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    Have there been any historical instances that share these same characteristics as the Holocaust?

    1. Conducted by a Democratic, wealthy first world country.
    2. Attempted to fully eradicate a specific group of people
    3. Killed more than 10,000 people

    Jason Jewell

    There might be a problem with the way this question is framed. I don’t think we can reasonably call Germany democratic after 1934, when all political parties except the Nazis were outlawed.

    Are you thinking specifically of events in the 20th or 21st centuries? The phrase “first world” doesn’t come into use until after World War II. If we go farther back, we might be able to pinpoint something in the imperial adventures of Western powers.


    That’s a very fair point. Let me try this a different way that also let’s you know where I’m coming from in a more meaningful way.

    About a week ago was the 70th anniversary of the Liberation from Auschwitz. As usual, it got its memorials with World Leaders and the media all over the world, which I found very touching. (Full disclosure: My grandmother lost her first Husband, 3 children, parents and siblings in the Holocaust. She was from Poland).

    That day, the BBC posted this tweet: ” “Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest?””.

    At first I was outraged, but then I decided to really give it some objective thought. Why does the Holocaust get so much more attention than other genocides and atrocities? Obviously it’s personal for me, but the whole world seems to regard it in a meaningfully different way than other tragic situations like the Congo in recent years.

    Then I had a thought. Maybe the difference here is similar to another interesting piece of human psychology. Often when a person hears that someone has died, they very quickly ask “what did he die of?”. A large part of that question comes from a persons innate fear of their own mortality. The question, at least in part, is asking: “did this person die of anything that might also be a danger to me?”.

    Here too, I was wondering if the fact that the Holocaust happened in a wealthy, sophisticated, Democratically powered country had anything to do with people’s focus on the Holocaust. When I hear about atrocities in dirt poor or communist countries I can say to myself “that’s horrible, but thankfully it wouldn’t happen in a country like the U.S.” (although I wonder about that sometimes too). But in the case of Germany, they sort of match our profile as a rich, well respected, Democratic country with a Bill of Rights and supposed respect for justice etc.

    I was thinking that maybe that’s what hits the nerve here. That what resonates with people is the notion that “if it happened there, maybe it really could happen anywhere”.

    Or maybe I’m just wrong lol.

    Jason Jewell

    Sorry for the slow reply on this. There is probably something to what you are saying. However, in the case of the Holocaust we need to recognize the institutional framework that helps to keep “Holocaust awareness” (or whatever you want to call it) alive.

    The state of Israel rests much of its claim to legitimacy on what happened during the Holocaust. Several well-endowed organizations like the Wiesenthal Center spend large sums of money keeping the Holocaust in the public eye. Tens of millions of evangelical Christians in the U.S. and elsewhere believe the Holocaust fulfilled Biblical prophecy and use it as a way to interpret today’s international landscape.

    I can’t think of another event that aligns these sorts of interests that collectively control so much money. I don’t know if this is really an answer to your original question, but it seems to me like the attention given to the Holocaust is as much due to these factors as to the psychological ones you mention.


    Thanks so much. I think that’s a very fair point. It does help answer my question because there can be no denying that efforts of places the the Wiesenthal Center definitely are substantial and not availaable to very many causes.

    It seems like you are in agreement that the event itself was unique in terms or its scope, brutality and nation of origin (wealthy, cultured democracy) and I suppose that helps the message resonate more than it otherwise would. On the other hand there are interests trying to keep it in the public conscience.

    One thing I would like to add in terms of cause/affect. I do think that the Jewish interests (I can’t speak for the Christians) are motivated by the fact that “it can happen anywhere”. The idea that it happened in that type of country make you feel like nowhere is 100% safe. I guess there are just a lot of factors that come together with something as nuanced as this.


    I think there’s something to the fact that Jews as a group, unlike say Slavs, Armenians, Chinese, or Cambodians, are very literary and prominent in world intellectual life–in publishing, in academia, in journalism, and in cinema. This is in no way a negative commentary on Jews. Historians deal all the time with the fact that the only past people whose thoughts we know, for the most part, are those who could write, etc. So, ancient and medieval history tends to be about kings, generals, bishops, theologians, et al. There will never be a Chinese Anne Frank, and that’s not because Mao’s mass murders weren’t more numerous than Hitler’s.

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