Last month marked the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, which occurred Nov. 9, 1938. That night, throughout Nazi Germany, Jews were targeted and attacked by Nazi paramilitaries and ordinary citizens while German authorities looked the other way. Windows were smashed in synagogues and Jewish-owned shops. Jewish homes were plundered and pillaged. Ninety-one Jews were killed, and 30,000 Jewish men were taken to concentration camps. The Holocaust had begun. Prior to Kristallnacht, Jewish persecution had largely been political, social and economic. But that night it became violent and lethal.
Since then our world has seen too many genocides and mass atrocities – in Cambodia, the Balkans, Darfur, Rwanda, Guatemala, East Timor and others. Even today, mass atrocities are occurring in Syria, and genocide seems to be simmering in Myanmar and the Central African Republic.
Mass atrocities have also ravaged the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for years. Between 1998 and 2007, the International Rescue Committee found that in the DRC about 5.4 million people died in the war and its aftermath. Certainly thousands more have died since, and the number is rising.
The number of dead in the DRC is nearly as many as the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Although one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II, the DRC tragedy receives little attention.
Horrifying violence in DRC
The unspeakable violence in the DRC should not be ignored. In the aftermath of war in the DRC, the country has been plagued by corruption, disease, lawlessness, and warlord rivalries. What little functioning government exists is based in Kinshasa, in the far west of the DRC, which is the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa by area. Armed militias control vast swaths of mineral-rich eastern DRC. They control the mines to fund their campaigns of violence and fear to maintain their power. Civilians are killed indiscriminately.
Beyond killings, sexual violence is rampant – at one point in 2006-07, four women were raped every five minutes, according to a study conducted by the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. More recent data is unavailable because of the lawlessness and constant warring militias.
Dr. Alain Mukwege is a research fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He grew up in eastern DRC, the son of Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder of the world-famous Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC. He tells horrifying stories of appalling violence. Men have been cut into pieces with machetes. Children have been cruelly thrown into fires and killed. Women of all ages have had their genitals mutilated after gang rapes, sometimes where family members were forced to observe and participate.
A forgotten corner of the world
If these things were happening in any developed country, news cameras and military planes would descend in a heartbeat. But this is happening in the DRC, a seemingly forgotten corner of the world, so the stories go untold.
As we remember those lost in the Holocaust that began on Kristallnacht, let us not forget the victims of senseless mass atrocities the world over. With awareness, we hope that action follows.
Eric Bain is a law student and Benjamin B. Ferencz Fellow in Human Rights and Law, World Without Genocide at William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul.
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