Yehuda Bauer Speaks at Clark University

Professor Yehuda Bauer, the world’s greatest authority on the Holocaust, spoke on April 23 to a sold-out crowd of over 300 students, scholars, and guests at Clark University’s Tilton Hall as part of its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ first international graduate student conference.

Bauer was introduced first by Deborah Dwork, the Rose Professor of Holocaust History and the director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies; then by Thomas Kuehne, the Strassler Chair of Holocaust History; and then by graduate student Raz Segal, announcing that this was the 10th anniversary of their doctoral program.

Bauer started the program by inviting his wife Ilana to come up and play on her chalil (Israeli recorder) two songs—a haunting Armenian melody and a Yiddish melody called “Shtiller, Shtiller” (“Quiet, Quiet”), a song from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Bauer then launched into an impassioned oration on the meaning of holocaust and genocide. “This is an important date. It is two days after the Yom Hashoah, the Jewish Days of Remembrance; one day after the Armenian Day of Remembrance; and six days after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of Jews in Poland against the Nazis”.

“And yet, I must start my talk with a complaint. The words we use today are wrong…we have a ‘United Nations’ that is made up of nations but is hardly ‘united.’ We have a ‘European Union’; it may be ‘European’ but is hardly a ‘union.’ And we have an ‘international community’; while it is ‘international’ it is hardly ‘a community.’ Language hides meaning.”

“We engage in illusions with words like ‘Never Again.’ It should not be ‘never again’ but ‘ever again.’ Genocide has not stopped since the Holocaust of the Jews, but continues and continues across the globe today. … The word ‘holocaust’ is also wrong—it means ‘burnt offering.’ ‘Shoah’ is not much better; it means in Hebrew ‘catastrophe’ but these words are incorrect. We were not ‘burnt offerings,’ we were not ‘martyrs.’ These terms imply a religious involvement but we did not engage willingly in this horror; we were reluctant victims. A better term, however wieldy, would be the ‘genocide of the Jewish people in Europe’ or in German ‘das Judenmort,’ but these terms are rarely used.”

“The Holocaust should be viewed as a global phenomenon, not just a European phenomenon, and it should be viewed vertically through history and horizontally across and comparative to other nations.”

“The Genocide Convention was problematic because it was essentially a trade-off between America and its Western allies and the USSR; it was a compromised document. Its origins, as you know, go back to a Polish-Jewish lawyer and jurist named Raphael Lemkin who first began writing about all this in the 1930’s, before the Shoah of the Jews; Lemkin’s model was not Jewish but Armenian, harking back to the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and an earlier genocide against the Herero tribe in southwest Africa in 1903-04. His was truly a comparative approach to genocide.”

“The Holocaust was not and is not unique! It was however the most extreme form of genocide so far and was ‘unprecedented’ in scope and action. But it was not unique—there were other genocides before and after it. It is, however, the paradigmatic genocide.”

Addressing the students in the audience, Bauer implored: “What can we do? We have to enter the world of power politics in a totally un-naive way. We may not win; we may in fact lose. Yet, we cannot run away from the Holocaust and from genocide. The Bible says: We may not complete the task but we are enjoined to never stop trying.”

He got a standing ovation. Dwork ended the program with the following words: “We have a tradition here at Clark University that after discussing such ugly things, I ask you to join me to partake of sweet things, the sweetest chocolates in Massachusetts.”

Schmoozing and discussions followed. The conference continued over the weekend and ended on Sun., April 26. For more information, visit

Jack Nusan Porter is on the executive board of the International Association of Genocide Scholars and a Newton-based author of The Genocidal Mind and Genocide and Human Rights: A Global Anthology.

Jack Porter
Jack Nusan Porter is on the executive board of the International Association of Genocide Scholars and a Newton-based author of The Genocidal Mind and Genocide and Human Rights: A Global Anthology.

1 Comment

  1. I just came across this old article. Very interesting to read and reflection on words and meanings when it comes to genocide.

    And yes, let us remember the Herero, which happened before the AG. I never liked the phrase “1st genocide of the 20th century anyway”. Stating that it started in 1915 is enough.

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