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Genocide: Horror Stories of the 20th Century

Updated on July 26, 2018

Nazi strongman Adolf Hitler to his Army commanders, August 22, 1939:
"Thus for the time being I have sent to the East only my 'Death's Head Units' with the orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish race or language. Only in such a way will we win the vital space that we need. Who still talks nowadays about the Armenians?

Genocide Defined

The term “genocide” is a combination of the Greek work “genos” meaning race, family or tribe and the Latin “cide”, which means killing. It was international law specialist Raphael Lemkin who coined the word and used it in print for the first time in his most notable work “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation - Analysis of Government - Proposals for Redress (1944)”. Lemkin drafted a resolution for a genocide convention treaty which received popular support and was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, dubbed “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Born in Belarus, Lemkin lived in Warsaw, Poland before the second world war. He escaped and sought asylum in the United States during the Nazi occupation but lost 49 relatives in the holocaust.

While an internationally recognized crime, the UN had very little teeth in enforcing the law of universal conscience. Seeming to drag its feet in this enforcement, the nations of the UN take ages to rule a certain large-scale state-sponsored killing as genocide. In the meantime the bodies pile up. Just what transpires behind the walls of an ethnic group or a government engaging in genocide.

peacetime Armenians
peacetime Armenians

The Young Turks and the Armenians (1915-1918, 1,500,000 dead)

For over three centuries there existed an Armenian community in Asia Minor. This community was invaded by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, which ruled over all of Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. When the empire fell, it was left with just the Christian Armenians and the Arabs of the Middle East. At the turn of the 20th century the ruling Young Turks officially recognized the constitutional government of Armenia and guaranteed their basic rights. However, a new leadership among the Young Turks endeavored to expand their borders to create a new empire called Turan and the Armenian homeland is in the way of this plan. When the first world war broke out in 1914, the Turks put into action a plan to annex the Armenian land through the annihilation of its entire population.

A coded telegram was sent to all provincial governors throughout Turkey with instructions to exterminate the Armenians. The men were tied together with ropes by death squads, brought to the outskirts of the towns and shot or bayoneted. The locals would join in on the massacre with knives and other implements. The women, elderly and children were herded to the Syrian desert under the pretext of relocation and left there to die. These death marches went for hundreds of miles and lasted for months with over a million Armenians. Stragglers hiding in the towns were dealt with by a group of criminals called “Special Organization” in any which way they wish.

With no food and water the countryside became littered with corpses and this sight was witnessed by foreign missionaries who recounted what they've witnessed to the rest of the world. At the end of the war in 1918 the Armenians with the help of the newly established moderate regime in Turkey demanded the repatriation of the Young Turk leadership responsible for the genocide, who were living in exile in Germany. When this request was turned down the Armenians took matters into their own hands by seeking out and assassinating these leaders.

peacetime Ukrainians
peacetime Ukrainians

Man-Made Famine in the Soviet Union (1932-1933, 7,000,000 dead)

The perpetrator is Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, the target is the entire Ukrainian race, particularly the Kulaks, or wealthy farmers owning 24 or more acres, and employing farm workers. Stalin led his government to believe that the Kulaks would be at the forefront of any future insurrection and so he proclaimed a policy aimed at destroying the class. The Kulaks were stripped of everything they owned and it became a crime to aid these dispossessed people. A huge portion of this class were taken to special settlements in Siberia, while others became slaves in Soviet-run factories and other industrial projects.

Stalin then imposed the system of land management called collectivization or the government's seizure of all privately owned lands and livestock. When opposition persisted, Stalin raised the nation's export quota on food produce in the Ukraine resulting to mass starvation as there was simply no food left to feed them. He then sealed off the borders of the Ukraine preventing food supplies from entering the country. All food was considered as sacred property of the government and so the famine grew worse.

There were accounts of mothers in the countryside tossing their children onto passing trains in the hope that someone would take pity and care of them. In the cities, most of the people from the countryside flocked hoping to be fed only to drop dead in the streets, their bodies carted away in horse-drawn wagons and dumped in mass graves. People lying on the sidewalk who were thought to be dead, but were just too weakened by hunger were also carted away and buried. Desperate Ukrainians ate everything and anything from leaves off bushes and trees, dogs, cats, frogs, mice and birds. Others, gone mad with hunger, resorted to eating their own children. By the spring of 1933, at the height of the famine, it was believed that 25,000 persons died every day. The official stand of the Soviet government on the question of the famine is denial, anyone claiming it exists are enemies of the government and the use of the words famine or hunger is forbidden.

peacetime Chinese
peacetime Chinese

Rape of Nanking (1937-1938, 300,000 dead)

Fewer people know about what the Chinese call “the other holocaust” or “the forgotten holocaust”. They were referring to the Japanese occupation of China's capital city of Nanking. When the invasion began, about half a million people were trapped in the city and fell prey to Japanese soldiers acting on orders to kill every single Chinese in sight. The weapons of choice were the machete, guns and bayonets. The men were rounded up and shot, stabbed or hacked to death, the women were turned into sex slaves then killed as well, medical experiments were performed without anesthesia, prisoners were amputated and frozen alive and epidemics were unleashed for germ-warfare experiments. Competitions were encouraged with prizes for soldiers who were able to kill the most number of people. The savagery was deliberate as military leaders egged young Japanese soldiers to inflict maximum pain and suffering upon prisoners as a way of toughening up for future battles, and to erase all notions of mercy.

Of all the recorded genocides in history, this received the least international attention as the US and Great Britain were busy in the European war theater and most other countries just found the stories about atrocities in Nanking too outrageous to be believed. Within the walls of the city though, there was an extraordinary group of about 20 Americans and Europeans who became the unsung heroes in all this madness. The group is made up of missionaries, doctors and businessmen, who took it upon themselves to establish an International Safety Zone. They used Red Cross flags and declared a 2.5 square-mile area in the middle of the city off limits to the Japanese. Working day and night to the point of exhaustion they sometimes risked their lives by coming between the Japanese soldiers to prevent further harm to the Chinese. Over 300,000 Chinese civilians took refuge inside their Safety Zone, those who did not make it to the zone perished.

peacetime Jews
peacetime Jews

The Jewish Holocaust (1938-1945, 6,000,000 dead)

This is thankfully the most popular of all recorded genocides, I say thankfully because the whole world is aware of this historical blemish and are so affected by it, almost guaranteeing that a repeat will never occur (or so we thought). However, this genocide raged on for years unchecked and the range of brutality is still unequaled up to now. It is horrible in that it was such a conscious and systematic effort, with actual government policies enacted to ensure its success. The goal was the destruction of all Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, such a simple goal which even had a simpler means of implementation: death by slave labor or gassing. The Jews became Adolf Hitler's whipping boy, his excuse for invading European nations and enriching his beloved Germany.

The Night of Broken Glass or “Kristallnacht” marked the start of 8 years of genocide, the first state-run pogrom against the Jews was the Nazi retaliation for the death of a Nazi embassy official in Paris in the hands of the teenaged Herschel Grynszpan. Grunszpan's parents were treated harshly by the Nazis. Ninety Jews perished that night, over 500 synagogues were burned to the ground and Jewish shops were looted and destroyed. The Nazis were just warming up for the Final Solution, where the Jews of Europe would all be deported Poland where the extermination camps were being constructed at Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Meticulous planning underlined the extermination process (with Germany at the forefront of the industrial revolution), certain mass production processes were adopted and there was an ever growing school of thought on how to exterminate all Jews in the quickest, most economical fashion. Perhaps the most efficient part of the process is tricking the Jews to believing that they need to be sanitized to prepare them for the work camps and so there was almost no resistance when they are sent to the “showers” to be gassed. In the ghettos of Poland, Jews were told they were being transferred to work camps too so they went willingly hoping for better living conditions. They were then loaded into unheated, unventilated trains with no food, water or sanitation. Many die long before reaching their destination and those who survive go through a selection process conducted by SS doctors. Those considered fit for slave labor were transported to work camps and everyone else ended at the gas chambers. A few inmates, especially twin children, were set aside for medical experiments. Twins are the favorite subjects of Josef Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death.

At the time of Hitler's death in April 30, 1945 most of Europe's Jews had perished. An estimated four million died at the death camps, another two million had been shot or died in the ghettos. Then began the daunting task of sorting through the genocide to find out exactly who was to blame. The Nuremberg Trials succeeded in sentencing 22 surviving Nazis officials with crimes against humanity.

peacetime Cambodians
peacetime Cambodians

The Killing Fields of Cambodia (1975-1979, 2,000,000 dead)

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot succeeded in killing two million Cambodians in pursuit of his goal of building a Communist peasant farming state. His revolution began with the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea. He declared that the beginning of his rule will be marked as year zero and will signal the start of social purification. He expelled all non-Kampucheans, closed all embassies and refused all forms of foreign assistance. Throughout the country, purges were conducted to eliminate the residue of the "old society". This meant the educated, the wealthy, Buddhist monks, police, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and former government officials. Soldiers of the former regime were killed along with families. A party slogan went to say, "What is rotten must be removed,".

The methods he chose for his revolution were naive, brutal and inept. In 1976 he introduced a Four Year Plan that sought to triple the country's agricultural production within a year without fertilizer, modern tools or material incentives. The plan did not consider Cambodian geography or common sense. Farmers were forced to meet impossible quotas as Khmer Rouge workers cut back the grain allotted for consumption. Hundreds of thousands either starved to death, collapsed from exhaustion or died of sickness with the absence of medical care. Another target of the genocide were the ethnic minorities, especially the three largest minorities; the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Cham Muslims. Fifty percent of the estimated 425,000 Chinese living in Cambodia in 1975 perished. Muslims were forced to eat pork and were killed when they refused.

In 1978 the Vietnamese government overrun the Khmer Rouge, the capital Phnom Penh was snatched from Pol Pot. He died in the Cambodian jungles in 1998 before he was even brought to trial. “We were like babies learning to walk,” was how he described his “mistakes” as he called them.

peacetime Tutsi boys
peacetime Tutsi boys

Ethnic War in Rwanda (1994, 800,000 dead)

The number of deaths in the shortest span of time (April to July) and the smallest land area is a record of sorts for the genocide in Rwanda. The socio-political conditions in the country was a genocide waiting to happen. While 90% of the population are Hutus, they were ruled by the aristocratic group of Tutsis for decades under Belgian colonial protectorate. When the Belgians turned the government over to the Rwandans, the Hutus seized power, but Tutsi rebels were able to push for shared-power and a fragile peace was achieved.

In 1994, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyalimana and Burundi's new President, Cyprien Ntaryamira, commenced peace meetings with the Tutsi rebels. On April 6, the jet carrying the two presidents was shot down by ground missiles as it approached Rwanda's airport in Kigali. Their deaths were seized by Hutu extremists as the excuse for beginning the genocide, starting with Tutsi figures who were already on their death-lists and some moderate Hutu politicians.

The killings spread like wildfire throughout the country and targeted all Tutsis. Armed with machetes, clubs, guns and grenades the Hutus killed indiscriminately. During the colonial days, all Rwandans carried identification cards specifying their ethnic background, these 'tribal cards' spelled the difference between living and dying. An insignificant number of U.N. peacekeeping forces were overwhelmed by terrified Tutsis seeking protection and when ten of theese peacekeepers were tortured and murdered by the Hutus, the United States, France, Belgium, and Italy all started evacuating their personnel from Rwanda.

At the U.N headquarters in New York, officials turned a blind eye on the killings, which were categorized as a mere breakdown in the cease-fire between the Tutsi and Hutu. Both the UN and the US did not assess the situation as genocide probably because this would need some sort of emergency intervention, even as the Red Cross claimed that the rate of killing is alarmingly extraordinary. To add to the Tutsis' plight, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to abandon Rwanda cutting down the size of military presence to about 200 soldiers.

The Hutu, feeling licensed by the lack of international intervention, escalated their genocidal mania. The Hutu-controlled Rwandan state radio, urged the Hutus to participate in the killings by broadcasting propaganda and revealing the locations of the hiding Tutsis. In local villages, the Hutus were forced to kill their Tutsi neighbors or face a death sentence for themselves and their entire families. By mid May, over 500,000 Tutsis had been slaughtered. Lifeless bodies were everywhere and a considerable number of them are seen floating down the Kigara River into Lake Victoria. Tutsi rebels from neighboring countries managed to put a stop to the killings in July 1994, by then, a tenth of the nation's had died.

peacetime Bosnians
peacetime Bosnians

Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995, 2,000,000 dead)

Bosnia is an emergent nation from the former Yugoslavia formed by strongman Josip Tito (along with Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia). The Yugoslav territory was dominated by three major ethnic groups, the Serbs who are Orthodox Christians, the Catholic Croats and the Muslim Albanians. The death of Tito plunged Yugoslavia into political and economic turmoil, the new leader, the Serbian Slobodan Milosevic failed to hold Yugoslavia together. In 1991 Slovenia and Croatia both immediately declared independence resulting to civil war, with Slovenia emerging victorious and Croatia securing sovereignty through a cease-fire agreement brokered by the U.S. Seeing the moderate success of the efforts to break away from Yugoslavia, Bosnia declared independence in 1992 and earned recognition from the US and the European community. Milosevic's response to this declaration was to attack the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. The city would become known for Serb snipers who shot helpless civilians in the streets, including over 3,500 children.

The Serbs then began systematically rounding up local Muslims, in scenes eerily similar to the Jewish holocaust. There were mass shootings, forced relocations, and imprisonment in concentration camps for men and boys. Massive sexual crimes were committed against women and girls. Superficial intervention was made by the UN and the world community, through economic sanctions and military deployment in food and medicine distribution centers for the dispossessed Muslims, but not military interference in the genocide that is well underway. The situation finally gained international attention when a Serb mortal shell struck a market in Sarajevo instantly killing 68 people and wounding 200 others. U.S. President Bill Clinton issued an order through the NATO for Serbia to cease its attacks on Bosnia and a shaky ceasefire ensued. This enabled peace-keeping forces to establish Safe Havens across the country.

These Safe Havens were then targeted by the Serbs next. In retaliation to U.N. limited air strikes, the Serbs held hundreds of UN peace-keepers hostage. The hostages became human shields as they were chained to potential targets like ammunition dumps. In the town of Srebrenica, one of the Safe Havens, peace-keepers stood by helplessly as the Serbs selected and slaughtered over 8,000 men and boys, in what will be known as the single worst genocidal act of the four-year conflict. In response, U.N. and NATO military intervention were carried out in earnest and soon enough Milosevic was prepared to talk peace.


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

    • profile image


      8 years ago

    • buddygallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Monie Maunay 

      8 years ago from manila, philippines

      Sorry it took me a long while to acknowledge your kind words xxtonybxx. Yes it is indeed a bit sad that we seem to have not learned our lesson, when the lesson seems simple enough, we are the stewards of this huge planet and there is more than enough riches and resources to go around. We need to look out for each other instead of eliminating each other. And I am not a native speaker so your compliment is much appreciated.

    • xxtonybxx profile image


      8 years ago from wales

      I quite liked the part where you said that the Holocaust of WW2 should have taught humanity the lesson, but then point out that it obviously didn't, since there have been many genocidal wars and atrocities since then. Excellent article, particularly considering (if I'm right) English seems not to be your first language, yet you write like a native speaker.

    • profile image

      Leonardo de la Paor 

      9 years ago

      50,000,000 young Americans slaughtered in Abortion Camps since 1973.

      Most of them carried out by Jewish "Mengele" doctors.

      Dr. Martin Haskell giving a presentation at the 16th Annual Meeting of the National Abortion Federation Conference in 1992 in San Diego. It was a gathering of abortionists -- men and women who make their living by killing babies. Haskell was describing to his audience how to do a partial-birth abortion. Listen to his words about how this procedure takes place:

      “The surgeon then introduces large grasping forceps … through the vaginal and cervical canal … He moves the tip of the instrument carefully towards the fetal lower extremities -- and pulls the extremity into the vagina …The surgeon then uses his fingers to deliver the opposite lower extremity, then the torso, the shoulders, and the upper extremities. The skull lodges in the internal os. The fetus is oriented … spine up … The surgeon then takes a pair of blunt curved Metzenbaum scissors in the right hand. … the surgeon then forces the scissors into the base of the skull--spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening. The surgeon--surgeon then introduces a suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents.”

      Haskell, having described these brutal details, shows his audience a video of himself doing one of these procedures. And at the end of the video, after the sound of the suction machine taking the brains out of the baby’s head, the audience applauds.

    • buddygallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Monie Maunay 

      10 years ago from manila, philippines

      Thank you one-life1 for your time and kind words

    • One-life1 profile image

      Ar Az 

      10 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub, Nicely written...

    • buddygallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Monie Maunay 

      10 years ago from manila, philippines

      I will surely look that up "lifesambiguity". These stories must be told and retold over and over especially since we still see a lot of it till now. Thanks for dropping by...

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      You forgot to write about the genocide in Bangladesh in 1971. It is not well known because during the genocide the US sided with Pakistan. Approximately 3 million people were savagely killed and from 200000 to 400000 women were raped. They targeted all the hindus, the students, the intellectuals, the awami-league members, everyone who was pro-bangla and freedom. Its a shame that our world forgot about this tragic event.

    • buddygallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Monie Maunay 

      11 years ago from manila, philippines

      I hear you Armend, it is sad of how bad a large scale military or government oppression of a certain ethnic or religious group has to be before it can be considered genocide. I think the greater lesson is to not keep quiet about any and all form of oppression at all times.

    • profile image

      Armend Hetemi 

      11 years ago

      What about Kosovo? There were committed crimes with intent to destroy, in whole and in part, a national, ethnic, religious group, including: killing members of the group , causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group , forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. So why the worl do not accept this genocide?

    • buddygallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Monie Maunay 

      11 years ago from manila, philippines

      thanks for the correction pachuca, first hand account is by far, the most accurate. i am very sorry to hear about your ancestors, my dad fought in ww2 when the japs invaded our country. from the start to the end of the 20th century, history just kept repeating itself, which is sad.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Actually the genocide of the Armenians by way of the Turks started earlier that you have stated. My great grandfather fled Armenia during the genocide in the early 1900's while his entire family had been brutally murdered. The only ones in the family able to escape were him Astor his brothers Gzar and Adam. Gzar went back soon after to see if he could save any other family members, never to return. Our entire family on that side perished in that genocide.....a very sad and unjust time in history.

    • buddygallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Monie Maunay 

      12 years ago from manila, philippines

      Im sorry to hear that jjrubio, these stories are too surreal its sometimes hard to believe that they really happened, until survivors come forward and recount them first hand. thanks for dropping by

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Thank you for this hub. My entire Armenian family was murdered during the genocide and my great grandfather and brothers were left orphans at the age of 11 and 15. It is important that people realize this did happen. It was horrible.

    • buddygallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Monie Maunay 

      12 years ago from manila, philippines

      Thanks very much Tony. This is a lesson the human race has yet to learn. When our deposed leader Ferdinand Marcos was thrown into exile for over two decades of dictatorship few people acknowledged the fact that while he still had the loyalty of about half of the armed forces and can blow the flock of demonstrators to smithereens, he heeded the international call for him to just vacate his post. I can never understand why this kind of pressure works on some cases but not on others.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      12 years ago from South Africa

      Wow Buddy what a well-researched and well-written article on such a terrifying subject. It is too dreadful what we humans will do to each other. I am so passionate about empathy, understanding and tolerance as ways to overcome the kind of dehumanisation which makes a genocide possible.

      We in South Africa have been blessed with peace for a decade and a half now, but it was the combined efforts of many people of goodwill who made it possible, the publicly known ones like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu and the millions of unknown people who just said "no" to those who would have taken this country down the path of destruction. Let's hope we can keep the peace for many years to come and that we will be able to live together here without fear.

      My prayer is that people all over the world might learn the value of non-violence as shown by the great Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and so many others who show us the way to peace and acceptance.

      Love and peace


    • buddygallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Monie Maunay 

      12 years ago from manila, philippines

      eyeam4anarchy - the sufferings of these groups of people would have to be the the truest test of the human spirit, of tolerance and the best lesson on humility for us living our lives now

      cris - apologies for the length, and yes this is one lesson I endeavored to learn, it keeps me aware that whatever pain or suffer I may be experiencing now or may experience in the future would never equal to their pain and suffering

      cc - while I was browsing for pics to go with this hub, i realized they were all the same, piles of dead bodies in monochrome so I opted to go the other way and pick photos of the living instead

      foxility - power is never a bad thing so long as it was earned legitimately, and i believe that it should always be wielded with justice and benevolence

      thank you all for your time and kind words!

    • foxility profile image


      12 years ago

      Such an ugly subject but it's the reality of our world history and hopefuly it will stay in history. We must remember that the wanting of power can sometimes light the fire of cruelty.

    • profile image

      C. C. Riter 

      12 years ago

      buddy, you did a great job with this hub of most disturbing accounts of atrocities. What a beautiful Ukranian girl with dimples and evreything! The one bright spot in the whole hub other than the good samaritans. We can only hope that this sort of thing can and will never happen again, but I doubt it. Tyranny is still alive and well.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      12 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I was exhausted after I finished reading not so much for the length of the whole hub as to the horrors and cruelty you told. Great job and I could just imagine the research you had to do to come up with this. I hope the periods/years you indicated in each heading really mean they did began and definitely ended! Thanls for this read, and i hope it serves as a reminder of how we sometimes forget that we are all equals regardless of color or creed!

      btw, you forgot to put a heading for the holocaust :D

    • EYEAM4ANARCHY profile image

      Kelly W. Patterson 

      12 years ago from Las Vegas, NV.

      Nice job. Very well organized and researched. It's a shame what humans do to one another sometimes.


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