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Essay: Buczacz’s Genocide: How History of Occupation Led to WWII Ethnic Cleansing

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  • Published: 26 February 2023*
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  • Words: 1,381 (approx)
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  • Tags: Genocide essays World War II

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War and Occupation

The only way to understand the 20th century is to understand what happened during World War II. Why are people instrumented to hurt human beings? What kind of reasons and excuses will entire societies and nations find for murders without any mercy? To understand these questions, we don’t need to look very far. Holocaust represents the dark mind of one generation in European countries. The generation which was not able to save but destroys almost all Jewish communities on the continent. Omar Bartov in that sense explores those atrocities, using only one puzzle of the entire holocaust picture. This piece of the puzzle is a town of Buczacz, Ukraine.

Thesis statement:  Genocide in Buczacz is an example of how genocide can be committed at the local level and how ethnic cleansing can reach the scale of genocide and be committed among former neighbors, all in order to destroy the protected group – in this case, members of the Jewish community of Buczacz.

Genocide is a political term. Although it is, in fact, a criminal act which is today a criminal offense in most countries in the world, it is mostly a political act. How is this so? The act of genocide is performed in order to destroy an entire protected group from a certain territory and this is done due to political pretensions of some other group or country. The main goal is the destruction of the group and this can be done in several methods. Genocide has been recognized as a crime against humanity within the text of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which was adopted by the UN in the year 1948 and this is the biggest legacy of the World War II – several documents, conventions and legislation which recognized genocide as a crime for the first time in human history and was adopted with the main cause to protect such wrongdoings in the future. Although genocide as a term emerged from the World War II, the crime itself did not emerge from this war; different genocidal acts and destroying of different protected groups occurred throughout the history but this was the first time this crime was recognized as such and the first time the legislation for this crime was introduced. 

The main characteristic of genocide is thus the attempt to destroy an entire political, religious, ethnic group on a particular territory.  In the book “Anatomy of a Genocide the Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz” Omer Bartov writes on one such attempt which occurred in town Buczacz, located in the Eastern Europe, part of Ukraine today. Bartov, who is subjectively connected with the story through his parents, portrays an objective story of the world and everyday life of people of Buczacz, members of the group determined for extermination. In the very first pages of his book, Bartov introduces the reader with his connection to the city and the crime occurred, giving his motives to be investigating and documenting this act and why he devoted two decades of his life to finding out what happened in this town during the World War II and why. As Bartov started his quest late, many of the survivors or those who knew something of the story were dead but he did manage to find a large documentation as a historical evidence which helped him reconstruct what happened in this town, evidence that argues in favor that the criminal offense of genocide was committed in Buczacz.

“Over those two decades, however, I did learn a great deal about the history of Buczacz and the catastrophe that befell it in World War II. I found a great many documents, mostly untouched since they were first deposited in dozens of archival collections, libraries, and other research institutions. I also identified scores of living survivors, as well as hundreds of written, audiotaped, and videotaped testimonies whose collection began even before the war ended and continued well into the 1990s.” (Bartov, p.  4).

Bartov shows how this horrific crime can be performed on a local level. In a city where different nations, Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians lived side by side for 4 centuries, the World War II changed everything and the entire population of Jews were exterminated through murders and sent to concentration camps but also through persecution to other countries.

In the first chapter, Bartov describes the history of the city and some of the crimes that occurred throughout history, describing how life was for Jews under different occupations. Bartov describes details of events until the Second World War and all that preceded the genocide. Between the First and the Second World War, the rise of nationalism brought disarray to this small town.

Bartov describes how the Jews were integrated into this community and genocide was actually committed by their neighbors, making this all the more barbaric. Hate and animosity towards Jews reached their culmination until 1939; Jews found themselves between the will and the needs of both the Ukrainians and the Poles. After the German takeover in the year 1941, the genocidal intent directed towards the destruction of both Jews and all the traces of their existence in this territory manifested itself in its worst form. The dehumanization of the group was carried out and genocide in Buczacz was committed by all of the methods mentioned above.

“Jews were featured as an alien, inassimilable, and potentially subversive element.” (Bartov)

After the dehumanization process was complete, former friends and acquaintances could easily carry out the most delusional tasks. The Jews of Buczacz were subjected to discrimination, maltreatment, murder, torture, were being sent to concentration camps all this was done by the Ukrainian militia formed by the Germans, the police and the army, all consisted from locals, their neighbors.

Nevertheless, for Bartov, Holocaust has started long before Hitler came in power. In Fact, what happens during the WII, is just continuation of dehumanization of the Jewish population which didn’t stop from the time of Inquisition. Almost two decades before the mass killing started in German Reich, oppressions were implemented in Russia, in the town of Buczacz. Bartov states: “Using various pretexts, the Russian imposed heavy fines on wealthy Jews, and whoever refused to pay “was immediately jailed and maltreated so badly” that he swiftly related.” (Bartov, p. 50)

From this, it is evident that the Jewish population was treated as the second-class citizens. Bartov continues: "One of the worst occurred in November 1914, when “the Muscovites drove the Jews out of their houses, and they fled to the Jewish cemetery, where they remained day and night… The Cossacks came to the cemetery on horseback with their leather whips and ordered the Jews to leave the cemetery and cross the river… But “just as they crossed the stream a Russian officer ordered (the soldiers) to push them back where they had come from. Since the Jews “could not change their clothes and were wet and cold… many of them became ill, and many died.” (Bartov, p.50-51)   

From this description, it is evident that what happened two decades later was “natural behavior” when it comes to discrimination and destruction of the Jewish society in the whole of Europe. What Bartov is actually doing in his book is based on the fact that many people were aware of the fact of what was happening during the Holocaust but most of them turned their head away from the truth, excluding themselves from any kind of guiltiness, while others took part in this process. Both of those groups, those who took an active part in genocide and those who didn't raise their voice for the murdering and torture of their neighbors, are almost equally guilty. They were all part of the Nazi regime. The majority of the European society didn’t do anything to stop the mass killing of the Jewish population.

Bartov also concludes that only when Nazi Germany was on “their knees” people began to react. “Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz” includes all of these stories as an evidence how people behave badly when they are put in the position to do so. How societies can live without any moral or ethical code when they allowed to express themselves in their full evil potential.   

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