August 7, 1933 Anatomy of Genocide

“Consider the case of a farmer who owns a flock of chickens. He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing.”

Soghomon Tehlirian 1921

Soghomon Tehlirian studied his quarry, for weeks. He even took an apartment near the man’s home at #4 Hardenbergstraße, to shadow the hated Talaat Pasha and learn his daily routine.

Then came the day. March 15, 1921.  Tehlirian waited with his unsuspecting victim at a crosswalk, hurrying across only to turn and cross, once more.   To look into the man’s eyes. Identity thus confirmed, the assassin wheeled on passing his victim, and raised the Luger.  A single bullet in the nape of the neck.

The hated architect of the deportation and murder of so many of his people, of the extermination of 85 members of the assassin‘s own family, was dead before he hit the street.  Tehlirian did not run.  He waited patiently for the Polizei and surrendered, upon their arrival.

12 jurors of a Weimar Court pronounced Tehlirian not guilty of this, his second assassination. The first was that of Harutian Mgrditichian, that Judas to his own people who fed the Ottoman overlord the names and addresses, of its victims.

There was no term in 1921, for the Armenian genocide. International law was ambivalent, as to whether there was even a crime. When the Jewish/Polish law student Rafael Lemkin asked his professor why there was no law under which to prosecute Talaat, the professor replied “Consider the case of a farmer who owns a flock of chickens. He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing.”

On November 26, 1935, the anti-Semitic and racist Nuremberg Laws added the Romani people as “enemies of the race-based state”, of Nazi Germany. Over the next ten years as many as three-quarters of the itinerant Indo-Aryan Roma and Sinti people, were wiped from the face of the earth. Two-thirds of all the Jews in Europe were systematically murdered by the Nazi regime along with untold numbers of smaller “undesirable” groups such as Jehova’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Germans with mental and physical disabilities and others. Six to ten percent of all the Polish gentiles in Nazi occupied Europe were destroyed along with three million Polish Jews.

“Czeslawa Kwoka. Auschwitz. 1942. Auschwitz photographer Wilhelm Brasse was deeply affected by seeing Czeslawa Kwoka beaten. “I felt as if I was being hit myself,” Brasse later said, “but I couldn’t interfere.”” Wikimedia Commons

Genocide was a crime without a name at this time. Germans called it Völkermord, (‘murder of a people’). Poles called it ludobójstwo, (‘killing of a people or nation’) and Winston Churchill, referring to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, spoke of “a crime without a name”. It was Rafael Lemkin in 1944 who coined the term ‘genocide’, from the Ancient Greek word génos (γένος, meaning “race” or “people”) and the Latin suffix caedere, meaning, “to kill”.

The term came into common usage during the Nuremberg trials but only as a descriptive. It wasn’t until the 1946 Polish Genocide trials of Arthur Greiser and Amon Leopold Goth that the term took on formal, legal meaning.

In 1996, research professor and founding Genocide Watch President Gregory Stanton presented a briefing paper to the United States Department of State, describing the “8 Stages of Genocide”. That was amended in 2012 to add two more, resulting in ten identifiable stages, of genocide:

  • Classification: People are divided into “them and us”. Between 1949 and 1961, Mao’s purges of China and Tibet killed an estimated 49 to 78 million souls
  • Symbolization: “When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups…” On this day in 1933 the government of Iraq slaughtered over 3,000 Assyrians in the village of Sumail. To this day August 7 is known as, Assyrian Martyrs Day.
  • Discrimination: “Law or cultural power excludes groups from full civil rights: segregation or apartheid laws, denial of voting rights”. Josef Stalin killed 23 million between 1932 and 1939 in various purges and the politically orchestrated ‘famine’ called the Holodomor.
  • Dehumanization: “One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects, or diseases.” The Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler was responsible for 12 million civilian deaths in the concentration camps and pogroms of 1935 through 1945.
  • Organization: “Genocide is always organized… Special army units or militias are often trained and armed…” Leopold II of Belgium was responsible for the death of 8,000,000 between 1886 and 1908, in the Belgian Congo.
  • Polarization: “Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda…” Hideki Tojo is credited with the death of five million civilians, during World War 2
  • Preparation: “Mass killing is planned. Victims are identified and separated because of their ethnic or religious identity…” The genocide carried out by Ismail Enver of Turkey killed 1,200,000 Armenians, 350,000 Greek Pontians, 480,000 Anatolian Greeks and a half-million Assyrians between 1915 and 1920.
  • Persecution: “Expropriation, forced displacement, ghettos, concentration camps”. Between 1975 and 1979 the agrarian utopia of the Khmer Rouge led by a revolutionary cadre of 9 intellectuals called the Ang-ka murdered between a quarter and a third of their fellow Cambodians.
  • Extermination: “It is ‘extermination’ to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human”. The worst genocides of the 20th century killed something like 160 million souls. A closer accounting is impossible when even the counters, are killed.
  • Denial: “The perpetrators… deny that they committed any crimes…”
    Pol Pot, a self-described peaceful man who had done no wrong, died peacefully, in his sleep, in 1998.

Stanton’s ten steps may be taken in linear fashion, in any combination or all at once.

Here’s an interesting exercise. Keyword-search the term ‘country of poets and thinkers’ in the search engine, of your choice. They will all yield the same answer. Germany.

So, how does a culture known for all that, produce the Nazi Holocaust? How for that matter does the everyday Rwandan take up a machete and hack his countryman to bloody bits? How does the Cambodian farmer don the red & white scarf of the Khmer Rouge and bash in the skulls, of his neighbors? Off-duty photographs of SS officers depict not slavering monsters but smiling, everyday family members and neighbors, enjoying a pleasant outing with family, pets and friends.

The way it begins is that particular form of idiocy of which we are all guilty, every day. The classification of our fellow man not as individuals but as members, of a group.

August 6, 2011 Father and Son

“Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart, forever”

Edwin Milton “Ed” Sabol returned from World War 2 and took a job selling topcoats. He was good at it and provided a decent standard of living for his family, but his heart wasn’t in it.  What Sabol liked more than anything else, was to watch his son Steve play high school football.

Sabol would take a motion picture camera, a wedding gift, and film Steve’s games. He found that he had a knack for it, and founded a small film production company called Blair Motion Pictures, named after his daughter, Blair.

In 1962, Sabol successfully bid for the rights to film the NFL championship game between the Green Bay Packers, and New York Giants. The game was played in cold so severe that camera operators suffered frostbite, and a wind so strong  it blew the ball off the tee three times, before the opening kickoff.  Despite all that, Sabol’s work on the game was impressive.


Commissioner Pete Rozelle proposed to buy out the filmmaker but the league’s 14 owners objected, instead giving Sabol $20,000 apiece in seed money to shoot all NFL games and produce a highlight reel, for each club.

Thus was born a storybook production company, called NFL Films.  The production style was unmistakable: the “tight to the spiral” shot of the ball leaving the quarterback’s hand, the on-the-field close-ups and slow motion shots, all of it “mic’d up” in a way that let you hear every hit, every sound, as if you were personally, on the field.

Football fans of a certain age will remember the orchestral score and the stentorian tones of John Facenda’s narration, “the voice of God”: “They call it pro football. They play it under the autumn moon, in the heat of a Texas afternoon.”  NFL Films became “the greatest in-house P.R. machine in pro sports history” according to television critic Matt Zoller Seitz. “An outfit that could make even a tedious stalemate seem as momentous as the battle for the Alamo.”

NFL Films won 112 Sports Emmys. While the company’s $50 million earnings were small compared with the $18 billion in revenue NFL earns from television alone, the real value of NFL Films is how it promoted the sport. Many credit NFL Films as a key reason that the National Football League has become the most watched professional sports league in the United States.

Sabols, 2004 Sports Emmys
Steve and Ed Sabol at the 2004 Sports Emmys

Ed Sabol was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame on this day in 2011. Steve was suffering inoperable brain cancer at the time, a condition which would take his life the following September.   In delivering his tribute to his father, Steve Sabol explained the company’s operating philosophy. “Tell me a fact”, he said, “and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart, forever”.

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