Redress. In Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. (2nd ed.). (p. 552). New York, United States: Routledge.

Visual Representation of the Stages of Genocide (Final Draft)


Genocide is performed in a systematic and structural process, often shown through distinct phases or stages.  Genocides throughout history, though different, reveal this pattern.  These stages go beyond the highly known mass killings and executions, but start long before that.  Adam Jones discusses the plan of genocide in his book, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, “It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.” [i]  One can see the similarities between genocides and the use of these stages by analyzing different research and visual images of different genocides.  In this paper, I will show images from different genocides throughout history, in order the show the similarities of how these steps are utilized, I will focus on five of the eight steps; classification, symbolization, dehumanization, preparation, and extermination.


Before showing images, I will first explain the general steps that will be my guideline for the remainder of my paper.  There are major steps that genocidaires follow in order to commit genocide.  Genocide Watch, an organization that works to prevent genocide, has created a model of eight steps that compromise genocide;[ii]

  1. Classification
  2. Symbolization
  3. Dehumanization
  4. Organization
  5. Polarization
  6. Preparation
  7. Extermination
  8. Denial

These steps were created by Gregory Stanton, the president of the organization, and presented to the United States Department of State following the Rwandan genocide in order to explain why genocide happens and ultimately how to prevent it.  Furthermore, these steps can be executed in a different order than the one shown above and some steps may be more apparent than others.


The first step deals with the “us” versus “them” mentality that genocide usually begins with.  There must be an enemy, a group that does not belong.  From a legal standpoint, The United Nations Convention defined genocide as, “Genocide means…acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.”[i]  Meaning classifying can be done on a basis on many different cultural identities.  This step defines the group in question and identifies them as the other group.  This is done through many different ways, one being by using people’s physical appearance.  In both the Holocaust and Rwanda, measuring facial features became a way to determine their race and ethnicity.  The following photos are of the tools that were used to make these measurements.

In Nazi Germany during World War II, Nazi authorities started using different measurements of people’s physical features in order to determine if they fit the “master” or Aryan race.  This “racial science” was implemented in schools; Nazi teachers would observe the students physical traits in order to determine their status.  They would take measurements of their nose and skull length and would record their hair, skin, and eye color.[iii]  The photograph to the left is one of many of people being measured by “racial hygienists” in order to establish true racial descent.  If measurements failed to comply with the Aryan standards, one would be labeled as “inferior” and possibly even forcibly sterilized.  In addition to classifying people by measuring their features, widely known stereotypes were also used to single out the Jews.

Similar to the methods employed by Jews, Rwandans also used physical characteristics in order to distinguish Hutus from Tutsis.  Though these two groups are very similar, they share the same country, religion, and language, the Hutus and Tutsis have some mild physical traits that are different.  Tutsis are said to be taller and leaner, while Hutus are known to be shorter and bigger.  These physical descriptions go along with the stereotypes of the taller Tutsis being the dominant ones and the Hutus being the serving ones.[i]  Facial measuring was also utilized as technique in order to classify someone.


Symbolization is the next step in the genocidal process.  Following identity this step is used to label or mark people of the targeted groups.  This usually begins with giving them a title or label, such as in the Holocaust, Jewish people were now “Jews” and in Rwanda distinguishing the Hutus and Tutsis.ii]   Through this symbolization, people can see the “enemy” and then associate them with harm or hate. A common method employed at this stage are use of identification cards.

Identification cards were used as a tool to recognize Jews for Nazis in the beginning of their reign of terror.  As part of the series of anti-Semitic legislation imposed by the Nazi government, in 1938 they ordered Jews to carry with them at all times an identity card.  The card indicated their Jewish heritage or affiliation.  As part of this legislation, Jews that did not have Jewish names were forced to add “Israel” for men and “Sarah” to their names to make it easier to categorize them as Jews.  Finally, Jews’ passports were marked with a large red “J.”[iii]  After this, the Nazis employed an even more extreme method by requiring Jews to display a yellow Star of David on their clothing to continue their alienation from society.

In the Rwandan genocide identity cards were used to distinguish Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas.  This was started by the Belgians in order to establish a racially segregated country, where Tutsis were the dominant people.  But during the genocide the Hutus made these cards a death sentence of sorts, when at a roadblock a Tutsi would be automatically killed upon showing their ID.  In the chaos of the genocide, perpetrators would not even check identity cards, if someone even looked like a Tutsi they would be killed.  This resulted in the killing of Hutus who looked like Tutsis.[i]

Passport issued to Lore Oppenheimer, a German Jew, with "J" for "Jude" stamped on the card. "Sara" was added to the names of all German Jewish women. Hildesheim, Germany, July 3, 1939.

A Tutsi woman's identification card from 1991.

The two pictures above are examples of identification cards used in the previously mentioned genocides.  What is striking about both of them is how prominent the label of their ethnicity or race is.  One the Rwandan ID, your ethnicity is even before your name.  It also is the only piece of information not written by the person, but indicated by slashed through the other ethnicity.  One the Jewish ID the most noticeable thing is the large “J” indicating the woman being Jewish.  Also the middle name is Sara which is also a sign of the woman being Jewish.  The similar looking cards both make ethnicity the most easily recognizable feature on the cards.  An identification card is intended to display who someone is, these cards were used to identify the targeted group in order to persecute them and eventually exterminate them.


Following symbolizing the target of genocide, hateful propaganda usually begins to surface to further the victims’ humiliation and isolation.  The goal of this is to present the target as subhuman and to continue to make society fear and resent them.  It also distances the rest of society with the targeted group causing them to not see them as a person anymore but as an evil.  Jones mentions the phenomenon, “It produces one of the most prevalent features in genocidal discourse: ‘a theme of creeping contagion, corruption, and contamination of both the individual and the societal organism.’”[i]  In both the Holocaust and Rwanda hate propaganda was used by the perpetrators in order influence society.   The Nazis  used posters, pamphlets, and even children’s books extensively as a platform to degrade Jews.  They were portrayed as vermin, cockroaches, parasites, greedy, and blood thirsty.  In Rwanda, the Hutus launched a massive campaign against the Tutsis to incite hatred and violence.  The most common representation of the Tutsi was of a cockroach or inyenzi.[i]  The two images below are examples of these types of propaganda.

First looking at these illustrations, one could believe that they are from the same time or from the same conflict.  The second image is from a Hutu magazine called Kangura that was published in 1991.  This was the cover of the issue with the vertical caption on the left reading, “What Weapon Shall We Use to Conquer Cockroaches One and For All?”  The caption is next to the machete, which became the symbol of the Rwandan genocide, because of the brutal killings it was used for.[i]  The first image is a poster that the Nazis put up in Poland which shows a bug going after an ugly face, possibly a Jew.  The text on the poster says, “Jews are lice, they cause typhus.” [iii] Both of these images describe the enemy as something disgusting or vile.  Images produced fifty years apart and still the same message, destroying the enemy.


The following photos represent stage six in genocide, preparation, which is the preparing for extermination.  This stage includes physically separating the group from the rest of society.  The most common example of this is when the Nazis deported Jews to ghettos and eventually moved them to concentration camps.  In the ghettos the Jews were sent to hundreds of thousands died and this was before they were sent to the camps designed to kill them.[i] The picture of the children was taken in 1944 at Auschwitz while waiting to be sent back to Germany after they were declared fit to be “re-Germanized,” which was a technique used by the Nazis to children that they believed were racially desirable.[iii]  While these children were safe from the killing that was happening at the death camp they stand in, they were separated from their parents and safety.  The other photo of the men behind fence was taken in 1992 during the Bosnian genocide, at the Manjaca concentration camp in Bosnia.[15]  Muslims were targeted in the area by the Serb forces and Bosnian Muslims were taken from their home and put in concentration camps, similarly to the Nazis with Jews.[i]  Another aspect of the use of separation in Bosnia was separating the men and women. Men were often taken to concentration camps to be brutally beaten and killed; the photo shows this considering the lack of women shown in this picture.[i]  Women were taken to other areas and were continually sexually assaulted.

These pictures both show people after just arriving at a concentration camp behind barbed wire.  While the images are from different genocides and one is from children and the other of men, they both have the same facial expression.  Confusion, hopelessness, and fear are common in both the children and the men.  A child would be expected to be feeling all those emotions after arriving at a place like Auschwitz, but a man conveying the same emotion really shows how terrifying the process of arriving at a concentration camp was.  The children and men also seem to be looking a photographer for help; most of the people are staring right into the lens.  Though the photographers of both photos are unknown, it would kind of seem that they were not perpetrators.  I believe this because they both crowed around looking at the camera as if someone that did not look familiar was taking the pictures.  Another interesting element of the photo taken at Auschwitz is that the children are not crying.  The children look around three or four years old and the information about the picture says the just children were sent there, meaning that they did not travel with parents.  Usually young children separated from familiar people cry these children do not even look like they had been crying.  The last element of these pictures that is represented in most pictures of concentration camps is barbed wire.  Barbed wire was become infamous with concentration camps.  Now a violent symbol of what went on in the camps, in these pictures it is seen as a barrier between horror and freedom.


Extermination, the next stage, the mass killing of innocent people; young children, the elderly, males, females, all victims.  Some of the most commonly seen pictures from genocide are of corpses, people’s bodies being thrown away.  Whether the perpetrators use guns, gas ovens, machetes, or simply the withholding of basic physiological needs, all ended in lost lives.  Images from areas post-genocide are usually of carnage, skulls, bones, decomposing bodies, and various human parts, that are being disposed of.  These photographs were taken from different genocides, the Holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Cambodia, but they all depict human remains being taken care of.  The pictures have a common theme as the remains look like garbage being taken out.  A pile of corpses in what looks like dumpster in Rwanda, bones that look like top a landfill in Cambodia, bodies in garbage bags in a grave in Bosnia, and dead bodies being hauled away in Germany.  The senseless killing of the victims in genocide is followed by inhumane way of disposing their bodies.  In genocide so many people are killed that dead bodies are so abundant that they get thrown away like trash.  A question is raised in the mass amounts of these pictures, why is this what people want pictures of?  And why is it such a consistent image in genocide? Maybe it is because it is probably the most gruesome picture one can imagine, and that is the closest an observer can get to the terror that happened there.


A mass grave in the aftermath of the Cambodian genocide.

Burial photograph of square wooden boxes full of human remains, mostly bones, laying at the bottom of a mass grave. Taken at Ruhashya in 1995. (From Rwanda)


The ultimate goal for perpetrators carrying out genocide is to eliminate a group they deem undesirable; for the Nazis it was the Jews, for the Hutus it was the Tutsis, and for the Serbs it was the Muslims.  To achieve this goal, they all

followed the pattern of the stages of genocide.  The images displayed above visually represent the stages and show how similar genocides look and are photographed.  Something interesting is that all the photos shown have a common theme of making the targeted group of people not human; whether it is representing in the media as vile creatures or systematically killing them, the livelihood is taken.  In the final images of my paper, I showed the remains of the people that were killed in different genocides; the perpetrators succeed in their goal to make them non-human by essentially making them garbage, debris, a mess to be cleaned up.

Works Cited

[i] Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2006.

[ii] Stanton, Gregory. Genocide Watch: The International Alliance to End Genocide. 1998. (accessed April 2012).

[iii] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. n.d. (accessed April 2012).

Few people would dare to question the motives of people that dedicate their lives to human interests. Whether self serving or selfless, it seems reasonable to find value in these services rather than condemn them because of hidden agendas. After all, would you scold someone who just saved your life just because CNN wanted to interview them after? In the book “That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity” the author, James Dawes, goes to war with many groups involved in speaking the unspeakable.  While Dawes provokes a great deal of thought and empathy, I find his dim view of humanitarian aid workers difficult to digest. For example, in chapter 2 of his book, Dawes criticizes the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) for their selection process regarding refugees who will be allowed to permanently relocate in various countries. Dawes feels, and understandably so, that it seems unfair to turn away thousands of people still in need of serious help. He continues by setting his sites on the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) belittling them for their “luxurious” accommodations and referring to them as “placid vacationers.”[1] Given the efforts by thousands to aid the shadow cast over Darfur, Dawes may have to reconsider his assertions. Dawes problem with aid workers includes poor results, unfit emotional attachment, and selfish pursuits. Although Dawes makes these claims with plenty of anecdotal evidence, he seems to miss the bigger picture by focusing too much on this circumstantial support. By using the tragic situation in as Darfur my main evidence, I intend to show that these brave men and women are to be commended for their efforts, not questioned by a man who offers more criticism than solution.

A Little Background

Darfur is a region in Sudan, Africa about the size of Texas. It is home to about six million inhabitants mostly composed racially mixed tribes of African farmers and Arab nomadic herders. Despite being a rich land of many natural resources, Darfur is one of the most impoverished places in the entire world.  Originally controlled by Britain in the early 1900’s the people of Darfur were faced with education limitations imposed by the British government for fear of an up rise. After gaining independence in 1956, natives struggled to close the economic gap left by the British. By the 21st century, things only worsened for the people as they fell further behind as the rest of the world made major technological leaps. In 1985, Libya came to the aid  of Sudan by delivering food and supplies , mostly to natives of Arab ethnicity.(2)

2 children at refugee camp outside Darfur by Colin Findlay

The following year Sadiq al-Mahdi was elected to lead Sudan. Al-Mahdi’s reign is mostly known for his desire to form an Arab Islamic union.(2) This series of events set the stage for what began as a rebellion in 2003 against the Khartoum government led by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Frustrated by their poverty and neglect from their government, two African agriculturist groups violently rebelled killing hundreds of Khartoum troops. Eight years later, the ethnically “African” are still paying the ultimate price. The numbers are staggering, the pictures horrifying, and the people desperate. Since the attack in 2003, 400,000 innocent civilians are estimated to be dead, almost 3,000,000 displaced and 3,300 villages destroyed. To the right, you see a picture of two children at a refugee camp outside Darfur, likely in Chad. Malnutrition is immediately apparent of the girl standing in the door way. Secondly, you’ll notice the lack of other basic necessities, including clothes, for these two individuals. According to the photographer, Colin Findlay, these two individuals aren’t kin, just two refugees who arrived at the refugee camp with no remaining family. Looking closely, you notice both children are wearing white wristbands indicating that they were, at the time, receiving medical treatment.(3) Sadly, this is a very common sight, even with the immense about of human rights aid that has already been provided. The group that has been carrying out the attack, the Janaweed militia, has systematically destroyed village after village, complete with murdering of the men in the village and rape of both women and children. Starvation and malnutrition is rampant among the survivors, particularly infants and children. Despite the opposition by the Sudanese government, human interest groups have stepped up efforts to help a destitute people. As staggering as the pictures such as the one above are, imagine what they would like like without the help and resources of those willing to help.

Early Success

Imagine for a second, being put in a situation where the very decisions you make directly lead to who lives and who dies. Furthermore, you are forced to see those decisions played out in the lives of others and the negative (or positive) effects they can have. One criticism made by James Dawes in his afore mentioned book was that human rights workers typically only do such for the personal gratification. Often times, these workers were forced to refuse refugees to protect refugees they have already taken in. Limited resources and supplies forced medics to make difficult, unwanted decisions. This timeline provides a framework for how quickly the disaster in Darfur developed. March 2003 marks the beginning of the conflict as ethnically African rebels attacked the Khartoum government in response to their neglect. A mere nine months later, in December 2003, refugee camps established by human interest groups supported well over 100,000 refugees that fled to Chad, which is also in Sudan, directly adjacent to Darfur.

A young infant, clearly suffering from malnutrition, clings to his mother in a refugee camp in Kebkablya. Photo by: Guillaume Bonn

By March 2004, less than a year after the response by the Khartoum government to the rebel attacks, the UN declared Darfur the worst humanitarian situation in the world. Continuing in to June, UN officials say that one of every five children in Darfur is malnourished or may have one of several diseases. Pictured on the left, you see a mother clinging to her baby who is obviously a victim of malnutrition.  Although many groups pour millions of dollars of resources to help displaced victims, many still go without daily necessities. Further, notice the condition of the camps such as this. People gather in the enclosed walls with no real place to go, all while dealing with unsuitable living conditions. Less than a month later, aid organizations, overwhelmed with refugees, warn of deteriorating facilities due to poor weather and unsuitable conditions. Less than one month later, conditions had deteriorate so much that the World Health Organization suggests around 70,000 displaced have died, excluding anyone killed in the ongoing violence, and anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 were dying every month.(4) Its impossible to paint a picture describing the responsibilities of these human rights organizations without the context of the frequent problems they were faced with. Overcrowding, insufficient supplies, and difficult weather are only one aspect of the difficulties faced by several groups. Increased hostility began to lead to threats of violence towards aid workers from the Janjaweed. Dec 14th, 2004, 2 aid workers for Save the Children are killed when their Envoy comes under attack on the way to their camp.(5) As a result of the attack, Save the Children, a premier aid organization, was forced to withdrawal all support claiming that the area was becoming more unsettled than ever. March 2005, up to 350,000 are estimated dead strictly to malnutrition, again excluding deaths due to on going violence. (4) As the year continues, reports of violent outburst directed aid workers  force the UN to for the removal of several aid organizations until Darfur can be further settled. Below on the left you’ll see a map of the Sudan area describing locations of both IDP (internally displaced persons) and refugee camps and their relative size. For a link to this map, click here. Chad, as you can see from the map, is host to hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees with camps as large as 80,000 people. Pictured on the bottom, captured by Mike Knobil, is an aerial shot of an unspecified camp on March 29th 2005, during the height of the tensions.(6) Again, notice the quality of facilities these refugee camps offer. With little more than tents, a few medical supplies, and bags of food, thousands trust their life to what is too few aid workers. Finally, drawl your attention to the top right and you’ll see a medic from “Doctors without Borders” tending to an injured infant. It’s difficult to see, but looking closely, you’ll notice heavy bags under the eyes of the medic. Looking in the background of the picture, notice the mother with another small child. Another interesting piece of this picture is the equipment being used, or lack there of. Aid workers, just as the one pictured here, often must also deal with difficult conditions, little to no sleep, poor funding and many other issues. This picture was taken in March of 2009 during a meningitis outbreak that medics were attempting to treat. (7)

(Left) Courtesy of (Right) Courtesy of CNN’s Olivia Sterns (below) by: Mike Knobil

Angry Precedents

As the situation continued escalated in Darfur and national media attention continued to grow, so too did the scrutiny of many government entities. Below is a picture of the type of carnage cause of the Janjaweed militia.(8) This once standing town in Darfur has been reduced to little more than ash and bone. Several picture such as this remain as the only legacy of what was once the livelihood of thousands of families.

Destruction caused by the Janaweed. Photo by: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

In 2004, the United States government under George W. Bush declared the acts by the Sudanese government to be genocidal. This marks the first time in history that a government body has declared acts of atrocity as genocide as the genocide was still being carried out. Several times from 2004-2009 have several parties tried to mediate the crisis in Darfur. Despite several sanctions from the United Nations beginning in 2004, Omar Hassan al-Bashir continually denies ties to the janjaweed militia. Despite increased financial support, many aid groups have been unable to provide proper support due to threats, violence, and false cease-fires. Countless stories have surfaced about aid workers being kidnappedkilled, and harassed. The linked CNN article suggests cases in which Sudanese government officials began collecting banking records, confiscating personal computers, and even vehicles. Tensions continued to build between the UN and Omar Hassan al-Bashir until March 4th, 2009 when the International Crimes Committee issued an arrest warrant for his crimes against humanity, although no further action has yet been taken. (9) This also represents the first time a seated official has been charged by the ICC while still maintaining office. Al-Bashir responded by ejecting an estimated 16 different agencies representing about 40% of the support being provided in Darfur. Despite pleads from groups such as UNICEF, the Sudanese government continues to limit the amount of support allowed both in Darfur and local refugee camps. The Human Right Watch states the potential implications of such a harsh decision by the Khartoum government.

Interest Groups get Creative

As I began on the difficult task of chronicling the tragic events in Darfur, I was overwhelmed with the amount of pictures, information, news stories, and effort that people poured in to improving the situation in Darfur. The frustration that many were feeling because of the limited access in Darfur was also very clear. As I began to think about that idea, and I began to search for pictures of the perpetrators, it also quickly became clear that these pictures were not as readily available as I had expected. After all, we live in an age where everything is instant and there is always someone watching. How then could it be, that finding more pictures of the Janjaweed was so difficult? I can only conclude first, that access to the helpless people in Darfur is every bit as bad as many stories suggest. Often times when aid workers arrive, so to do reports, journalists, certainly people with a vested interest in documenting the attacks of not only Darfur, but also the refugee camps in Chad. Secondly, I think it speaks to the poverty that was already a rampant issue in the area. This perfect storm of disaster has forced aid groups to be more creative then ever. As I continued my research, several projects caught my one. Eyes on Darfur is an interesting project started by Amnesty International. Via aerial shots, Eyes on Darfur shows before and after pictures of several villages that have been destroyed. Others show empty desert area that turn in to over croweded refugee camps over night. Similarly, the United States Holocaust Museum has partnered with Google Earth to further show the effect the Khartoum government has had on thousands of villages. “No one who sees these pictures can doubt that genocide is the only word for what is happening in Darfur-and that we have a moral obligation to stop it.”George W. Bush’s speech at the United States Holocaust Museum in 2007. Attention has spread so much it has even drawn the attention of several high profile people. George Clooney, a known human rights activist has visited Darfur several times in addition to founding Not on Our Watch, a human rights group dedicated to putting an end to mass atrocities. Clooney himself has been arrested as recently as 2011 for protesting the lack of progress in Darfur. Save Darfur is another organization that is well known for their action. On their website you can find links to donate, write to your local congressman expressing concerns, and much more. Many obstacles still stand in the way of ultimate peace, including China’s firm stance against allowing others, including the UN intervene as the situation demands.


Hindsight is always 20/20.  The ability to look in to the past and critique and create it is one thing that makes history so interesting.  Sometimes though, it can be difficult to understand without the proper context, which unfortunately can’t always be found. Historians, public, and scholars obsess over unlocking hidden mysteries of the past. Perhaps the most interesting thing about history though, is that is inevitability repeats itself. I always find it interesting when people scoff at past events and claim them as barbarism, ignorant of what is a sad reality in Darfur. What will the overwhelming amount of information, particularly photographic say about our generation? Fortunately, I think when the history books are written, and there is finally peace if Darfur, many positives will be remembered of the intense human effort that went in to preventing an even worse situation. Countries, organizations, and “ordinary people” have band together to make a difference in millions of people.  These pictures in particular tell a story of devastation, ruthlessness, and struggle. It also shows however, perhaps paradoxically, the human race and both its very worst and most despicable, yet very best.

  1. Dawes, James. That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.

Decapitation and the Genocide of Christian Minorities-Final

Turkish Officers posing with two disembodied heads, most likely Bosnian.

The Armenian Genocide, also known as the Ottoman Destruction of Christian minorities, is considered one of the first great tragedies of the 20thcentury. It also happens to be one of the most controversial events in the in last century because of Turkey’s vehement disapproval of the application of the term genocide despite the evidence. There are currently many photos of this genocide that can be found online and in history books though the Turkish government tends to dismiss them and state that the tragedy was not as bad as it is generally said to be. Regardless, these images tend to be incredibly graphic and show us the terrible things the Christian minorities, especially Armenians, went through. One thing in particular that stands out in these photos is the number of them that picture Turks posing with skulls or heads of their victims or even just the pictures of the disembodied heads themselves. The beheading of someone is a particularly symbolic act and what it means in the context of a genocide is very intriguing.

A Brief Overview of the Genocide 

The destruction of Christian minorities within the Ottoman Empire has universally been considered genocide by every country except

Young Armenian girl decapitated. fig. 1

Turkey. This tragedy came as a result of Christians’ vulnerable position in the empire at a time when the Ottomans were under extreme stress and sense of decline. With their empire crumbling around them, the Ottomans found themselves locked in a world war with enemies on all sides. For the most part, the empire was at war with Christians and had to worry about attacks from Greeks, Russians, and the British. This Muslim vs. Christian war mentality was facilitated by the Sultan’s calling of a Jihad, or holy struggle, against their enemies (glossing over the fact that their allies, the Germans and Austrians, were both Christian nations). The problem was further exacerbated by the rise of nationalism within the empire. The Ottoman empire had long been tolerant of the different religions, often taking a ‘live and let live’  attitude. The Millet system allowed the different religions to effectively govern themselves through their own separate courts. With the introduction of nationalism into the empire religion and nation began to merge within the ideas of the people. With the millets trying to gain more and more power, the millet system began to break down. This led to a more hostile attitude towards non-Muslims. The major problem with this mentality is that the Ottoman Empire was just that, an Empire. An empire composed of hundreds of different ethnicities and languages as well as different religions. Especially in Anatolia you could find villages split 50/50 between Christianity and Islam. This vilifying of Christians had a profound impact on the minority Christian population who were starting to be seen as ‘enemies within’ who aided the Russian and Greek war efforts. Eventually this led to deportations, massacres and the destruction of minority cultural heritage, specifically the Armenian culture.[i]

History and Significance of Beheading

The act of beheading someone is not unique to the Ottoman Empire and the tradition of decapitation as a form of capital punishment can be found in almost every culture throughout history. What the act of beheading means, however, is very dependent on the culture at the time. [ii]Throughout the eastern world and in classical times, the beheading of someone was considered a sign of victory. To cut off and display the head of the enemy was to show your complete dominance of them. “In the seventh century B.C. Ashurbanipal’s

Armenian Heads are put on stakes for display. fig 2

Assyrians took heads and sculpted them in piles on the palace walls. In the eighteenth century A.D. Afghan warriors fixed enemy heads to their tents.”[ii]  Throughout Europe, however, beheading became a demonstration of the King’s power over his subjects. This use of beheading was unique in that it involved a third party, the executioner, who carried out the king’s justice. In addition, while both views on beheading involve the showing of power, to whom they are showing off too is very different. A warrior displays the heads of his victims to rival warriors, or in other words, his equals. European monarchs instead displayed heads to show off his power to his subjects, or his inferiors.[ii] In both cases however, the heads are now the property of the beheader, essentially making the dead an object.

The display of a severed head is a powerful message regardless of the culture. The head in particular is the most recognizable part of someone’s body and it is the part that carries with it a person’s identity. A head by itself without an accompanying body is a clear message. It personally identifies the person while showing off their powerlessness to others. For this reason, disembodied heads are often displayed on pikes or held up at arm’s length. “The head tells all. It identifies itself, and it speaks, to the extent of its previous owner’s ability, a silent narrative of fallen greatness and mastery transferred.”[ii]

Beheadings, the Ottomans, and Islam

Crowd of radical Muslim protesters. fig 3

The idea that Islam perpetuates or encourages the beheading of infidels is somewhat of a controversial topic in today’s times and is argued among theologians constantly. Many groups have found a few passages within the Qur’an that can be interpreted as encouraging the use of decapitation of non-believers. These groups tend to be either extremist terrorist groups looking for justification of their actions or anti-Islamic groups looking for reasons to hate on Muslims. The verse in particular is usually translated as, “When you encounter the unbelievers on the battlefield, strike off their heads until you have crushed them completely; then bind the prisoners tightly.” Many scholars have interpreted his as to mean simply one should be in particularly ferocious to non-Muslims on the battlefield and that it is not to be taken literally as a call for decapitation. Despite what Qur’an actually says, we must look at how Muslims act on their interpretation of the verse. Islamic history is full of accounts of beheadings of Christians during wars (though this is not one-sided, many Muslims were beheaded by Christian soldiers). Now, in the modern age, Islamic terrorist organizations often behead their victims to inspire fear often using the Qur’an verse “I will cast dread into the hearts of the unbelievers. Strike off their heads, then, and strike off all of their fingertips” as inspiration. It is also interesting to note that many Middle Eastern countries still allow for execution by decapitation and that Saudi Arabia still uses this execution method fairly regularly.  [iii]

Beheading is prominent in Ottoman History. Most of the ottoman victories over

Execution by Decapitation in Saudi Arabia. NOT a part of the Genocide. fig 4

other kingdoms were quickly followed by the decapitation of the enemy king and the showing off of the head. The most famous example of this behavior is the beheading of the Byzantine emperor. With the fall of the Constantinople, the ottoman Sultan had the Byzantine emperor’s head cut off and then sent on a tour throughout the Empire in a display of power and pride. In another instance, over 2,000 Hungarian prisoners were beheaded and had their heads put on pikes for display. [iii] It is significant to point out that unlike in medieval Europe, decapitation was not the preferred method of execution for nobility and royalty in the Ottoman Empire and that the Ottoman upper class were commonly executed by strangulation, though this did not stop the Sultan from displaying the heads after death. “The focal point [of the sultan’s court], however, was a pair of “example stones” positioned directly outside the Central Gate, which led to the Second Court. These “stones” were actually marble pillars on which were placed the severed heads of notables who had somehow offended the sultan, stuffed with cotton if they had once been viziers or with straw if they had been lesser men.” [iv] The Ottoman empire, and by extension the Turkish people, have had a long history with the use of severed heads as trophies and displays of power.

 Beheadings in the Context of Genocide

Turkish officers pose by the heads of their victims. fig. 5

The use of decapitation during the Ottoman genocide of Christian minorities is interesting and raises some questions. The immediate question that pops up is “why?” Well, we obviously cannot ask the ones who carried out the beheadings (since we do not know that information) but we can make speculations about the reasons using what we know about the symbolism of decapitation. For one, in some photos we can find Turkish (and sometimes German!) officers posing with either disembodied heads or just plain skulls of Armenians and other Christian minorities. This is a clear case of using heads to display power and ownership of another person. Much like holding someone’s head into the air or placing it on the pike, the photographs themselves are just another means of displaying the head and thus showing off the beheaders’ power over lesser people. These photos were taken by the perpetrators on purpose most likely for the reason above. However, there is also the possibility of pride being a factor in the display of these heads in photos. The Armenians were seen as collaborators for the Russians and as a result, many were suspected of sabotage and terrorism. Many of these officers may have been posing with the heads of the “bad guys” they caught much like how a hunter may pose with the animal he killed. This reasoning helps us understand why something so identifiable as a human head is displayed since genocidal acts usually revolve around dehumanizing the victims. By portraying the heads as trophies and discarding the body, the Turks dehumanize the Armenians and other Christians. The head is the source of someone’s identity and by taking the head as a trophy one gains ownership of the person, turning them into an object.

German Officers pose in front of several skulls while in the Ottoman Empire.

Some of these pictures however, do not seem to be taken by the perpetrators. These other photos include only the heads of the victims; showing the aftermath of killings and decapitations. Unfortunately we do not know under what circumstances these killings occurred or by whom specifically. In fig. 2 we see a number of heads which were clearly used for display. These heads were purposefully placed on pikes to be either paraded around or placed in a significant spot. In contrast, fig. 1 shows a decapitated girl whose body and head has simply been left there. The beheading in this instance seems to be more religious based as there no obvious attempt at displaying the head. There is no sense of pride or display of power, the act of decapitation itself is the significant part, not the message to others. Along that line of thought, something else to consider about fig. 1 is the part that cruelty plays in the decapitation. The woman in the picture was supposedly brutally attacked and raped beforehand. The beheading could just be an extension of this cruelty and extreme use of violence.

The severed heads of Armenians accused of terrorism are put on display. fig. 6

Final Thoughts

The Ottoman genocide of Christian minorities is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century and is still one of its most controversial. The Turkish government along with a large portion of the Turkish population deny the event was a genocide. Many will admit that it was a terrible event and that a lot of Christians, particularly Armenians, died but they will not go as far as calling the event a genocide. This may seem surprising since there is so much photographic evidence of a genocide available to us. However, as I have found, many dispute the stories  behind the photos or the pretext in which they were taken. Some websites put up their own explanation for how these photos came about. These explanations, however, are hard to believe and tend to have no evidence whatsoever to back them up. For example, in the photo I used at the beginning, one website said that the Bosnians were killed and decapitated by  Serbs. The locally stationed troops were then called in to stop the Serbs and upon capturing them, the officers decided to have their picture taken with the heads and it was all a big misunderstanding. Not only does this story seem a little far-fetched, but the person cited no sources and gave no evidence. I am writing this because I find it interesting how someone can be so in denial that they can just ignore the meaning and context the display of a human head, a powerful symbolic gesture. These photos were taken for a reason, as a source of pride or a show of power, and to twist that reason because you do not like what the evidence has to say seems absurd. Each of these photos tells a story and gives us a look into the mindset of the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide.

[i] Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. Second. New York : Routledge, 2006. 149-184.

[ii]  Janes, Regina. “Beheadings.” Representations. 35.Special Issue (1991): 21-51. Print.

[iii] Furnish, Timothy R.. “Beheading in the Nam
 Dash, Mike. “The Ottoman Empire’s Life-or-Death Race .” N.p., March 22, 2012. Web. 24 Apr 2012.e of Islam.”Middle East Forum. The Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2005. Web. 24 Apr 2012. <;.

Memory in Salem: Contradiction

Final Post


As a seventeen-year old, I took a ferry to Salem, Massachusetts from Boston for a day-visit with my family. Having just read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in my high school literature class, I already knew a little bit about the background of the witch hunt that occurred there in 1692. What I encountered satisfied my curiosity about the witch trials. Countless giftshops with a variety of witchy souvenirs, museums with information about what actually happened over 300 years ago and life-sized animatronic depictions bringing those events to life, a memorial dedicated to the victims, and a tour where we visited sites dealing with the trials, such as the location of the old court house where examinations occurred, the location of the jail where hundreds wasted away for months, and even the potential area where Giles Corey was pressed to death, now a graveyard. While it all that was sufficiently amusing for my family’s vacation, looking back I realize what I had not seen then: the memory surrounding the witch trials in Salem is full of contradictions. How can a single city reflect such a fascination and obsessions with witches and witchcraft, yet proclaim to deny its existence? Or how does Salem reconcile between its shameful past of murdering innocent people and its exploitation of that event for the sake of tourist dollars? And finally, no matter how many historical inaccuracies I discover, I realize they do not necessarily matter because they have been imbedded in the memory of the Salem Witch Trials, for some reason or another, but why? Examining these questions I’ve found these blaring contradictions in the memory surrounding the Salem Witch Trials to indicate a sort of strange obsession, an unwillingness to forget, what happened to twenty innocent people, with the help of the local government, during 1692 in Massachusetts.

What were the Salem Witch Trials?

The story of the Salem Witch Trials is widely known in the United States, albeit with many false misconceptions, but the need to recount the event in detail is not pressing, and more information pertaining to the event for those unfamiliar can be found at a number of websites: Wikipedia, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, and the Salem Witch Museum. The Salem Witch Trials occurred in 1692 in the Province of Massachusetts Bay around the town of Salem Village, now known as Danvers, Massachusetts. It began when a group of young girls fell into a series of fits, and doctors diagnosed them with having been bewitched. What ensued was a series of accusations, confessions, retractions, executions, later apologies, and overall confusion. In the end, fourteen women and five men were hanged, one man was pressed to death, 150 were imprisoned, at least four of whom died, and probably 200 were accused. Some of these numbers vary depending on the source, but it is widely agreed upon that twenty was the number of deaths. The trials were put to an end shortly after the return of Governor Phips from England. Some accusers and magistrates involved slowly began to realize their error and publically apologize and rescind their testimonies, but it took until 2001 for all of the victims to finally be declared innocent. The city of Salem now bears the remnants of that horrific year, where people can go learn about the history and tour witch houses and prisons where they were kept. Although it is mostly accepted today that actual witchcraft did not occur and those prosecuted are innocent, the event still draws a lot of attention, even 320 years later. This table has been included for reference of general facts:

Executed During Salem Witch Trials, 1692

Bridget Bishop June 10th
Rebecca Nurse July 19th
Susannah Martin July 19th
Sarah Wildes July 19th
Sarah Good July 19th
Elizabeth Howe July 19th
George Jacobs Sr. August 19th
Martha Carrier August 19th
George Burroughs August 19th
John Willard August 19th
John Proctor August 19th
Giles Corey (Pressed to death) September 19th
Martha Corey September 22nd
Margaret Scott September 22nd
Mary Easty September 22nd
Alice Parker September 22nd
Ann Pudeator September 22nd
Wilmott Redd September 22nd
Samuel Wardwell September 22nd
Mary Parker September 22nd

Why Genocide?

The next issue to be addressed is why am I writing about the Salem Witch Trials under a blog entitled Imaging Genocide. The Salem Witch Trials are usually categorized as mass hysteria, and most do not consider it genocide. That argument can be made, however, and many definitions of genocide put forth by scholars could pertain to the case of Salem.

“Genocide is the successful attempt by a dominant group, vested with formal authority and/or with preponderant access to the overall resources of power, to reduce by coercion or lethal violence the number of a minority group whose ultimate extermination is held desirable and useful and whose respective vulnerability is a major factor contributing to the decision for genocide”-Vahakn Dadrian, 1975 (Jones 16)
“Genocide is a series of purposeful actions by a perpetrator(s) to destroy of collectivity through mass or selective murders of group members and suppressing the biological and social reproduction of the collectivity. This can be accomplished through the imposed proscription or restriction of reproduction of group members, increasing infant mortality, and breaking the linkage between reproduction and socialization of children in the family or group of origin. The perpetrator may represent the state of the victim, another state, or another collectivity”-Helen Fein, 1988 (Jones 18)
“Genocide is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator”-Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, 1990 (Jones 18)

To analyze and argue for the Salem Witch Trials in the context of every definition of genocide would take up far too much time, and is not the focus of my paper. I do not set out to argue whether the Salem Witch Trials can or cannot be defined as a genocide, and I leave that question up to my readers to ponder while providing enough information for them to ponder it. Given these definitions, there are a few key factors which must be assessed before making a decision about whether to deem the trials genocide.

First, only about twenty-five people died during the span of about eight months, while many more wasted away in prison. At what point does the number of people killed qualify as a genocide? Does there need to be hundreds, thousands, millions dead? While imprisoning 150 people does not seem like a lot, keep in mind the population of Salem Village around this period was roughly only 600. That means a third of the population was accused of witchcraft. This makes the accusations seem far more serious.

Another factor of genocide which pops up again and again is not the targeted group’s own identity of itself, but rather the perpetrator’s definition of the group. The perpetrator defines who makes up the group, whether it is real or not. The perpetrators in this case are both the accusers and the courts trying the accused. They decide what makes someone a witch, whether or not that person identifies as one or not. Some of the factors they looked for in their hunt for witches were witch marks on their bodies and spectral evidence, meaning whether or not they were able to change their shape or appear and disappear at will to torment young girls and other townspeople. The perpetrators had all the power to deem whether or not someone was a witch, and this they defined on their own standards. This also relates to the question of whether or not being a witch qualifies as part of a religious group, whether or not the person accused of being a witch practices the religion of devil worship or not.

Scholars have also often focused on the role of the state or state apparatus in the carrying out of genocide. In this case, the state apparatus is purely local, when during this period the colonies were left largely to govern themselves. The most involved state apparatuses in the trials were the courts and police powers. The police powers rounded up victims and kept them in jail, while the courts tried the accused. An look at the transcripts of the examinations will reveal that the court was almost completely on the side of the accusers, and the willingness of the police powers to arrest and hold the victims shows at the least compliance. While the girls are the perpetrators that began the process, the state becomes the perpetrator by taking their side. Judges ask assuming and menacing question, usually beginning examinations with the question, “Why do you hurt these girls?,” not even giving the benefit of the doubt to the accused. Additionally, no executions or imprisonments could have occurred without the sanction of the courts because it held all the power and resources.

Finally, one major fact about the event cannot be ignored, and it is a strange and contradictory one which most hurts the Salem Witch Trials’ ability to be deemed genocide. Only those accused of witchcraft who never confessed were killed. Those who confessed were kept alive, meaning those admitting to witchcraft were the ones who lived through the entire event, excepting a few who died in prison. This goes against the usual way of carrying out a genocide, the goal of which being the eradication of the group. By keeping confessed witches alive and executed the non-compliant ones, the process reveals itself to be not one whose goal is the eradication of witches, but rather a political process. After the first couple rounds of hangings, those accused began to learn that confession meant life, and they exploited this fact to keep their lives, often times becoming accusers themselves. All other factors aside, this is the most significant evidence against defining the Salem Witch Trials as a genocide. Additionally, the mention of restriction of reproductive rights appears in many of the definitions of genocide, and this is an interesting matter related to the Salem Witch Trials. Often times when one person in the family was accused, accusations toward the rest of the family would soon follow. This would result in husbands and wives being kept in jail, separately, such as the case of John and Elizabeth Proctor. Elizabeth, however, survived the duration of the trials, despite being sentenced to death, because she was pregnant. This suggests further evidence against the trials being defined as genocide, but this distinction between mother and child and devotion to the protection of innocent children dissolves, however, when we examine the case of Sarah Good: “The judicial authorities scrupulously protected prenatal life; only after the birth of the child could its mother be hanged. The needs of Sarah Good’s other child, Dorcas, mattered less to the authorities. This child, 4 or 5 years old, remained in chains for seven or eight months. Dorcas Good had been declared a witch,” and Sarah Good’s baby “died in prison before Sarah Good hanged” (Rosenthal 89). This fact reveals a seemingly far less concern for the life of children, suggesting its closeness to genocidal tendencies of reducing reproductive rights.

The connection between the Salem Witch Trials and genocide also exists beyond definitions. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel gave the dedication speech for the memorial erected in Salem in 1992 to honor and proclaim the innocence of those who died. Just as the victims of the Salem Witch Trials were persecuted for what they seemingly believed, so was Elie Wiesel, and his presence “emphasized the association of Salem with persecution and suffering” (Rosenthal 208). In addition, the slogan “Never Again, ” which stemmed from the Holocaust, also appears in connection with Salem Witch Trials: “At the memorial in Salem on November 10, 1992, there rested on a stone border by the entrance a wreath of flowers with an inscribed ribbon band reading ‘Never Again the Burnings’” (Rosenthal 210). Besides the fact that the idea that people were burned and not hanged is one of the many historical misconceptions surrounding the trials, the author of the sign new the obvious connection they were making between the trials and the most famous and formidable cases of genocide in recent history.


Defining the Salem Witch Trials in the context of genocide, however, is not my concern here. My purpose is to examine how its memory is portrayed in the city of Salem, Massachusetts today through images. What I’ve found surrounding the memory of the Salem Witch Trials is one contradiction after another. Only a small minority of the town’s population believes real witches existed then and exist now, yet the town is full of images of witches. The residents are at odds with their desire to forget and distance themselves from the event and their economic gain from the tourism industry that has established itself there. And the memory of the event does not hinge on historical accuracy, but rather on what people like to remember.

First at issue is the incongruity between using the witch motif and not believing in witchcraft. As Bernard Rosenthal, a professor at Binghamton University with a PhD from the University of Illinois phrased it in his book Salem Story, “a problem that would become endemic to stories about Salem [is] that of proclaiming the injustice of what happened, rejecting the idea of witchcraft, while at the same time keeping the titillation of witchcraft as a central motif” (Rosenthal 165). This contradiction can be seen through the geography of Salem itself. The Salem Witch Trials Memorial, which proclaims the innocence of the twenty victims, is located just blocks littered with witch-related giftshops from the Salem Witch Museum, a great description of which is provided by Frances Hill, an author who specializes in the Salem Witch Trials: “As it happens, though always intended as moneymaking enterprise, this [the Witch Museum] became, and remains, the best educational venue on the witch trials in town. Its twenty-minute show belies the expectation of schlock aroused by the building’s mock Gothic appearance, giving an arresting and largely accurate account of the witch trials. A series of tableaux and life-size figures in detailed settings are ranged round the walls of a large room darkened on entry. The tableaux are lighted one by one as a voice-over tells the story of the witch hunt. Though some detail of it is misleading, the viewer comes away with a good overall picture of the horror and extent of the episode” (Hill 286). Tour guides and the local Wiccan population dress as witches, and tourists can get their fortune read at a number of locations. Many of the visitors to Salem, myself included, do not believe witchcraft truly occurred in 1692, yet amuse themselves with the museums, tours, and giftshops, all dedicated to the theme of witchcraft. All of the victims were proclaimed innocent by the government of Massachusetts by 2001, suggesting that it does not believe in witchcraft. In contrast, the Salem government continues to use the witch as a central part of its identity. The city’s nickname is Witch City, its high school team the Salem Witches, and, its Police and Fire Departments, as well as the city’s water tower, all use a witch on their logo, and they are not alone. This clearly demonstrates the contradiction between not believing in witches yet embracing the image of a witch throughout the town.

Salem Water Tower depicting the image of a witch. Courtesy of Andrew Pascarella.

Logo for the Salem Fire Department depicting a witch

Logo for the Salem Police Department depicting a witch

Another contradiction present in Salem’s memory of the witchcraft trials is its identity with it. Residents and administrators struggle between the desire to distance themselves from an event widely recognized as the murder of innocents and the economic benefit from the tourist industry surrounding that event. Rosenthal describes this phenomenon as well: “The town of Salem has ambivalently accepted this connection, and has struggled between appreciation of tourist dollars and discomfort with its bad reputation stemming from associations with persecution and witchcraft” (Rosenthal 204). Another twist is added to this contradiction, however, when it is realized that Salem is not even the original location of the witch trials. It began in Salem Village, now known as Danvers, where most of the executed lived, and where many accusations, examinations, and imprisonments occurred. Some were tried and imprisoned in Salem, however, as well as the probable location of the actual executions on Gallows Hill. The connection between the trials and the city forged, however, and it stuck. As Hill wrote, “The journey from witch trials to ‘witch city’ was the result of confusion, historical accident, and economic pressure” (Hill 283). Salem has tried to distance itself from the trials in the past, but any attempts were futile, and the city now reluctantly embraces it, greatly benefitting from the tourism dollars surrounding witchcraft: “The town of Salem has struggled with its location as the place of witch trials, partly exploiting the tourism and partly looking for redemption. Salem, now comprising about 38,000 people, is a tourist attraction that brings in over a million people a year, 100,000 for the ‘Haunted Happenings’ Halloween celebration alone” (Rosenthal 206). Indeed from what I can remember as a seventeen year-old touring the streets of Salem, witch tourism is everywhere. I visited the Salem Witch Museum, took a tour of sites related to the trials throughout the city, shopped at giftshops, and visited the memorial. I visited Salem in July, so it was not even their busiest time of the year, yet the atmosphere of Halloween was already around, and I encountered people dressed in costume. Indeed it is impossible to escape witchcraft in the heart of Salem, although there are many non-witch related tourist attractions, most notably dealing with Nathaniel Hawthorne (even though he has faint connections to the trials), and maritime exhibits. Although the town may want to forget about the past and lose its association with the murder of innocent victims, it also wants to keep its tourism dollars, and this is demonstrated through the fact that these attractions and exhibits are allowed to stay, and indeed thrive. An example of this is the postcard I bought during my 2007 visit to Salem:

Postcard I purchased during my visit to Salem, clearly depicting the town's associations with witches

This postcard clearly shows the connection between Salem and witches, but is just merely one example of the city’s embracing of this unfortunate connection.

Finally, what is most striking about the memory of the Salem Witch Trials is that a lot of it isn’t true. They didn’t actually occur in Salem. The victims were hung, not burned at the stake. Many of the “afflicted children” were women up to age thirty, and even a male slave. Stereotypes surrounding certain victims are unfounded, such as Ann Pudeator as a sex symbol, or Bridget Bishop’s reputation as an eccentric tavern-owner. John Proctor likely did not have an affair, and most certainly not with Abigail Williams, as in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Nobody knows where the victims were buried, and the site of the executions, and many other stops on the tours, are not certain to be those locations. It is this fact, however, that intrigues me the most. During my witch tour through Salem, we stopped a number of locations claiming to be this or that site related to the trials, most of which I cannot recall now, but one which stands out to me, and therefore do remember, was where the tour guide told us Giles Corey was likely pressed to death. The story of Giles Corey, for me and not surprisingly many others, stands out as uniquely intriguing. Giles, husband of Martha Corey, executed on September 22nd, was pressed to death by Sheriff George Corwin by placing a board on his body and slowly adding more and more rocks to the board, a process called peine forte et dure, for refusing to enter into a plea. An enduring myth surrounding the story is that he continued to cry out “More weight!” throughout the process, and never conceded into entering into a plea. It is said it took two days for him to succumb to the torture. I have been unable to determine whether or not the site our tour guide pointed out as being the probable site of Corey’s death is true. Indeed, I cannot even remember or determine from the photograph where in Salem it is. I have not set out, however, to prove what is true or is not true about the trials, but rather to talk about the memory associated with it, which will invariably include historical inaccuracies. It is the very fact that this gap between reality and memory exists.

The supposed location of Giles Corey's death, according to my tour guide.

The supposed location is now a cemetery, quietly surrounded by typical north-eastern America styled homes, with a chain-linked fence surrounding it. The cemetery seems unorganized and scattered, however, and few small headstones are scattered throughout. I took this photograph, however, and indeed remember what I was photographing, not only because Corey’s story struck me more forcefully, but also because it was strange for me to think, standing in the middle of a nice quiet neighborhood on a bright summer day, that at some point in time this was the site of the horrendous and enduring torture of an innocent man. I use this photograph for this project, not only because it is one which I took, but because it demonstrates an important fact to remember surrounding all events of the past, genocide or not: Photographs are not always reliable sources, but they are important for understanding how the past is remembered.


As we have seen, the memory surrounding the Salem Witch Trials is full of contradictions and misinformation. The town uses the image of a witch everywhere while denying their true existence. It also struggles with its identity as the place where the murder of innocent people yet, yet is also benefits from the tourism dollars from that struggle. And gaps between truth and memory exist, yet they exist for a reason, and they tell us something about how we deal with past tragedies. The Salem Witch Trials are certainly not the only events in history surrounded by misinformation and misconception, and Salem is not the only place where the memory of an event projects itself in a specific manner, whether true or not. Other posts in this blog can attest to this. But the usage of images can teach us about how people deal with the events of our past, whether tragic or happy, and this may give us a clue on how to proceed for the future.

Works Cited

Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

Rosenthal, Bernard. Salem Story: Reading the Witch Trials of 1692. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.

Hill, Frances. “Salem as Witch City.” Salem: Place, Myth, Memory. Ed. Dane Anthony Morrison and Nancy Lusignan Schultz. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004. 283-296. Print.