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Genocide exhibit to open at QCC Holocaust Center

Entitled, “1900-2000: A Genocidal Century,” the free exhibit will be open to the public through December 2004, and will feature a variety of photographs, text and an accompanying catalogue detailing occurrences of the systematic extermination of millions of people by different nations and governments over the past 100 years, as well as the process by which these atrocities were carried out.

“The reason it is important to study this is because genocide has continued into the 21st century at an alarming rate,” said William L. Shulman, director of QCC’s Holocaust Center and exhibit curator. “The only way we can work to prevent genocide from occurring is to make people aware that it has occurred — the steps that lead to genocide, and the genocides and near-genocides that are being carried out. And this exhibit is one small step in that process.”

According to Shulman, the 20th century was one of the “most destructive periods in human history,” with mass murders undertaken by governments that wished to eliminate most or all members of a particular ethnic or religious group.

Tracing a trail of human destruction, the narrative begins in 1904 with the Hereros, a cattle-herding people living in a German colony in South West Africa who rebelled when faced with confinement to reservations by colonial authorities. Their military forces were destroyed by the Germans, and survivors, including women and children, were subsequently driven into the Omaheke Desert, where they died of thirst and starvation. Approximately 80 percent of the Hereros people (65,000) perished.

Just a few years later, in the spring of 1915, in what the narrative refers to as a “major tragedy of the modern age,” the Turkish government ordered the deportation of the Armenian people in a “thinly disguised form of extermination.” According to a premeditated, precise plan, Armenian men were taken away and murdered, while remaining women, children and elderly were herded south, subjected to every form of humiliation and torture. One million Armenians died and the homeland they had occupied for more than 3,000 years was depopulated.

In the Ukrainian genocide (spring, 1932 through summer, 1933) in which the Soviet government was under the dictatorial rule of Joseph Stalin, a famine was deliberately created with the intention of eliminating one whole class of people. Some five-to-seven million people died either from starvation or disease.

At nearly the same time, the Nazi government in Germany was gearing up to “identify, classify, discriminate against, and eventually persecute those considered ‘undesirable’ or ‘racially dangerous,’” according to the text. “The Jews in Germany, and eventually throughout German conquered territories, were to be murdered and totally eliminated as a people.”

This Holocaust was carried out through a series of calculated steps, including the ghettoization, dehumanization and deportation of the Jews prior to their ultimate destruction through extermination camps. The result was the murder of almost 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children.

In the latter part of the century, more than 1.5 million people (some 21 percent of the population) in Cambodia were worked, starved and beaten to death when communist minority Khmer Rouge (led by Pol Pot) seized control of the country. Trying to eradicate Buddhism from Cambodia, monks were persecuted and massacred (only 2,000 of the 70,000 monks prior to 1975 survived). The regime also tried to eliminate ethnic minorities, and the entire Vietnamese community was either driven out or murdered; 50 percent of the Chinese population was worked or starved to death; 40 percent of the Thai population (8,000 people) perished; and, of the 250,000 Muslim Cham, only 90,000 survived.

In the Bosnian genocide (April, 1992-October, 1995), Serbs waged war against Muslims as part of an ethnic cleansing plan. Muslims were put into concentration camps and civilians were raped and murdered. According to the exhibit, the genocide was part of a war for control of the small republic which had been part of Yugoslavia.

Finally, near the century’s end, the 1994 planned extermination of the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda wiped out 700,000 people (one-tenth of the population). This genocide, according to the exhibit narrative, resembled the destruction of the Jews by Nazi Germany with its registration of victims, organized killing squads, use of media propaganda to hide the actions and intent, and massive murder.

The QCC Holocaust Resource Center and Archives is open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m to 4 p.m., and on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 718-281-5770, or visit the QCC website at www.qcc.cuny.edu. The College is located at 56th Avenue and Springfield Boulevard (exit No. 29 on the LIE).

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