Archive for March, 2011

Off the Scales of History

Posted: March 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

When writing about the Holocaust, I often run into people who tell me that we haven’t learned anything since that time because look at all the massacres that have since happened. “But the Holocaust is different,” I respond, to which I know I’ll hear things such as, “What about Rwanda?” Yes, there have been horrendous massacres since the Holocaust and well before the Holocaust, from Genghis Khan and his armies terrorizing generations of Mongols to more recent atrocities in Dafur. Unfortunately, the more I research the Holocaust, the more I have to agree with the many scholars who assert it was different.

One of the clearest explanations of this can be found in Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, in which she quotes Lecomte du Nouy, who in 1944 wrote, “Germany’s crime is the greatest crime the world has ever known, because it is not on the scale of History; it is on the scale of evolution.” Ackerman responds, “That’s not to say humans haven’t tampered with evolution in the past — we know we’ve driven many animals to extinction, and we may well have done the same to other lines of humans. Even so, what’s instinctive isn’t inevitable, we sometimes bridle unruly instincts, we don’t always play by nature’s rule.”