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The International School for Holocaust Studies

The Holocaust and Other Genocides: An Introduction

Book Review

Reviewed by Richelle Budd Caplan, Director, European Department, International School for Holocaust Studies, Yad Vashem

The Holocaust and Other Genocides: An Introduction

Wichert ten Have and Barbara Boender
Amsterdam: NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Amsterdam University Press, 2012
176 pages

This new anthology, edited by Wichert ten Have and Barbara Boender who are affiliated with NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, contains five articles that focus on different cases of genocide during the twentieth century. The last article focuses on legal definitions of genocide as well as various institutions and tribunals that have been created to seek justice and or punish perpetrators of genocidal crimes. The historical events showcased in this volume are: The Holocaust (including a reference to the genocide of the Sinti Roma); the Armenian genocide; the genocide in Cambodia; the Rwandan genocide and the crisis and genocide in the territory of Former Yugoslavia. The articles have been authored by a number of contributors and biographical information about each of them has been provided at the end. An Internet site has been developed in conjunction with this book (http://www.holocaustengenocide.nl), and all of the contents of the book, and more, can be accessed via this website.

Each of the six articles includes photographs, primary source documents, timeline, and a glossary of terms. With the exception of the last article by Martin Mennecke, “The Crime of Genocide and International Law,” all other contributions feature maps and short overviews of some of the “key figures” that were involved in committing crimes against humanity per highlighted case. It is important to note that additional references to websites and/or scholarly works are provided for readers who are interested in further delving into the topics presented.

In their introduction, the editors of this volume refer to the Holocaust as a paradigm (p. 7) as well as explain how “Holocaust studies can be seen as the starting point for research into other genocides” (p. 9). In essence, this carefully formulated introduction frames the structure of the entire book.[1]

On page 10, the authors state that, “Teachers can use the convenient arranged material in this textbook to answer questions along with their students and thus make an attempt to interpret both historical and present-day cases of genocide and mass violence.” Although the layout of this anthology is very user friendly, it should not be referred to as a textbook.[2] Moreover, suggested discussion questions for educators to consider using with students in their respective classrooms have not been provided at all. In fact, this book lacks pedagogical guidelines and therefore may not be suitable for some teachers who would prefer a more “hands-on” lesson plan to aid in their teaching about this complex subject matter. Therefore, it is hoped that examples of practical lesson plans may be later accessed via this handbook’s website.

In essence, this print resource complements the work of the Education Working Group of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF) that offers ideas and recommendations to educators who wish to teach about the Holocaust and its relationship to other genocides. Different language versions of these ITF guidelines may be found via the accompanying website of this resource book as well as via http://www.holocaustremembrance.com/educate/teaching-guidelines

Although this book is useful, some articles are better than others. For example, the article about the Armenian Genocide by Ugur Umit Ungor is well done. The author not only gives solid historical background about the series of events in a concise way, but also highlights important details about the Armenian minority in the 19th and early 20th century. Thus, the reader gains an economic picture about the Armenian community and the various professions that many Armenians specialized in at the turn of the 20th century (p. 47). Although more information about the cultural and religious life of the Armenian minority would have been welcomed, Ungor presents the victims of the genocide as active members of society who worked in cottage industries, commerce and trade. This information provided by Ungor is important since teachers should highlight the pre-war life of Armenians and not only the course of the genocide and the attempt to deny it even in the present. Ungor also specifically highlights perpetrators, victims and bystanders (pp. 56-60) which also has educational value. The short section on “robbery” (p. 53) highlights moral questions of restitution that also can be relevant for classroom discussions with students due to their educational message. It is also important that Ungor relates to the fact that Armenian women and children had the opportunity to convert to Islam and change their identities to save their lives from the Young Turks’ persecution (p. 55), whereas during the Holocaust, this option was not possible for Jewish people (and even for those Jews who had previously converted to Christianity).

[3] In her article on the Rwandan genocide, Maria van Haperen includes the translation of a document, “The Hutu Ten Commandments,” issued in 1990 (pp. 104-105) that is very useful. This primary resource could serve as an excellent basis for comparison with the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935 as well as other examples of German anti-Jewish legislation enacted in the 1930s. However, more information about the involvement of the Catholic Church in the Rwandan genocide is lacking. For instance, on p. 101, a photograph of a Tutsi king, Mwami Mutara III, is included. Standing next to Mutara III in this picture appears to be a Catholic priest, reminding readers that the presence of the Catholic Church in Rwanda at the time was significant.

Ton Zwaan’s article on the situation in the former Yugoslavia is the weakest piece in this volume. The reader does not come away with a clear grasp on what happened nor does the author include any documents that can be examined. More testimonies from the victims would have been welcomed as well. In addition, the graphic images on p. 129 are inappropriate.

The opening article on the Holocaust by Wichert ten Have and Maria van Haperen focuses primarily on the stages of the “Final Solution.” Although voices of Holocaust victims have been interwoven, this chapter overall places an emphasis on the modus operandi of the Nazi regime. A fuller explanation about the responses of the victims and the bystanders, as well as about the wide spread collaboration across Europe to carry out the genocidal plans of the Germans, should have been considered. More information about Holocaust-related memorial culture would have been welcomed in this article too. However, it should be noted that the authors appropriately point out the specific character of the Holocaust, especially highlighting the Nazi intent as well as the industrialization process vis-à-vis the planned murder of the Jewish people (p. 36).

The usage of Nazi antisemitic imagery in pedagogical materials has become an important professional debate among some educational experts in recent years. Therefore, it is rather curious that two highly antisemitic propaganda images – in color - are included in this chapter (p. 17 and p. 32).

Although many readers today obtain their information from online resources, including about genocide in the modern era, there is still no substitution for a book that conveniently includes a lot of basic, important information. This useful handbook will undoubtedly help some educators in both secondary schools and in frameworks of higher education who are interested to enrich their knowledge base about the Holocaust and other genocides.


[1] With the exception of the article about the Holocaust, all of the other articles of this book are in chronological order. I would like to thank Shulamit Imber, Pedagogical Director of the International School for Holocaust Studies, for drawing this point to my attention.
[2] On December 12, 2012, during his presentation in Liege, Belgium, Dr. Wichert Ten Have continuously referred to this resource as a “handbook.” Moreover, during a discussion in Liege on December 11, Ten Have clarified during a conversation with this author that this is a handbook for teachers - and not a textbook for students.
[3] I would like to thank Daniel Rozenga of the European Department of the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem for highlighting this specific point.