Skip to content

Mapping Genocide

In 1915 the declining Ottoman Empire carried out a genocide against its Armenian population. The intention to eliminate Armenians was explicitly stated in a document issued by Ottoman rulers in the Committee of Union and Progress. With World War I taking place, the genocide could be readily justified as a national security measure. The genocide began by targeting elites in major cities and removing battle-age males by conscripting them into the Ottoman army. Armenians were systematically deported from their towns and would either be killed in large-scale massacres or die during transport (Jones, 149-161). That is a linguistic description of the Armenian genocide. In this paper, I will focus on visual representations of the Armenian genocide, in particular, maps. Maps are a powerful means of representing genocide that enable us to comprehend the totality of a genocide as a spatiotemporal process.

I. Language, Images, and Maps

To appreciate the importance of maps, it will be helpful to compare and contrast maps with language and other types of image. First, consider the way that language and images organize information. Language consists of finite sequences of discrete symbols. Because language presents information in a linear order, it is a good tool if our aim is “to announce goals, discuss sources, explain research strategies, narrate events, [or] summarize arguments” (Monmonier, ix). However, the linearity of language makes it inadequate for representing spatial configurations or a complicated, non-linearly related set of events. Images can handle these cases better since they spread information continuously across a two-dimensional surface. Since images are continuous, we can gain more information by looking at smaller and smaller parts of an image to the extent that the image’s granularity allows. Speaking of maps in particular, Arthur H. Robinson and Barbara Bartz Petchenik write that

This, of course, is the marvel of cartography: the fact that, from a limited number of highly precise and well-chosen measurements and observations, one can produce a map from which can be read off an unlimited number of geographical facts of almost as great a precision. (12-13)

Since language comes in discrete chunks (letters, words, sentences, etc.), there is no possibility of directly extracting more information after we have parsed each component.

Second, consider the way in which language and images achieve representation. Language achieves representation through an arbitrary association between symbols and that which they represent. For example, the English word ‘dog’ could just as well be used to denote cats. Images, on the other hand, achieve representation through a structural similarity which that which they represent. For example, a drawing of Berkey Hall must be such that the lines in the drawing correspond to architectural features of the building, and the lines must be related to each other analogously to the way the corresponding architectural features of the building are related to each other. Thus, when we view an image we perceive some aspect of the structure of that which the image represents. In some sense, a “map is actually a diminutive reproduction of the real space to which it refers” (Robinson and Petchenik, 86).

Next, consider the role of choice when representing with language and various types of image. Language offers its users great freedom in the choice of which concepts to employ when representing. For example, ‘a dog ran across the yard’ and ‘a mammal moved across the yard’ could both represent the same event even though the first sentence uses more specific concepts than the second. Language requires that we break up the world into categories. A way of breaking up the world into categories may obscure certain features of the world or privilege certain interests over others. Certain types of image lack the conceptual freedom of language. An undoctored photograph, for example, leaves little choice to the photographer after it has been decided where the camera should be aimed. Ideally, a photograph presents uninterpreted visual data about a scene as it would appear to a human eye situated there. This point has been disputed by a colleague. I do not wish to argue that a photograph has no ideological content, but I do maintain that representations can be arranged into a spectrum according to how much ideological content is imposed upon them by their authors and that photographs have less ideological content than language.

The freedom of a mapmaker lies somewhere between that of a language user and a photographer. Similar to the language user, the mapmaker can choose which concepts to use in the creation of a map. A map might display population density, temperature, locations of mass shootings, or anything else the mapmaker can dream of. But once the data to be displayed on a map and an appropriate means of displaying it are chosen, the mapmaker is constrained to create the map a particular way. As we will see in the next section, however, the choice of a means of displaying the data can lead to great differences in the map produced.

II. Map of the Armenian Genocide

Consider the following map of the Armenian Genocide:

Figure 1

Figure 1.

Right now when I use the word ‘map’, I mean to refer not to the particular map appearing as Figure 1, but the map-type of which Figure 1 is just an instance. This map is a powerful image, as demonstrated by the great number of reconstructions that exist. The map exists in several languages:

Figure 2. Armenian Version

Figure 3. French Version

Figure 4. Arabic Version

The map itself has a history. The earliest version of the map was created by the Armenian National Delegation and appeared at the Versailles Peace Conference of 1920. Mgr. Jean Naslian, a survivor of the genocide and Catholic bishop of Trebizond, modified the map and republished it in 1951. Most appearances of the map unfortunately do not include information about their ancestry, but there are a few instances of cartographic genealogy. Figure 1 originates from a version appearing in the Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia, but was modified with information from Gérard Dédéyan’s Histoire des Arméniens (1982) and the work of Naslian (Hewsen, 232). Figure 4 is a “clone” of Figure 1.

All the maps of the Armenian Genocide I have encountered are uniform in two respects. First, circles are used to represent locations where Armenians were killed, the magnitude of the circle proportional to the number of deaths. The circles are almost always red, the color of blood. Second, directed curves are used to represent deportation routes. It is this uniformity that enables us to speak of one map-type with many instances. Beyond this uniformity, the maps differ from each other in interesting ways. According to the legends accompanying the maps, red circles can denote either “massacre sites,” “deportation control centers,” or combined “centers of massacre and deportation.” In at least one instance, the label is clearly wrong.

Figure 5.

Figure 5, from <>, claims that a red circle denotes a “deportation control centre,” but includes red circles located far into the Black Sea. Some Armenians, particularly women and children, were loaded onto boats so that they could be thrown overboard or have their boats capsized in the Red Sea, but there were no aquatic deportation control centers.

Figure 6.

While Figure 6 does not make the mistake of indicating deportation control centers in the Black Sea, it does share the error with Figure 5 of claiming that all red circles represent deportation control centers. Figure 1 carefully marks deportation control centers as red circles surrounded by a black ring, and relatively few of these appear on the map, as one might expect for a deportation control center.

Notice that maps differ in the range of sizes used for circles. Since the size is supposed to represent the relative number of Armenians killed, any range of sizes can be used as long as the circles are scaled appropriately. Maps using larger circles are more dramatic, since these maps seem to represent more of the land being engulfed in death.


Figure 7.

For example, the maps of a hypothetical genocide in Figure 7 each represent the same data according to the scheme used in the maps of the Armenian Genocide. Each map contains four circles centered at the same four points, and in each map one of the circles has twice as large a radius as the other three circles. However, map B seems to represent a more severe genocide because the absolute size of the circles is greater. It is my impression that Figures 2 and 3, because they use larger circles than the other maps, make the Armenian Genocide look more severe than the other maps do. None of the maps say what number of deaths each circle represents, but this would be unlikely to help. Most humans have a poor number sense and would be more influenced by the crowdedness of red circles on the map.

I claimed above that when a circle appears at a location, the size of the circle represents the number of Armenians killed there. This is not completely true. Each map uses only a finite number of circle sizes, and the notion of proportionality only makes sense when continuously varying quantities are involved. Because the circle sizes vary discretely rather than continuously, the mapmaker must choose cutoff points for the number of deaths corresponding to each circle size.

Figure 8.

Figure 8.

Figure 8 shows explicitly the result of two different choices of cutoff points. Some of the maps of the Armenian Genocide are either drawn from different data or use different cutoff points. For example, Figure 6 has only one instance of the largest circle size, whereas all the other maps have at least two instances of the largest circle size.

III. Implications of the Map

One reason we might turn to maps as a representation of genocide is that we think of maps as an objective display of information. Maps represent genocide in a mathematical way that is not vulnerable to the same skepticism with which we might confront a narrative presentation of genocide. I hope the previous section has cast doubt on this view. Making a map of genocide involves a great degree of choice concerning which data to display and how to display it. These choices give the map creator great control over the effect the map has on its viewer. But if not in objectivity, where lies the value of maps as a representation of genocide? What do maps teach us about genocide that other modes of representation do not?

One advantage of maps is that they can convey detailed information about the totality of a genocide in an instant. This advantage was hinted at in the first section of the paper. Because language transmits information in a linear sequence, transmitting a detailed description of an entire genocide would take a great deal of time. A human would be unlikely to retain all this information, forgetting some of the information and unable to grasp the overall structure of the event as it is conveyed piece by piece. Robinson and Petchenik write that

The range of comprehension for any individual human being is rather limited, the environment experienced directly rather small, but there have always been some individuals who have attempted to transcend the limitations of the bounded personal milieu. They have searched for ways of encoding human experience in order to produce knowledge that would facilitate more general understanding of the spatial and temporal aspects that bear upon individual and collective human existence in complex and multitudinous ways. (vii)

A map enables a human to hold in its consciousness all at once a representation of the totality of a genocide. A genocide is a very complex chain of events, but this complexity can be quickly comprehended if it is displayed visually.

Another important aspect of maps follows from the nature of maps. Maps display information spatially, so maps can help us understand spatial aspects of genocide. We are led to ask certain spatial questions about genocide. Is the killing spread out uniformly or concentrated in certain regions? Does the killing tend to take place near the border of a nation or in its interior? Allan D. Cooper claims that

[a]nother common attribute to be observed about genocide is that it occurs in territorial centralities and not along coastlines where immigrants converge and demographical hybridization dominates. Even when urban areas are involved, the initiators of the genocidal campaign tend to be individuals who have migrated to urban locations of state power from rural, demographically homogeneous environments. Furthermore, when cities are involved in genocide it is usually because the ‘disgusting Others’ targeted for destruction occupy these urban landscapes. (59)

Interestingly, Cooper’s book titled The Geography of Genocide contains not a single map.

The map of the Armenian genocide represents population flows, so it also has a temporal dimension. Thus, it can help us see the genocide as a process that evolves in spacetime. Cause and effect relationships are one aspect of a genocide that can be revealed by a spatiotemporal representation. (Or, if cause and effect is too rigid a notion, it at least displays the influence that events have on one another.) A map can show us how a genocide is organized, whether it is controlled from the top down or is an emergent phenomenon resulting from the sum of small-scale activity that, while not unrelated, has no direct connection.

However, it is also important to keep in mind the aspects of genocide that maps do not display. In fact, the advantages of a map can be viewed as a consequence of the information that a map suppresses. A map does not display the particularities of a genocide. It does not tell us about individuals, their families, their work, the particular circumstances of their murders, etc. We do not see the human view of the suffering. A map offers a low-granularity, high-compression, large-scale picture of genocide. We should remember when looking at a map of the Armenian genocide that we could theoretically choose any red circle and zoom in on it to see images like this:

Figure 9.

Figure 9.

IV. Conclusion

While maps do not offer a complete picture of genocide, they can give us a large-scale perspective of genocide as an evolving spatiotemporal process that is not possible with language and photographs. Monmonier writes that

Most undergraduate courses fail to address, much less advocate, the possibilities of employing graphics to explain spatial concepts, and anthropologists, historians, and others who could make frequent and effective use of maps rarely study cartography. … Indeed, graduate training and disciplinary tradition have treated map making as a service that one buys, rather than as a potentially important part of the scholar’s creative work. (8)

Hopefully maps and visual representations generally will come to be seen as an important tool for understanding genocide.

Works Cited

Cooper, Allan D. 2009. The Geography of Genocide. Lanham: University Press of America.

Hewsen, Robert H. 2000. Armenia: A Historical Atlas. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Jones, Adam. 2006. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (Second Edition). London: Routledge.

Monmonier, Mark. 1993. Mapping It Out. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Robinson, Arthur H. and Barbara Bartz Petchenik. 1976. The Nature of Maps. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Homosexuals in the Holocaust

“It is not necessary that you and I live, but it is necessary that the German people live. And it can only live if it can fight, for life means fighting. And it can only fight if it maintains its masculinity. It can only maintain its masculinity if it exercises discipline, especially in matters of love. Free love and deviance are undisciplined. Therefore we reject you, as we reject anything which hurts our people. Anyone who even thinks of homosexual love is our enemy” (Rector 105). This is the view of the Nazi party relating to homosexuals during the time of the Holocaust. Scarcely a word has been written on the fact that along with the millions whom Hitler had butchered on grounds of ‘race,’ hundreds of thousands of people were sadistically tortured to death simply for having homosexual feelings (Rector 115). The persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust is not currently classified as a “genocide” in history, however, I believe that the United Nations should adjust its criteria for genocide by including sexual orientation in its definition. A person’s sexual orientation is just as important to a person’s identity as their race. Therefore, their identity should be protected and included in the genocide definition.

A Threat to the Nazi State

Homosexuality was seen as a threat to the Nazi state. Nationalism among the Nazis helped control sexuality where the distinction between normality and abnormality was basic to modern respectability within society. Nationalism and respectability assigned everyone their place in life, man and woman, normal and abnormal, native and foreigner; any confusion between these categories threatened chaos and loss of control (Mosse 16). The idea of manliness was crucial to society and the nation’s ideology. It symbolized strength of body and mind, however the individual had to be kept under control. Furthermore, homosexuality was seen as diverging from this “control” of certain urges. Homosexuality was considered an act against nature. Homosexuals were condemned as depriving the nation of its future soldiers and workers. Therefore, Heinrich Himmler, military commander of the SS (a military organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party), ordered that homosexuals be exterminated if they did not reform. Homosexuality was considered to be a disease acquired by masturbation or by infection through bad example (Rector 143). Like any other disease, homosexuality threatened to spread throughout Germany. If there was no stop put to this epidemic, it could mean the end of the Germanic race.

Himmler’s Cure for Homosexuality

Heinrich Himmler was the driving force behind the persecution of homosexuals. He considered homosexuality an illness that poisoned the entire body and mind (Mosse 169). Himmler says the execution of homosexuals was “not punishment but simply the extinction of abnormal life” (Herzog 35). In 1937, Himmler declared that any member of the SS convicted of homosexuality must be executed. Because Himmler felt that homosexuality was caused by lack of feminine contact, he often promoted female prostitution. The National Socialist regime’s goal was to eradicate homosexual behavior and not the “homosexual” himself, although the end result was often the same (Heger 96). They often believed that this could be done through re-education or castration.

Paragraph 175

Paragraph 175 is part of the German Criminal Code that made all homosexual acts between males a crime (Plant 206).


    1. A male who indulges in criminally indecent activities with another male or who allows himself to participate in such activities will be punished with jail.
    2. If one of the participants is under the age of twenty-one, and if the crime has not been grave, the court may dispense with the jail sentence.

175(a): A jail sentence of up to ten years or, if mitigating circumstances can be established, a jail sentence of no less than three years will be imposed on:

    1. any male who by force of by threat of violence and danger to life and limb compels another man to indulge in criminally indecent activities, or allows himself to participate in such activities;
    2. any male who forces another male to indulge with him in criminally indecent activities by using the subordinate position of the other man, whether it be at work or elsewhere; or who allows himself to participate in such activities;
    3. any males who indulges professionally and for profit in criminally indecent activities with other males, or allows himself to be used for such activities or who offers himself for same.

175(b): Criminally indecent activities by males with animals are to be punished by jail; in addition, the court may deprive the subject of his civil rights.

 The Case of Ernest Rohm


Figure 1. Picture of Ernest Rohm, a high ranking homosexual officer under Hitler.

Ernest Rohm, chief of staff of the SA, was a well-known homosexual. For many years his homosexuality was covered up by members of the SA. Hitler blamed Rohm’s homosexuality on his life in the tropics, but believed that his private life was his own affair as long as he used discretion (Mosse 158). However, Rohm’s popularity began to grow among the troops, and Hitler began to grow jealous of him. Therefore, Hitler believe that this threatened his power and he used the announcement of Paragraph 175 in 1934 and Rohm’s homosexuality as an excuse to murder Rohm. Shortly after Rohm’s execution, all organizations that defended homosexuality were shut down. The secret police also began to compile a list of all known and suspected homosexuals. In October 1934, a special team within the criminal police whose task was to fight homosexuality made the persecution of homosexuality a priority of the state (Mosse 164).

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Homosexuals thought that they were Germans first and that their nationality would protect them. They often argued that their spirit of comradeship made them the best soldiers (Mosse 41). However, medical analysis of homosexuality helped create a clear boundary between normal and abnormal sexuality. This medical analysis involved a smaller nucleus in the hypothalamus in the brains of homosexuals. Forensic medicine came to the aid of judges by developing a stereotype for use in identifying homosexuals (Mosse 27). This stereotype included hypersensitivity, feminine hands, a higher pitched voice, as well as some other physical characteristics. However, homosexuals were often difficult to recognize despite these identified characteristics. The Nazis had lists of some homosexuals – that were arrested whether these cases were true or not. Some denunciations were false, but establishing the accused’s innocence could be difficult (Heger 123). Gossip and certain accusations were used as evidence against homosexuals, and many were sent to concentration camps without a trial. In 1933 there were 853 convictions, 948 in 1934, about 3,700 in 1935, 5,321 in 1936,8,721 in 1937, 8,115 in 1938, 7,614 in 1939, 3,773 in 1940, 3,735 in 1941, 2,678 in 1942, 996 in 1943 (Rector 119-120).

Prisoners of concentration camps were forced to wear different colored triangles so that they were easily identified throughout the camps. The colors of the triangles are as follows:

    1. Yellow for Jews
    2. Red for political
    3. Green for criminals
    4. Pink for homosexuals
    5. Black for anti-socials
    6. Purple for Jehovah’s witnesses
    7. Blue for emigrants
    8. Brown for gypsies


However, the pink triangle was about two or three centimeters larger than the other colored triangles so that they could be recognized from a greater distance (Heger 32). The yellow, pink, and brown triangle members were treated the least humanely. They were described as the scum of humanity who had no right to live on German soil and should be exterminated. However, the lowest of the low in this ‘scum’ were the men with the pink triangle (Heger 33).

Homosexual Genocide


Figure 2. Homosexual prisoners push a road-impaction roller through the streets of Dachau concentration camp. This task was reserved for the Pink Triangles because it was one of the worst, most exhausting tasks in camp.

There has been controversy around whether or not the persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust is a genocide. Sexual orientation is not currently, nor was it ever, included in the United Nations’ definition of genocide. According to the United Nations, genocide is limited to national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups. As homosexuals become more accepted in our society today, I think that it is important to raise questions or at least consider including sexual orientation in the definition of genocide. Homosexuality and sexual orientation are just as important to a person’s identity as one’s race or religion. Therefore, it should be viewed in the same light as racial and religious persecution and included in the definition of genocide.

Homosexuals during the Holocaust were dehumanized and often referred to as “vermin,” “plague,” “cancerous ulcer,” and “a tumor.” This is the kind of dehumanization that allows genocide to occur. Himmler wanted to destroy and exterminate any homosexual that he could find. This also resembles genocide and wanting to wipe out an entire population (Porter). However, there is no proven intent to this “genocide.”

Although the persecution of homosexuals in the Holocaust does not fit all of the criteria for claiming the definition of “genocide,” I think that the United Nations needs to readjust its criteria for what it claims genocide to be by including sexual orientation in its definition.

The Forgotten Victim


FIgure 3. A tile from the Wall of Remembrance at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Most discouraging of all is that those who know the most, the surviving “Pink Triangle” victims themselves, have done their best to forget this terrible period of their lives. Many of these surviving victims find reliving these memories to be too painful. Even after the Holocaust was over, Paragraph 175 was still enforced for many years until June 1969. Therefore, homosexuals could not tell their stories without fear of being arrested for identifying as a homosexual. Jews and other victims of the Holocaust often received compensation from the government for their hardships, however, the Pink Triangles were still considered criminals and not entitled to restitution. Therefore, this seems to mean that present-day Germany does not consider Nazi killings of homosexuals a crime against humanity that deserves recognition and reparation (Rector 109). Another factor that prevented homosexuals from sharing their stories was the fact that those who emigrated from Europe were granted citizenship under false pretenses by concealing their homosexuality. Prior to World War II, visitation or immigration was denied throughout the world to known or suspected homosexuals (Rector 110). “The belated removal of the anti-homosexual law from West Germany’s penal code did not remove prejudice and hate from the hearts of the straight majority. Thus, only gays who feel they have nothing to lose, or those compelled by principle come out of the close. The rest – about 99 percent – keep their closet doors shut and bolted as tight as a gas chamber door” (Rector 110).


Homosexuals are still being persecuted in many parts of the world today, although, they are receiving much more acceptance now than they did in the past. Society is becoming more understanding of differences between individuals and therefore becoming more accepting towards different sexual orientations. Clearly homosexuals have faced a world full of persecution and shame, as seen in the Holocaust. However, these individuals are just like you and me and, therefore, their persecution should be noted as well. I believe that sexual orientation should be included in the definition of genocide in order to include all “outsiders” in its protection.

Works Cited

Heger, Heinz. The Men with the Pink Triangle. Boston, MA: Alyson Publications, 1980. Print.

Herzog, Dagmar. Sexuality and German Fascism. New York: Berghahn, 2005. Print.

Jones, Adam. Genocide. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2008. Print.

Mosse, George L. Nationalism and Sexuality: Middle-class Morality and Sexual Norms in Modern Europe. Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin [u.a., 1988. Print.

Paragraph 175. Dir. Robert P. Epstein and Jeffrey B. Friedman. 2000.

Plant, Richard. The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals. New York: H. Holt, 1986. Print.

Porter, Jack. “Genocide of Homosexuals.” : Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies : University of Minnesota. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2013.

Rector, Frank. The Nazi Extermination of Homosexuals. New York: Stein and Day, 1981. Print.

Jehovah’s Witnesses before, and during Nazi Germany

I am writing this paper to shed light on the treatment of a group of lesser known victims of the Nazi regime, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In my essay, I aim to examine the history of the organization, their emergence in pre-Nazi Germany, and their treatment during Hitler’s reign.                      However, the main question I want to examine through my paper is, how was the fate of the Witnesses during the Holocaust presented as a story of martyrdom? How does the evidence they left behind tell that story? And why were the Witnesses considered Martyrs, and not the Jews?      These questions will be answered in my essay through the following layout: Introduction, “History, Pre-Third Reich Emergence and Development of Controversial Principles”, “The Story of Martyrdom”, and the conclusion paragraph.


The International Bible Students Association, The Jehovah’s Witnesses, or to the Nazis, the Bibelforscher, were a terrible danger to the integrity of the Third Reich. The values of this organization threatened the goals of the National Socialists in Germany. Their refusal to hold political association, participate in the political process, or show signs of patriotism, violated what the Nazis needed of their people to achieve their goals, which was, to force uniformity by crushing individuality and dissent.      The Bibelforscher ideals, of course, came through their religion, which led to a breaking point on March 5th, 1933, when the group was recognized by the government, for refusing to vote in the Reichstag elections. Soon after, beginning on April 10th, 1933, the Nazi government began to ban the Bible Students Association. First, in the city of the German association’s headquarters, Mecklenburg, until June 28th, 1933, when the same ban was enacted in Hamburg.

An announcement of the ban on Jehovah's Witness' practices in Hamburg "Garbe"

An announcement of the ban on Jehovah’s Witness’ practices in Hamburg
“Garbe 305”

Through The Holocaust, nearly half of the 20,000+ Bible Students in Germany were imprisoned. Ten thousand of them would be sent to prison, while 2,500 of them would be sent to concentration camps, eventually resulting in the deaths of 1,200 members (Garbe 484).

But the question is, what makes the Bible Students’ situation in Nazi Germany unique? Not simply that their persecution was solely based on religion and not on ethnicity, but the fact that, as a result, people arrested for participating in Bible Student activity were allowed the choice to either renounce their faith, or face imprisonment. Thousands of Witnesses were resistors to the oppression of their religion, and defiant of Nazi efforts to repress their beliefs.  The Bible Students, in Nazi Germany, faced oppression, they suffered through loss of liberty via imprisonment, and even faced death for their religion. And through it all, they had the choice of whether they wanted to live, by renouncing their religion, or die for it. These statements are just snippets of information taken from the numerous stories of the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Holocaust. The purpose of examining them, is to understand how the story of the Witnesses was represented as martyrdom, after the fact.

History, Pre-Third Reich Emergence and Development of Controversial Principles

In understanding who the International Bible Students and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are, one must look far back to the founding of the religion. Charles Taze Russell began disseminating the ideals of the religion in 1877 under the publication, “The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return”, essentially establishing the body which would produce the IBSA and the Witnesses. Officially though, the religion was established as a recognized denomination in 1896 under the name, “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society” (Garbe 30), and was recognized by the Reich Council, following a resolution on December 21st, 1921.

On October 31st, 1914, the founder of the religion, Charles Taze Russell, died. With him went the expectation of the return of Christ in that year, which left his followers in confusion. Witnesses did not know what to do with themselves without their founder. They had never had to live without him, and as a result, had to figure out how their ideals/ethics would fit in with a nation at war. World War One had begun on July 28th, 1914, and the Witnesses’ belief that the war indicated the beginning of Christ’s reign for one thousand years had not come true. They had to cope with a reality which they believed would never exist. They did not even have a plan on facing the ethics of war in the light of their religion.   In response to this, the head organization of all denominations, The Watchtower Society, advised members of the International Bible Student’s Association (the organization which included all Watchtower denominations/organizations outside of the U.S.), to assert their religious rights to conscientious objection in countries affected by the war, in which there was such an exception (Garbe 32). It was also reported, by Protestant pastors, to their heads of the church in the Westphalia Province, that the Bible students also asserted that it was their duty to not kill, even when placed in a war-time situation (Garbe 32). The assertion of this principle is the beginning of what would set off the events leading to the eventual persecution of Witnesses.

At the beginning of World War One, however, a number of Witnesses complied with the call to military duty in the battlefield, but, on the words of their first leader, Charles T. Russell, telling them that it was against Christian principle to kill, many of them joined the medical corps or administrative offices (Garbe, 33). Eventually, the Witnesses were faced with the question of whether serving in the military at all was just in the eyes of their religion, which many Bible Students believed, stressed neutrality. The issue raised, was whether or not participation in military service violated the neutrality of their religion (Garbe, 33). This came to be, in the middle period of the war, a turning point in the establishment of their convictions, as increasing numbers of Bible Students refused to submit to the draft, or participate in military service. As a result, these members were thrown in prison, or subject to stays in mental institutions.

This newly noticed belief of conscientious objection, caught the attention of other clergy and non-religious officials in Germany. The government was not widely involved in monitoring the activities of the organization, however, until an article published on September 15th, 1917 by the “Pommersche Tagespost” mentioning that a speaker at a convention of Bible Students had talked about “discrediting war loans”. Discrediting these war loans, which were essential to the German Government’s funding of the war, could not be tolerated. As a result of the article, the Royal War Ministry and the “Higher Church Council of the Evangelical Churches”, paid closer attention to the Bible Students, and began to make requests of the Evangelical churches, to monitor and research them (Garbe, 33).

As a result of the eventual reports, military authorities, in 1917, began to prohibit the distribution of Bible Student publications, as well as any public Bible Student activities, in their jurisdictions.

The main point behind the aggressiveness of seeking out Witnesses, was to label any organization they saw as non-conformists, as threats to the internal security of the country. The German government saw a people who were strong in their religious convictions, who refused to be outwardly patriotic, or participate in the political process, and ultimately regarded them as a threat.

Treatment Under the Third Reich and International Persecution

On January 30th, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Reich chancellor of Germany. He continued the common government persecution of the witnesses, as head of the Nazi Party, and even quicker, banned the religion entirely. German states began to officially prohibit the practice of the religion less than three months into Hitler’s reign, until it was completely banished on June 28th, 1933 in several more German states (Hesse 381). On January 22nd, 1935, Hitler began to make the action of giving the Nazi salute mandatory during working hours. Up until the actual words “Heil Hitler” were explicitly required to be spoken by all workers in public/government facilities/factories, giving the salute without the mandatory “Heil Hitler” had not been a problem for the Witnesses, since the raising of the hand was deemed to not necessarily glorify anyone (Garbe 151). Glorifying Hitler by saying his name in a salute, was, for the Witnesses, a clear violation of their faith. In a distributed publication, Witnesses expressed their reasoning behind the position, giving that they would never perform the salute, even in the face of losing their jobs, saying that, “For a true Christian, it is inappropriate to render homage to a human being” (Garbe 150).         For refusing to give the proper salute, was to risk one’s job, and the ability to work, if the Nazis decided to prohibit you from working after a dismissal at all.

Also, another way the Nazi establishment took away the rights of the Witnesses, was through the confiscation of private property, and the suspension/removal of pensions.      On July 14th, 1933, the “Law on the Reversion of Property Inimical to the Nation and State” was passed, which allowed the government to confiscate private property of Witnesses (transportation especially), which would make it impossible for them to do their jobs, and thus, lose employment (Garbe 162).                       In addition, Reinhard Lemke, a Bible Student from Pomerania, who had an approval to build a personal home by the local magistrate, faced mistreatment on the part of the government, when the Mayor of the town successfully revoked the approval based on the condition that he violated a decree from the president of Stettin. This decree only allowed property to be obtained by, those who “…would always be willing to support the National Socialist State” (Garbe 163). Because of Reinhard’s religious beliefs, he would not be able to obtain property.      The Gestapo also had a part in removing/limiting the pensions of violators. A Witness named Alfred Knegendorf, who was injured during his work as a sailor, was unable to perform his duties, and had qualified for a pension. On August 30th, 1937, the Gestapo had requested Alfred’s pension office to stop making his payments to which they complied. Their reasoning, was that they believed he was involved in “anti-state activities since January 30th, 1933” (Garbe 164).

Other forms of persecution that soon followed the above, were, discrimination against enrollment in schools, the capture of young Bible Students and their removal to reformatories for refusing to be patriotic, expulsion of Bible Students from public school, as well as the forfeit of parental custody of Bible Student parents on their children.

Also, during Hitler’s rule, Jehovah’s Witnesses began to be thrown in concentration camps. On January 9th, 1935, for the first time, a Witness, Anna Seifert, was thrown into Moringen concentration camp. Moringen itself, became a camp infamous for displaying the solidarity of Witnesses. For example, a group of elderly female bible students who, even through their imprisonment, defied the guards by refusing to give the Nazi salute, continued to gather and practice their religion (Garbe 397).

Moringen Concentration "Hesse 99"

Moringen Concentration Camp (an aerial view)
“Hesse 99”

Moringen was also known to be the home of the first “reformatory” for children not ascribing to the ideals of the Nazis.              The majority of Witnesses were thrown into Sachsenhausen concentration camp, according to historian Antje Zeiger, where the use of the purple identifying triangle, for the Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted as well (in 1937-38) (Hesse 72).

This Purple Triangle was word by Jehovah's Witnesses in concentration camps, to identify them. "United States Holocaust Memorial Museum"

This Purple Triangle was word by Jehovah’s Witnesses in concentration camps, to identify them.
“United States Holocaust Memorial Museum”

In general, the Witnesses who were imprisoned in the concentration camps, remained a part of a tight group of like-minded followers, thus maintaining their solidarity. The greater majority of them refused to bow to the orders of the prison guards, and continued to preach their religious message, even when imprisoned.

The Story of Martyrdom:

What stories or evidence were given that displayed the events surrounding the Witnesses as martyrdom?                        Max Liebster, in his book, Crucible of Terror, detailed his experiences with the prisoners who were called, The Bibelforscher. Liebster, a Jewish man who had been sent to Pforzheim prison, because of his ancestry, met a strange man on the train he was thrown on to, on the way to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

This is the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where many Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned. ""

This is the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where many Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned.

The Bibelforscher, who was facing harsh internment, was noted by Liebster to be the only person who was calm, and “had spoken a decent word to him in months” (45). The Bible Student goes on to portray himself as a martyr, not through death, but through one who has suffered, and sacrificed for their faith, “He said that love of neighbor moved the Witnesses to face long sentences…and even execution rather than compromise their beliefs” (Liebster 46). Liebster noted that the Bible Student talked about how he had been separated from his wife, who was likely now dead, and how his children were probably forced to live with Nazi foster parents to re-educate them. Through the Student’s imprisonment, the Gestapo never updated him about his wife and children, in the attempt to have him break through “painful silence”. But, the faith of this man was so strong, he noted that he would “absolutely willingly face the same fate rather than break the vow he had made to God” (Liebster 47). “Faithfulness and a clear conscience meant more to him than liberty and life” (Liebster 47).                        Liebster’s story with the Witness highlighted a few important things about the portrayal of martyrdom. First, it displayed suffering, then, it showed resolve, and finally, it continued with an affirmation of one’s faith, even in the present circumstances, and the ones that brought him to where he had been in the first place. Unbroken resolve, and willing suffering in affirmation of one’s faith, goes along with the tale of martyrdom.

Free will, and the ability to have the choice controlling one’s fate, is integral to the definition of martyrdom. Throughout the holocaust, Witnesses had a choice, they could disavow their faith, and avoid imprisonment/death, or they could choose to suffer for their religion. Willingly suffering for one’s religion, in light of the option they had to save themselves, is the definition of martyrdom.          Furthermore, a question to be answered at this point, is, “why are the Jews not considered Martyrs?” The answer is simple. They could not avoid their fate by choosing to disavow their religion because, they were never afforded that choice. “Conversion could not save them, renunciation of their faith or identity could not save them……Jews had no choice. Jehovah’s Witnesses did” (Hesse 10).

How else did the Witnesses tell their stories? One unique method of delivery, was given by a Witness, Johannes Steyer, who was subject to all of the abuses under the Third Reich after his adoption of the faith, in 1931.   He began painting a series of watercolors, in the 1970s, to portray his treatment at the hand of the Nazis, from his arrest and internment at Sachsenberg in 1935, all the way to his liberation from Buchenwald in 1945.            His paintings tell of his suffering under the harsh conditions of the concentration camps, all in the name of his faith. Specifically, as noted in painting 22 below, he withstood a test of faith, in which he would have been able to save himself by accepting military induction papers. He refused to sign them, and as a result, was sentenced to death by hanging (Hesse 125).

Johannes Steyer refusing to sign military induction papers because of his religious beliefs. "Hesse 137"

Johannes Steyer refusing to sign military induction papers because of his religious beliefs.
“Hesse 137”

His sentence was never carried out, but what still remains, is the fact that he was prepared to die for his faith.

Here are three more watercolors made by Steyer, depicting his treatment in Nazi Germany, but especially in the concentration camps:

Here, Johannes Steyer is being watched by a Nazi guard who despises his faith. "Hesse 126"

Here, Johannes Steyer is being watched by a Nazi guard who despises his faith.
“Hesse 126”

This is one of Steyer's memories, where he watched Jewish prisoners who were being forced to carry rocks. "Hesse 130"

This is one of Steyer’s memories, where he watched Jewish prisoners who were being forced to carry rocks.
“Hesse 130”

This watercolor depicts the exuberance felt by himself, and all the prisoners, when Buchenwald was liberated. "Hesse 140"

This watercolor depicts the exuberance felt by himself, and all the prisoners, when Buchenwald was liberated.
“Hesse 140”

Death is the ultimate sacrifice one can make for their faith. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses gladly accepted this to show their dedication to the religion’s ideals.

A picture of Jonathan Stark. A Witness who was executed at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at the age of 18. "Hesse 105"

A picture of Jonathan Stark. A Witness who was executed at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at the age of 18.
“Hesse 105”

Jonathan Stark was one of those people.      At only seventeen years old, he had been fired from his job due to his faith, and when he was conscripted for the Reich labor service in October, 1943, he refused to take an oath to Hitler, and the state. He was subsequently arrested, and sent to Stuttgart prison, where he was repeatedly compelled by the guards to swear to the oath, but he never wavered in his faith. Jonathan Stark was transferred from the Stuttgart prison to Moringen juvenile concentration camp, and then to Sachsenhausen, where he was executed by hanging on November 1st, 1944, at the age of 18 (Hesse 106).

Jonathan’s story was presented as one of martyrdom, in history. He, like many others, died for his faith, when he had multiple opportunities to save himself.


Can one who is a historian point to the Witnesses of the holocaust and say they represent a definition of true martyrdom? The simple answer, is no. As a researcher, one does not have the tools to ultimately define that because, its job is to uncover/interpret the events of the past, as they were told by those that experienced it.            When examining source material, one must ask themselves, how did the Bible Students of Germany want to be remembered? According to Fools, Martyrs, Traitors, by Lacey Baldwin Smith, the process by which people frame/tell stories of events from the past, is to serve the purpose of shaping how that group wants people, especially their descendants, to remember them (3). The extensive stories about every single intricacy under the rule of Weimar Germany, and then the Third Reich, in defense of their faith, shows that the Witnesses wanted their portrayal of the treatment they faced to be remembered as martyrdom.

Works Cited

Garbe, Detlef. Between Resistance and Martyrdom: Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Third Reich. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 2008. Print.

General view of Saschsenhausen. Digital image. JewishGen., n.d. Web. 2 May 2013. <;.

Hesse, Hans. Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Nazi Regime, 1933-1945. Bremen, Germany: Edition Temmen, 2001. Print.

Kuesserow, Annemarie, and Waltraud Kuesserow. Purple Badges for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Digital image. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2013. <;.

Liebster, Max. Crucible of Terror: A Story of Survival through the Nazi Storm. Esch[-sur-]Alzette, Luxembourg: Schortgen, 2003. Print.

Smith, Lacey Baldwin. Fools, Martyrs, Traitors: The Story of Martyrdom in the Western World. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1999. Print.

Chilean Arpillerista’s Fight Back


The Arpillerista

The arpilleristas,
artisan of remains
burns with rage and cold
as she tenderly
picks through the remnants of her dead,
salvages the shroud of her husband
the trousers left after the absences
submerges herself in cloth of foaming, silent blood
sovereign over her adobe hut,
her ragged scraps
and determined to tell her story
truer than the tale woven by her
sister Philomena.

Disruptive and beautiful she
puts together her flayed remnants
like a greenish and forgotten skin
and with her disguised thimble
hidden in the pocket of her modest apron
and her harmless needle
she conjures up victorious armies
embroiders humble people smiling, become triumphant
brings the dead back to life
fabricates water, bell towers, schools, dining rooms
giant suns
and the Cordillera of the Andes
peaks opening like portals
of this splendid city.

– Marjorie Agosin


Marjorie Agosín’s powerful words describe arpilleristas (pronounced “ar-pee-yer-east-ahs”).  These women created three dimensional textiles called arpilleras, which literally translates to burlap in English; these textiles tell stories to express the pain and sorrow that grew out of military oppression in Chile. Eventually, Arpilleristas created vibrantly colorful wall hangings to denounce the Pinochet regime’s excessive use of force against the people of Chile.  Although these women where concerned about human rights they started the arpillera movement without the intent that it would become a movement.  They needed money and had pent up frustration and fear.  Many people, mainly men, disappeared, at the same time unemployment rose, causing many women to become the main economic source for their households.  The social political climate gave birth to the arpillera movement.  Many women who had little to no political involvement prior to the movement became civic guerrillas who refused to be silenced.  Hidden under the cloak of womanhood, arpilleristas’ works became political statements when political opposition was forbidden.  Through arpilleras, they denounced economic policies and human rights abuses.  Together they formed a movement for change.  Success hinged on unification, the ability to spread their stories, and their status as women.  Their textiles provided testimony for the world, denounced the government, and shaped public memory.

During this turbulent time, many people turned to the Roman Catholic Church for help and guidance as it was central to Chilean culture.  “Church leaders mobilized quickly in response to the situation.  Under the sponsorship of Cardinal Raúl Silva Herinquez, they formed the Pro-Paz (For Peace) group for human rights.”[1]  Even though Catholic leaders led the coalition, they were not the only ones in Chile who saw the need and decided to act on it.  This confederation of churches started the first lists of the disappeared.  It also organized craft-based programs for the community.  Pro-Paz provided a program for the Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos (Association of the Families of the Detained or Disappeared, AFDD).  Pro-Paz knew that brutal repression and a failing economy augmented the suffering of Chileans.  “The unemployment that struck the Chilean family with devastating force and plunged it into misery and hunger was the wellspring behind the emergence of the arpillera makers.”  The combination of the need to support the family and the sorrow of loved ones lost gave birth the arpillera movement.  These women did not start creating arpilleras as political activists; Pro-Paz organized this group as a way to sooth individual sorrow and as a subsistence activity.  The organic evolution of the movement started with only 14 women and grew into thousands.  Tragedy struck each woman and, “the most damaging stress is often cumulative.”[2]  Each arpillerista’s pain and uncertainty amalgamated with the others; alone they were exhausted and weighed down by their fear but as a group they became strong and resilient.  Due to the multitude of los desaparecidos, the phrase “¿Dónde Están?” (where are they?) became a common question that the arpilleras asked.

Notice that there both men and women are represented in this arpillera.  One woman is holding a baby; this is an acknowledgement that children were also taken.  This arpillera illustrates that no one is safe.

Notice that there both men and women are represented in this arpillera. One woman is holding a baby; this is an acknowledgement that children were also taken. This arpillera illustrates that no one is safe.

The vivid colors contrast the dark subject of the wall-hanging.  The arpillerista personalizes this arpillera by focusing on one woman who looks out on a beautiful day wondering about the boy in the picture on the wall.

The vivid colors contrast the dark subject of the wall-hanging. The arpillerista personalizes this arpillera by focusing on one woman who looks out on a beautiful day wondering about the boy in the picture on the wall.

This is a combination of illustrating the group as well as the individual.  The many heads exemplifies the magnitude of disappearances.  The Individual names show that this is personal and that there are specific individuals that the arpillerista

This is a combination of illustrating the group as well as the individual. The many heads exemplifies the magnitude of disappearances. The Individual names show that this is personal and that there are specific individuals that the arpillerista.

This explicitly political question illustrates the way in which personal suffering of individual women became a unified opposition to the regime’s official story.  Some have posited that these women had thought of making a public statement right away; after all, they had suffered greatly at the hands of a brutal military regime.  I grant that this is a possibility; however, I think that it overlooks a few key factors.  First, there were relatively few scared and desperate women at the advent of the arpillerista group created by Pro-Paz.  As women who lived in poblaciones (shantytowns), they did not have a strong political voice previously.  This would suggest that they would not have a feeling of political agency.  One woman even said that she did not think that anyone would purchase the arpilleras because she didn’t think they were pretty enough.  Their suffering could have propelled the women into thinking of creating a public statement; however, I contend that they did not articulate this idea fully at the advent of the group.  Even when they started selling their arpilleras, “few thought that they would make a difference in the country.”[3]  Their strengthening unity and continual success helped them overcome their insecurities as they drove each other into action and allowed the movement to grow.  To stop what the Pinochet junta thought was subversive action, it forced Pro-Paz to dissolve in 1975, only two years after it started.

As a response to the government’s repression and the realization that many families would suffer without communal support, Cardinal Henriquez created La Vicaría de la Solidaridad (the Vicariate of Solidarity; hereinafter Vicariate) under the auspices of the Catholic Church.  As a haven from the authoritarian regime, the Vicariate continued with the goals of Pro-Paz.  The 1925 Constitution allowed for freedom of assembly and the creation of groups of civil society.  At various points in the dictatorship, the regime suspended these clauses, but the Catholic Church effectively used its moral authority to ensure that they could organize in this way.[4]  Additionally, Pinochet claimed to be a Catholic and with the majority subscribing to the Catholic religion, he hesitated to dissolve an institution created and supported by the Catholic Church.  Even with these factors reinforcing the Church’s authority in these matters, the path was not easy.  The government employed a campaign of silence by threatening people and warning them not to talk about what happened, “‘especially to the Church’…The silencing campaign included disturbing home visits to relatives of the disappeared, menacing interrogations with pressure to do work of cooperation, and visits to confirm the identity of persons who signed a petition prodding the Supreme Court about the disappeared.”[5]

Even with threats from the government, arpillerista workshops continued to function, because they were under the aegis of the Catholic Church.  This provided women with a small income and a purpose.  After the arpilleristas finished a project, the Vicariate bought the finished textiles and began selling them to people in other countries.  This was a way for women to gain much needed income as well as strength to continue.  The environment in which they worked gave them a feeling of normalcy and of security while national chaos ensued.  The women told their stories to each other, knowing that they had mutual understanding and trust; they told their stories to each other without fear of informants telling the government.  In the atmosphere of these workshops their fear dissipated.

With the help of the Catholic Church they embraced their gender roles and become producers of traditionally feminine crafts.  These women united to push for truth through the use of needle, thread, tiny pieces of cloth, and community.  At first the military ignored them; after all, they were only women working in the female domain and beneath their notice.  Their machismo made them blind; however, the blindness did not last.  As the movement grew and became more publicized so did scrutiny of the arpilleras.


On September 11, 1973, a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet succeeded in Chile.  After a short armed resistance, the elected president, Salvador Allende, committed suicide; the military force bombed La Moneda, the presidenThe Couptial palace, and took over the country.  General Pinochet, the Commander-in-Chief of the military took control of the government and appointed himself president.  Directly following the coup, the military detained 5,000 political prisoners in the Stadium of Santiago de Chile.[6]  Within the first month, of the military regime, the military junta confined 45,000 people.[7]  “Pinochet appointed Colonel Manuel Contreras to head a new secret police organization”, called the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (National Intelligence Directorate, DINA) who reported directly to him.[8]  Extermination of all possible political dissidence characterized this institution.  Even though Pinochet denied the use of torture, he has been noted as saying that “you have to torture them, because without it they don’t sing.  Torture is necessary to extirpate communism.”[9]  The junta committed what Steve Stern calls politicide, the systematic torture and killing of political opposition, in the name of national security.  This repression allowed Pinochet to brutally control the country for sixteen years.  Many Latin American governments, including the Chilean government, participated in a new form of terror when disappearances became a way of operating.  The hidden victims of the government came to be known as los desaparacidos (the disappeared).

Although Chile had a long tradition of democracy, many Chilean citizens initially supported the junta’s takeover of the government.  These people thought of Pinochet as a liberator from economic failure and the civil unrest that occurred during Salvadore Allende’s tenure as president.  Their fears stemmed from the dramatic economic and social changes Allende ushered in.  “He froze prices, raised minimum wages, and subsidized the prices of staples like milk…he nationalized the coal and steel industries, the majority of banks, and other firms and businesses.”[10]  His changes increased the standard of living for many poverty stricken people, but the government did not increase production to match their consumption; this caused a scarcity of goods.  Predictably, people began to hoard, investments dwindled, and Chileans stopped investing.[11]  Leftist activists began property seizures violently and some believed that “revolutionary activists given free rein by the government [were] prepared to seize power in a violent civil war” which escalated the chaos.[12]  Allende did not advocate violence, but by not stopping the takeovers some saw him as either condoning them or being too weak and irresponsible to control them; either way they thought he had to go.[13]

The United States’ Intelligence Agency (CIA) intensified the “coup climate” that the Chilean public created.  The CIA “admitted to spending $7 million dollars in Chile between 1970 and 1973…The United States also used its influence at the World Bank to deny loans to Chile.”[14]  Their goal was to make the economy “scream” and to cause destabilization in Chilean society.  U.S. president Richard Nixon directed them to do this because he agreed with Henry Kissinger when he said that Allende’s election “poses for us one of the most serious challenges ever faced in this hemisphere.”[15]  The justification for their intervention was Allende’s election proved that Marxism could spread by democratic means and the communist “infection” could sweep the rest of Latin America.  The Nixon administration celebrated Pinochet’s overthrow of Allende.

“The administration shipped the economic largesse to Chile that had been denied to the Allende government…Between 1974 and 1976, Chile received $132 million in Food for Peace grants.”[16]  This helped the new government truthfully claim to have turned the economy around.  However, this claim like many from the Pinochet regime negates to mention key points.  Along with foreign aid, “they produced the conditions for economic growth on the backs of the underprivileged, which were treated as the disposable sector of the population.”[17]  This means that even though some people’s economic fortune increased, many others lost jobs and housing.  Some of the initial supporters became dissenters when the government started targeting them as well.  Even the downturn of the economy and state repression did not stop some people from viewing Pinochet as a hero.  Although I wanted to acknowledge those that supported and still support what happened under the dictatorship, this document will focus on those that opposed the military junta and Pinochet.

Arpilleristas Fight for Truth:

Pinochet used the strong belief that Chileans had in due process and their trust in the government to protect their constitutional rights against them.  “In 1973, many victims voluntarily turned themselves in when they appeared on arrest lists.[18]  This illustrates the drastic change in the political structure.  Pinochet’s government as a regime held ultimate power over the citizens; he used that power to commit government sponsored murder also known as democide.  Most democides occur under the cover of war, or in their aftermath.[19]  Pinochet’s violent takeover of Chile and subsequent repression was a war on subversives.  Opposition to the new status quo, such as the arpilleras, was essential in the quest for truth and how to narrative these events.  Arpilleras narrated forbidden stories that people lived through.  The visible representations of Chilean life experiences begged for people to question the actions of the government.  Those questions were necessary to garner the truth and press the government toward change.  Arpilleristas were brave women who defied their repressive government in order to bring about change, and they continued to fight against the official memories that denied wrong doings.

The creation of arpilleras in Chile started as a way to sooth the agony of the disappearance of loved ones and to augment the household income.  Women participated in this to survive both emotionally and physically.  “For people in need of rescue and care, the hop of being able to tell their story is sometimes the only hope.”[20]  These women created arpilleras to tell their stories; this was a form of protest against what was happening in their country, to their people, by their government.  Their protest expanded beyond creating arpilleras.  “They initiated street protests and hunger strikes, baked secret messages into loaves of bread, marched every Thursday to the building of the Supreme Court wearing photos of their missing ones on their chests”[21], and chained themselves to the fence surrounding the Supreme Court and the door of Pinochet’s house as well as other tactical places in Santiago.[22] Chaining themselves to the fence symbolized the confinement their loved ones experienced.  The women refused to let them be foCongreso Encadenamientorgotten; this is why they wore pictures of the desaparecidos.  This was their way to say that the desaparecidos did exist, and they would be remembered.  Arpilleristas gained confidence in unity which was a precursor to more public and vocal forms of resistance.  As the women escalated their efforts in unraveling the government’s lies so did the oppressive techniques of the military against them.  In response to their subversion, “they are beaten by police or interrogated about the whereabouts of their children, they never let the jailors see them cry.”[23]  They protested in spite of government reprisals because of the importance for truth and transparent government.  In actuality, the continued denials and persecution from the government unintentionally strengthened the women’s resolve.

“One of the most important premises of contemporary human rights work is that effective dissemination of information can change the world.”[24]  Their attempts to be heard succeeded.  Different countries began to take notice.  First, by selling the arilleras to different countries and with newspaper articles and the books Marjorie Agosín wrote about the movement.  Then with publicity of their more overt expressions of resistance.

As you can see, even the New York Times picked up the story of the arpilleras.  One of several stories about them was printed in the Sunday edition on December 2, 1984.

Even the New York Times picked up the story of the arpilleras. One of several stories about them was printed in the Sunday edition on December 2, 1984.

Gender Dimensions of Mass Violence:

The government did not kill all of their political opponents; at times they exiled them.  “Many foreign countries willingly accepted Chilean exiles; in turn, those in exile established relationships with people and institutions in those countries, further publicizing Chile’s plight.  Although far from their homeland, many men and women stayed politically active by organizing the opposition from abroad, creating a worldwide network of Chilean solidarity groups.”[25]  In creating a Chilean diaspora the regime helped create an international support network for the women’s movement within Chile.  As the majority of the desaparecidos and exiles were men, it was the women who carried the role of responding to the violence.  The “glaring demographic disparity in the proportion of surviving women versus men” caused women to step into the political arena.[26]  The fear that more men would become desaparecidos caused many women to ask men to sit out of protests.  Several men felt that they would look ridiculous participating in the same kinds of protests as the women because “there are certain things that men do not do”.[27]  Machismo was an attribute most men on both sides subscribe to.  For these reasons, it was the women who posited an alternative to the never ending terror of Pinochet’s terror.

So often, “we are deluged with facts but we have lost or are losing our human ability to feel them.”[28]  Arpilleras evoke feeling and arouse empathy by juxtaposing colorful cloths on traumatic stories.  They use remnants of cloth from the desaparecidos and at times leave notes in pockets that they create in the arpilleras; these elements trigger emotions as they call for action.  Their creative way of preserving memory puts them in a special place in the memory culture that emerged in Chile after the dictatorship.  They were different from other victims because they found a way to nonviolently fight back as a unified group.  Furthermore, what makes them remarkable is that they continue to protest.  These women will continue to fight and protest until everyone is accounted for.  “This new political eruption born of personal tragedy and sorrow will not be dissipated.  It will continue burning within the hearts of each of these women, transformed now into women warriors for peace, for justice, and for truth.”[29]  During and after the dictatorship, the arpilleristas played an important role in shaping national memory by continuously disrupting the official story.


Chile arrived at a culture of ‘memory impasse’…Cultural belief by a majority in the truth of cruel human rupture and persecution under dictatorship, and in the moral urgency of justice, unfolded alongside political belief that Pinochet, the military and their social bases of supporters and sympathizers remained too strong for Chile to take logical ‘next steps’ along the road of truth and justice.[30]

After the Pinochet regime fell, the people who remained in power tried to impose their beliefs onto the rest of Chile thereby silencing the victims once more.  Various groups, including the arpilleristas, would continue to put pressure on the official memory.  The different versions of emblematic memories push against each other.  By ignoring dissident voices, the nation could not take steps towards healing.  Before the contention of various emblematic memories came to be, the government gave an official story which was generally accepted by the masses.  Contentious realities eventually pushed into the public domain.  Stern describes the evolution of Chilean memories in four ways: memory as salvation, memory as rupture, memory as persecution and awakening, and the memory of indifference.  Arpilleristas come from two of these memory groups and directly confront the other two.

  • Memory as salvation:

Initially, many people viewed the overthrow of Allende as salvation.  They saw President Allende’s policies as a trauma which created social and economic crisis.  Dramatic changes in Chile caused people to support a coup.  Early supporters of the Pinochet regime, those who saw his intervention as a salvation of the country, refused to believe that the disappearances occurred, but then in 1979 a mine in Loquén revealed a mass grave of 119 people.[31]  The arpilleristas drew from publicly known casPinochet Supporteres to illustrate that they were all unified by their experiences.  Using the Loquén case allowed women to latch onto a national tragedy in addition to personal ones; no one could refute the democide.  When the state sponsored executions and disappearances came to light, those that subscribed as “memory as salvation” altered their story to justify the government’s actions.  They maintained that “the cost in deaths would have been far worse if the military refrained from intervention” and that even though “deaths were lamentable …they constituted the social cost of setting the country right.”[32]   Their justification is that killing these people ultimately saved lives.  They overlook the fact that, “when people feel pressured to hide bodies…this creates ‘a larger physical trail of behavior that shows the perpetrators knew that what they were doing was illegal.”[33]  Arpilleras are proof that not everyone agrees with the rhetoric of “memory as salvation”.  The women prove that “memory as salvation” is not embraced by everyone by claiming that their sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers were victims not criminals.  They argue that they did not need to die.  Vivid pictures of people pleading for the violence to stop and military personnel brutally killing people, clash directly with the view of Pinochet as a hero or the assertion that the deaths were a necessary evil.

Arpilleristas immortalize “el horno de Loquén” where they found fifteen unidentified bodies.  This is their way of reclaiming the past.  The colorful pieces of cloth carefully sewn together are a fight against the loss of memory.

Arpilleristas immortalize “el horno de Loquén” where they found fifteen unidentified bodies. This is their way of reclaiming the past. The colorful pieces of cloth carefully sewn together are a fight against the loss of memory.

  • Memory as rupture:

Some victims of the regime’s brutality see only its violence and use of torture as a split from Chile’s traditional democracy.  For the people who lived through repression, events that occurred long ago seem to have just happened.   Their memories are “an open wound, an awful hurt that fails to heal.”[34]  There are arpilleristas who cannot cope with their loss.  One woman has attempted to complete an arpillera many times but cannot because the emotion becomes too much for her.  Several others live as if their children will walk in the door just older.  One woman said, “‘I’m in a great rush these days knitting wool socks for Miguel; he can’t go through the winter without wool socks.’  At that time Miguel had been missing for twelve years.”[35]  For others, “birthday celebrations are regularly held for the disappeared children.  The whole neighborhood is invited, making it a very festive occasion, just as if the missing one were present.”[36]

Attack   No mas violencia

  • Memory as persecution and awakening:

Those experiencing memory as persecution and awakening remember the era of Pinochet control as one of repression; however, they also believe that social awakening grew from the repression to counter the regime’s hold.  The governmDonde Estand Verdad y Justiciaent’s constant denial of the detention, torture, murder and disappearance of thousands of people exacerbated the torment felt by those left behind.  Many Chileans experienced victimization bust some of them became strong under the tyranny and gained agency as they fought against their oppressors.  “Pride…can actually help us to recover from traumatic stressors.”[37]  The arpilleristas were able to tell their story of resistance and have dignity for their actions.  Many of them fit into this category, because they fought and continue to fight.  “The themes of disappeared bodies and social and economic justice continue to be a vital part of these workshops.  However, other themes are displacing them such as the themes of silence and the recovering of history.”[38]  Events changed these women; they became political actors, warriors of change, and they will not revert to the way they were before.

  • Memory of indifference:

The people who embrace the “memory of indifference” have a will to forget.[39]  Some want to put it in the past because they do not feel touched by the oppression.  Others feel guilt and want to bury it.  The national rhetoric states that in order to recover Chileans need to forget the past and move on, that remembering the horrors in the past would hinder any potential of reconciliation in the present or future.  Arpilleristas refuse to forget los desaparecidos and they forcefully push for national recognition of the atrocity.  They believe that a healthy country cannot build on an unknown past, that they must accept what they do know and search for information to fill in the gaps of national ignorance.

According to Steve Stern, memory effects sociopolitical legitimacy by either supporting it or eroding at it. These women questioned the legitimacy of their government’s actions and imbedded the questions in the minds of other Chileans as well as people around the world. They were able to shape the emblematic memory by causing “knots in the social body” that would not go away.

…a memory knot is a metaphor inspired by the human body. Consider a knot in the stomach when one is nervous, a lump in the throat when one is moved, a nerve-and-muscle mass that spasms and cries out for relief. Such bodily events break the ‘normal’ flow of everyday life and habit…Memory knots on the social body also interrupt the normal flow of ‘unthinking’ reflexes and habits. They force charged issues of memory and forgetfulness into a public domain.[40]

Por la Democracia y la Libertad

Arpilleristas kept memory alive with needle, thread, and scraps of cloth and now those memories are shared around the world.

As a consequence of the military junta’s policy of silencing Chileans there is a cavity in the national memory.  The arpilleristas point to the lies and half-truths of the government.  They want to fill in the gaps of memory, this was difficult in a time when they too could disappear and it is still difficult because they are fighting against “memory as salvation” and “memory of indifference”.  Arpilleristas use “their stitches [to] aid the process of retelling.  Arpilleras are not static.  Stitching is an active process different from memorials or monuments, which capture a specific time and place.”[41]  The difference between arpilleras and memorials or monuments is how they evoke emotion.  Arpilleras are sturdy and meant for people to touch them; they call out for connection and empathy.  “The arpillera weaves a relationship with the receiver…[who] looks at it over and over again, and in the power of this glace espouses rituals and imagines the body of the disappeared.”[42]  Some of the small pieces of cloth that arpilleristas sew together come from their loved ones.  Every piece means something individually, but together they tell a narrative entrenched in pain and misery, a narrative that asks for truth.


This post is the result of a semester’s worth of research from two classes.  The first class, The History and Theory of Genocide, addressed both macro-theories and micro-theories while focusing on specific case studies.  The second class, Rethinking the Cold War from Las Américas, we analyzed the “hot” conflicts during the second half of the twentieth century in Latin America by analyzing four prominent cases: Guatemala in 1954, the Cuban Revolution, the “Chilean Path to Socialism” in the early 1970s, and Central America in the 1980s.   I wanted to make connections between the classes and use the information I learned to write about the arpillera resistance movement.  I took a side step from genocide and decided to talk about politicide instead.  The classes have themes in common; we explored the consequences of democide as well as how people think and remember unthinkable historic events.


Resistance to mass atrocity can take many forms.  In Chile, women resisted the oppressive military government and struggled to shape memory during and after the time when the government silenced dissenting voices.  Pinochet approved the official story which stated that the government did not participate in disappearing people.  After proof came out proving that to be false, the story changed to say that they disappeared people to keep the nation secure.  They claimed that Communist promoted this propaganda to destabilize Chile.  Because some women persisted in preserving the memory of los desaparecidos “the arpilleras now stand as bold and bright testimonials of truth, monuments made of cloth, and patchwork documentation of history that refuses to recede…these unique tapestries chronicle a past that remains very much alive and relevant in the present.”[43]  Women adopted the method of subaltern resistance against national security state repression by embracing society’s gender roles and altering their purpose.  The “amalgamation of voices and histories appearing in a humble fabric made by the hands of mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives” reached an international audience.[44]  They continued creating arpilleras as they progressed to more overt shows of resistance.

Even with physical proof, memory, and the international community’s acceptance of the severe government oppression the “The Chilean military continues to obstruct justice by withholding evidence on the fate of many victims, and pressing for a punto final – an endpoint –  to legal investigations that would locate the missing, identify the guilty, and bring them to justice…Many in Chile’s modernizing society would prefer to forget the horrors of the past, even if those horrors can no longer be denied.”[45]  Many Chileans need full disclosure and acknowledgement of the past in order to heal, and until they overcome “memory impasse” their sense of suspension will not fade.

[1]Marjorie Agosín. Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love 2nd edition. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008. (p. 43)

According to Baldez, this happened quickly, in October 1973.  It was not only the Catholic Church.  Pro-Paz was an alliance of ‘Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Methodist Pentecostal and Greek Orthodox Churches, and the Jewish community’. p. 129.

[2] That the World May Know, 88.

[3] Tapestries of Hope, 24.

[4] Edward Murphy.

[5] Steve Stern. Battling for Hearts and Minds, 122

[6] Michael E. Tigar, Thinking about Terrorism: The Threat to Civil Liberties in a Time of National Emergency.

American Bar Association, 2007. ( 37-38)

[7] Steve Stern. Remembering Pinochet’s Chile: On the Eve of London, 1998. 2004. Durham: Duke University Press, 44

[8] Stephen G. Rabe.  The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America. 2012. New York: Oxford University Press, 139.

[9] Ibid, 139.

[10] Ibid, 131.

[11] Ibid, 132.

[12] Remembering Pinochet’s Chile, 28.

[13] Ibid.

[14] The Killing Zone, 134.

[15] Ibid, 134.

[16] Ibid, 137.

[17] Tapestries of Hope, ix

[18] Remembering Pinochet’s Chile, xxii.

[19] R.J. Rummel. Death by Government, 22.

[20] James Dawes. That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2007. p. 2.

[21] This is similar to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires.  They still march.

[22] Tapestries of Hope, 44-45, 50-51

[23] Marjorie Agosín. Scraps of Life: Chilean Arpilleras: Chilean Women and the Pinochet Dictatorship. Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1987. Print.  p. 10.

[24] That the World May Know, 9.

[25] Baldez, 140.

[26] Adam Jones. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction 2nd expanded edition. 2010: Routledge, London. 469.

[27] Scraps of Life: Chilean Arpilleras, 9.

[28] That the World May Know, 67.

[29] Scraps of Life: Chilean Arpilleras, 11.

[30] Remembering Pinochet’s Chile, xxx-xxxi

[31] Tapestries of Hope, 51.

[32] Remembering Pinochet’s Chile, 29.

[33] That the World May Know, 70.

[34] Remembering Pinochet’s Chile, 42.

[35] Tapestries of Hope, 47.

[36] Ibid.

[37] That the World May Know, 142.

[38] Ibid., 31.

[39] Remembering Pinochet’s Chile, 89.

[40] Ibid., 120.

[41] Tapestries of Hope,17

[42] Ibid., 34

[43] Ibid., 2

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid, 3

Agosin, Margorie. Scraps of Life Chilean Arpilleras: Chilean Women and the Pinochet Dictatorship. Trenton: Red Sea Press, 1987.

Agosín, Marjorie. Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love 2nd edition. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008.

Baldez, Lisa. Why Women Protest: Women’s Movements in Chile. Cambridge, UK; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Dandavati, Annie G. The Women’s Movement & Transition to Democracy in Chile. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1996.

Dawes, James. That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Genocide. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Frazier, Lessie Jo. Salt in the Sand: Memory, Violence, and the Nation-State in Chile, 1890 to the present. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction 2nd expanded edition. 2010: Routledge, London.

Keck, Margaret E., and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists beyond borders: advocacy networks in international politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Lowden, Pamela. Moral opposition to authoritarian rule in Chile, 1973-90. New York: St. Marin’s Press, 1996.

Rabe, Stephen G. The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America. New York: OxfordUniversity Press. 2012.

Randall, Margaret. When I Look into the Mirror and See You: Women, Terror, and Resistance. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Rummel, R. J. “169,198,000 Murdered Summary and Conclusion.” In Death by government, by R. J. Rummel, 1-28. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

Stern, Steve. Battling for hearts and minds: memory struggles in Pinochet’s Chile, 1973-1988. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Stern, Steve. Remembering Pinochet’s Chile: On the Eve of London, 1998. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

Winn, Peter. The Furies of the Andes: Violence and Terror in the Chilean Revolution and Counterrevolution. n.d.

Nightmare in Nanjing

  1. Introduction

The Nanjing Massacre is said to be one of the worst incidents of mass extermination that occurred during World War II on December 13, 1937.  It is also known as “The Rape of Nanking,” where in a duration of six weeks, over 260,000 Chinese civilian lives were lost to Japanese soldiers. Men and women were tortured, raped, sexually mutilated, and murdered in various ways. Although the massacre is known to have been one of the cruelest and gruesome acts against humanity comparable to the Jewish Holocaust, it remains largely unknown to many Western nations and is neglected in several literary works of history in the United States (Chang, p.6 ). The rape of Nanking is often known as a Holocaust that has been long forgotten. Although Japan has expressed remorse for their actions in World War II, Japan had never given an official apology for the Rape of Nanking. Because of this, China has remained in a state of unrest as Japan remains entrapped in the final stage of genocide.

2.History, Background, and What Lead to the Massacre

In the Meiji era of Japan, Japanese society was beginning to advance toward modernization. They saw the emperor as their national symbol and as a god so as to create more unity within the nation of Japan. Japan had undergone rapid change within their technology, their military, and their economy, and after learning and studying the defense systems of the United States, studying science and technology at Western Universities, this newfound knowledge led to their rapid advancement, further encouraging them to test their newfound power on other societies in their desire to become a larger, more powerful nation.

However, after World War I Japan had a large downfall in their economy due low demand for their military resources. Several factories were shut down and many were out of work. The great depression in the United States in 1929 also put a stop to a crucial part of their international trade, throwing them even deeper into economic despair. With the population rising, businesses shutting down, inflation and unemployment increasing, several had suffered from starvation and families had to sell their daughters to prostitution.

It was widely argued that in order to overcome this economic turmoil Japan needed to conquer new territories and expand their nation to further prevent economic depression and starvation (Chang, p.26 ). Not only that, they sought to improve their military expansion, and thought it was unfair that other nations had larger territories with smaller populations than they did. With a deep history of harbored tensions and competition for resources, China was Japan’s main target for imperial occupation. Japan began to take swift action before China became too powerful and began to intervene aggressively within their affairs. In instances where China did not comply or cooperate, Japan organized assassination of political leaders which lead to the boycott of Japanese goods (Chang,p.25-26).

On September 18, 1931 Japan blew away a railway in Southern Manchuria that was owned by Japan. This was done in attempt to start their undeclared war against China, but their attempts to derail the cars had failed and instead, they had resorted to killing the Chinese guards at the station. When Japan used this incident as a reason to take over Manchuria China was in an uproar, intensifying anti-Japanese sentiments. Tension from both sides resulted in bloodshed and after Japan’s slaughter at Shanghai, they received negative criticism internationally. Japan then isolated itself from foreign relations and withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933 (Chang, p.29 ).

After this, Japan went under extensive and extreme training for the war against China, physically and psychologically. Young students were brainwashed into their contempt for anything Chinese. Training was extremely strict and brutal; recruits for the army were often beaten to make their recruits stronger or for no reason at all (Chang, p.32). The accommodations were overcrowded, unheated and there was almost no food. These harsh conditions caused the death of young recruits and others have committed suicide. Those that had survived were transformed into machines of war for the Japanese military.

The Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937 occurred when Japanese soldiers were fired at while completing night rounds. One soldier was absent when taken roll-call. When the Chinese had refused to open the gates for the Japanese to retrieve the missing soldier, the Japanese did not hesitate to destroy the fort.

Japan was confident that they could easily defeat China in the Battle of Shanghai, however the battle in the city proved to be a large struggle and had lasted for months (Chang, 33-34). Japan had viewed China as an inferior nation to their advances of science and technology. This raised their insecurities and feelings of humiliation, and after they had defeated Shanghai in November of 1937, they advanced towards the city of Nanjing.

3.The Massacre

The leader of the unit invading Nanjing, Matsui Iwane, had ordered that the invasion be carried out in an organized structure and without “unlawful conduct” (Chang,p.40 ), but fell ill of tuberculosis and the responsibility was then handed over to Emperor Hirohito’s uncle, Prince Asaka Yasuhiko. Taking care of the surrendered Chinese prisoners was said to have been too difficult due to the high number of people, so under the order of Prince Asaka’s headquarters, the Japanese 66th battalion was given the command to eliminate everyone.

The following images are a display of few of several incidents that unfolded in Nanjing.


Japanese soldiers using victims of Nanking for bayonet practice.


Bodies of prisoners of war that were mass murdered and thrown along the shore of the Yangtze River. There were so many bodies that the boats were barely able to navigate. ( NankingPhotos.htm)


Participation in the killing contests of the prisoners. Japanese soldiers smile in the background.


A Japanese soldier smiles, holding the head of a victim of Nanjing. (

During the massacre, victims of all ages were brutally tortured, raped, burned alive, and murdered in several other ways that were unimaginable. The victims of Nanking were often made to dig their own graves and dispose the bodies of their people before their death was brought to them as well. Women and children were treated indiscriminately during the massacre; even infants and pregnant women were murdered. Regardless of age, women were humiliated, raped, and sexually mutilated. Japanese soldiers sometimes forced men of Chinese families to rape their daughters, mothers, brothers, and sisters while the rest of the family was forced to watch (The History Place, 2000). When the raping became monotonous for the soldiers, recreational rape and torture games were created (Chang, 94). Elderly women and girls as young as ten years old were not excluded. Many women were also either murdered or kept as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.


Victims of the mass rape.

A possible reason why the Nanking massacre occurred was due to Japanese imperialism and the drive towards expansion. It is often said that in times of imperial expansion, war, revolution, and colonialism, the occurrence of genocide is likely to follow in the struggle for power and authority over a subordinate population (Jones, p. 67). Because Japan had gained vast knowledge of science, technology, and modernization under influence of Western nations they had viewed themselves as superior beings, viewing China and other Asian nations that did not have these sources as inferior (Jones, p. 73). If a population subject to subordination shows resistance, which is what occurred during the occupation of China, then imperialists are more likely to show more aggressive force and brutality, reflective in the photos of the killings of Nanjing that were said to be taken by Japanese soldiers.

In the photo of Japanese soldiers using victims for Bayonet practice, it can be proposed that not only were they expressing their anger and aggression towards the prisoners of war, but also they were showing off their technology of weaponry and asserting their dominance and control upon Nanjing. Rather than being used for trophies or an expression of pride, these photos also express who is in control, who holds the power, and the unimaginable capabilities of the Japanese soldiers.

Everything that had happened to the victims of Nanjing still remains an extremely uncomfortable subject to the citizens of Nanjing as well as to the nation of China. Irish Chang stated that “The Rape of Nanking did not penetrate the world consciousness in the same manner as the Holocaust or Hiroshima because the victims themselves had remained silent.” (p.11) However, it is the silence of the victims that rings loudly through the memory of images.

4.The Aftermath

On May 3, 1946 began the Tokyo Trials of the Nanjing massacre. The perpetrators were tried by International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Trials ended on November 12, 1948. Of the 80 individuals suspected, 28 were convicted. 7 were sentenced to death, 16 were sentenced to life imprisonment, and the remaining two were sentenced to lesser terms. Several of those imprisoned were paroled (Yao, 1992).  One of the perpetrators who was given the death sentence, Matsui Iwane had defended that he was not aware of the crimes that had taken place because of his absence. However, due to the evidence of his knowledge of the massacres in Nanjing and failing to intervene and stopping his unit from committing the massacres, it was counted as a crime just as unacceptable as participating in the Nanjing massacre (Brook, p. 682).  However, the perpetrators that gave the order for the massacre such as Emperor Hirohito and Prince Asaka had received immunity (Jones, 2000).

Current controversies are Japanese visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto Shrine dedicated to the deceased Japanese soldiers of World War II, who were also known to be war criminals during the invasion of China and the Rape of Nanking. This has sparked outrage within the international community in Asia because of the lack of acknowledgment of the victims in China. Japan and China still have many unclosed doors, from which their relationship remains unstable today.


Denial or lack of acknowledgement that genocide took place is the final stage of genocide before it officially comes to an end (Jones, p. 517).  Since the aftermaths of Nanjing, Japan has side-stepped the Nanjing massacre and has avoided a formal apology; rarely does anyone speak of the massacre. Satoru Mizushima produced a documentary film of a revisionist account of the Rape of Nanking, stating that the evidence provided for the Nanjing massacre was fake and Chinese communist propaganda that threatened the face of Japan and its relations with the rest of the world.  Toshio Tamogi, formal air force chief of staff had considered the Rape of Nanjing as a false accusation (Jones, p. 514). This denial of what happened in Nanjing reflects what Jones calls a cognitive dissonance, trapped between the way one prefers to view themselves and their nation and the harsh, unpleasant reality that is more difficult to acknowledge.

Comparable to the denial of the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish government had gone to great efforts to sustain and mask over the genocide by excluding Armenians out of their history books and destroying architecture and monuments that could hint the genocide of Armenia or even the existence of the Armenians themselves. In defense Turkish citizens have stated that what happened in Armenia was not extermination nor genocide, but a necessary action to handling war rebels (Jones, p. 169). Japan had also excluded the Nanjing massacre from its history for a long time until recent years, where it is only briefly mentioned in school textbooks. Japanese education minister Fujio Masayuki had acknowledged that the Nanking massacre did happen but dismissed it as “just a part of war” (Jones, 2002). Some even expressed that the Rape of Nanking was an exaggeration or a fabrication created by China.

Members of the young generation of Japan are barely aware of the happenings of Nanjing. Japan’s ministry of education has tactically left out vital information of the massacre in school textbooks so that not even students can coherently describe and respond to the Nanjing massacre; they are are still left without knowing what had actually happened during the Rape of Nanking (Barnard, p.519). The textbooks give acknowledgement of the event, but they fail to fully describe what had happened to the victims of the massacre and the names of the perpetrators were not included.

6. Conclusion

Until Japan fully recognizes the actions committed in the past, both nations can truly never move on and the Nanjing massacre cannot truly come to an end. Xu Xhigeng expresses in regards to the lack of acknowledgement to the massacre and its victims: “There are those who want to blot out the blood stains of the past with the dark ink of the present.” (p.232). The Nanjing massacre has been masked over by the media, whether it be briefly mentioned, ignored, or denied completely. Japan has remained in its final state of genocide for 65 years. The memory of Nanking remains forever engrained in these images, a haunting reminder to China as well as to Japan. It is with hope carried by several that Japan can come to terms with the happenings of Nanjing and bring closure to both nations as well as to the international community.

Works Cited

Bernard, Christopher. “Isolating Knowledge of the Unpleasant: The Rape of Nanking in Japanese High-School Textbooks.” British Journal of Sociology and Education. 22.4 (2001): 519-530.

Brook, Timothy. “The Tokyo Judgement and the Rape of Nanking.” Journal of Asian Studies. 60.3 (2001): 673-700.

Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. 1st ed. New York:

BasicBooks, 1997. Print.

Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. 2nd ed. New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2011.

Jones, Adam. “Case Study: The Nanjing Massacre, 1937-38.” Gendercide Watch. Gendercide Watch. <;.

“The Rape of Nanking 1937-1938.” The History Place: Genocide in the 20th Century. The History Place. <;.

Yao, M.H. “The Tokyo War Crimes Trials.” Nanjing Massacre: 300,000 Chinese People Killed, 20,000 Women Raped. <;

Zhigeng, Xu. Lest We Forget: Nanjing Massacre, 1937. 1st ed. Beijing: Panda Books, 1995. Print.

We Plead the Fifth


“If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes,

they are crimes whether the United States does them

or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared

to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others

which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”1

Justice Robert H. Jackson



            The United States’ consent was signed into exactly such a treaty, which was subsequently violated without repercussion, without so much as claiming responsibility. This treaty put into effect the principles established by the ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’; the US is quantifiably guilty of at least three of five criteria of genocide against Vietnam. In agreement with Bertrand Russell, a renowned British philosopher, and his tribunal on United States’ war crimes in Vietnam, and helped by Congressman Ronald V. Dellums’ similar hearings, I seek to establish guilt on the count of genocide by the United States in Vietnam. The conceptual nature of genocide and the argument itself lends well to the use of a philosophic argument; I will first establish the meaning of genocide and its criteria, followed by an examination of the United States’ use of chemical warfare and strategic hamlet concentration camps, utilizing an ‘if A then B’ type arrangement.


Defining the Crime of Genocide


            Firstly, the UN definition is not a definition, it is the definition; it is not an interpretation of a pre-existing term. That is not to say that it is immune to revision, as covered in Article XVI. There was, is and will be mass murder and other atrocities the like, but genocide is a recent category. Proposed by Raphael Lemkin, an American lawyer, it was officially adopted by the UN as a crime in 1948. What exactly constitutes a genocide is lain out in Article II as follows:

“In the present convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such:

  1. A.    Killing members of the group;
  2. B.    Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. C.    Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. D.   Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. E.    Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”2

And is immediately followed, in Article III, by convictions:

“The following acts shall be punishable:

  1. A.    Genocide;
  2. B.    Conspiracy to commit genocide;
  3. C.    Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
  4. D.   Attempt to commit genocide;
  5. E.    Complicity in genocide.” 2


Take note of the surprisingly broad applications, for these articles will be further referenced. To elaborate the previous claims that ‘three of five criteria’ have been met by the US in Vietnam, this is in reference to Article II A, B, and C, and namely executed by means of hamlets and chemical warfare. The implementation of only one of these acts is necessary for a conviction of genocide. Furthermore, the implementation of none of these acts is necessary for a conviction of complicity in genocide. Specified evaluation of these qualifiers will be made later as evidence mounts.

Colonial Vietnam

            European nations sought footholds in Indo-China for their rich resources (tin, tungsten, manganese, coal, iron, petroleum, lumber, and many more) and thus Vietnam was the colonial choice of France3. In line with a trend noted by a leading scholar on genocide, Adam Jones, colonialism accompanies genocide so often that is nearly a prerequisite. All the while, the Vietnamese people were dissatisfied with the lack of autonomy; a feeling that Americans should have understood all to well. Many resistance organizations formed through the years, but the most successful was the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh, or just Viet Minh. The largest benefactor for the retention of French control was the United States, footing roughly 80% of the cost of putting down native and imposing Japanese forces3. Post-WWII control over the newly divided regions of Vietnam stressed the nation both militarily and ideologically. Communist China’s support of northern leader Ho Chi Minh and the absence of French influence following their defeat at Dien Bien Phu set the stage for a disillusioned war against the domino-effect spread of communism. With an alibi of guarding freedom and democracy, the United States was quick to put the foot in the door and become the puppeteer of South Vietnam.


            In order to foster a democracy in the south to combat the communism in the north, the US established Ngo Dinh Diem as the first president of South Vietnam3. As a Catholic, an anti-communist, and a native Vietnamese man, he was the perfect fit. The largely agrarian society was comprised primarily of peasants who opposed both American occupation and Diem’s rule. Most of Vietnam supported, or at least sympathized with, the communist nationals, coined Vietcong by the US. The reaction to this dissent was logistically efficient – designate the enemy and isolate them. Military troops would arbitrarily label villages as VC or VC sympathizers and relocate them. The areas where these people were corralled were called ‘strategic hamlets’ and were effectively concentration camps3, 4. What became of the villages is a matter of its own for later discussion. The Dallas Morning News released a letter accounting the experience of some of the 8,000,000 displaced civilians in 6,000 hamlets3:

“Supposedly the purpose of the fortified villages is to keep the Vietcong out. But barbed wire denies entrance and exit. Vietnamese farmers are forced at gunpoint into these virtual concentration camps. Their homes, possessions and crops are burned…. In the province of Kien-Tuong, seven villagers were lead to the town square. Their stomachs were slashed, their livers extracted and put on display. These victims were women and children. In another village, a dozen mothers were decapitated before the eyes of compatriots. In still another village, expectant mothers were invited to the square by Government forces to be honoured. Their stomachs were ripped and unborn babies removed….”3

Forced relocation of Vietnamese villagers.[5]

Forced relocation of Vietnamese villagers.[5]

Hamlet of indigenous Vietnamese ‘mountain people’. [6]

Hamlet of indigenous Vietnamese ‘mountain people’. [6]

            The first of these photos was found on a Vietnamese forum and I admittedly lack the resources to delve much deeper into the details than inference. It appears to be of the beginning persecutions and movements of the natives. There is an indisputable use of force in relocating these Vietnamese people, and judging by the uniforms, arms, and physical attributes of the soldiers, they are Americans. The person who posted this photo, among others, did so with the words “Arbitrary arrests, torture, beatings!” translated from Vietnamese. The second of these photos is by Alex Forbes and the original caption reads “The strategic hamlet where the American escort left us” 6. The photo website is just that, an album of photos; the author does not provide much contextual detail but you can see the barbed wire used to keep the villagers contained in this hamlet. The page also contains the word ‘montagnard’, which specifies to the prisoners as a mountain dwelling subcategory native Vietnamese.

Along with the physical destruction of the population, victim accounts include the rape of most of the women in these camps3. This causes not only bodily harm, but also a psychological pain that often never heals. Admittedly, these crimes were not all carried out by US troops. They were working with South Vietnamese forces under Diem. Even if the argument is made, however, that American forces did not perform ‘enough’ of these acts of genocide, I refer back to Article III E of the UN genocide convention. Disregarding the question of responsibility being placed enough on the US, there is undoubted complicity in the actions and inactions of the US government. Whether or not Americans actually violated Article II A, B, and arguably C, by displaying livers and the like, is irrelevant because the government that they put in place and actively and knowingly supported did.


Burning Vietnam


            Chemical warfare is universally regarded as inhumane and has devastating effects. This did not stop the US from using them to decimate the land and people with napalm, white phosphorus, DNP (Dinitrophenol), DNOC (Dinitricorto), and more. Under the rouse of tear gas and weed killers, these chemicals were sprayed in liquid and powder form to depopulate Vietnam indifferent to North or South, VC or civilian3, 4.

Napalm is essentially a gelatinized form of gas that sticks and burns indiscriminately until there remains nothing but ash. White phosphorus does more or less the same thing but in the manner of a chemical burn as opposed to actual flames. DNP and DNOC, along with napalm and white phosphorus, are all poisonous to foliage as well as human and animal life. The effects include but are not limited to burns, blinding, paralysis, asphyxiation, convulsion, and death3, 4. Civilian villages were often targeted and consequently burned to the ground using these methods. The purpose for doing this was to supposedly oust designated enemy villages. US Army Captain Robert B Johnson paints a different picture describing strikes on the countryside, and that it became painfully clear that the intent was not a product of war but to “terrorize and intimidate the surrounding villages in an effort to get them to move into detention camps along Route One” 4. This destruction and relocation ‘encouragement’ was the primary use for dropping chemicals.

One survivor, Dr. Nguyen, gives a lengthy description of his experiences in the Lam Gong province where he lived. An air strike was called in that incapacitated everyone in the village with blinded eyes, burning nostrils, and headaches; coughing and vomiting ensued. After fifteen minutes of vomiting blood and struggling to breath, a second strike was called in, increasing the effects. Survivors could barely function physically, and their plant and animal food sources were killed3. The earth and water were poisoned leaving emaciation by avoiding ingestion, slow death from consuming tainted nutrition, or relocated imprisonment as the only options. Unfortunately, this village was the rule rather than the exception. Congressman Ronald V. Dellums held ad hoc war crime hearings in 1971 where nearly every veteran expressed the same sentiment in one way or another – the war was against not North Vietnam, VC, or even communism, but the Vietnamese people4.

The lasting effects of the raids on population are appalling in the form of reproductive insuccess and defect. There are countless photos in existence that document the gruesome effects of napalm, white phosphorus, etc. and if you have the stomach and curiosity to see them I recommend a book titled Agent Orange: “Collateral Damage” in Viet Nam. Due to strict reproduction regulation by the publisher I am not at liberty to share them here, but I will show some similar images:

A victim of chemically induced deformation looking over jars of dead babies. [7]

A victim of chemically induced deformation looking over jars of dead babies. [7]

Surviving children, dependent on medical attention. [7]

Surviving children, dependent on medical attention. [7]

Victims of the chemicals rained in Vietnam were not, as shown above, limited to those experiencing burns and blindness etc. Birth deformities were commonplace along with stillbirths among survivors, continuing the terror long after the chemical raids ceased. The first picture above shows a man simply born without a leg, but he was the luckiest victim in the room; the jars lining the walls are full of victims who were deprived of the experience of life. The latter picture is of a hospital supporting the malformed children, many of which are, with reasonable inference, wholly dependent on such hospitals for their very preservation. This sort of thing does not simply ‘happen in war’; they are premeditated destruction of an entire population.

The physical consequences are pretty self-evident and overshadow the subtler but no les sinister destruction of sustenance. Not only did US forces destroy food sources, it was government policy4. During and after chemical raids and forced relocations, the crops were burned from both storage and field. Many times brochure type notices were spread through the villages ‘encouraging’ relocation; with their bodies maimed, their homes burned down, their food destroyed, and their land and water poisoned, Captain Johnson candidly admits that “the message was clear to the people in the countryside: leave your homes or we will kill you” 4. Hamlets and the process of forcing Vietnamese civilians into them is nothing if not ‘deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’. Violating Article II C this way was an end whose means included the violation of both Article II A and B. One word, however, stands as the impediment to all of the above convictions and that is intent.

Kill! Kill! Kill!


            As more of a brief address of the strongest counterargument, this section will cover the objectives behind US actions. The atrocities are not justifiable as simple collateral damages of war. From the individual ground forces all the way up the system, racism was prevalent against the Vietnamese; President Lyndon B. Johnson said himself that “Unless the United States has unchallengable air power, we shall be hostage to every yellow dwarf with a pocket knife”3. If he had replaced ‘yellow dwarf’ with ‘communist’, it would still be used as a slur, but would at least be in line with the excuse for the war. However, ‘yellow dwarf’ and ‘communist’ are not synonymous terms, there is blatant anti-Asian racism in the President’s view on the war. Johnson essentially validates the assertion that there is an abuse of air forces, like the aforementioned chemical raids, and that they are on racial grounds against ‘yellow dwarves’. This contempt was pervasive through all levels of US armed forces, not just the Commander in Chief.

When Representative John F. Seiberling asked Captian Johnson about racism in the Dellums ad hoc hearings, he could not cite any written examples but summarized the general attitudes of American troops as “disdain and disgust of the Vietnamese”4. This dehumanization process is an integral requisite for genocide and began for many of the veterans at West Point Academy. The most innocent seeming step toward dehumanizing the Vietnamese was the employment of racial slurs like ‘gooks’ and ‘dinks’4. When people are reduced to ‘dinks’ however, there is a removal of the moral obligation to treat them respectfully as an enemy and opens unleashes the capacity for extermination. Dr. Gordon Livingston, himself a West Point graduate of 1960, gives multiple accounts of subtle indoctrinating aspects like these slurs. He includes, also, more overt examples like that of General Patton telling his staff (of which Dr. Livingston was a part) that their job in Vietnam was 90 percent killing and 10 percent pacification4. The ability of the US government to propagandize annihilation of the Vietnamese people is disgustingly impressive, and is summed up conclusively by Americal Division APC Driver Gary Battles saying that “the first thing I noticed in the Army was like marching around singing songs about killing, and I saw signs around certain places on the camp that said VIET CONG – BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS” 4. The culmination of this “Kill! Kill! Kill!” indoctrination takes form in two practices certainly outside the casualties of war: body counts and free-fire zones4.

The organization of the United States’ armed forces is hierarchical and includes mobility through ranked positions; advancement in military rank in Vietnam was contingent upon an officer’s ‘body count’. A body count was essentially a score, a tallied amount of Vietnamese whose deaths were attributed to the commanding officer of the troop, infantry division, etc. 4. Regardless of the status of the dead (combatant, VC, civilian, farmer, adult, child, man, woman, healthy, ill) their lives translated to a notch toward the commander’s esteem. US Army Captain Michael O’Mera recounts that the emphasis on body counts was so tremendous that it was the only measure of success in Vietnam4. There were posting boards in military camps displaying standard issued information, maybe a map and some telegraphs, among which was the body count of the troop and it was an embarrassment the more static that number remained. An interesting phenomenon regarding these statistics was that they were often, and sometimes grossly, exaggerated4. This suggests that the number of Vietnamese reported slain is overstated and that the decimation may be of a somewhat lesser degree than inferred; at the same time, the necessity to bolster vast numbers of dead Vietnamese is a testament to how important it was that they were indiscriminately eliminated. The statistics may deceive, but they are extremely revealing about the intent behind the numbers. Body count records were the score, but the playing fields were free-fire zones.

Free-fire zones embodied the total disregard for Vietnamese life. Areas and villages were nominated as enemy villages and subsequently as free-fire zones; in these areas, “any thing that moves gets killed” as veteran Gary Battles explains it4. There is no military strategy or tactic involved but depopulation. Specifics of many of these free-fire executions are often left out in place of reiterating the idea as a whole, but one instance verifies the driving forces behind both free fire zones and body counts. One night in a designated free-fire zone, an officer steps out of the camp to relieve himself. Hearing a noise in the darkness he opens fire through the foliage and then returns to camp. Upon morning, the men discover no bodies or even traces of blood, but simply trees riddled with bullets; a body count of multiple dead Viet Cong is added to the total4. This story gives a glimpse of the multifaceted ideas driving the intent vital to the indictment of genocide. Killing Vietnamese people was so much the purpose of the war that Americans were told to kill on sight and pressured into inflating their death toll. Certain brutalities are accepted as a necessary evil of warfare, but there remains a level of civility; the regressive designs for the United States war against the people of Vietnam assumes barbarism in civility’s stead.


            The lack of repercussion for the United States’ action in Vietnam has been long-hidden away, especially in American culture. The Vietnam War is a recent event in modern history and leaves a sour taste in many people’s mouths. Many people, including my own parents, are part of the ‘Vietnam generation’, if you will, and I understand the hesitancy and neglect of the issue. The fact of the matter remains, however, that there was a clear violation of the genocide convention treaty. Concentration camp hamlets, chemical warfare with effects extending years beyond the war, and the appalling exterminationist motivation clearly fit the conditions that define genocide.

In continuation of the philosophy-driven argument, there remains the question of ‘will conviction ever happen?’. Committing genocide is a well defined crime, and one which the United States is guilty; but if no persecution ensues, if we do not hold ourselves to the standards which we hold the world as Justice Jackson said, then what purpose does the law serve? Therein lies the irony of the title, ‘We Plead the Fifth’, that we are unwilling to incriminate ourselves. The Fifth Amendment does not apply to international law. People of the world should demand that responsibility be taken by the United States because we are not, apparently, going to confess.


1 “International Conference on Military Trials : London, 1945 – Minutes of Conference Session of July 23, 1945.” The Avalon Project. Yale Law School. Web. <;.

2 United Nations. “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Audiovisual Library of International Law. Web. <;.

3 Russell, Bertrand. War Crimes in Vietnam. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967. Print.

4 The Dellums Committee Hearings on War Crimes in Vietnam. First ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1972. Print.

5 Hunganhqn. Arbitrary arrests, torture, beatings!. 2007. Photograph. UpdateSofts, Quang Ninh. Web. <;.

6 Forbes, Alex. Photograph. Summit Lake. Web. <;.

7 Duclos, Alexis. L’agent Orange. Photograph. Alexis Duclos Photographe. Web. <;.

German Vernichtungsbefehl (“annihilation order”) against the Herero and Nama People: “Every Herero Will Be Shot”

English: Surviving Herero after the escape thr...

English: Surviving Herero after the escape through the arid desert of Omaheke in German South-West Africa (modern day Namibia). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The annihilation order against the Herero and Nama people was issued at the end of the war after the Germans defeated the Herero on October 2, 1904. The genocide order, Schiessbefehel, issued by Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha stated:

I, the great General of the German troops, send this letter to the Herero people. The Herero people are no longer German subjects . . . The Herero people must leave the country. If the nation doesn’t do this I will force them with the Groot Rohr [cannon]. Within the German borders, every Herero, with or without gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I will no longer accept women or children, I will drive them back to their people or I will let them be shot at. [1]

Von Trotha’s proclamation affirmed policies of terrorism and force resulting in an almost extinction of the Herero people by way of starvation, concentration camps, and other genocidal tactics. Germany’s colonization of South West Africa, present day Namibia, ended in what many claim as the first genocide of the 20th century, killing tens of thousands of Herero people including men, women and children. This project seeks to discuss the way in which the German colonial forces committed genocide against the Herero and Nama people and the purpose of trade cards and other advertisements detailing accounts of Herero people, I will show the differences between what these portrayed and reality of how the Hereros were treated by the German settlers.


Dating back to April of 1884, Germany became a protectorate of the South-West African lands, the land would be known as the German South-West Africa (GSWA). Germany’s aim for GSWA was to build its reputation as a main political power in the world at the expense of the Herero people. The systematic establishment and construction of German rule began with the arrival of Theodor Leutwein. Theodor Leutwein was a colonial administrator of GSWA until 1904. His agenda was to push the German administration agenda and secure political power by way of ‘chieftain policies.’ These policies allowed for African leaders to remain in their positions and create working relationships with them that gained him support of the most important Herero and Nama leaders such Hendrik Witbooi and Samuel Maharero.

When German colonizers first came to settle on the lands of present day Namibia, the relations between the Herero and the Germans can be summed up as a tense situation. The increase of German settlers to the land caused increasing problems with the Herero and Nama population. One major principle that rose conflict was that White Germans were not subject to African law where they were taken to German courts. Capital crimes as defined in African laws such as rape and murder were hardly ever punished. On the other hand, all Africans were subjected to German laws.

The Attack

Events beginning in the early months of 1904 transformed the relations between the Herero and Germans in German South West Africa. Murders and mutilation of hundreds of women, men, and children ignited the war. In the beginning attacks, the Herero, sparing women, children and missionaries, killed 123 Germans.  In this attack, the Hereros attacked those who raped their women and were not persecuted, and the Herero housekeepers killed their German employers while they were asleep. Chief Samuel Maharero ordered the Hereros that this war was only against the Germans, not all white, he did not want this to become a race war.

After a devastating defeat by the Herero people against Leutwein’s army, General von Trotha designated himself as the supreme commander. Under his orders, Herero workers were imprisoned and lynched even those who sided with Kaiser were attacked. Three gallows were constructed in Windhoek, which displayed captured Hereros hanging like a public spectacle, which were left for days to instill fear among the Hereros. The picture below depicts what is described of the gallows where Hereros hung with the German soldiers overseeing the process. The small print on the left corner reads “German So. W. Africa Hanging Party. 312 Negroes Hanged.” This photo of the lynching of Herero people was taken by White settlers, which showed the beaten bodies hanging from the gallows at Windhoek.


Scholar Jeremy Sarkin proposes two main reasons for the genocide and harsh treatment of the Hereros: punishment for rebelling against German rule during the uprising of 1904; secondly, the occupancy of the Herero’s land and possession of their cattle.[2]  Jurgen Zimmerer discusses the way in which it is erroneous to call the attack on the Germans by the Herero people as an ‘uprising’ or ‘rebellion’ because of the differences between perception of colonial powers: the land was in possession of the Herero people so it was theirs, and the European conferences that gave Germany the colonial power which complicated matters. [3]

‘Genocide ‘is never a sudden or unplanned act…It is a deliberate, pre-meditated and carefully orchestrated orgy of mass murder for political purposes…a well organised campaign of carnage…’[4]

The Herero people were in desperate situations, being driven out of their land to the Omaheke desert where they were left to perish. Many Herero cut the throats of their cattle in order to drink the blood, squeezing the last drops of dampness from the stomachs of the dying cattle. Many still died since these measures helped very little. It is the premeditated killings of women and children and deliberate extermination of the whole Nama and Herero people, which made this an act of genocide.

Under the rule of General Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha, a veteran of the German army of 10 years, the annihilation order against the Hereros was declared. Lothar von Trotha was a commander in Germany East Africa during the Wahehe uprising between 1894 and 1897. His reputation was summed up in just a word: ruthlessness. Von Trotha stated:

I know enough tribes in Africa. They all have the same mentality insofar as they yield only to force. It was and remains my policy to apply this force by absolute terrorism and even cruelty. I shall destroy the rebellious tribes by shedding rivers of blood and money. Only then will it be possible to sow the seeds of something new that will endure.[4]

This statement was released in 1904. In 1905, von Trotha declared a state of martial law, making him the commander of the military and civil affairs. After an attempt of the Herero chiefs to negotiate peace, von Trotha dismissed it and in early August issued the ‘Directives for the Attack on the Hereros’.  On August 16th and 26th he ordered his troops to cut off waterholes and patrol along the Omaheke desert to prevent the Herero people from moving back to the colony. The main killer of the Hereros was through dehydration.

German Propaganda

During the genocide of the Herero people, many trade cards and other advertisements were being promoted at the time. “Some scholars have pointed to a broad-based escalation of racist rhetoric and racism in German culture as a result of the Herero War. Others have argued that older discourses of race and colonialism structured the terms around which the conflict was discussed and debated.”[5] Trade cards (Sammelbilder) were popularized when given away with the purchase of commodities such as soup powder or chocolate which posed as propaganda for Germans, as many German people, specifically children collected them.[6] The majority of the trade cards displayed Herero women as lewd images and some even portrayed the Herero people as rebellious, and dangerous.  These trade cards attempted to legitimize the treatment that Hereros had to endure at the hand of the Germans in GSWA by showing the Herero people in a negative light. “On one hand, some visions of the uprising (as opposed to textual and rhetorical invocations of race in newspapers and parliamentary debates) were not merely illustrative devices but broadcast and sold as commodities in and of themselves.”[7] Ciarlo discusses the way in which criticisms broke out over how the Germans were handling the war in GSWA, bringing to light the colonial budget in order to attack the government’s actions.

The most widely circulated images were on collectible trading cards of companies such as Aecht Frank coffee, Erkel soap, Theodor Hildebrand cocoa, Walser & Schwarz, and Hartwig & Vogel’s chocolate. The card series began with scenes showing Hereros murdering and plundering, at times they showed the German women scared, implying the threat of sexual harassment.[8]


This image shown above is of typical trading cards, this one of some Herero men stealing cattle. The words on the postcard says ‘Herero uprising in German South Africa, by cattle consuming Hereros.’ Aecht Frank was a coffee producing company now owned by Nestle that was founded in Germany issued trade cards of the Herero uprising in GSWA.  While the Herero people are displayed in these actions, it was usually the Germans that stole cattle. Trade cards such as this one helped to insinuate the racial theories about Africans such as them being savages, dangerous and needing to be tamed. On the right of the trade card is a Herero woman creating pottery.


The trade card above displays a map of German South West Africa, and of a Herero woman, and children outside of Windhoek camp. Hartwig & Vogel’s Chocolate Company produced this trade card instead of Aecht Franck. This projection can be contrasted with an original photo of Windhoek, a concentration camp that Hereros were placed in after the war of 1904.


This is a photo of the concentration camp of Winhoek. It can be seen how this photo, and the German propaganda trade card contrasts. While the trade card seeks to imply that ordinary, peaceful things are going on in the German South West Africa, when in reality there is a stark difference. Herero people were being killed, starved and worked to death in concentration camps.

 The colonial war was always framed as a race war. This trade card displays the Herero people as rioting and rebelling against the German colonizers. This card depicts them as dangerous, showing the Herero looting a home of a German man, the house burning and a German dead in a pool of blood. The Herero are seen as carrying bundles of valuables, a visual proof of theft. The words on the card are translated from Google Translation as ‘The Herero riot in German South West Africa, looting Mr. Gamisch’s farm. This trade card can be interpreted as the Herero people are not only violent, but they need to be controlled. Cards such as these allowed for Germans to accept what Germany was doing to the Herero people in Africa, these types of depictions increased the thoughts of racial superiority of the German people over Africans.  According to this political propaganda, Germans needed protection from inferior animals. Trade cards such as these went mainstream in 1905. Throughout the German genocide of the Herero people, collections of trading cards and photographs were offered in order to not only portray the Herero people as savagery, but to also gain backing support from German citizens, especially those that disagreed with the colonizing of Africa.


The photo above shows the Hereros men with guns shooting at perhaps German men. This photo depicts how Germans attempted to depict the Herero people as dangerous. The bottle of the trade card,  translated through Google Translations, says the colonial struggle in South West African: Hereros in combat.

The war in South West Africa shifted the German consumer imagery in three ways: first, the acceleration of the tendency to deploy images of African natives in advertising, the Herero conflict became a modern media event which increased interests on both the advertiser and public’s side. Secondly, to attract purchasers advertisers and third, the African imagery came with a shift in pictorial styles used to illustrate African figures.[9] The trade cards were not only used to increase support of Germany’s colonialism in South West Africa, but to justify the brutal cruelty that Germans placed upon the Herero people. The images meant to imprint on the minds of children, who largely collected these trade cards, to increase German propaganda through false depictions.


The atrocities against the Herero and Nama people are what are considered the first genocide of the 20th century. 60,000 to 100,000 Herero and Nama people were exterminated from their lands in South West Africa, which constitutes to about 85% of their population. Germans not only exiled the Hereros from their land, but also poisoned the water wells, driving them to the Omaheke desert. Under the orders of General von Trotha, was the annihilation order against the Nama and Herero people issued.

During the time of casualties in GSWA, many German people collected trade cards depicting false realities of the Hereros in South West Africa. The usage of these cards was to increase German propaganda and increase the support of the treatment of the Hereros in GSWA.  In reality, the Herero and Nama people were executed in the most extreme ways, under the worst conditions. Although the policies to exterminate the Herero was impractically, both logical and militarily, the cruelty still burned in the eyes of von Trotha. Kaiser Wilhelm applauded von Trotha’s action and energy, as he wrote to the General:

“You have entirely fulfilled my expectations when I named you commander of the colonial troops, and I take pleasure in expressing, once again, my utter gratitude for your accomplishments so far.”[10]

The cruelty by the Germans in South West Africa under Kaiser Wilhelm, directed controlled by General von Trotha. These accounts of atrocities were written in the ‘Blue Book’, which documented the genocide to be used to prevent Germany from ever regaining control over its colonies. Later this book was destroyed, in the interests of white settlers, stating that it was a propaganda tactic, not to be used for reparations, but to be used to ensure that German would lose all of its colonies.

The Herero people demanded reparations of one billion dollars for their ancestor’s robbed land, possessions, and treatment. 100 years after the genocide, Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul visited Namibia in 2004, asking for forgiveness of the atrocities dating back to 1904. An apology was also issued in 2007 from von Trotha’s descendents, to Chief Alfons Maharero, the grandchild of Samuel Maharero for the atrocities that were inflicted upon the Herero people by von Trotha and his military. Although the Hereros were denied reparations for the ancestors, Germany has made strides in offering millions of euros to present-day Namibia through German development aid, but this act should not be mistaken with justice for the Herero people.[11] Justice is a hard topic when it comes to genocide, but it can never be justified. This paper intends to reveal this atrocity, not as a “forgotten” genocide, but as the first genocide of the 20th century that will never be forgotten.

The photo of von Trotha’s descendents walking with Herero officials at the apology in 2007.  Source:

The photo of von Trotha’s descendents walking with Herero officials at the apology in 2007. Source:

[1] Lemarchand, René. (2011) Forgotten Genocides: Oblivion Denial, and Memory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

[2] Sarkin, Jeremy. (2010) Germany’s Genocide of the Herero: Kaiser Wilhelm II, His General, His Settlers, His Soldiers. Cape Town, South Africa: UCT Press.

[3] Zimmerer, Jürgen. (2003) Genocide in German South-West Africa: The Colonial War of 1904-1908 and Its Aftermath. Monmouth, Wales: Merlin Press.

[4] S. Johnson. (2003) Peace without justice: Hegemonic instability or international criminal law? London: Ashgate Publishing, p. 200

[5] Erichsen, Casper and David Olusoga. (2010) The Kaiser’s Holocaust. London: Faber and Faber.

[6, 7, 8,9] Ciarlo, David. (2011) Advertising Empire: Race and War Visual Culture in Imperial Germany. London, England: Harvard University Press.

[10] Erichsen, Casper and David Olusoga. (2010) The Kaiser’s Holocaust. London: Faber and Faber.

[11] Jones, Adam. (2012) Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. London: Routledge.