Where are the memorials?
Genocides of Native Americans, others go unacknowledged
I keep waiting for Germany to open a holocaust memorial museum in Berlin — a museum devoted to remembering the genocide that nearly wiped out Native Americans in the United States.
Say what? Think about it. It makes a lot of sense. In our nation’s capital is one of the world’s best museums devoted to remembering Germany’s crimes against Europeans, so why shouldn’t Germany reciprocate and build a museum to remember our crimes against Native Americans?
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but more so since reconnecting with a Ukrainian friend last month and since the city of Amsterdam’s Nov. 27 ceremony commemorating the Holodomor, the Soviet-created genocidal famine, which killed 3.5 million to 4 million Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933.
A few days after the ceremony, Amsterdam’s WCSS radio station hosted an hour-long show with City Historian Robert von Hasseln and representatives of the city’s Ukrainian community, which was informative.
The Amsterdam Free Library also hosted a display on the Holodomor, and the Ukrainian community in Amsterdam is collecting money to help build a memorial to the Holodomor in Washington.
The Holodomor is worthy of remembrance, and the monument’s winning design, “Tears on a Wheatfield,” is simple but powerful. While I don’t object to a Holodomor monument in our nation’s capital — indeed, I positively want it to be built — it really should be in Moscow. But that is not going to happen as long as Russia is controlled by nationalists like Vladimir Putin, any more than it’s likely that the United States will build a memorial in Washington to remember the near extermination of Native Americans.
The sins of others
It is much easier to point out and remember the sins and crimes of others than our own. How superior it makes us feel. “No sir, it can’t happen here. We wouldn’t exterminate Jews, Armenians, Ukrainians, Poles and Gypsies.”
Like hell. If they had been the first inhabitants of the “new world,” and stood between us and the raw materials and Lebensraum of the American continent, they would have gone the way of the “red man.”
It is not just neo-Nazis who are holocaust deniers. Most of us are holocaust deniers. Sure, most of us believe in the German-initiated Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews and 5 million gentiles, but most of us reject any notion that the United States committed genocide.
Neo-Nazis deny the Holocaust. Turks deny the Armenian genocide. Russians deny the Holodomor. And Americans deny our genocidal campaigns against Native Americans. The records — the primary documents, not sanitized school books — show that when we finished our campaigns of slaughtering and subjugating Native Americans, only 5 percent of the original population remained.
And those records, if you have ever read any of them, are as stomach-turning as the videos released after Allied troops liberated the concentration camps of Europe in World War II.
Victims as deniers
Even victims of genocide can be genocide deniers. Conservative political scientist and author Guenter Lewy, whose family fled Nazi Germany in 1938, denies all genocides but the one his family experienced. Lewy has written books denying the Armenian genocide, stating that what happened to American Indians was not genocide, and while he believes that what the Nazis did in the 20th century was genocide, he claims that what they did to Gypsies was not genocide.
We live in a world of genocides competing for attention. Politics play a role in deciding which genocides get memorialized and which get ignored. As far as I am concerned, all genocides should be memorialized, including the Holodomor; but in the United States, we should particularly memorialize the Native American one. However, we did such a good job exterminating them that their presence at the polls is negligible. Politicians routinely ignore them, except when they want to force them to collect taxes on the sale of cigarettes.
While I am sympathetic to memorializing all genocides, including the Holocaust, the Holodomor and the genocidal campaigns against Native Americans, there is a danger in the remembrance of things past. Remembering the past in order to learn from it and not repeat it is only useful if our definition of the past includes not only the distant past, but encompasses the recent past, right up to the second that just went by as you read the word before this one.
Terrible things are happening, right now, all over the world. Genocide Watch’s annual report is useful in showing those areas of the world where people are being killed for racial, religious, political and other reasons. There were 10 countries in 2012 where people were being massacred for the above reasons, mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Denial is the final of eight stages of genocide, according to the president of Genocide Watch, Gregory H. Stanton. He lists 12 ways in which we deny genocide. I would add a 13th way — memorializing past genocides while ignoring present ones.
Maybe someday I will go to Washington, to see the Holocaust Museum and the Holodomor Monument, but not if it’s at the expense of doing what little I can to bring attention to ongoing injustices and atrocities.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.