These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You

Larry Holzwarth - November 23, 2017

Genocide is the destruction of a people or peoples based on ethnic, racial, religious, or national distinctions. It has been practiced throughout history, by national or religious leaders who have used bigotry, prejudice, or religious factors to justify it to those performing it upon another people. The names Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Saddam Hussein are well known and associated with genocide, which they should be, but many others committed equally appalling crimes of mass murder, some forgotten to history, other than by descendants of the survivors. Acts of genocide have inflamed racial and ethnic hatred down through the centuries, leading to further crimes against peoples, including further mass killings.

A common belief today is that the atrocities committed in the past, such as the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis, cannot happen today. Many adopt the attitude that civilization would not tolerate such an act. But genocides occur around the world with depressing regularity and the civilized world does little to stop it. ISIL began a genocide against the Yazidis in Northern Iraq and Syria, which has received little international attention beyond the overall battle against the Islamic terrorist group. Estimates as high as 40% of the population of East Timor being slaughtered between 1975 and 1999 drew some attention in news reports and international studies, but national governments were unable to even agree that the actions by the Indonesian government which caused the deaths constituted genocide.

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You
The Gates of Auschwitz are recognized around the world as a symbol of genocide. Wikimedia

Here are some examples of lesser known acts of genocide throughout history, and the leaders who inspired and prosecuted them.

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You
Pope Innocent III responded to challenges to his authority with a call for a crusade which led to genocide. Wikipedia

Albigensian Crusade and Cathar Genocide. Pope Innocent III

The Cathar people were a dissenting religious sect in the southern region of France known as Languedoc. They disagreed with the church hierarchy in Rome over matters of religious practice, including the often dissolute behavior of priests and bishops. Cathars believed that any member of the church had the authority to consecrate the Host for communion, hear confessions and grant absolution, and directly challenged papal authority.

In the late 12th century several church councils condemned the Cathars, confiscated their property, and imprisoned their leaders for heresy. In 1208 the Pope, Innocent III, declared all Cathars to be heretics, announced that their lands were forfeited to the Church, and offered those lands to any and all French noblemen who would join a crusade to exterminate the Cathars.

Innocent III was one of the most powerful of all popes, claiming and enforcing authority over all of Europe’s national leaders. To him, the Cathar sect was a direct threat not only to his religious authority but to his secular power. The crusade against the Cathars allowed the King of France, Phillip II, to consolidate his authority over the region by eliminating local nobles who had now been labeled as heretics by Rome.

In 1209 the French began a crusade to acquire the lands occupied by the Cathars centered around Albi, eliminating the occupants. The wives and children of Cathars were considered to be guilty of heresy as well, and their slaughter was considered to be divinely ordained. By 1215 nearly all of the Cathar’s lands were under the control of the French King, and up to 1,000,000 men, women, and children had been slaughtered in defense of the Church.

Innocent III ordered other crusades against those he considered heretics or infidels, including the Fourth Crusade which led to the sacking of Constantinople, three days of nearly indiscriminate slaughter and looting by the crusaders. When Innocent III was informed of the behavior of the crusaders in his service he rebuked them publicly, but accepted their gifts of looted treasure from the ravaged city. The Lateran Council which Innocent III established in 1215 condemned Jews as blasphemers and denied them employment in public offices, a ruling which would in a later day be cited by Nazis.

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You
This cube marks the site for a future memorial to victims of the Soviet induced Kazakhstan Famine. Wikipedia

Kazakhstan Famine of 1932. Filipp Goloshekin

In the early 1930s the process of Sovietization of the various socialist republics which made up the Soviet Union led to the reduction of the native ethnic populations in many. One of the preferred means of eliminating native populations was through the use of starvation. Census data from the Soviets reveals that over 1.5 million Kazakhs died during the fifteen years between counting, nearly all of them during the famine which occurred from 1932-33.

The famine was not due to natural disaster or catastrophe, but from Soviet policies and procedures regarding the administration of the ethnic republics. It was a man-made famine, a policy of designed starvation intended to reduce the ethnic majority of the Kazakhs to a minority.

Filipp Goloshekin was a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee during the famine, which in Kazakhstan came to bear his name as the Goloshekin Famine. On his resume was participation in the murder of the Romanov family, an act for which he was to boast to a British Minister.

His administration of Kazakhstan led to the ethnic Kazakh population being reduced to less than 40% of the overall population, down from over 60% when the republic was brought into the Soviet Union. The deaths by starvation cannot be accurately counted as many children died during and shortly after childbirth, but most historians place the total as near 2,000,000.

Goloshekin remained in power as a party functionary after leaving the Central Committee in 1934, until he was himself arrested in June 1941, as the German army was driving into Russia. Imprisoned by the Russian secret police – the NKVD – he was held until October of that year, when he was shot, probably by the direct order of Stalin. The NKVD buried him in an unmarked grave.

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You
A body lies in a Ukrainian street during the Holomodor. Wikimedia

The Holodomor. Josef Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov

Holodomor is a Ukrainian word which can be literally translated as “death by hunger”. In the Ukraine it refers to the created famine designed and implemented by the Soviet state to reduce the ethnic Ukrainian population. The famine, also known as the Great Famine, was executed by the Soviets from 1932-33 contemporaneously with similar policies in other Soviet Socialist Republics. In the Ukraine it led to the deaths of up to 12 million people.

Stalin is widely believed to have ordered the famine, which was implemented by party functionaries in the Ukraine and by the NKVD. Foodstuffs and grain were confiscated by the Soviets under the guise of being distributed equitably among all the Ukrainian people. Those accused of hoarding supplies were imprisoned by the NKVD and routinely shot after torture.

The famine did not escape the notice of the international community, which offered aid to the Soviets through religious organizations and through the League of Nations. Stalin rejected all forms of foreign aid. While it is true that the harvests of 1932 were much smaller than had been hoped for, they were sufficient to prevent the widespread starvation which ensued.

Stalin also directed that relocation of ethnic peoples to avert the starvation occurring in certain areas was to be prevented. Forcing the population to remain in place ensured that local food supplies were unable to support survival. During the Holodomor more than 2,500 Ukrainians were convicted by the Soviet government for cannibalism.

In 2006 declassified documents were released by Ukraine which indicate that Ukraine was deliberately denied support which the Soviet Central Committee provided to other regions with different ethnic demographics. These documents support the theory among many scholars that the famine was designed to destroy Ukrainian nationalism by eliminating them as an ethnic majority.

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You
A Cambodian Killing Field, where often victims of the genocide were buried alive. Wikipedia

Cambodian Genocide. Pol Pot

Between 1975 and 1979 at least 1.5 million and possibly up to 3 million Cambodians were systematically killed by the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot. Cambodia had been renamed Democratic Kampuchea by the Khmer Rouge following their seizure of power in the Cambodian Civil War.

Pol Pot ran the party known as the Khmer Rouge and Kampuchea as a dictator, with complete authority over the state, which he envisioned as being built on the Soviet model. Pol Pot ordered forced relocations from urban environments to rural collectivist farms, or to forced labor projects to improve the small nation’s infrastructure.

Through his total control of the party and its hold on the nation’s military and security, Pol Pot rooted out dissenters for quick execution. Medical care was virtually non-existent and brutal working conditions combined with malnutrition and systematic executions reduced the population of Kampuchea by nearly 25% in just over four years.

The Khmer Rouge conducted forced evacuations of cities, including the capital of Phnom Penh, and divided the populace into three categories, full-rights people, candidates for full-rights, and depositees. Depositees were driven by forced marches into rural areas where after digging their own graves were often buried alive, in accordance with Pol Pot’s edict that “…bullets are not to be wasted.”

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge had a policy of enforced atheism, leading to the execution of priests and monks, as well as anyone practicing any form of religion or retaining religious symbols or literature. The genocide in Kampuchea continued until an invasion by Vietnam led to the Pol Pot government fleeing into deep jungle, where it remained as the internationally recognized legitimate government of the country. As the world learned of the genocide pressure mounted on the Khmer Rouge to hand Pot over for trial, and upon learning that the Khmer Rouge had agreed to do so Pol Pot died suddenly, most likely by suicide. His body was cremated before an autopsy could be performed.

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You
Generalplan Ost was the responsibility of Heinrich Himmler, pictured her in a 1942 portrait. German Federal Archive

Generalplan Ost. Adolf Hitler

In the personal view of Adolf Hitler, and thus in the official policy of the Third Reich, peoples of Slavic descent were untermenschen – subhuman – and the lands they populated were too valuable to be wasted on them. Hitler wanted the lands of central and eastern Europe to be colonized by Aryans, believed by the Nazis to be superior to all other races.

Generalplan Ost was developed by and amended over time by the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler. Much of the plan was in place prior to the start of the war, which Himmler envisioned as largely a racial struggle, and in which he predicted that “…20 to 30 million Slavs and Jews will perish through military actions and crises of food supply…” In 1941 the plan was changed when the Jewish situation gained its own separate “Final Solution.”

In June of 1941 the plan included the deportation of more than 30 million Slavs to Siberia after the successful completion of the war against the Soviet Union. The plan discussed the planned forced relocation of Slavic people well into the 1950s, and as the war progressed and the Germans found themselves unable to secure much of the envisioned territory, changes from relocation to extermination were put in place. It had been intended by the plan to remove all food stocks from the Ukraine and other areas seized from the Soviets, allowing for starvation to eliminate the people left behind.

Nearly 14 million Russian and Eastern European civilians died during the Second World War according to Russian sources, with nearly 8 million the result of German policies as spelled out in Generalplan Ost. The plan specified the Hunger Plan which would through starvation reduce the Slavic populations to what the Nazis determined to be acceptable levels.

The Hunger Plan was implemented in most of the areas occupied by the Germans, and was likely responsible for the majority of the deaths which occurred among the civilian population, which reached nearly 20% of the 68 million who found themselves behind the German lines for most of the war. Generalplan Ost led to between 4.5 or 13.7 million civilian deaths, depending on the source of the estimate, between June 1941 and May 1945.

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You
Armenians being marched to their deportation point under the armed guard of Turkish soldiers. American Red Cross

Armenian Genocide. Talaat Pasha

It was the attempted elimination of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire during and following the First World War which led to the creation of the word genocide. In 1914 planning for the removal of the Armenians from the Ottoman Empire had resulted in a racially charged propaganda campaign declaring persons of Armenian descent to be enemies of the Ottoman Empire, helping to destroy it from within.

In the spring of 1915 Armenian notables, intellectuals, and other persons of influence were arrested for deportation, most were later murdered. In May Talaat Pasha, the Ottoman Minister of State, pushed an order to deport all Armenians from the Ottoman Empire through the government. This order was viewed by state security forces as an order to execute Armenians.

Armenians were forced marched into the desert of what is now Syria, where they were held in camps without food, adequate shelter, medicines, or even sufficient water. Death by starvation and overwork was the unofficial policy of the Ottoman Empire, and although the plight of the Armenians was observed by representatives of several western nations, little aid was provided and what did come was diverted by Ottoman officials.

Once the deported Armenians reached their destination point, preordained by the Ottoman government, those who had survived were gathered into concentration camps. Married women deemed desirable by the Turks were selected for marrying after their husbands were starved to death. Some camps were used simply as mass grave sites, the Armenians arrived there to die of starvation or thirst in a few days. Some villages were packed with Armenian deportees and burned.

Turkish doctors engaged in medical experiments on Armenian prisoners, a precursor to the activities of German doctors during the Holocaust years later. Experiments with drug overdoses, typhus and other communicable diseases, and poison gas were all conducted and documented by Turkish doctors. By the time the Armenian genocide ended in 1922 half of all Armenians in Turkey had died, a number which has been estimated to be as high as 1.5 million men women and children. Talaat Pasha was assassinated in 1921 after having fled the Ottoman Empire near the end of the First World War. His assassin was a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You
Mao Zedong, whose Great Leap Forward led to what may have been as many as 55 million deaths. Wikipedia

The Great Leap Forward. Mao Zedong

The Great Leap Forward is not officially considered to be an act of genocide by the United Nations nor any of its member nations, largely because it was not a focused attempt at eliminating any one ethnic, religious, or racial group. Nonetheless it was an act of official government policy which through its implementation led to the death of between 18 and 55 million people.

Mao implemented the Great Leap as a means of creating an industrial society and collectivist agriculture. From 1958 through 1962, the period of the Great Leap Forward, the Chinese economy shrank despite increased forced labor. The Great Chinese Famine of 1959-61 was a result of the Great Leap Forward, which also saw numerous mass killings, terror activities, coercions, and directed violence.

One historian, Frank Dikotter, estimated that 2.5 million Chinese of differing ethnicities were either tortured to death or beaten to death by security forces or local militias. With private farming banned by the government, even the growing of a few vegetables in a garden could be considered an act of treason against the state. On collectivist farms the smuggling of crops and the reporting of false harvest numbers were both crimes. Even as China struggled with famine it maintained its grain exports as a means of saving face. In Xinjiang province, which held a largely Uyghur population, nearly 1 million died. Deaths attributed to suicide rose to what some have estimated to be 3 million.

Armed rebellions occurred in many Chinese provinces and although none were serious enough to threaten the authority of the Central Government, they led to local unrest and many additional deaths. Trains shipping food were often robbed, as were grain storage facilities and food warehouses.

By 1962 the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward were openly attacked within the Communist Party, and changes were made to policy to bring about economic progress. An accurate estimate of the deaths which can be attributed to the Great Leap Forward is nearly impossible, but it is clearly many multiples of millions.

These 8 Lesser Known Genocides and their Leaders Will Shock You
A plaque dedicated to the memory of the Romani people of Italy who died during the Romani genocide hangs on a Roman wall. Wikimedia

Romani Genocide. Adolf Hitler

The Romani people of Europe were long the subject of prejudice and discrimination against them, not only in Germany but in most European states. Called gypsies in a derogatory manner, Romani people faced local and national laws which restricted their culture and traditions long before the Nazis came to power in Germany. Heinrich Himmler was particularly interested in the Romani people, whom he believed to have been Aryan in origin before becoming diluted by other ethnic bloodlines. He supported for a time the imposition of a policy through which the Romani would be deported to reservations, similar to the policy in effect in the United States towards Native Americans.

Beginning in 1935 gypsies were placed in camps where they were subjected to physical examinations. By 1937 Nazi law referred to the Romani as a separate race. The preceding year the Nuremburg Law was expanded to include Romani, stripping them of their right to vote and of their citizenship.

Discussion of the Romani question ended in 1942 when Himmler ordered that Romani be deported to Auschwitz, Treblinka, and other camps. By November 1943 Romani people were placed in the same category as Jews, and besides being marked for deportation to the camps, were frequently killed where encountered by German einsatzgruppen.

Some countries under German occupation co-operated with the Nazis by rounding up Romani people and delivering them to the Germans. France delivered over 6,000 Romani to Nazi officials for deportation, other countries, mostly in the Caucasus, provided varying levels of shelter to them. At Auschwitz and other camps, organized resistance to the Nazis was attempted, and in some cases successful in delaying or preventing execution in the gas chambers.

An exact number of Romani victims is nearly impossible to calculate due to the aggressive manner in which several puppet states persecuted them. The number executed by the Germans in death camps is only a starting point. Some estimates by scholars are around 250,000 while others run closer to 800,000, and even as high as 1 million. Germany paid reparations to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust but not to Romani who escaped execution at the hands of the Germans or their allies. West Germany finally acknowledged the persecution of the Romani as genocide in 1982 and in 2007 Romanian President Traian Basescu apologized for the role played by Romania in the attempted extermination of the Romani people, speaking for a portion of his statement in the Romani language.