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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.

Aestheticzing Suffering: The Holocaust in Popular Film (Final)

The symbolic past of The Jewish Holocaust manifests itself in thousands of primary documents and resources that have been collected, archived, and in many cases used to prove Nazi crimes in the trials held after the war. Many hundreds of survivors of The Holocaust gave testimony in Nuremberg; however, in the eyes of the court film footage was a definitive factor in proving the crimes of the Nazi Regime. American and Russian film footage of concentration camps being liberated, as well as recovered Nazi footage of the camps became hard evidence in court of the Third Reich’s war crimes. The quest for justice to arguably the worst human act in modern history was achieved by a uniquely modern technology: film and motion picture. I would take that statement one step further by saying that the symbolic past of the Holocaust (primary resources, memoirs, photos, etc…) has become a text with which many influential films have since used to enter into a discourse with our collective memory of The Holocaust. The brief account of The Holocaust in popular cinema that follows is there to give the reader an idea of some narrative and stylistic themes I have observed both in U.S. and various European cinemas. I will then provide a close reading of three recent Holocaust related films that have all seen great success in both America and abroad and are films that I see as being very active in the discussion of Holocaust representation.

Since the end of World War II many film industries from around the world have dedicated reel upon reel of celluloid film to the depiction of The Holocaust. From highly stylized fantasies to tragic realist portrayals of Jewish suffering, there are literally thousands of films that deal with The Shoah. Seeing as World War II was the largest economic, military, or political event in history it is only fitting that film, the most modern, complex, and synergistic of all other contemporary art forms became the medium through which collective memory began to be stored. From all across Post-war European cinema came films dealing with events form the war and eventually The Holocaust itself; from Italy there was Kapo (1960), The Ascent (1977) out of the USSR, and Kanal (1957) from Poland. Polish film scholar Stanisław Kuszewski provides a statistical breakdown of the phenomenon, “the outstanding trait of European cinema in the years 1946-1975 is the predominance of the second world war as a film subject. One feature film in six is concerned with this event…films about the war were among the best artistic production of Polish and European cinema”(Ford and Hammond 2005, 111). It is important to note that a film about World War II may not necessarily be about The Holocaust, however, those such films still can teach the viewer something about The Holocaust because in certain instances, especially with a topic that can become as emotional as is being discussed what is left out is often as important as what is kept in the picture.


With such a massive pool of films regarding one subject one might be ambitious enough to suggest a Holocaust genre of film. Many of said films share similar character types and story arcs, however, to call the films a genre would place too much on the most dominant thread among the films—the story of Jews in World War II, as well as imply an industrial commoditization of The Holocaust, which no doubt exists to some degree but that is not the aim of this essay. Although the average viewer and consumer of films conceptualizes of “genre” as purely artistic characteristics (common story, structure, characters, iconography, etc..), the industrial side of film making uses the term “genre” more along the lines of understanding what made a certain film a commercial success and duplicating that process. This often manifests itself in “films in which the Holocaust serves more often than not as a mere backdrop to melodramatic private affairs.”(Kaes, pg. 208) Instead, I would argue that there are symbols which we have come to associate with Nazism, World War II and The Holocaust, and that the conversation of Holocaust representation in film is kept alive by the creative treatment of these symbols to bring about new meaning. The varying forms of depiction of The Holocaust on film (documentary, fantasy, experimental) also defy the generally accepted stylistic norms a genre would adhere to. An event as extraordinary as The Holocaust, experienced and perceived by so many people would by definition defy any single type of representation necessary to warrant the label genre. Rather, I see the films being discussed as entering into a dialogue with the viewers and the previous films relating to The Holocaust that have come before; tapping into a collective consciousness or shared body of knowledge that has come from various film, print, and digital media sources, thus keeping the memory of The Shoah alive. That being said, it can be observed that many Holocaust films will utilize the term “based on a true story”, syntactically placing their diegesis within real events from the war. However, what happens all too often is an idealization of an event or character that ends up favoring melodrama over meaningful commentary. As an example of such idealization one should look no further than Steven Spielberg’s representation of wartime profiteer Oskar Schindler. Schindler did save many lives of Jews who otherwise would have perished at the hands of the Nazis, and his compassion is documented (he was actually buried and still rests in Israel) yet this idea of his righteousness is so overly emphasized in the movie that one is hard-pressed to believe the reality of the situation when he reminds the Rabbi he employs to take work off early on Friday for Shabbat. It can be argued that what I refer to as idealization of a story or character is necessary for dramatic effect, for “the movie to work”, however, it is my opinion that to do so adds nothing to the conversation of representing The Holocaust, it merely arouses a rather cheap emotional response. Similarly, many scholars and critics have argued that in order for a films success it must have catharsis, an uplifting ending, or at the least closure. From the perspective of someone who has studied the events and history of The Holocaust it seems an undue service (to say the least) to the memory of the events and the people who collectively make up The Jewish Holocaust to create a film that lets audiences feel and ultimately believe everything ended okay. As viewers from the 21st century we have the luxury of temporal and spatial distance from the events, we also have quite a large voice in what we see on film and television, in the sense that producers of such projects will play what viewers want to see. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of the viewer to not only choose to watch films about The Holocaust (the act of remembering) but also to engage with them on a critical level, further strengthening and shaping our shared cultural memory. By recognizing both semantics (visual or narrative specifics) and syntactics (broader ideas and narrative arrangement) of previous Holocaust films new forms of representation (which can be met with all types of emotional response from audiences and critics, as we shall see) construct new windows with which we can view our collective past.


The three films that I have chosen to analyze more closely vary quite a bit in terms of stylistic choices; however, at the core of each film I find an interesting commentary on Holocaust representation in film, as well as other forms of art. The first film to be put under the microscope is the 2007 Austrian film, The Counterfeiters. The plot of the film revolves around a Slovakian Jew named Saloman Sorowitsch whose talents as a counterfeiter make him quite famous among the criminal underworld in pre-war Europe. After an arrest at the hands of a savvy German detective he is put into a concentration camp and eventually moved to the camp at Sachsenhausen where he is put in charge of a Jewish work detail whose sole goal is to immaculately fabricate the currency of the allied powers in order to flood their economies with fake bills and cause hysterical inflation, effectively crippling their economies and war machines. Of the three films to be discussed, I would say that The Counterfeiters has the most in common with previous films made about The Holocaust. The film is “based on a true story”, that of Adolf Burger, the real Sorowitsch, who was indeed in charge of Operation Bernhard, a failed Nazi plan to destabilize the allied powers’ economies, as well as fuel their own war machine. A similar embellishment of certain aspects of the story, as was discussed in the case of Oskar Schindler, is present in The Counterfeiters; however, in the case of the later it is employed not for simple affect, but to provide meaning. The internal struggle among the men in Sorowitsch’s work detail manifests itself in the Communist intellectual printer who continuously sabotages the forgeries out of principle and constantly tries to organize the better fed and some what equipped counterfeiters to rise up against their Nazi guards, an act of sure suicide. No doubt the melodrama that is created among the group is there to keep audiences engaged, yet the question of submission to Nazi authority or armed resistance has been one that thousands of scholars have asked themselves over the years. This theme is explicitly mirrored in two side-by-side monuments at Yad Vashem, the first showing a line of weak and meager Jews following their Nazi oppressors depicts the submission and appeasement many Jews felt would get them through the conflict. Only a few feet to the left is another monument portraying the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.


This is the monument mentioned first, depicting helpless Jews marching to the orders of their Nazi occupiers.



This is the second of the two monuments, this one depicts the Jews who rose up against their Nazi occupiers in Warsaw, Poland in the Spring of 1944.



The next film to be discussed is a documentary, The Rape of Europa, and deals with the theft by many high ranking Nazi Officers of nearly all of Europe’s great artistic treasures. The films title takes on a double meaning, first in reference to the Greek myth of Europa in which Zeus in the form of a bull has his way with the beauty of Europa, the second of course referring the rape of thousands of years of European culture at the hands of The Third Reich. What is so striking about this film, especially in relation to other narrative films about the Holocaust that tend to dramatize events, this film deals with actual material artifacts. The drama, irony, sadness, and longing are seen on the faces of those who worked to preserve some of the world’s greatest masterpieces, no embellishment needed. The film opens and closes with the story of a Gustav Klimpt portrait of a young affluent Austrian Jewish woman, a painting that was taken by the Nazi and now is in the hands of The Austrian National Museum who refuses to return it to the woman’s surviving family. The painting becomes a metaphor for the struggle for justice to this day for the families of those who perished in The Holocaust, a physical and quite beautiful reminder of life and loss. Using the Klimpt painting as an example, the film implies that there still are unanswered questions, missing masterpieces (namely Vermeer’s The Astronomer), and loose ends that no amount of time can simply provide closure for. It also behooves one who has studied representation of The Holocaust to understand that this film is also addressing the scope of The Third Reich’s vision, their fantasy on film. This film is not here to simply remind us of what happened, it is there to remind us or educated those who are not aware that killing people was not all that happened during World War II, that this was a war for culture as much as a war for land or people, and the future of this battle, the battle over memory will be fought by art and artistic representation. In terms of theory The Rape of Europa can be considered a mis-en-abyme­, a reflection of a reflection; the film, itself an artistic representation, is telling the story of The Holocaust through the story of Europe’s masterpieces, themselves representations. It is in this way that instead of sensationalizing mass killings or focusing on a recreation of Auschwitz, this film achieves its goal of education and affect, balanced with entertainment.

This is the portrait mentioned in the essay, Adele Blochbauer was an Austrian Jew from Vienna.

Before this discussion of representation can be complete one final film must be fleshed out. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds defies literally everything I have previously stated about Holocaust films. It has no historical basis, it is hyper stylized, and it is a stand alone in terms of originality and creativity in the field of Holocaust representation. The first title screen makes one aware they are watching a fantasy, “Once upon a time…” is connotative of a fairy tale, “…in Nazi occupied France.” In many ways, Tarantino’s film is a post-modern fairy tale. No doubt many Jews left the theatre (myself included) quite entertained at the idea of a Jewish led death squad of Nazi killers gunning down a bestial version of Hitler. But Tarantino’s work is doing much more than indulging audiences want for blood and violence. The film is very much a reflection of cinema and its role in remembering World War II and the Holocaust. Most of the film revolves around events that will take place at a movie theatre in Paris, not exactly a prime spot of battle during the war, but conspicuously the place where the art of studying film and cinephilia originated. The operation to assassinate high ranking Third Reich officials is called “Operation Kino”, a harkening to historic Soviet filmmaker and theorist Dziga Vertov and his theory of Kino-Eye (Kino is Russian for camera), and seemingly the only qualification Lt. Archie Hicocks (played by Michael Fassbender) has to head the operation is previous work as a film critic and knowledge of the German film community. The violent finale, itself a nod to the idea of the spectacle in cinema, is culminated by the crowd of Nazi elite being consumed by burning film as “The Revenge of the Smoke Face” is completed. The symbolism is palpable. First that nitrate film is used to kill the Nazi’s, when in real life it was exactly such films that were used to convict Nazi’s of their crimes. Second, and more powerfully, is the irony of the smoking face. The reality that thousands of Jews died in gas chambers is juxtaposed on screen with SS elite being laughed at by a disembodied gaseous figure as they scramble to their deaths. Professor of Film and Cinema Studies at UC Berkeley Anton Kaes has written widely about Holocaust representation and postmodern historiography. Writing of a 1978 avant garde film about Adolph Hitler in his essay “Holocaust and the End of History: Postmodern Historiography in Cinema” Kaes creates a paradigm for new methods of representing The Shoah: “four concerns that seem central for a postmodern historiography on film (the kind of historiography that probes most radically the limits of representation): the rejection of narrativity, the specularization of history, the proliferation of perspectives, and the affirmation of nostalgia.”(Kaes, pg. 209). It would appear that Inglorious Basterds emphatically hits every check mark on his list, and then some.

A screenshot from Tarantino’s film of Shoshana achieving her revenge.

The discussion of Holocaust representation on film is one that will continue as long as movies are made. Anton Kaes writes of the curious relationship a filmmaker has to remembering an event such as The Holocaust:

“It is the filmmaker who can shed light on the social imagination, perverse as it may be, that underlies the unspeakable deeds. It is the filmmaker who can translate the fears and feelings, the hopes and delusions and suffering of the victims, all unrecorded and undocumented, into pre-verbal images and thereby trigger memories, associations, and emotions that precede the kind of rational reasoning and logical-linear discourse needed in historiograhical writing.”(Kaes, pg. 208)

The un-documentable must never become the un-representable, in fact the only way to ensure that is by continuing to add to the repository of memory that is The Holocaust on film. It will become the responsibility of a new generation of filmmakers and viewers to continue to find new perspectives and enter into a dialogue with our collective consciousness ultimately creating new meaning.

Photo Sources:

Written Sources:

Ford, Charles and Robert Hammond Polish Film: A Twentieth Century History. Edited by Graznya Kudy Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005.

Kaes, Anton. “”Holocaust and the End of History: Postmodern Historiography in Cinema”” Probing the Limits of Representation – Nazism & the “Final: Solution” (Paper). By Saul Friedlander. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992. 206-22. Print

Photo Sources:

Written Sources:

Ford, Charles and Robert Hammond Polish Film: A Twentieth Century History. Edited by Graznya Kudy Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005.

Kaes, Anton. “”Holocaust and the End of History: Postmodern Historiography in Cinema”” Probing the Limits of Representation – Nazism & the “Final: Solution” (Paper). By Saul Friedlander. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992. 206-22. Print

Bringing Reality to Life Through Imaging Genocide (Final)

The series of photographs, taken by Mariella Furrer, depicts the events of the genocide in Rwanda that took place over the course of 100 devastating days. Also in this collection are pictures of the aftermath to illustrate the state the Tutsis and moderate Hutus were left to cope with, commemorate those who had deceaced, and move forward with their lives. I have chosen to focus on a single photographer, Mariella Furrer, more specifically, her collection of photos that she had taken during the genocide in Rwanda from May of 1994, concluding with the last photo of her collection in April of 1995. Each photo contains different people, with different circumstances, yet are all brought together through genocide. Each photo brings the Rwandan genocide to life. Each photo taken was taken for a specific reason by the photographer and depicts a reality that portrays one of the world’s most extensive crimes against humanity.


The genocide in Rwanda was a result of over a century of ethnic divisions between the shorter, more darker-skinned Hutus (84 percent of the population) and the taller, lighter-skinned Tutsis (15 percent of the population (Cohen 10-11). Through German and Belgium influence favoritism unanimously leaned toward Tutsi rulers and the Tutsi ethnicity which led to discrimination and mistreatment of the Hutu population by the Tutsi and Belgium (Cohen 11). After World War Two the Hutu wanted to gain independence from the Tutsi and Belgium, Belgium decided to offer support to the Hutu majority and forced the Tutsi rulers to create less discriminatory economic and political policies (Cohen 12). A Hutu Revolution began after a Tutsi attack on a Hutu sub-chief- in November of 1959 which intensified into a violent outbreak between the two groups. (Cohen 12). Through Belgium’s cooperation by removing Tutsis from positions of power gave the Hutu majority certainty, determination, and support they needed to transfer the power from the Tutsi to the Hutu (Cohen 12). Violent problems continued between the Hutu and the Tutsi until General Juvenal Habyarimana took control of Rwanda in 1973. He was viewed very highly among the international community and as a result drew in foreign investment for Rwanda (Cohen 12). However, a drop in tin and coffee prices led to an economic crisis in Rwanda (Cohen 12). Simultaneously, moderate Hutus and Tutsi refugees who had been living in Uganda (Rwanda Patriotic Front- RPF) saw this as an opportunity to rise up and this just drove Rwanda deeper into civil war (Cohen 12-13). These series of events are just a few examples that took place before the genocide in Rwanda and eventually resulted in the genocide that began.

On April 6th, 1994 at 8:30 p.m. President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. As stated in the previous paragraph, President Habyarimana was vital to Rwanda and the loss of the president ensued crisis and a genocidal frenzy. The following day, militias began massacring Tutsis and Hutu moderates (Jones 352). From the very beginning the extremist government were able to carry out the genocide with these three methods: First, the extreme government played up the stereotypes that the world holds against African nations, that they are uncivilized, savage tribal peoples, which is what the extremist government called the killings nothing more than, “tribal conflict” (Jones 352). Calling the genocide “tribal conflict” caused many nations and people to turn the other cheek. Second, they realized that killing foreign troops would scare away hopeful peacemakers. Third, the “blind commitment” and support of the French, as stated in the previous paragraph, greatly benefited the extremist government (Jones 352).


This photograph is photo of evacuation; the themes of this photograph include fear and confusion. This photograph depicts and illustrates such emotion from the young boy and  captured the somber trip they embarked on. What first comes to mind when viewing this picture is, why is this boy crying? Did he just see his mother killed? Brother? Sister? This photograph alludes to the fact that it is just the father and the son, so the absence of the mother and/or siblings could be interpreted that they had not made it thus far on the families search for safety. Fear is also evident in the man’s face as he looks into the lens of Mariella Furrer. None of the evacuees knew for certain where the fate of their livelihood rested though over a million people fled to Goma, now the Democratic Republic of Congo ( Confusion is also evident in this picture by the six people in this picture who are walking in the same direction with a clear destination in mind and in contrast, the confused man sitting down in the back of the picture alludes to the fact the is not going with everyone else, he looks into Mariella Furrer’s lens hopelessly.

This photograph clearly depicts the evacuation people were in search for during the beginning phase of the Rwandan Genocide.Confusion and fear are illustrated in this photograph; it is evident from all six of the facial expressions that can be seen in this photograph. Similarly, the man walking the opposite way as everyone else in the photograph also represents confusion. He is walking in the opposite direction because near the bottom of the picture he has his left leg in front of his right, alluding to him moving forward. It is obvious at first glance all of these people are moving forward, together, to the same destination, however, the man walking in the opposite direction is not. It is interesting to think about where this man is headed and why he is not walking in the same direction as literally every single other person. Fear is also evident in this picture by the way the father is holding onto the two boys so tightly. It is also interesting to contrast the expressions on each of the boy’s faces, the younger one with more of a confused, relaxed expression- probably due to his age and not fully understanding the events that are taking place. In contrast, the older boy holding onto his father so tightly and the look of fear in his eyes is quite chilling. From looking at him it is evident he is aware what is taking place in his hometown and the fear that must have taken over him that day must have been the most numbing- which may be why he is riding on the bicycle and not walking. The cross necklace is also noteworthy in this photograph. Over sixty percent of the Rwandans were Catholic before the genocide and when the genocide began many Tutsis relied on their religion as a crutch and retreated to churches for safety; however as the genocide continued churches became places where mass slaughters took place (Keane).

 This is a picture of a floor of a church with a church bulletin stepped on, dirty,   and at one time held by a Rwandan that found hope and faith in the message written on the bulletin, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” and “I can do all things through Christ which Strengthens me Philippians 4:13.” Mariella Furrer included a rock in the photograph, which is very interesting. Was the rock used as a weapon against the inhabitants of the church? If so, she captured the extreme contrast of good and evil impeccably in this photograph. The rock representing death, pain, and destruction of a race and the bulletin with the encouraging words representing hope, faith, and peace. The symbolism of the dirty bulletin on the floor is powerful and important to keep in mind for the next picture. The church, their Catholic faith, and these encouraging words of faith and hope rendered useless to mass killings that took place in the churches.

This is a photograph of a site of a massacre that took place at a church in Rwanda. Jones comments on the Rwandans taking refuge in churches, “Tens of thousands of Tutsis sought sanctuary in schools, stadiums, and especially places of worship. But there was no sanctuary to be had. In fact, those encouraging them to seek it were usually genocidaires working to concentrate their victims for mass killings” (Jones 355). The picture shows the gruesomeness of the killings as hundreds rot on the floor of this church.  Resting on the churches’ alter, four human skulls. The rotting bodies lay mixed on the floor with clothes and garbage, alluding to the bodies being viewed as garbage as well by their perpetrators. Similarly, the bodies lay mixed with what appears to be the handle of hoes; it was common for the Tutsis to be killed by common farming tools (Jones 352). It is evident from the picture either during the massacre or prior someone placed the four skulls atop the alter, which the alter being one of the most sacred areas to the church. The sheer ruthlessness and disregard of respect for the Catholic religion and their victims is clear by the Hutus carrying out mass killings in churches and placing four skulls on the most sacred place of a church. In fact, many church figures played a major role in the mass killings in churches by legitimizing and partaking in the massacres (Jones 355). The Tutsis before the genocide used to go to this church to learn about, praise, and worship God, the extreme contrast of the current state of this photo and the state of the church before the genocide is painful and heart wrenching to ponder. Once a place so pure and peaceful, now the reality of churches are the polar opposite of what they used to be before the genocide.


Remains of a woman and a young girl lay in the dirt, as a weapon rests on the woman’s left leg, the skull of the remains of the young girl turned to the side. This photo depicts a gruesome reality worth a million priceless words, no amount of words can justify the beating, torturing, raping, and killing of a woman and a young girl. During the genocide Tutsis were dragged out of their home, tortured, and raped (Jones 352). Rape not only causes mental and physical injury to the victim, but also destroys the morale of her ethnic community and family (Sharlach). Sharlach continues, “Hutu leaders ordered the militia known as the Interahamwe not to spare Tutsi women and children in the genocide. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Rwanda estimates that in this tiny country there were between 250,000 and 500,000 rapes. In some areas, almost all women who survived had been raped.” (Sharlach 90). Rape and death was an imminent reality for women and young girls during the genocide and Mariella Furrer captured the reality in this photograph. Looking more closely at the image, the woman’s skirt hitched up high (alluding to the fact that she was probably raped before her life was taken) and the farm tool, most likely the weapon that took this woman and the young girl’s life lay between her legs. That weapon was probably also used the hack off the young girls left arm and leg that are missing from her body. A rape survivor recalls, “One of them told us that they were going to chop the Tutsi women into pieces over days- one leg today, another arm tomorrow- until we die slowly.” (Sharlach 99). The gruesome account of this rape survivor is evident in this photograph that Mariella Furrer captured, the missing limbs and the hitched skirt of the woman represents a reality far too incomprehensibly horrible to fathom.

This photo was taken in May of 1994 of a young boy whose shoulder was chopped off during a massacre. The boy had survived the massacre yes, but the pain, torment, and agonies remain. Many killers would severely injure their victims, let them suffer in agony for quite some time, and then return to finish them off (Jones 352). This photo is of a young boy depicting the fact that no matter the age, the killers had no mercy on their victims. Looking more closely at the image, it is evident the expression on the young boys face. The look of shock is evident and he seems aloof/distant from the photographer and the present. It is impossible to fathom the pain he must have been in while the nurse tended to his severed shoulder. The boy is also extremely skinny; his bones in his chest, arm, and legs are evident in this photo. The state of his thinness and severed shoulder represent helplessness than many young children experienced during the gruesome reality during the genocide in Rwanda. The antithesis of those representations is the representations of the fact that boy did survive the massacre, his shoulder is being taken care of, and the light shining through the window represents a new found hope for those who survived the genocide. The nurse represents healing, while the light represents life.


April of 1995, one full year after the genoicde in Rwanda the healing process beings. This photograph was taken to illustrate coping and healing of the Rwandan people as they dig up mass graves and give the victims proper burials. This photo was one of the last photos Mariella Furrer took regarding the Rwandan genocide and I believe she took this photo on a sunny day in April maybe in hopes Rwandan people will see this photo and realize that the grieving process can being now that victims are receiving a proper burial. The upper right corner is a picture from evacuation of Rwanda in the beginning of the genocide and it is interesting to contrast the skies of each photo. The sky during the evacuation is cloudy, hazy, and unclear. While, the sky in the burial photo is clear, sunny, and inspiring in a way. I think she took this photo not only for her own personal reasons, but for her fellow African citizens to see the photo and realize that hope and life are not all that distant.

Mariella Furrer is a photojournalist who was born  in Beirut and has lived in Africa her whole life. It is no wonder why she took these various pictures of the genocide in Rwanda since these victims were near and dear to her heart since Africa is not only the place she grew up, but it is her home.  I think she captured these gruesome photos to document the genocide. Each photo gives the victim a voice that they would not have otherwise. Mariella was a victim of sexual abuse when she was a child and she is currently writing a book on various women and children who have been victims as well; her book will be a compilation of the interviews and photographs of the victims who have been affected by sexual abuse. She is giving the victims a voice and because of her desire to give people a voice, I believe this is why she took these gruesome pictures. Mariella Furrer was giving the victims of genocide a voice since they had none, just like the victims she interviews for her book- they have no voice, but she is bringing each victim’s reality to life. Simply going through her photographs she has taken from the Rwandan genocide it is clear that the photographs speak for themselves and tell a story better than any reporter or news article could communicate.


Cohen, Jared. One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.,2007. Print.

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

Sharlach, Lisa. Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. New Political Science, 22:1, 89-102.

Photo Credit: Mariella Furrer (

Women Perpetrators


Genocide has been talked about for decades upon decades ever since the first action took place. “The explosion of public interest in genocide in the 1990s, and the concomitant growth of genocide studies as an academic field, has spawned a profusion of humanistic and social-scientific studies, joined by memoirs and oral histories” (Jones, 15). Scholars have mainly been trying to pinpoint a reason, a blame and most importantly one definition to fit the past actions of these events. A professor quoted in Jones’s book came up with a belief for his definition of genocide: “Genocide is understood to be the state-sponsored systematic mass murder of innocent and helpless men, women, and children denoted by a particular ethnoreligious identity, having the purpose of eradicating this group from a particular territory” (Jones, 19). This very definition points me in the direction of why the topic I am writing about gives a new perspective, one that no one believed to be true: women perpetrators in genocide. It was never thought of until recently that women would be involved in genocidal acts, voluntarily participating in crime instead of the ones being victimized. The main questions being answered in this paper will be:

  • Were women in fact posing as perpetrators in certain acts of genocide?
  • How did they influence the crimes taking place in these specific events:
    • Rwandan Genocide
    • Holocaust Under Hitler’s Regime

Rwandan Background:

Many of my examples come from the genocide that took place in Rwanda. I thought it would be helpful to set up a little bit of information about the background so it is easier to understand the basis of women and what happened in this country.

It is no secret that the result of the Rwandan genocide left mostly Tutsis dead and the Hutus with the blame. There was always a large economic disagreement between these two ethnic groups living in Rwanda. Although their similarities of tradition, language and settlement grew closer, the hatred of each other set them far apart. The thing that sparked the fire of this tragedy were the identity cards enforced by the Belgian colonists when they arrived in Rwanda in 1916. These cards classified the people by their ethnicity, resulting with the Tutsis coming out on top of the pyramid, the more superior group. The Tutsis were treated with more respect and were served with better job opportunities than the Hutus. The rage of the Hutu people gradually towered because of their lacking of fair treatment from the Belgian colonists. The rage soon turned into riots between the Hutu and the Tutsi in 1959, leading to the death of more than 20,000 Tutsi people. In 1962 Belgium granted Rwanda their independence and the Hutus took over as leaders. Economically, the country starting taking a turn for the worse. Tutsi refugees in Uganda began the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by a man named Kagame, in hopes to overthrow the president of that time, Habyarimana, a Hutu and return home. After many attacks took place, a peace treaty was signed by the RPF and Habyarimana in 1993. Although the peace was instated, this would not resolve the massacre soon to begin. A year later, Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and all hell broke loose. Starting in Kigali, the largest city in Rwanda, the presidential guard ordered that the political people of the Tutsis were murdered and the mass murders of their Tutsis and some Hutus took place. At this point, everyone including innocent civilians were involved in the murders. There were thousands of people acting in this so called genocide, it was hard to tell who the main majority of gender actually was. As a result, nearly 800,000 were murdered over the course of 100 days.

Women in Genocide


Women are traditionally talked about as victims in the acts of genocide. Because of this, we lack an understanding for the actives ways women take place in these crimes. The basic thoughts of women during the Rwandan genocide are linked to rape and distortion. Challenging the stereotype of gender in genocides such as the one in Rwanda opens our eyes and broadens our perspectives in understanding real roles of women during conflict.

This photograph taken from sources at, an African news website, shows a U.S. Official extraditing a Rwandan women convicted for her actions in the Rwandan genocide. Marie-Claire Mukeshimana was “convicted in absentiaby a court in her country for her role in the 1994 genocide” (Nathan). This woman is 43 years old and was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the killing of a handful of children and she marks the second women to be released back to Kigali. She tried to enter the United States in 2010 at the Detroit airport but was denied entry and held in custody ever since. This women is one of hundreds that were convicted after the Rwandan genocide and sentenced to prison for multiple murders.Before they found Mukeshimana and took her back to Kigali, she had left in 2005 and had previously been working at World Vision. The interesting thing about the fact that she worked at World Vision is that this company is a Christian based humanitarian one that helps the lives of children and families with poverty. Today, the United States is partnered with this organization to help sponsor children in Rwanda and give them a better life. We send them seeds for farming, school supplies for education and help build water tanks for fresh water. These women said to be perpetrators in the Rwandan genocide are not all bad. After the genocide ended, this woman was working for such a company that ironically helps children.

To me, this photograph stands out because it really makes me look at this Rwandan women very closely. She looks like a normal citizen, dressed in her everyday clothes, yet she is considered to be a criminal. Rwandan women just like her, who appear to be completely harmless looking, are being feared for their crimes. Which leads me to this…in order to understand why these women are being accused of such murders, as well as men, we have to look further into the gender relations of pre-genocide in Rwanda. Rwandan women were often look at as the inferior to men. They were not considered to be equal to their spouses and their culture believes that “a woman’s only wealth is a man” (Hogg 71). One of the only things women were cherished for was their ability to reproduce for their family. They were strictly held to their few responsibilities such as cleaning and up-keeping the house, entertaining visitors and educating their children. Young girls growing up are taught to be respectful, listen to their elders and to be very polite. One might question why women who are raised to be such obedient people could turn out to be perpetrators in a mass genocide. One of the many motivations, leading to something that is often behind the scenes and not thought about is violence. Many Rwandan women growing up amount to physical violence as a punishment and this is considered to be a traditional thing in their culture. Since women are so inferior to men, they are supposed to just accept these acts of violence. This could be of many reasons why women lashed out in violence in the Rwandan genocide.


This is a photograph taken by Jonotha Torgovnik, previous combat photographer in the Israeli Army, is of a woman embracing her daughter who was born after she was raped during the Rwandan genocide. The woman, Joseline Ingabire gave birth to both of her daughters near the end of the Rwandan conflict. Her husband was murdered in front of her and she was repeatedly raped, even while pregnant. The beauty of this photograph is striking but the pain behind their eyes goes without saying. Violence and rape is one of the motivations these Rwandan women had to take part in murders of the genocide.

Another motivation talked about behind women perpetrators in the Rwandan genocide is fear. Many of these women claim that they were forced by the soldiers to commit these acts of genocide. They were forced to reveal hiding spots of the Tutsis seen during this time of war. Women were very desperate in a sense that they feared what other people would do to their families and had absolutely no trust in relatives and others they thought they once could trust. There is a story of a women who poisoned and murdered her own four Tutsi children on their father’s behalf and felt that by killing them in a softer way, dodging the machete of the solider, would be a better way for them to die. The desperateness of these women were high in rate, and the tension between these two ethnic groups is so strong that the relatives of this women who happened to be Hutu, refused to hide their own flesh and blood.

The aftermath and most importantly the responsibility of the Rwandan genocide continues to be talked about. Women known as “ordinary” were blamed for acts of genocide and other groups of women known as “intellectuals” were blamed as well. The ordinary women were the ones who physically committed the crimes and the intellectuals were the masterminds behind them. Women with leadership positions in Rwanda were convicted of (Category 1) crimes, carrying out crimes against humanity and often received the death penalty. Ordinary women were convicted with Category 2 or 3 crimes and were left in the hands of the gacaca, which meant they could only receive a maximum sentence of the death penalty. Motivations such as violence, fear, and being politically involved are highly looked at as reasons why women perpetrators participated in the Rwandan genocide.


Members of the SS Helferinnen (female auxiliaries) arrive in Solahuette, an SS retreat near Auschwitz. This photo was taken from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The SS Helferinnen are also known as the female guards in the Nazi concentration camps. A large group, about 3,700 out of 55,00 of these guards in the camps were female. Most of these women were between the ages of 17 and 30.

After the Holocaust ended, many of these SS Helferinnen women were captured and held at an intermittent camp in Recklinghausen, Germany. Just a little under 1,000 women were held at these camps and the U.S. Army investigated the crimes they had committed while serving in the war. Most of these women were later released because it was decided that the male SS were the top priority in convicting for committing acts of murder during this time. Only a handful of SS women were tried for their crimes compared to the SS men. Males still held the power over these women even if they indeed had the same rank and committed the same crimes during the same war. It goes to show that most of the time, women are let free because motivations and such are found, backing them up in believing that it was not in fact them, but something that came over them that made them commit such acts of violence.


This photo is of a women by the name of Irma Grese. She worked at the Nazi  concentration camps at Ravensbruck and Auschwitz. She also was the warden of a specific concentration camp in northwestern Germany, Bergen-Belsen. Grese was later on convicted for her crimes against humanity at the Belsen Trial and pleaded not guilty. Survivors of the Belsen camp had the chance to testify against her. They brought up all of the crimes she was known for while they were at the camp. These crimes included beating prisoners, shooting prisoners, putting prisoners in gas chambers and letting her trained dogs hurt prisoners. It has been said that she tortured these people both physically and emotionally. Grese thoroughly enjoyed shooting prisoners in cold blood and beating up women.  Later she was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was known as The Angel of Death at the camps because of her cruelity. She carried around a whip and pistol everywhere she went. Irma Grese is definitely considered one of the most famous women perpetrators of the Nazi Regime because of her cruel treatment and murders of the prisoners she was keeping.

Connecting Irma Grese’s story to my theories of motivations in women perpetrators of war, her childhood fits right into one of the reasons women bring out a bad side during rough times. As a child, she witnessed the suicide of her mother and ever since this had a great effect on her. One of the reasons she received pleasure out of physically beating women in the camps was because she had such anger and frustration towards her mother taking her own life. “Daniel Patrick Brown, the leading expert of Grese, asserted that she was, already by the age of 9 or 10, deeply influenced by Hitler and the Nazis” (Sarti 109). She was growing up during the time of propaganda and this influenced her ideology greatly. Nazi power was thriving in all areas of Germany and their messages being sent throughout the country stuck with her. Because of these things, she was forced to remain strong and since the suicide of her mother, crime was something that emerged in her doings.

Tying Things Together:

Based on these stories and facts provided, we can not conclude that all of these women were evil based on the acts of crime they committed. Although some were bad people, there were many motivations and reasons behind the doings of their actions. Not to say that what these women did were right, but women perpetrators in genocide were sometimes overlooked. These women, no matter how cruel the crime they committed was, they were not held as nearly as much accountable as men were during this time. The way the world works today almost still feels like this. When women commit a crime, people start to wonder if some crazy motivation or excuse took over her causing her to commit something horrible. When looking at men who commit a crime, people tend to believe they are just a horrible person, without thinking of reasons to back them up. Motivations that I spoke of such as fear, anger and violence help us understand why some of the women considered to be perpetrators of these genocides did what they did. Even when the wars were all said and done, women were not convicted as much as women were for their crimes. Men were the ones sought out and looked for. That aside, women like Irma Grese and Marie-Claire did commit acts of violence in their time of war and they were severely punished for doing so. Just because men are held most accountable for crimes, doesn’t mean that women are not capable of committing the same crimes. Maybe people don’t look at women as doing wrong, but women are just as motivated to commit acts of violence towards other and these women are just a few of the many who weren’t afraid to hold such power.

Works Cited

Hogg, Nicole. “Women’s participation in the Rwandan genocide: mothers or monsters?.” International Review of the Red Cross Vol. 92 (2010): pg. 69-102. Web. 15 April 2012.

Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, Second Edition. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

Sarti, Wendy Adele-Marie. Women+Nazis: Perpetrators of Genocide and Other Crimes During Hitler’s Regime, 1933-1945. Palo Alto, California, Academic Press, LLC, 2012. Print.

Photos from:


Adam Jones, a well known Genocide scholar has a strong interest within his field in the subject of “gendercide”.  In 2000, Jones published the article “Gendercide and Genocide” within the Journal of Genocide Research.  Because I had previously read Jones, his article interested me, and it is what I will use as a stem for this posting, along with the informative website which is a project of the Gender Issues Education Foundation (GIEF).

The term “gendercide” was coined by Mary Anne Warren, author of the book Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection.  It has come to mean the killing of a large group of people in a way discriminately based on gender.  Though gendercide is a term that can be applied to both men and women, throughout this entry I would like to examine are how mass killings/terror have specifically affected the female gender through a couple different periods in history, the witch hunts in medieval Europe and modern day Chinese infantcide and the affects of the One-Child Policy.  These  can both be referred to as incidents of gynocide, a term mentioned by the GIEF. Topics and questions I will focus on relating to this subject include:

How are women targeted as victims and is this done arbitrarily or is there a systematic, methodological procedure in doing so?

How much does culture and society affect how women are treated compared to men during a genocidal event?

How do images and interpretations of these events relate to the above questions?

Witch Hunts

Witch hunts is one obvious example of targeting a group of people for mass execution based on or at least relating to their gender.  When people from the United States think about witch hunts, the Salem witch hunts, along with their portrayal in the play The Crucible and the whole analogy to McCarthyism is what first comes to their mind. However, the Salem witch hunts however were a very small example of this concept, with under 30 people being executed for being witches.  However in medieval Europe, the number of people killed was far greater, in the tens of thousands.

According to the section about the European Witch Hunts on,  that during the time periods of the witch hunts, 99% of women were not affected. This percentage should shows that women were not specifically targeted because they were in fact women, but delving deeper into the historical contexts of the time as well as the attitudes of the masses during that time can tell us about why women were in fact targeted.  The gendercide website points out a reference from The Holocaust in Historical Context, explaining that women during those times were seen in much the same way Jews were seen during that time and continued to be seen well into the 20th century:

The medieval conception of women shares much with the corresponding medieval conception of Jews. In both cases, a perennial attribution of secret, bountiful, malicious “power,” is made. Women areanathematized and cast as witches because of the enduring grotesque fears they generate in respect of their putative abilities to control men and thereby coerce, for their own ends, male-dominated Christian society. Whatever the social and psychological determinants operative in this abiding obsession, there can be no denying the consequential reality of such anxiety in medieval Christendom. Linked to theological traditions of Eve and Lilith, women are perceived as embodiments of inexhaustible negativity. Though not quite quasi-literal incarnations of the Devil as were Jews, women are, rather, their ontological “first cousins” who, like the Jews, emerge from the “left” or sinister side of being. (Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context, Vol. I, p. 435.)

Examining this passage, it is obvious to see that religion should be viewed as an impetus to the gynocide in medieval Europe.  Just as people use religion in desperate times to turn to for hope, people also used it toexplain wrongdoings as well as to exploit others. Because faith is faith, what to believe in is inherently personal and those who are completely socialized in this way can sometimes be credulous. Carlo Ginzburg explains this from a different angle in his book Ecstasies.  He says that like Jews and Lepers, those who were considered “witches” and presumed to be involved in actual witchcraft, were outliers in society.  Much of the major problems of the 14th century (the time when witches being stigmatized began) that people had to deal with, such as the plague and famines were associated with those who lived on the margins of society.  When popular opinion became that Jews, lepers, and other groups like this may not have caused the problems as it was affecting them as well, blame had to be thrust upon a more mystical outlier, one that could not be directly seen or attributed as a solid group.  Witches were that.  One could say that Christianity looks like it was the cause of the gynocide and killing of witches. This isnt entirely true. Beguines, religious communities of female christians at one point were the focus of blame, this therefore can refute christianity as the catalyst of the witch hunts. It wasn’t necessarily Christianity starting the scapegoatism for the problems of the time, but more of an avenue to base accusations on. The devil, the evil figure in Christianity became the enemy and those who seemed strange and malevolent were seen to act on his behalf. Women fit into this category more than the less marginalized male gender. People relied on religion in those times of panic more than empirical science.  Using religion to explain natural phenomenon leads to groupthink, allowing the idea of witches to become something conventional to society as a whole. That is why the idea and stigma attached to witches lasted for centuries as witches were killed long after the time of the plague.

One interesting aspect about the witch hunts was that many accusations of witchcraft stemmed from conflicts between women.  Only until later in the process were men brought in to explain the reasons why things happened.  This kind of paranoia could have influenced women to turn in their neighbor so they weren’t themselves accused as a witch. According to the website on gendercide, Alan Mcfarlane, a famous historian and anthropologist studied 291 witch cases in Essex, England and found that about 55 percent of people who thought they were bewitched were of the female gender. The website goes on to say “The number of witchcraft quarrels that began between women may actually have been higher; in some cases, it appears that the husband as ‘head of household’ came forward to make statements on behalf of his wife, although the central quarrel had taken place between her and another woman”. In the end, I believe the cause for women to be targeted was a result of the strong presence of Christianity at the time and the stigma associated with being a woman at that time.  The way I see it, when women had conflicts with each other, they knew they could justify certain actions as well as get their way by using cultural biases against their fellow woman. Exploiting others for personal benefit was an affective way to solve a dispute, even a large one such as war. One such example of this was that of Joan of Arc.  She was a highly remembered and important figure in the Hundred Years War and a French hero and now saint.  After being captured by England, France’s enemy, the way the English took her out of the picture was by declaring her a heretic and witch.  During her trial they went as far as to question her in regards to the language she thought angels and archangels spoke. She was seen as being a witch because in her testimony she felt that God and the Saints were on the side of the French and in the opinion of the English, she was prophesying in god’s name without his authority.  However it seemed they tried her, they knew sentencing her to death for heresy would be in the best interest of their side, thus naming her a witch would justify this to the public. Image The painting of Joan’s execution by Jules-Eugène Lenepveu that is now inside the Pantheon in Paris shows sympathy to Joan based on the imagery included.  Present in the painting is many symbols of Christianity including the long crucifix staff carried by a clergyman above her forehead.  The cross-bearing tunic of the solider stocking the execution site with wood for burning seems to exemplify the idea of using religion in justification of killing for one’s own gain.  Joan has symbols of innocence associated with her.  First she wears an all-white gown.  She displays a look of devoutness as she stares at the cross before her eminent death.  The very manner of her death is very similar to that of Jesus on the crucifix.  Because she is martyred the imagery is very idealistic and reminiscent of renaissance art dedicated to that of a saint, but the reality of her execution was probably much more imperfect as well as more horrific.  Also worth noticing is the most active onlookers are male as in most situations where male authority is used to carry out the demise of a witch.  Because Joan of Arc was such a powerful influence in such a male-dominated sector of society (that of war) she could havebeen seen as a threat more novel, as well as more dangerous, due to the stigma about women and their “sinister side of being”.  The question I would like to end this section on is: If Joan had been a male war leader, would the trial and execution be one of a witch?

Modern Chinese Infanticide

In the case of China nowadays, there is a strong clash between that of Modernity and long-standing traditional Chinese culture.  The One-Child Policy, instituted in 1980 stated that under most conditions, a couple are only allowed to bear one child. If you comply with the government as a Chinese family, you will receive healthcare and other benefits from the government. In traditional Chinese culture, a male child is seen as much more valuable than a female child, not only to carry on the family name, but as a person in general.  In many cases in Chinese tradition, a person of the female sex is only “temporary property” that of which will eventually be married off and become property of bride’s new family.  Because of this engrained mentality about a gender it becomes obvious what happens next when modernization and population control come into institution by an overbearing government that allows you to only have a girl or a boy, not both.  Not only do abortions take place, but girls go “missing”.  How do we know they are missing? Because there aremillions more Chinese boys accounted for than girls.  It may seem like the policy causes these abortions, murdersand disappearances indirectly, but there are accounts of the government being directly involved with population control, including forced abortions.

ImageThis image of a dead baby floating in water apparently had been circulating around on, a Chinese social networking website.  According to Epoch Times and The Christian Post, the outcome shown in this picture was a result of a forced abortion by the Birth Control Office staff which kidnapped her and aborted her baby when she was nine months pregnant because it was her second child.  Apparently the baby would have been healthy if it was allowed to be born naturally.  Because Chinese mothers can only have one child, it seems the government would view killing a second-born child in order to enforce their policy not unfavorably, not necessarily promoting, but accepting the “disappearance” of baby girls if that meant their population’s downward trend would stay downward. It is interesting to think that a old fashioned value of gender that has existed for ages is being shown to be just as present now, not needed to be described in actual accounts but convincingly shown by pure numbers: according to the Boston Globe, 30-40 Million more males in the age group affected by the year 2020.

Recently forced abortions and sterilization have stole the news spotlight in China.  This is because Chen Guancheng, an important activist against forced abortions has escaped from captivity.  CNN reports that since the 1990s he has advocated against forced abortion, something that China denies it does.  Other activists such as Hu Jia point out that it is not just the baby that subject to harm, the women who are forced to have these abortions must deal with the traumatizing event.  Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers calls it “official government rape”.  U.S. Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey was also quoted on this issue:

“Today in China, rather than being given maternal care, pregnant women without birth-allowed permits are hunted down and forcibly aborted. … For over three decades, brothers and sisters have been illegal; a mother has absolutely no right to protect her unborn baby from state-sponsored violence.”

It seems to be commonly known that this kind of thing goes on in China based on the numbers and the amount of people who seem to be against it. In 2007, NPR claimed they had proof of several forced abortions (some even into 9 months of pregnancy) happening by family planning officials in China.  They claim that these abortions are caused by forced injections into the abdomen of pregnant women, causing babies to be stillborn.

As I have explained, there are many people who advocate against what is happening in China. My question regarding this whole situation is how long is the international community going to ignore what is going on? It has been clearly documented in history the atrocities that the Chinese government committed against it’s people during the time of Mao and the Cultural Revolution as well as the Great Leap Forward.  Regardless of how modern and capitalistic China’s infrastructure and economy have become that doesn’t change the fact that China still has a tight grip on it’s citizens. This grip has allowed things like this to happen whether it is directly or indirectly caused by the actual Chinese government. The fact is, children in their population (mostly girls) are disappearing. Whether it is by the people themselves (who are killing because of gender) or the government agents who want to enforce the One Child Policy, it should be acknowledged by agencies and organizations that try to stop atrocities and genocides. I feel like because it is happening in a time of social stability and within the confines of a country that is a world power (unlike recognized modern genocides like that of Darfur) it is hard to present it as a genocide, but it is easy to see that things are happening in China, especially to those of the female gender that the international community shouldn’t be oblivious to.

Works Cited

Fei, Xue. “Forced Birth Control Kills Mother and Child.” The Epoch Times. Web. <>.

Ginzburg, Carlo. Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2004. Print.

Hayes, Ashley. “Activists Allege Forced Abortions, Sterilizations in China.” CNN. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. <>.

“Internet History Sourcebooks.” FORDHAM.EDU. Fordham University. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <>.

Jacoby, Jeff. “100 Million ‘missing’ Girls.” Boston Globe. Web. <>.

Lim, Louisa. “Cases of Forced Abortions Surface in China.” NPR. NPR, 23 Apr. 2007. Web. 30 Apr. 2012. <>.

Maid of Heaven. RLK Press. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. <>.

“Photo of Aborted Full-Term Fetus Exposes ‘Infanticide’ in China, Critics Say.” CP Mobile Christian News, International Christian Post. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <>.

“Versailles and More.” Joan of Arc at the Panthéon. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. <>.

Weibo. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. <>.