Doris Bergen

doris bergen pic“Hatred alone does not result in genocide. Sadly, there’s a lot of hatred in this world. What galvanizes or transforms it into action is usually, maybe always, leadership.”

In a brief video on the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies website, eminent Holocaust historian Doris Bergen explains her theory for the conditions needed for a genocide to occur by using the analogy of a burning house.

“For a house to burn down, you need the dry timber, the spark and favorable weather.” For a genocide, she continues, hatred of a group is the “dry timber;” the “spark” comes from political leadership; and in the case of the Holocaust, the “favorable weather” was the war.

“The war was very, very crucial in bringing target populations into the hands of the killers.”

Bergen, a distinguished professor at the University of Toronto, understands the story of the Holocaust horror as an assault on humanity. She also is that rare scholar whose books are not just well-written but compelling. Her masterful work, “War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust,” is not only widely used in Holocaust studies but also widely read by the general public. Perhaps this is because Bergen situates the Holocaust in its historical, political, social, cultural and military contexts. Unlike many other treatments of the subject, Bergen’s “War and Genocide” sets the persecution and destruction of the six million Jews within a wide framework of origins and wartime events, giving readers a broad context for the systematic, state-sponsored mass murder by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.

But the Nazis didn’t kill just Jewish citizens; their victims included a long list of others deemed undesirable, among them the Roma, homosexuals, Poles, Soviet POWs, the disabled, communists, captured African American soldiers, and other groups deemed undesirable. In doing so Bergen weaves together two interconnected goals that drove the Nazi German program of conquest and genocide—purification of the so-called Aryan race and expansion of its physical space—and explores how these goals affected the course of World War II.

For Washington University’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Lecture, Bergen will deliver an address on “Holocaust or Genocide: Uniqueness and Universality” at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2 in Umrath Lounge.

In addition to the book noted above, Bergen is the author or editor of “Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich;” “The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Centuries;” and “Lessons and Legacies VIII.”

Hear the entire video of Bergen on the preconditions of genocide.