The UN Genocide Charter and Auschwitz

The two readings we had assigned this evening, The UN Charter on Genocide and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz both discuss genocide, but approach the topic in very different ways. One can safely assume that those who wrote up the charter did not experience the atrocities of a concentration camp, and are outsiders looking in. Levi, on the other hand, speaks with the voice of a survivor. He knows what it means to survive Auschwitz, and thus, mass genocide.

The charter uses very sweeping terms when describing what genocide is. They do not go into the minute details, but stay general such as in Article II: “(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part…”. This may be because they wish to capture all possible forms of genocide, but at the same time, this method gives a lot of leeway for certain activities to pass.

Levi, however, gives very specific examples as to how they were discriminated against. To be at Auschwitz was to be at the very bottom, everything was taken away from you, “…nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand.” (27) Even if a person survived the concentration camp, they still were made to become something less than human, like cattle, and this process will undoubtedly affect the rest of their life. Levi even mentions how certain portions of the experience still linger in his dreams.

When genocide is committed, it not only destroys a group of individuals, but an entire culture, and both sources indicate this. Even if an individual survives, their culture may have died, making the existence of the survivor very lonely, and their account of events, less believable.

One thought on “The UN Genocide Charter and Auschwitz

  1. Before you made the connection between the two readings, they hadn’t actually connected for me. I agree with how you say the convention was like outsiders looking in on the problem. It was more than just people that died. Along with the race almost gone, the culture disappeared with the people too. To improve the articles against genocide, the people might have worked with someone who survived genocide to write it.

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