Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
khmer, rouge, genocide, trial, new
Why is the Holocaust almost universally remembered as the most horrific event in the modern age while the Cambodian genocide is hardly remembered both in and outside of Cambodia? Do the two events share similar aspects despite their differences, and what implication does that have on a wider understanding of both genocides? This thesis explores these questions by examining how the Holocaust and Cambodian genocide (killing fields) have been remembered over time. Examining both shows the respective roads of memorialization that each have taken and reveals where the two catastrophes share major aspects: notably, the tactics used by the perpetrators, the world’s failure to act, and the initial forced memorialization by third parties followed by a period of silence in the perpetrators and victims. This analysis focuses on three groups: the victims, the perpetrators, and third party countries – mainly America and Vietnam. The first two chapters focus on each genocide respectively by outlining how they have been remembered and what factors shaped, influenced, and hindered the process of memorialization. The third chapter compares and contrasts the two genocides, focusing on major similarities and differences between the two starkly different events. Examining the first four decades of Holocaust remembrance shows how its memorialization has become established. Focusing mostly on Jewish and German commemoration and how third party memorialization has affected this remembrance can reveal this process of establishment. Doing this reveals a deep struggle of Holocaust memory and an initial ignorance of world powers in recognizing the Jewish calamity within the context of the Second World War. Today, this can come as a surprise because the Holocaust is widely remembered and adapted into the narratives of many countries. Without studying the historiography of the Holocaust, one might assume that it was always openly and globally commemorated. However, this was not the case before the Israeli trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. It took Israel – the new Jewish state – to adapt the catastrophe into a suitable narrative, before the Holocaust became a publicly discussed topic anywhere else. This is the key reason why the Holocaust has been able to enter the realm of public commemoration while the Cambodian genocide has not – Cambodians do not have a separate state unlike world Jewry, which has Israel. Even so, the past struggles persist in Israeli and German narratives. Israel overemphasizes heroism in order to identify with the Holocaust; Germany has become torn between accepting past guilt and building a nation with a new image. Both of these elements have shaped how the Holocaust has been commemorated publicly in speeches, holidays, monuments, and museums. On the other hand, scholars interpret the Cambodian genocide differently amongst themselves. Some do not even consider the killing fields to be genocide while others label it another holocaust. It all depends on whether the focus is put on the numbers of those who were killed or on the actual experiences of the victims. Either way, even Cambodians struggle to remember their past. There are two significant causes for this. First, conflicting messages of peace and justice have prevented many Cambodians from knowing how to deal with their past – a struggle similar to the one Germany has experienced. Additionally, while the Holocaust ended for Jews after liberation, the Khmer Rouge continued to be a real threat to Cambodians for another 19 years. The effects of this can be seen in the topic’s absence in schools and its constrained public commemoration within the Tuol Sleng museum and Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. This struggle has only recently seen some improvements with the beginning of an international tribunal that is bringing a sense of justice to Cambodians, while also promoting education and public discussion about the past.
Levine, Ilan, "Remember the Holocaust and the Killing Fields: A comparative Study" (2016). Honors Theses. 175.