Identifying and Countering Holocaust Distortion: Lessons for and from Southeast Asia

Is the Holocaust comparable? How can we avoid banalisation, instrumentalization of victims and trivialisation in comparison?

The Holocaust is often considered the paradigmatic genocide; the one that is best-positioned to help teachers and students understand other genocides and mass atrocities. It has been used as a starting point to discuss human rights violations and other contemporary sensitive issues in various contexts. One leading Holocaust scholar, Professor Yehuda Bauer argues that the Holocaust is a unique and unprecedented event—even if it shares some of its features with other genocides, such as ‘a powerful genocidal central power, military supremacy, a war situation, and the economic utilisation of Jewish slaves before their annihilation,’.  Bauer explains why:

● During the Holocaust, factories were built to produce corpses for the first time in history. The purpose of those factories was to murder Jews.

● The aim of the Nazis was to kill every single Jew on Earth. 

● The Holocaust was the first genocide to be committed for purely ideological motives. The ideology behind killing all Jews was not based on pragmatism nor economic intentions.

Professor Bauer also states that the Holocaust as a genocide must be compared with other genocides, and that the universal dimension of comparability should concern everyone. 

No understanding of other genocides can exist without comparison. Comparison can help unrecognised genocides, such as the Rohingya genocide and the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, to become recognised. It is imperative that we understand that it did not happen only to ‘us’. Victims of genocide understandably perceive their experiences as unique ones. Victims of genocide are not an anonymous mass, but individuals with their own stories.

However, comparison can be dangerous when it pertains to the amount of suffering or the number of victims with the intention of establishing a hierarchy of suffering (competitive victimhood). Figures should not be the main point of reference in such debates.

Polish–Jewish intellectual, Konstanty Gebert states that each genocide has its own name to draw attention to its uniqueness. Shoah is the Hebrew-language name for the genocide of the Jews and Parajamos the Romani-language name for the genocide of the Roma.

Watch Konstanty Gebert’s lecture organised by NEVER AGAIN (in English): The Holocaust and Other Genocides. Is Comparison Possible?

Learn more about the Holocaust and Other Genocides:   
Learn the results of the survey to see how various organisationsunderstand and apply the lessons of the Holocaust in their work with other genocides and atrocities: IHRA: A Matter of Comparison: The Holocaust, Genocides and Crimes against Humanity