World as Witness: Learning about Genocide

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Is “Never Again” little more than a catchphrase?

Having been teaching for only a few years, I am often taken by surprise that students know little or nothing about international events or historical personalities. For example, most students have no idea who Bill Clinton is; they have never heard of Yugolslavia; when I mention Lenin, they only know John Lennon; and recently, when I referred the Holocaust, most students had a vague idea (at best) of what I was talking about.

Learning about genocide is an important lesson in how prejudice and bigotry can destroy democratic societies and result in the deaths of millions of people. The UN Genocide Convention, passed in 1948, was based on the sentiment of “Never Again”. Never again, it was supposed, would the world remain silent and allow systemic racial hatred to fester into genocide. However, 50 years on, we now know that we have been doomed to witness history repeat itself in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and today in the Sudan. According to the Genocide Education Project, genocides and other forms of mass murder killed 170 million people, more than all the international wars of the 20th century combined. At a time when we talk more and more about globalisation, an awareness of tolerance, human rights, ethics, personal responsibility, and the consequences of their absence, is vital.

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The World is Witness, a new “geoblog” from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Genocide Prevention Mapping Initiative, in partnership with Google Earth, documents and maps genocide and related crimes against humanity. The blog has first hand accounts of the effects of genocide and war. The blog also hosts, the Voices on Genocide Prevention, a bi-weekly audio series and podcast service, hosted by Committee on Conscience Project Director Bridget Conley-Zilkic, with insights from human rights defenders, experts, advocates, and government officials.

World is Witness

Via its mapping initiative, USHMM has been using Google Earth and animated maps for a few years now to help people better understand Holocaust history and to raise awareness of the current threats of genocide across the globe.

“The Holocaust took place across the entire European continent, and for all of Europe’s Jews, as well as other victims of Nazism, geography played a major role in determining their fate. The Mapping Initiative shows key Holocaust sites and historic content from the Museum’s collections. The initiative also includes information on potential genocides allowing citizens, governments, and institutions to access information on atrocities in their nascent stages and respond.”


The Cambodian Genocide Project has compiled and published 22,000 biographic and bibliographic records, and over 6,000 photographs, along with documents, translations, maps, and an extensive list of books and research papers on the genocide, as well as the interactive Cambodian Geographic Database, CGEO, which includes data on: Cambodia’s 13,000 villages; the 115,000 sites targeted in 231,00 U.S. bombing sorties flown over Cambodia in 1965-75, dropping 2.75 million tons of munitions; 158 prisons run by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime during 1975-1979, and 309 mass-grave sites with an estimated total of 19,000 grave pits; and 76 sites of post-1979 memorials to victims of the Khmer Rouge.

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Genocide Intervention Network empowers individuals and communities with the tools to prevent and stop genocide. Its “members envision a world in which the global community is willing and able to protect civilians from genocide and mass atrocities. As part of the anti-genocide movement, we raise both money and political will for civilian protection initiatives around the world.”

Other Resources:

Genocide Education Project,
Teachers Against Genocide
Facing history and ourselves
How to Teach about Genocide? — Dr. Joyce Apsel
Holocaust Teacher Resource Center
Elementary Social Studies: Guidelines for Teaching about the Holocaust
P.O.V.: “Discovering Dominga”:

Frontline: “Valentina’s Nightmare”:
Prevent Genocide International: What is Genocide?:
U.S. Institute of Peace: The Genocide Convention at 50
Frontline: “Ghosts of Rwanda”:

Genocide Watch:

BBC: The Rwandan Genocide
The Committee on Conscience: Darfur
NOW: Understanding Sudan:
NOW: Interview with Samantha Power:
NewsHour Online: Ravaged Region:
NewsHour Online: Sudan in Crisis
BBC: Sudan: A Nation Divided:
Darfur Information Center

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