The Holocaust and The Cambodian Genocide

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History and Human Savagery

History has served us with numerous insights into human nature. Besides the many marvels of human ingenuity are several accounts of human savagery. Some of the best examples of the latter are the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide. The two are illustrations of the dark extremes of the human condition. The perpetrators of the acts of savagery showed no regard for humanity, treating their fellow humans like animals. This paper will examine how the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge, the perpetrators of the respective genocides, treated and controlled their victims and how the victims coped with the threat to their mortality. Additionally, the discourse will determine whether humanity has learned from the murderous reigns and changed for the better.

The Attitude Towards the Victims

For genocide to take place, a person or people with great authority has to inspire the masses to turn against members of a minority group in the society. The attitude is not developed instantly, but rather it brews gradually and finally implodes with perpetrators killing their victims at will. In the case of the Holocaust, leaders of the Nazi party crafted the attitude towards Jews. The Nazis viewed the Jews as an impure race that deliberately sought to destroy the cultural and political structure of the pure Aryan race. They saw the Jews as swine and were determined to exterminate them (Hanover College). Hitler (295) blamed the Jews for every wrong in the society including the evolution of arts and literature. According to him, Jews had destroyed Russia by infiltrating the political and economic system. If Germany were to survive, they had to repel the Jewish influence. The Nazis perceived the Jews as impure and dishonest individuals who did not deserve to live, and they treated them as such (Jewish Virtual Library). The Nazi administration formulated legislation to institutionalize the prejudice. The Nuremberg Law of 1935 forbade interracial marriages between Jews and pure-blood Germans. Any violation of the law was met with harsh punishment (Rice University). The Reich Citizenship Law of 1935 did not consider Jews as citizens of Germany with the Nazi Party reserving the right to citizenship (Rice University). This law established an attitude of exclusion that paved the way for the mass killing of Jews. In the Cambodian genocide, the Khmer Rouge were just as resentful of their victims. Pol Pot and his colleagues in the Cambodian Communist Party sought to create an agriculture-based communist society (The History Place). To the Khmer Rouge, the working class, the educated, and Buddhist monks represented the old society and were are a threat to the new society that they were creating. As a result, they developed an irrationally harsh attitude towards the "old society" setting on a mission to kill them and their families. The rationale was that it would purify the society and eradicate all influences. Cambodians subjected to slave labor in the countryside were seen as nothing more than a source of labor, and none of them was indispensable (Mount Holyoke College).

Controlling the Victims

The Nazis and the Khmer Rouge effected their inhuman schemes by gaining control over their prisoners first. In both cases, they dehumanized their victims making them experience life akin to that of animals. At Auschwitz, the weak were gassed at such a high rate with an average of 9,000 people being killed each day. The victims, regardless of their age or gender, were told to undress and deceived that they were going to be disinfected before entering the gas chambers (Perry, n.p.). Everything about Auschwitz was dehumanizing; even the transport to the camp. Jews were transported in cattle cars. They were crammed into the cars which led to some suffocating and dying. In the middle of the cattle car, the Nazis placed a "shit bucket" to serve as a toilet for men, women, and children. The experience was meant to degrade the Jews and dehumanize them (Jagermann, n.p.). When they reached Auschwitz, they were all stripped naked, and girls and women were shaven ridding them of any hint of beauty. In a move to further degrade Jews, the females were given inappropriate clothing and no underwear. The humiliation continued with the compulsory branding of all victims. Jagermann (n.p.) recalls being degraded from a human being to a series of numbers. The food served to prisoners in concentration camps was also intended to degrade them and gain further control. The prisoners were served soup and within a week they became malnourished. Harsh punishment for even the smallest infractions also helped the Nazis gain control over their prisoners. Wrongdoers were whipped till they lost consciousness. The daily roll calls which lasted hours accomplished nothing much. The Nazis only used them to humiliate prisoners and irritate them. In the case of the Khmer Rouge, unhinged cruelty by the soldiers was a key agent in humiliating victims. The Khmer Rouge instituted 18-hour workdays which started as early as 4 A.M. In the working fields, the young soldiers could kill for even the smallest infraction (Vann, n.p.). Despite the overworking, Cambodians received little food, 180 grams of rice per person for two days, and virtually no rest. The harsh working conditions led to the death of many people due to exhaustion, malnutrition, and disease. The workers were not allowed to eat the rice and vegetables they were cultivating (Genocide Studies Program). The Khmer Rouge reduced their victims to machines thus ridding them of their humanity. The soldiers randomly accused people of being Vietnamese soldiers in order to instill fear and control the populace. The soldiers would proceed to kill strong men who could potentially resist. The remaining women, children, and the sick could not resist which was perfect for the Khmer Rouge (Yimsut, n.p.). The dead were usually left lying in heaps with no time to bury them as they were busy working. The situation was dehumanizing as it showed all Cambodians that they meant nothing and could be replaced with others at any time.

Coping with Mortality

The prisoners in both cases were subjected to extreme experiences. It was necessary for them to develop psychological coping mechanisms. According to Jagermann (2), she was so frightened by the Germans' inhuman behavior that she lost consciousness one time. However, as things got worse, she learned to cope with the brutality. The presence of family was important since it provided support. However, from a psychological point of view most prisoners made peace with their mortality. Everything was so unsure that looking weak would have one sent to the gas chambers. The Nazi prisoners simply waited for their inevitable destiny. Jagermann also explains that singing marching songs while working made them forget their troubles and gave them courage to live. In the case of the Khmer Rouge prisoners, the prisoners learned to expect anything. The erratic behavior of the young soldiers meant that even the smallest misstep could have one killed. Like the Nazi prisoners, the victims of the Khmer Rouge brutality also accepted their mortality. Death and other forms of brutality were so common that they accepted is as part of their daily existence.

Lessons Not Learned

The Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide were supposed to teach humanity lessons on the dangers of polarization. However, since 1990 there have been other cases of genocide. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda is perhaps one of the best examples of human brutality in the modern era. In about 100 days between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people lost their lives. The genocide, in this case, was a systematic attempt by the Hutu to exterminate the Tutsi minority (Gourevitch, n.p.). The ethnic cleansing like the others covered in the essay continued as the international community remained indifferent with Western powers even instructing mainstream media not to refer to it as a genocide. The incident is an indication of how ill-equipped the international community is to deal with issues that are limited within a country's borders. Today the world is struggling to understand the Rohingya massacre in Myanmar. The gradual and systematic campaign by the government to eradicate the minority group has left many wondering whether we have not learned from the past (Beech, n.p.).


This task has been an eye-opener in many ways. The articles read and used in the fulfillment of the assignment are a reminder of the negative extremes of the human condition. The Nazis and the Khmer Rouge treated fellow humans like animals, stopping at nothing to humiliate and dehumanize them. This realization is a reminder of the importance of preaching peace no matter the differences between us. Millions of lives were lost in both cases to satisfy the crooked objectives of tyrants. The articles are a reminder that the international community should work to prevent such incidents in the future. Today the International Criminal Court and the UN Genocide Court help deter future genocides. However, incidents such as that in Myanmar keep happening. Despite the decent efforts of the mentioned organizations, more has to be done if the world is to tackle genocide completely.

Works Cited

Beech, Hannah. “Myanmar’s military planned Rohingya genocide, rights group says.” The New York Times. 19 Jul. 2018. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

Genocide Studies Program. “The Pol Pot Files, 1975-1977.” Genocide Studies Program. N.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

Gourevitch, Phillip. “Letter from the archive: The genocide in Rwanda.” The New Yorker. 4 Apr. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

Hanover College. “Heinrich Himmler speech before SS group leaders; Posen, Poland 1943.” N.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. (R. Manheim, trans.). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1943.

Jagermann, Judith. “Memories of my childhood in the Holocaust.” December 1985. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

Jewish Virtual Library. “Adolf Hitler: First Anti-Semitic Writing.” N.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

Mount Holyoke College. “The Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s Regime.” N.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

Perry, Marvin Sources of the Western Tradition. 3rd ed. Boston; Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Rice University. “Nuremberg Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, September 15, 1935.” Owlnet. N.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

Rice University. “The Reich Citizenship Law of September 15, 1935.” Owlnet. N.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

The History Place. “Pol Pot in Cambodia 1975-1979; 2,000,000 deaths.” N.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

Vann, Samnang Shawn. “Samnang.” Dachs. 17 Apr. 1975. Web. 1975.

Yimsut, Ranachith. “The Tonle Sap Lake Massacre.” Dachs. 17 Apr. 1975. Web. 30 Nov. 2018.

November 13, 2023

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