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Essay: Dr. Stanton’s 8 stages of genocide – the Holocaust

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Throughout history several atrocities have been committed, among the most heinous, are genocides. Genocides are described by the United Nations as acts committed in whole, or in part, to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Genocides have occurred in various parts of world, and to various groups of people. The focus of this paper is to review how Dr. Stanton’s 8 stages of genocide are applicable to the genocide known as The Holocaust. Had German society taken preventive measures following each of the stages, the Holocaust could have been prevented.

Genocides are composed of various stages, which can be either progress or be halted. According to Dr. Stanton, there are 8 non-linear stages to any genocide, each stage is also accompanied by a set of preventive measures that can be taken to prevent the next stage from being achieved. Stanton identifies the 8 stages as classification, symbolization dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination, and denial. The Holocaust that occurred in Nazi Germany between 1933-1945, is one of the most atrocious and heinous events in recent history. All the stages described in Dr. Stanton’s theory were present during the events of The Holocaust. Had any of the stages been met with formidable resistance from the German or international community, millions of lives could have potentially been saved.

The Holocaust systematically saw the execution of six-million European Jews. This figure made up about two-thirds of the Jewish population within all of Europe. The Holocaust not only saw the execution of Jews, but also the execution of several other ethnic, religious, and political minorities. The Jewish genocide came in various stages, initially as law and policy limiting their role in society, to gradually turning into persecution and execution. The early stages were warning signs, yet little to nothing was done to prevent the stages from progressing, eventually leading to the deaths of millions.

One of the most significant and early stages of The Holocaust, was the process of classification. Part of any genocide is the process of classification, in which one group establishes differences between ethnicities, races, religions, and/or nationalities. Hitler distinguished between the “Aryans,” as a superior “master-race” and the Jews and other non-Aryans as “undesirables” (Scales-Trent, 2001). Effectively creating an “us vs. them” ideology which saw the Aryans as a culture producing race, and the Jews as a culture destroying race. Classifying groups created a division among German society, which initially created a power struggle and eventually led to more serious consequences.

Using a variety of classification methods, Hitler was able to create powerful and deceitful divisions among Germans and Jews. Hitler’s Bureau for Enlightenment on Population Policy and Racial Welfare created distinctions between Jews and Aryans based on pseudo-science, using cranial measurements and other physical features as distinguishing factors (Weinstein, 2006). He also labeled the mentally ill, terminally ill, and physically handicapped, as “useless eaters” who needed to be removed to improve the condition of the German race (Scales-Trent, 2001).  Hateful rhetoric and propaganda, classified Jews as “communists and thieves” which needed to be removed from Germany. The plot worked, leading many Germans to believe they were superior to Jews and believing they were a threat to the country.

Classification could have potentially been stopped from progressing, had German society taken countermeasures to halt the process. According to Dr. Stanton, the best way to combat classification, is to develop universalistic institutions which transcend ethnic or racial divisions, while at the same time actively promoting tolerance and understanding. Had there been greater pushback from groups advocating solidarity among Jews and Germans, discounting things like pseudo-science and social-Darwinism, perhaps the process would have ended there. Both civilians and government could have promoted unity based on nationality rather than race, commonality shared through language, and actively opposed racist politicians and policies that threatened the well-being of a specific group. However, rather than fighting the classifications, most of the German population embraced the belief that they were a “superior master race” which allowed Hitler to move forward to another stage.

Symbols were one of the most significant parts of The Holocaust, as they helped legitimize Jewish and German image. Dr. Stanton describes symbolization as the process in which classifications are given symbols. In Nazi Germany, both Jews and Germans were ascribed symbols which separated the “inferior race” from the “superior race.” Jews were made to carry a special marked passport, forced to wear a yellow star of David badge, while members of the Nazi Party wore uniforms and the infamous red swastika armband. The symbols that were used, quickly gained power and became a staple of Hitler’s Germany.

Symbols and names helped reinforce and solidify German self-perceptions and their perception of Jews (Bartov, 1998). Jews and Gypsies were symbolized and classified as enemies of the state, allowing Hitler to pass a series of laws that stripped them of their rights. Which according to Stanton, is exactly the opposite of what should have happened. According to Stanton, the best way to combat symbolization is by outlawing hate symbols and hate speech. Local and international leaders should have condemned and protested the use of hateful speech and the imposition of markings on documents and clothing. The public should have also rejected the use of symbols such as the swastika and the star of David, as doing so would have deprived those symbols of any significance and prevented that stage from developing any further.

Jews and other minorities were dehumanized through a variety of mediums, both spoken and written. Their humanity was replaced with the identity of animals, insects, vermin, and disease (Botz, 2016). According to Stanton, during the dehumanization stage humans overcome the revulsion that occurs when murdering a fellow human being. Rather than feeling remorse for the murder of another human, the oppressing party feels as if they are killing a pest that is not human. In Nazi Germany, Jews and other “undesirables” were seen as vermin that Germany needed saving from (Hartmann, 1984).

Hitler’s Germany was rampant with hateful propaganda that vilified Jews and other minorities. Removing from them their humanity, reducing them to sub-human living beings. This stage was met with little resistance from Germans, with millions of Germans even playing a proactive role in devising and executing legal vilifications against Jews (Hartmann, 1984). Millions of allegedly “decent” German citizens contributed to the dehumanization of Jews by allowing and perpetuating hateful speech on radio and television, making it culturally acceptable. Crimes against Jews went unpunished and were the subject of daily occurrence, gradually growing worse, eventually giving way to the following stage.

Like all other genocides, genocides require a high level of organization. The Holocaust was no exception, armed groups were funded and trained by the state. Hitler instated a powerfully organized militia that was composed of various units, each responsible for a specific function. According to Stanton, the organizational stage is where plans for genocidal massacres are made. This was true in Nazi Germany, where Hitler’s highly organized Waffen SS was largely responsible for the systematic detainment, torture, and massacre of millions of Jews (Wegner, 1990).

The organizational stage of The Holocaust was met with little, to no resistance from the domestic and international community, ensuring the stage’s progression. According to Stanton, during the organizational stage of a genocide, genocidal groups should be treated as the criminals they are. Joining the militia created by the state to perpetrate genocidal actions should have become illegal, while military leaders should have been arrested. Leaders should have also had travel visas denied, foreign assets frozen or seized, while those who supplied them with weaponry should have imposed embargoes. In doing so, the organizational structure of The Holocaust would have failed, preventing it from moving forward, and saving millions of lives.

The polarization in Germany gradually became more extreme as Germans were influenced by several factors. Germans became increasingly influenced by hateful propaganda in the form of newspaper ads, radio, television, speeches, posters etc. All of Germany’s media was under Nazi control, which was utilized to its full extent to create extreme polarization (Baranowski, 2000). Polarization became even more extreme with the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, which legally forbade Jews from marrying or having sexual intercourse with anyone of German-blood. Moderate or non-radical German leaders who may have opposed far-right ideologies of the Nazi regime, were also taken and executed, adding to the polarization of the two groups.

As polarization increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to halt the stages of a genocide, but it is still possible. According to Dr. Stanton’s theory, the Nuremberg laws should have been vigorously opposed and protested, as they denied Jews of their rights. Moderate leaders should have also been protected by armed guards, as they could have played a pivotal role in the rejection or reversal of discriminatory laws and policies. Had these moderate leaders been arrested, the international community should have demanded their release and arranged for their protection. Instead, moderates were executed, and oppositional groups were quickly silenced, giving way to further injustices.

One of the most crucial stages during the Holocaust was the preparational stage, which signified that the state was preparing itself to begin killing. During preparation, segregation became very clear as Jews were identified and separated from the general population. Forced to relocate from their homes to concentration camps and forced to wear special garments. At the same time, death lists were created, weapons began to stockpile, and plans to carry out executions began to form (Fein, 1993). Undoubtedly, preparation meant that the state was taking all necessary steps to take the process one step further.

Being one of the most drastic stages, preparation is easily observable and could have possibly been halted. According to Dr. Stanton, it is during preparation that a genocidal emergency should have been declared. The death lists, weapon stockpiling, and forceful relocation of Jews to concentration camps should have been more than enough for the international community to act. The UN and the international community could have mobilized their armed forces and prepared them for armed intervention. The international community could have also helped the Jewish community prepare for self-defense and/or with humanitarian assistance, possibly preventing the loss of millions of lives.

The horrendous stages that were left to run their course, led to the penultimate stage, extermination. To the Germans this action was considered “extermination” as Jews were considered sub-human, to the rest of the world it was genocide. Millions of Jews and other “undesirables” that had somehow managed to survive the inhuman conditions of the concentration camps, were taken to extermination camps, some which were capable of killing 6,000 people at a time (Kulka, 1985). More than 3 million Jews were murdered in extermination camps, most of which used lethal gas chambers. Others were shot and buried in mass graves while many others died of starvation and disease, thus, achieving Hitler’s Holocaust.

Although extermination is the stage in which killing has already begun, it is still possible to minimize loss of life. According to Dr. Stanton, the international community should have responded with rapid and overwhelming armed intervention. Safe refugee escape corridors along with heavily armed protection should have also been established by the international community. If the UN was unable to provide multilateral armed intervention, regional alliances should have been formed to assist. Ultimately, if powerful nations were unable or unwilling to provide a direct armed assistance, it was their responsibility to provide equipment, airlift support, and financial assistance to victims of the Holocaust to prevent further loss of life.

Denial is the final stage of a genocide, during the Holocaust there was denial before and after it had occurred. Nazis spent a lot of time and effort, trying to deny the atrocities they had committed. Nazis dug up mass graves, burned bodies, destroyed evidence, and intimidated survivors and witnesses to deny the Holocaust occurred. Along with several excuses and shifting of blame, Nazis tried to mitigate the truth of their actions, and even in later years certain groups question and deny the Holocaust ever occurred (Mathis, 2006). Several of those involved in orchestrating The Holocaust, blamed their victims, tried to block investigations, and hid behind the war, continually denying a genocide had taken place.

The creation of a court system to find and punish offenders, was the best way to combat denial following the Holocaust. According to Dr. Stanton, denial must be fought by capturing and punishing the perpetrators in an international tribunal or national court. The Allied Forces established a series of military tribunals which sought to prosecute high-ranking officials that were directly involved in the planning and execution of The Holocaust. There, evidence was presented and heard, and those found guilty were punished for their crimes against humanity, ensuring that their crimes were acknowledged, never forgotten, and hopefully never repeated.

The Holocaust was made possible due to the international community ignoring the early stages, and failing to respond in a timely manner. Each of the stages described by Dr. Stanton, is a precursor of what will eventually culminate in genocide. The unwillingness of the international community to peacefully prevent The Holocaust while it was building up, and forcefully stop it when it was occurring, led to the loss of millions of lives. Given the circumstances that were evident throughout the development of the Holocaust, the international community could have and should have done much more to prevent such an atrocious act from being completed. Dr. Stanton’s model should be utilized when analyzing future instances of genocide, his preventive measures should be adopted and quickly executed, as failing to do so could potentially result in another Holocaust.

Originally published 15.10.2019

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