what's in a word?

Raphael Lemkin
Having spent most of the last ten years immersed in researching 20th century violence that involved my own family, it’s disconcerting to view this new century’s headlines offering up real-time atrocities. Last night I listened to CBC Ideas, which broadcast parts of the Genocide debate speeches at the Hague. 

Definition of genocide:  a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part. It does not include political groups or so called “cultural genocide”.  The word, created in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer, didn’t get legal status until 1946. 

Memorial to drowning victims in Yantarny
This month, 78 years later, the Hague's international court dithers about its application as vulnerable people suffer … ironically, being killed by a people once themselves almost destroyed by genocide. 

January is also the month when more than 10,000 Jewish women, from up to thirty of Stuffhof’s external camps in East Prussia, were forced to march along the Baltic’s amber coast to the mine in Palmnicken (now Yantarny). Only 3000 made it. Instead of being stuffed into one of the amber mining shafts, as originally planned, the emaciated prisoners were forced into the icy Baltic.   

The Baltic near Yantarny on a summer's day

I’ve blogged about this particular atrocity before, but it’s an event that I can’t help but remember every January here in Winnipeg, where it’s cold and windy. I’m grateful for the grace of life that gives me the comforts of warm clothes, food and home. 

While these Jewish prisoners were dying, controlled by a heartless Nazi leadership, the East Prussian civilians were about to embark on their own trek of cold and suffering. 

January is a cruel month … why can’t we all just have a group hug, tend our home fires and read a good book?

“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” ― Albert Einstein

Reading and writing books, listening to others share their stories … it’s the way towards peace. 

Amber Mine entrance 


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