Holocaust, Genocide, and Ethnocide Education
The Northwest Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Ethnocide Education is a project at Western Washington University, begun in September of 1998, to assist educators in the design and implementation of Holocaust, genocide and ethnocide-related studies and is dedicated to remembering and learning from the past in order to promote the human rights of all people. The NWCHGEE’s initiatives and activities are consistent with House Bill 2212, which states:
Every public high school is encouraged to include in its curriculum, instruction on the events of the period in modern world history known as the Holocaust, during which six million Jews and millions of non-Jews were exterminated. The instruction may also include other examples from both ancient and modern history where subcultures or large human populations have been eradicated by the acts of mankind. The studying of this material is a reaffirmation of the commitment of free peoples never again to permit such occurrences....
- excerpt from chapter 28A.300 RCW, House Bill 2212
In our effort to respect humanity and its cultural diversity, the NWCHE is not only dedicated to remembering the past, but learning from it in order to promote the human rights of all people. The Holocaust, a human tremendum unparalleled and unfathomable to any person bonded to life, is historically significant and specific. Genocides and ethnocides, however, are not unique and continue to occur despite the hopes of many Holocaust survivors that such occurrences would never happen again. What follows is an explanation as to why we are expanding the name of our center to include genocide and ethnocide education.
The definitions of the Holocaust, ethnocide, and genocide provide a framework for understanding the newly expanded mission of the NWCHE which shall now state: . . . to assist educators in the design and implementation of Holocaust, genocide, and ethnocide-related education. The NWCHGEE is not only dedicated to remembering the past, but learning from it in order to promote the human rights of all people.
The word holocaust is of Greek origin and, as used in the Bible, means to “sacrifice by fire.” In modern times it has been used synonymously to denote a very large “atrocity,” “slaughter” or “massacre.” However, when the word is capitalized, as in “the Holocaust,” it is defined as:
. . . the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims—six million were murdered; Gypsies, the handicapped, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny.
In accordance with the mission and vision of Woodring College, of Western Washington University, and of the Washington State Legislature, the NWCHGEE remains dedicated to helping educators teach about the Holocaust to promote the memory of those who perished and to reaffirm the commitment to “never again permit such occurrences.”
The word genocide was coined in 1943 by the Jewish-Polish attorney Raphael Lemkin who combined the Greek word "genos" (race or tribe) with the Latin word "cide" (to kill). After witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust, Dr. Lemkin campaigned to have genocide recognized as a crime under international law. His efforts led to the adoption of the UN Convention on Genocide in December 1948, which defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” This includes:
- Killing members of the group
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
The word ethnocide was also coined by Raphael Lemkin as an alternative to genocide. In his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Lemkin’s very first footnote details how ethnocide could linguistically be used to refer to the physical, biological, and cultural dimensions of genocide. While the term genocide was adopted by the UN and included in its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the concept of ethnocide was omitted.
Years later, ethnocide re-emerged through the work of Robert Jaulin. According to Jaulin, “it is not the means but the ends that define ethnocide.” It involves the systematic destruction of a peoples’ way of life. Another French ethnographer, Clastres Pierre, describes ethnocide as, “the systematic destruction of the thought and way of life of people different from those which carry out the destruction.” Israel Charny further describes ethnocide as “processes that contribute to the disappearance of a culture without necessarily entailing the immediate physical destruction of its bearers.”
Ethnocide, often referred to as cultural genocide, is considered by many scholars as a form of genocide. This understanding is often applied to the conditions endured by indigenous and aboriginal peoples, including the original inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest. For Woodring College of Education, this understanding is significant because we need not venture far from campus to witness the legacy of ethnocide in our community. Moreover, Western Washington University is located on land formerly occupied by the Coast Salish speaking peoples. Acknowledging this history is essential because as an educational institution we are encouraged by law to provide instruction about “ . . .subcultures or large human populations [that] have been eradicated by the acts of mankind.”
It is an unfortunate fact that American Indians and Alaska Natives, including those indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, have endured ethnocidal attempts to eliminate their languages, worldviews and ways of life. The purpose of recognizing ethnocide that has occurred locally is not to arouse guilt, but to awaken our consciousness.
Although the UN’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide does not include the concept of ethnocide, the Convention’s drafters did acknowledge the legitimacy of cultural genocide. This legitimacy has been recognized in other internationally recognized documents.
Ethnocide has been denounced by the following internationally recognized documents:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of December 10, 1948, Article 22 states:
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality…
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of December 16, 1966, the Preamble states:
Recognizing that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights…
Council of Europe Activities in the Field of Protection of National Minorities
Section II of the Framework Convention contains the following principles:
promotion of effective equality;
promotion of the conditions regarding the preservation and development of the culture and preservation of religion, language and traditions
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
According to UNESCO, ethnocide “means that an ethnic group is denied the right to enjoy, develop and transmit its own culture and its own language, whether collectively or individually. This involves an extreme form of massive violation of human rights and, in particular, the right of ethnic groups to respect for their cultural identity, as established by numerous declarations, covenants and agreements of the United Nations and its Specialized Agencies, as well as various regional intergovernmental bodies and numerous non-governmental organizations.
In 1981, UNESCO organized an international meeting on ethnocide in San Jose, Costa Rica. The participants made the following in a Declaration:
We declare that ethnocide, that is, cultural genocide, is a violation of international law equivalent to genocide, which was condemned by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948
1994 Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Article 7 states:
Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;
(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them
Legitimacy may also be found in the words of essayist and poet Octavio Paz:
What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity. By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by elimination different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death. The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us. Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life.
- Octavio Paz (1978)
 Nersessian, D. (2005). Rethinking cultural genocide under international law human rights dialogue: cultural rights. Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. Spring. Available online.
 Pierre, C. (1999). Encyclopedia Universalis France.
 United Nations