THE CANADIAN MUSEUM
OF GENOCIDE
 
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The following letter appeared in 
The Globe and Mail, on Tuesday, April 16, 2002: 
Genocide museum needed 

The call by Canadian Jewish Congress president Keith Landy for the government to create a Holocaust museum needs some qualification - not because the victims of that genocide are not worthy of being remembered, but because we should not forget the victims of other genocides (CJC Renews Holocaust Museum Call - April 6). 

The CJC is lobbying Ottawa for an exclusive museum, dedicated to the commemoration of the Holocaust only. Other ethnic groups have been suggesting an alternative approach, more in keeping with the pluralistic makeup of our society. They insist on a museum that would include all genocides. 

For many years, universities have offered comparative studies on genocide in which the Holocaust is examined alongside other such crimes. Much excellent scholarship has gone into producing a wealth of literature in the same spirit. Some years ago, Montreal put up a special monument dedicated to all the known genocides. 

If the museum is to serve educational purposes, the public must become familiar with all the various forms that this horrendous crime has assumed.

ROMAN SERBYN, professor of history, 
Universite du Quebec a Montreal 



FOUR REASONS WHY WE NEED 
A CANADIAN MUSEUM OF GENOCIDE
By: Roman Serbyn
 

I The Concept of Genocide

The origin of the term "genocide" is usually traced to Raphael Lemkin's 
*Axis Rule in Occupied Europe*, a study published in 1944 on the 
systematic destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis.  The concept 
later gained currency at the United Nations, when the international body 
undertook the task of identifying and condemning mass atrocities.  On 11 
Dec. 1946 the General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that 
"genocide is a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, 
as homicide is the denial of the right of individual human beings".  The 
document also recognized that in the past "many instances of such crimes 
of genocide have occurred, when racial, religious, political and other 
groups have been destroyed, entirely or in part." 

The UN resolution is a good starting point for our discussion of the 
idea of a Canadian Museum of Genocide.  It should be noted that from the 
very beginning the international body characterized the crime of 
genocide as follows:  1) genocide is homicide writ large:  genocide is 
the killing of a group, as homicide is the killing of an individual; 
2) the victims are identified by a common attribute (race, religion or 
other);  3) the targeted group is destroyed in whole or in part; 
4) genocide is a recurrent phenomena, it was not unique to World War II. 

The resolution quoted above also specified that "whether the crime is 
committed on religious, racial political or any other grounds" genocide 
is a crime punishable under international law.  In this spirit, on 9 
Dec. 1948, the General Assembly approved a special "Convention on 
Genocide" which defined genocide as an act "committed with intent to 
destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious 
group, as such".  This definition, somewhat different from that of 1946, 
has often been criticized for its restrictive nature.  It recognizes 
only four types of identifiable groups (national, ethnic, racial and 
religious), and burdens the prosecution with the obligation to prove 
criminal "intent" a most difficult task to achieve.  Nevertheless, the
Convention is pertinent to our discussion for it reiterates the 
affirmation that "at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great 
losses on humanity." It also treats equally the crimes committed in time 
of war and in time of peace, and it stresses that "in order to liberate 
mankind from such an odious scourge, international cooperation is 
required". 

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The track record on international cooperation for the identification of 
genocide and punishment of its perpetrators has not been outstanding. 
In some cases recognition came quickly and at least some of the main 
villains were punished.  The major Nazi war criminals in the Nuremberg 
trial were indicted on the charge of conducting deliberate and 
systematic genocide.  Some Turks were tried in 1919 and 1920 by Turkish 
and German tribunals for the massacres of Armenians during the First 
World War, even though the accusation of genocide did not yet exist. 
The Armenian genocide became generally acknowledged only later, 
especially after being recognized by the "Permanent People's Tribunal on 
the Genocide of the Armenians", held in Paris in April of 1984.  No one 
was ever punished for the mass starvation inflicted upon the Ukrainian 
people, but the 1988 Report to the US Congress of the "Commission on the 
Ukraine Famine" found that "Joseph Stalin and those around him committed 
genocide against Ukrainians in 1932-1933". 

International cooperation in the fight against genocide can take two 
forms:  a) forceful means by national authorities and international 
agencies to prevent genocidal acts, and, where prevention failed, 
decisive punishment of the criminals;  b) popular education, 
particularly of the youth, on the horrors and the immorality of past and 
future genocides.  It is this second measure for genocide prevention  
the learning about past atrocities to prevent them from being repeated 
in the future that concerns us here, as we discuss the need of a 
Canadian Museum of Genocide. 

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II A Genocide Monument Worthy of Emulation

While the concept of genocide is recent, the crime itself has been 
around for a long time and some scholars have traced it back to 
pre-Biblical times.  Our society, however, has focused its attention on 
the more recent tragedies such as the Armenian massacres, the Ukrainian 
famine, the Jewish Shoah, the Cambodian killing fields, and others.  The 
memory of these modern genocides is preserved, first of all, by the 
communities that were affected by them.  They organize commemorative 
services, publish popular and scholarly studies, arrange public 
conferences and educational programs, erect monuments and set up 
specialized galleries and museums.  Some scholars have turned to the 
study of genocide on a comparative basis, the only method which can give 
us a truly penetrating insight into this terrible scourge.  Comparative 
studies of various cases of genocide can now be found in academic 
publications, public conferences, educational programs and research 
centres.  This academic approach has not yet reached the public at 
large, however.   Monuments, galleries and museums tend to focus on 
particular genocides. 

A notable exception within this tradition is the monument erected on 5 
October 1998 by the City of Montreal.  The monument, called "La 
R?paration" (roughly translated as "A Redress" or "Amends"), was put up 
on the initiative of the Armenian community of Montreal, which also 
raised most of the funds for the sculpture.  The sculptor conceived the
monument as two thick, solid slabs of white marble, standing on their 
sides and facing each other, several inches apart.  On the inner side of 
one of the panels an inscription was engraved in French with the 
following dedication: "to all the peoples, victims of genocide in the 
XXth century".  Eleven of the peoples are named specifically.  The 
monument is worthy of notice for its originality:  it is the first time 
that an ethnic community in North America has transcended its own 
immediate concerns to reach out to all of humanity with such a noble 
message.  It is truly a noble gesture on the part of the City of 
Montreal, a most meaningful initiative of the Armenian community and an 
example worthy of emulation by the Canadian society. 

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III Towards a Canadian Museum of Genocide

In order to promote a true understanding of the nature of genocide and 
to ensure the realization that the crime can assume a variety of forms 
and infect the most sophisticated as well as the most primitive of 
societies, it behooves Canada to endow its citizens with a genocide 
museum that will reflect the full complexity of the phenomenon.  This
can only be achieved with a general Canadian Museum of Genocide, 
dedicated to all the known genocides and providing adequate 
documentation at least on the atrocities committed in our century. 
Anything less must be considered unsatisfactory and unworthy of our 
effort. 

1.  To Commemorate the Victims of All Genocides

The twentieth century alone has witnessed several major genocides. 
Between the massacre of Armenians during the Great War and the 
extermination of Jews and Gypsies during the Second World War, there was 
the induced famine inflicted on the Ukrainians.  The adoption of the 
United Nations "Convention on Genocide" has not prevented genocidal 
practices from recurring in Africa, Asia and even Europe.  All these 
genocides had one thing in common:  they inflicted mass destruction of 
innocent lives on various peoples, even though none of the target groups 
were completely annihilated.  All these crimes were equally 
reprehensible and all the victims have equal claim on our memory. 

It has been stated that to neglect the memory of the victims of the 
Jewish Holocaust was to submit them to a new outrage.  This, of course, 
applies also to the victims of the other genocides.  It would not be 
proper for Canada to single out one genocide for study or one group of 
victims for public national remembrance, neglecting the others. 
Canadian survivors of all genocides must be recognized.  The very idea 
of selection or setting up a "hierarchy" of genocides is objectionable 
and the usage of such a policy by the Canadian Museum of Civilization 
would be unworthy of its mission. 

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2.  To Teach the Genocides

In order to have a complete understanding of what genocide is, it is 
necessary to study the phenomenon in its various forms.  There is no 
prototype of genocide, and if the museum is to serve as an instrument of 
education for our youth, it is not enough to familiarize them with just 
one genocide.  Individual communities may organize galleries and museums 
to educate their own community and the public at large about a 
particular tragedy.  Such endeavour only deserves our praise.  It is, 
however, another thing to build a national museum which provides only
partial information on one of the scourges of history. 

It has often been argued that the Jewish Holocaust or Shoah was a unique 
historical occurrence.  It has also been pointed out that to the extent 
that it was unique, its value as an educational tool is diminished.  Of 
course, the Holocaust teaches much about man's inhumanity to man, but it 
does not show the various forms this cruelty can take.  What does the 
Holocaust teach us about the use of famine as a weapon?  How often have 
we heard reporters referring to the Holocaust when describing government 
induced starvation in various parts of Africa, but a natural analogy to 
the Ukrainian famine was not made.  Yet it would have been so much more 
comprehensible and illustrative.  If only the journalists had been more 
knowledgeable about genocide in general and not only about the 
Holocaust. 

An illustration of the need for more serious knowledge on genocide is 
provided by the recent controversy over the "Redress" monument in 
Montreal.  Columnist, Lysiane Gagnon who contributes regularly to *The 
Globe and Mail*, recently wrote a scathing attack in Canada's largest 
French daily (*La Presse*, 15 Oct. 1998) on the City administration for 
erecting the genocide monument.  Ms. Gagnon minces no words:  The list 
of eleven peoples on the monument is a "hodgepodge [which] puts on the 
same footing all sorts of tragedies of which most have nothing in common 
with genocide".  The columnist refers to the Armenian massacres as 
simply "ethnic cleansing";  there was no Cambodian genocide because the 
"abominable operation" performed on the Cambodian people was done by 
"their own" Khmer Rouge;  and as for Ukrainians, "they certainly don't 
belong on the genocide list".  Ms. Gagnon recognizes only two victims of 
genocide:  the Jews and the Gypsies.  She argues that the dedication of 
the Montreal monument to "a thousand and one 'genocides', which they are 
not", "dilutes" the the Jewish tragedy and "trivializes" the only two 
true genocides. 

That a journalist of the stature of Ms. Gagnon should write such an 
illinformed and negative article, in a respectable newspaper, and that 
four weeks later the newspaper has still to publish a single letter of 
protest (I have been told that many such letters were sent) or an 
article to rectify her statements is a glaring example of the inadequate 
education of our mass media on the question of genocide.  What can then 
be expected from the general public?  If the Canadian Museum of 
Civilization goes through with its plan to limit the projected 
travelling exhibition and the eventual permanent museum to the Jewish 
Holocaust, it will be guilty of contributing to this ignorance. 

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3.  To Reflect the Concerns of All Canadians

Canada has become a haven to refugees from many countries ravaged by 
genocide.  Armenians, Ukrainians, Jews, Cambodians, Tutsis and others 
have made Canada their homeland.  Here they have found the necessary 
conditions to lead peaceful and fulfilling lives and to constitute 
themselves into viable ethno-cultural communities.  In return these 
communities are all contributing to the cultural, political and economic 
enrichment of our country.  As Canadian citizens and tax payers, members 
of these groups rightfully expect to be able to identify with such 
national projects like the setting up of a museum dedicated to an issue 
of general concern.  The Canadian Museum of Genocide is just such a
project. 

During the Montreal commemorations of the 65th anniversary of the
Holodomor or the Ukrainian famine-genocide, a petition to the effect 
that a Canadian Museum of Genocide be established was signed by over 700 
people.  Many of the petitioners were not of Ukrainian origin;  however, 
they all agreed that we need a museum in which all the known genocides 
of our century be exposed. 

Thanks to the relentless effort of the Jewish diaspora the Jewish 
Holocaust is already well known to the Canadian public.  It is our 
belief that to the extent to which Canadians become familiar with the 
other genocides, they will suppport the idea of a general museum of 
genocide.  It is therefore of paramount importance that an alternative 
concept to that of the Holocaust Museum be given consideration and 
discussed publicly.  It whould be a project to construct an 
all-inclusive Canadian Museum of Genocide. 

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4.  A Canadian Approach to a Canadian Museum

My discussion with Jewish and non Jewish colleagues alike concerning the 
"Redress" Monument and the attack on it by Ms. Gagnon, showed a general 
approval for the monument and a unanimous rejection of the columnist's 
assertions.  In the communities which were touched by genocides, Ms. 
Gagnon's article provoked resentment for they found her treatment of all 
the genocides outside the Jewish and Gypsy tragedies to be uninformed, 
arrogant and generally offensive. 

A museum which singles out for remembrence a single case of this scourge 
of humanity runs the risks of provoking even greater resentment, first 
from those citizens whose experience is ignored, and then from the rest 
of the Canadian population for not being provided with the complete 
information on genocide to which it is entitled.  Thus, the exclusion of 
other genocides from a Canadian Museum is objectionable on both ethical 
and political grounds:  while it outrages the memory of countless 
victims, it also creates divisive resentment within our society. 
On the other hand, no one can object to a Canadian Museum of Genocide, 
which commemorates with dignity all acts of mass extermination.  It will 
be a Canadian museum, reflecting the Canadian society, and promoting a 
Canadian way of facing significant issues of general importance.  Such a 
Canadian Museum of Genocide would also be a first of its kind in the 
world.  There are many monuments and museums dedicated to various 
paraticular genocides, but there is only one monument, the Montreal 
"Redress" Monument, which honours the victims and the survivors of all 
genocides.  Now there would be a museum with the same noble intent, 
providing inspiration to other countries and serving as model for 
similar institutions around the world.  The challenge before the 
Canadian public is not just to put up a Museum, but to build a museum 
that will transcend narrow group interests and will encompass the 
concerns of the whole Canadian society. 

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