Genocide : Holocaust and Rwanda



By: Abdul Ali Faiq





(Alexander Laban Hinton, 2009:1) states: “Genocide staggers the imagination. It staggers us with numbers. In the 20th century alone, 65,000 Herereos, 1 million Armenians, 6 million Ukrainians, 6 million Jews, 3 million Bangladeshis, up to 1 million Indonesians, 100,000 Hutus, 2 million Cambodians, 200,000 East Timoreses, 200,000 Guatemalans, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and countless numbers of indigenous peoples have been annihilated.”




Genocide means to destroy or eliminate an entire ethnic group or race. The term in this context first appeared in 1944 and meant the destruction and annihilation of a race or nation. “By “genocide” we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group.” (Raphael. Lemkin, 1944:79). Genocide also means evacuation of people from one place to another. As Helen Fein argues: “…In some cases, expulsion is an alternative to genocide, such as the German drive to force Jews to emigrate from Germany before 1941.” (Helen. Fein, 2001:3). Genocide could be defined legally, historically, conventionally and economically. Thus, the precise definition of genocide seems to be difficult or might be beyond our capacity and calculation. As Jeremy Sarkin points out: “The definition of genocide is intensely contested terrain.” (Jeremy. Sarkin, 2009:97). In terms of legal definition, genocide has a different interpretation, “For international lawyers, defining genocide means defining a crime.” (Frank. Chalk, 1997:47). As mentioned before, genocide is controversial and difficult to define. Winston Churchill called genocide: “the crime without a name.” (Leo. Kuper, 1981:12) 


Genocides have been repeated times and again in various places across the world. It is worth bearing in mind that, genocide is a controversial and contested debate amongst, historians, politicians, nationalists, academics and fascists. Despite of all differences in the context of genocide, neither sides disputes and refutes the authenticity of the Holocaust and Rwanda, nor is there serious rejection over the principle that Hitler and Hutus are responsible for their crimes.


In this situation, we need to find a mechanism to gauge the reality beyond the Holocaust and Rwanda genocides. Thus, there are two schools of thoughts about the historiography of Holocaust. One is ‘Functionalist’ and the other one is ‘Intentionalist’. For the sake of clarity, firstly, this paper will briefly define what genocide is. Secondly, it will critically evaluate/weigh up the argument between the two schools (functionalist and intentionalist). Thirdly, it will compare the two cases (Holocaust and Rwanda). Finally, it will test the strengths and limitations of the rival theories.



Intentionalist versus Functionalist


As mentioned earlier, there are two schools of thoughts. One is called ‘Functionalist’ and the other is ‘Intentionalist’. First, let’s begin by exploring what do’ Functionalist’ and ‘Intentionalist’ mean? As Christopher. Browning, argues: “Two distinct approaches to an historical explanation of decision-making in Nazi Jewish policy had emerged. One focused on the structure of the Nazi regime and how it functions; the other focused on Hitler, his ideology and his intentions.” (Christopher. Browning, 2004:173-196).  It might be argued that most data and interpretation of the Holocaust and Rwanda related into either the Intentionalist or the Functionalist perspectives. Intentionalists argue that the process of Holocaust is a top-down approach, not a bottom up one. It means that genocide is first and foremost the outcome of Hitler with well-planed stages. According to (Hans. Mommsen, 1984:179) “Intentionalism’ refers to the position of those historians who argue that the self-conscious decisions made by Hitler and his immediate followers were decisive to the National Socialist rule.”


By contrast, Functionalists argue that the Holocaust’s atrocity was not a top-down approach. However, it was a bottom-up one, which means the crime was planned, organised and carried out with the support of a bureaucratic system and official ranks. (Tim. Mason, 1981:31) concluded by saying this: “Functionalism’ is the position of those historians who criticize the intentionalists for ascribing the primary “burden of explanation” to the will of Hitler and other prominent Nazi leaders.”  




One could critically argue that there is an historical debate between Intentionalists and Functionalist. Both have a tendency to agree that the Holocaust and Rwanda genocides took place, but the exact nature of them is the centre of serious controversy and disagreement. The ‘Intentionalist’ school, which likely to be more affiliated with the idea that the Holocaust crime was perpetrated purely by the intention of the outcome of a long-term policy of Hitler. (Ian. Kershaw, 2000:132) argues that: “Hitler’s ‘intention’ was certainly a fundamental factor in the process of radicalization in anti-Jewish policy which culminated in extermination.”


On the contrary, Functionalist argues that the extermination strategy developed gradually, as a result of initiatives from bureaucrats, who were responding to other policy failures. (Omer. Bartov, 2000:4) points out: “functionalist’ school has taken a diametrically opposed stance.. The “Functionalist” sees the ”Final Solution” as the outcome of specific bureaucratic structures, political and military circumstances, and logistical constraints.”  


The Intentionalist argues that Hitler and his team were promoting Aryan-race supremacy. They were anti-Semitism and traditionally against the Jewish and they intended to wipe them out of the map. Therefore, he and his team intentionally came to a conclusion that, the Jews must be eliminated and Losener argued in principle, “the half-Jew should be regarded as a more serious enemy than the full Jew because, in addition to Jewish characteristics, he possesses so many Germanic ones which the full Jew lacks.” (Hilber, R. 1985:31). In addition, what Hitler preached, was entirely antagonistic and pre-planed determination. For example, (Evan. B. Bukey, 2000:164) states:  “The Jews must be exterminated. They must smoked out, the way lice are smoked out of a house.” (Helen. Fein, 2001:7) argues that: “For instance, the Aryan myth or the pan-Turanian myth which claimed that only Aryans or only Turkic people could live in a given space. Everyone who does not fit in must be eliminated either by expulsion or genocide.”


It could be argued that the Intentionalist argument indicates that Hitler political plan was based on his pathological anti-Semitism and madness, before Nazis’ power takeover. (Adam. Jones, 2011:247) argues that: “Intentionalists, as the word suggest, place primary emphasis on the intention of the Nazis, from the outset, to eliminate European Jews by means that eventually included mass slaughter. Such an approach emphasizes the figure of Adolf Hitler and his monomaniacal zeal to eliminate the Jewish “cancer” from Germany and Europe.” Furthermore,  (Fleming. Gerald, 1984: 17) says: “In 1922 Josef Hell asked Hitler,  “What do you want to do to the Jews once you have full discretionally powers?” Hitler replied: “Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews.”


The Functionalists, on the other hand, downplays the significance of Hitler as an individual. As (Adam. Jones, 2011:248) put the argument on this way: “the intentionalist and functionalist strands were not irreconcilable. “Both positions in the debate have a number of merits and demerits; both ultimately reflect different forms of historical explanation. The raw material for Nazi genocide was present from the start, but required a host of historically contingent features to actualize and maximize it. Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman propose the term “intentional functionalism” to capture this interplay of actors and variables.”


One can conclude that the Intentionalists argue that the Holocaust massacre was the result of a gradual plan from Hitler, and he was the coordinator force behind it. By contrast, Functionalists dispute that Adolf Hitler was anti-Semitic; nevertheless, he did not have a pre-plan for genocide. They explain the Holocaust as coming from the ranks of the German bureaucracy, with slight or may be no engagement of Hitler. It might be debated that both theoretical approaches are not useful enough to produce concrete and empirical historical evidence. In addition, most of the literatures have been written either from victim or victimizer’s perspectives. As (Omar. Bartove, 2000:3) put it on this way: “Holocaust is conventionally written from only one perspective, either that of the killer or that of the victim.”


Additionally, if we see - Holocaust and Rwanda’s genocide - from the lenses of these two schools of thoughts, it means, we cannot think wider and analyses deeper. Therefore, it seems that both approaches are seriously flawed and a third approach is necessary, because there must be some other factors or reasons that had galvanised the Holocaust and Rwanda’s bloodshed. For example, it could be economic, mental or the role of bystanders, rather then a pure ethnic issue. Professor Dominick, LaCapra argues that: “One would have to argue that there is no singular key to the explanation of the Holocaust. There are a number of factors, and often it's very difficult to give the appropriate weight to the different factors. Most people at the present time (for example, Christopher Browning or Friedlander) are neither functionalist nor intentionalist.”



Rwanda Genocide


After the interpretation of genocide and explanation of Intentionalists and Functionalist, it could be better to apply them to understand the other genocides and mass murders like Rwanda. The Holocaust and Rwanda genocides are one of the most tragic and dehumanisation fatality that mankind has ever seen in the twentieth century. As René. Lemarchand, argues: “The Holocaust and the Rwanda genocide are two of the most terrifying and complex catastrophes of the 20th century..there are compelling reasons for seeing in the Rwanda carnage a tropical version of the Shoa. Little wonder if time and again the better known of the two has been used as the paradigmatic frame for analyzing the other.”


It is worth noting that the Intentionalist in opposition to Functionalist debate is quite similar to the Rwandan massacre. Intentionalists argue that the genocide of the Tutsi was the original of top-down elite determination. On the contrary, Functionalists argue that it was a bottom-up Hutu dominated government decision to execute the genocide. According to (Scott. Straus, 2006:2) “Rwanda, many have argued-properly in my view- is a case of modern genocide. Elite planned it. They used the state to implement their plan.” He also goes on and argues that: “ My findings confirm that genocide emerges from top-down instrumental decisions.” (Ibid)


In addition, (Michael. Mann, 2007: 473) who is a moderate Functionalists, argues that it was the evil elite who carried the mass murder: “Neither Hutus nor Tutsis are intrinsically murderous peoples. Nor were they murderous because they were backward or simple, manipulated by malevolent leaders.”





Holocaust and Rwanda’s cases might be a good paradigmatic frame for conceptualising the horror and brutality of genocide.  From a historical perspective, the genocide, which committed by Nazis in 1941 and by Hutus in 1994 are coincided and have some similarities and differences. For instance, in Holocaust Nazi officers, soldiers, civilians, and crematoria were used. In comparison with Rwanda, Hutus villagers, neighbors, teachers, soldiers, knife, axes and blades were used. In Holocaust many Jewish were burned, gassed, starved and massacred by Nazi German. In comparison, many Tutsi were systematically wiped out in Rwanda by Hutu’s authoritarian regime. In Holocaust, the Jewish victims were men, women, and children. In comparison with Rwanda, the Tutsis victims were the same men, women, tribes and children. In Holocaust, the number of fatalities reached about six million Jews. In comparison with Rwanda the causality of Tutsis reached around 800,000.


In this case, Dirk Moses argues that the Holocaust is different neither from Armenian nor from Rwanda genocides. He highlighted the fact that: “…The Holocaust as in this sense not different from the Armenian or Rwandan genocides, of which it has rightly been pointed out that hundreds of thousands of Armenian and Tutsi civilians were killed partly because perpetrator regimes linked them with Armenian and Tutsi political-military organisations.”




There are some differences between Holocaust and Rwanda genocides. For instance, In Rwanda genocide, there were neither concentration camps nor gas chamber. Additionally, there was a time difference as well. Holocaust was committed between November 1938 to May 1945 and Rwanda genocide was between April and July 1994.



Who can become bystanders?


The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines a bystander as, a person who is present at an event or incident but does not take part. (Mann. Michael, 2007: 499) argues that: “In the 1994 genocide we can identify six main levels of perpetrator.. Some degree of indirect blame can also be laid on the Great Powers, especially France, allied to the Hutu regime, and the United States, which blocked any UN intervention.” From this analogy, one would have to strongly argue that the perpetrators could be any one. For instance, Great Britain. So, this paper attempts to illustrate number of facts about United Kingdom immigration policy towards Jewish refugees.


Neither Great Britain issued visa to Jewish to enter the country, nor did they assist them to enter other countries, where they would be safe. (Louise. London, 2000:191) strongly argues that: “What remains unsaid about the British government’s response to demands to rescue Jews from Nazi mass murder? The ungenerosity of British policy.. The British government ruled that there were to be no alternations in overall policy and not rescue attempts.” Furthermore, (Bernard. Wasserstein, 1999: 345) points out: “ when the German authorities bent their efforts to securing the exodus of Jews from the Reich and from Nazioccupied territory, it was the British Government which took the lead in barring the escape routes from Europe against Jewish refugees.” In addition to this, the Home Office rejected to give them visa for entry. (Louise London, 2000:221)  “For the rest of the war, the Home Office’s position was simple: more Jewish refugees were no wanted.” It is cynical that Britain did not rescue Jewish, because the anti-Jewish sentiment in the United Kingdom was very high. As (Louise London, 2000:221) put it on this way: “The priority…was to reduce public pressure for action and avoid criticism of inaction.” (Ibid)


Moreover, the BBC also persuaded or made to not feed people with the reality, which contradict British official policy. According to Marion. Milne, “In wartime, government censors made sure that the BBC would never be able to say anything contrary to official policy… In reality, the BBC, in line with the Foreign Office… maintain[ed] a very British silence on the Holocaust.” Arguably, if the USA and the UK had given visas to Jewish refugees, many lives could have been rescued and saved.


United States as bystander

Genocide took place in Rwanda precisely in 1994 during Bill Clinton Administration and every one was expecting that United States might prevent the massacre, which was being committed on a daily basis. But it was virtually ignored. (Samantha. Power, argues that: “Hutu militiamen, soldiers, and ordinary citizens murdered some 800,000 Tuts.., Clinton had shown virtually no interest in stopping the genocide, and his Administration had stood by as the death toll rose into the hundreds of thousands.” Samantha critically problematise the issue and raised these constructive questions: “Why did they decide (or decide not to decide) as they did? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives?”


One would have to argue that the same Holocaust was committed in Rwanda and no one really cared about it as much as they did about Holocaust. According to (Samantha. Power, 2007:357) “The Tutsi rebels appealed for a Western response. On April 13 the accused the Rwandan government of carrying out genocide. They invoked the Holocaust.” (Adam. Jones, 2011:346) also critically argues that: “Despite noble pledges of “Never Again” following the Jewish Holocaust, the international community stood by while a million defendless victims died.” Additionally, (Scott. Straus, 2006:13) argues that: “The world’s inaction in the face of genocide in Rwanda has received a great deal of attention since 1994.. My analysis suggests that an intervention would have been effective, but to be effective in saving hundreds of thousands of lives it would have had to materialize quickly.”


What has been understood from this debate is that there were multi-dimensional factors, which collaborated to increase the death toll in both Holocaust and Rwanda genocides. In other words, in addition to Hitler Nazi and Hutu's regimes who intentionally or functionally or a combination of two perpetrated genocides, there were other countries and powers who were directly or indirectly part of perpetrators as well. ‘Bystanders are perpetrators when they do not act.’





This paper first gave a short introduction and a concise definition of Genocide. Secondly, it explained the Intentionalist and functionalist schools of thought. Thirdly, it compared and contrasted similarities and differences between Holocaust and Rwanda and applied theories in regards to each case.


The paper then, looks into the policies of Great Britain, which almost stood by and did nothing to help facilitate the escape of the Jews from Nazi Germany. The passive role of the BBC was also addressed.  In addition, it was also pointed out the reason why Bill Clinton administration did nothing to prevent the massacre in Rwandans. Lastly, the policy implications of the world’s inaction in the face of genocide in Rwanda have been also discussed accordingly.


What has been understood from this discussion is that there were a number of factors, which contributed to increase the death toll in both Holocaust and Rwanda genocides. For example, the top-down (Nazi) middle out (great powers) and bottom up (every one) are the core causes for the atrocities, which perpetrated in both cases.


To return to the question posed in the title, ‘how useful are either functionalist or internationalist explanations,’ could be put this way. Functionalism and Intentionalism might be to some extent useful as a framework or vantage point from which to look at the etiology of the Holocaust and Rwanda. Because, on one hand, both of these schools have presented a large range of academic work for at least three decades to shape our understanding of the Holocaust. On the other hand, it is not really useful enough to illustrate the scale of atrocity, the multi-dimensional factors and the slackness of the great powers. Therefore, a third school or as Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman propose the term “Intentional Functionalism” needed to investigate the issues more critically and profoundly.








Bartov. Omer, (2005) Holocaust: Origins, Implementation, and Aftermath, 1st edition Published by Rutledge.


Bartove. Omar, (2000) Mirrors of Destruction War, Genocide, and Modern Identity, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Bernard. Wasserstein, ([1979] 1999), Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1939-45 Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Browning, Christopher, (2004) ‘The decision-making process’, pp 173-196 in The Historiography of the Holocaust, Dan Stone (ed) Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


Burr Bukey Evan,  (2000) Hitler's Austria: Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era, 1938-1945, University of North Carolina Press.


Chalk. Frank, (1997) Redefing Genocide: conceptual and historical dimensions, University of Pennsylvania Press. Edited by George J. Andreopoulos.


Fein, Helen. (2001) Denying Genocide: From Armenia to Bosnia, [Occasional Papers in Comparative and International Politics1, London School of Economics and Political Science.


Hilberg, R. (1985) Chapter 2 – Definition by decree. In R. Hilberg. The destruction for the European Jews. London: Holmes and Meier.


Hinton. L, Alexander and O’Neill L. Kevin, GENOCIDE Truth, Memory, and representation, Duck University Press London. 2009.


Hitler quoted in Gerald Fleming, Hitler and the Final Solution: The Art of Dissembling] (Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 1984).


Ian. Kershaw, (2000) Hitler and the Holocaust. In I. Kershaw. The Nazi Dictatorship. London, UK: Hodder Education.


Jones. Adam, (2011), Chapter 9 ‘Apocalypse in Rwanda’ [Introduction; Horror and Shame] Genocide A Comprehensive Introduction, 2nd edition, Rutledge.


Kuper. Leo, (1981) Genocide, Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century, and New Haven: Yale University Press.


Lemarchand. René, Disconnecting the Threads: 
Rwanda and the Holocaust Reconsidered. Available at: [Accessed in 3 December 2011] Rene is Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of the Department of political science at the University of Florida. E-mail:


Lemkin. Raphael, (1944) Axis Rue in Occupied Europe. Chapter IX Genocide Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment.


Louise London, (2000), Whitehall and the Jews, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Mann. Michael, (2007), The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing, Chapter 15, Rwanda, II: Genocide. Cambridge University Press.


Mann. Michael, (2007), The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing, Genocide. Cambridge University Press.


Marion Milne, co-producer of BBC auto-documentary "What Did You Do In the War, Auntie?“ in The Independent, 9 May 1995.


Mason, Tom.  (1980) “Intention and Explanation:  A Current Controversy about the Interpretation of National Socialism”.  Hirschfeld, Gerhard and Kettensacker, Lothar. Eds.  Der “Führerstaat“:  Mythos und Realität, Studien zur StrukturUnd Politik des Dritten Reiches.  Stuttgart:  Ernst Klett.


Mommsen, Hans.  From Weimar to Auschwitz.  Transl.  Philip O’Connor.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1991.


Professor Dominick LaCapra, Functionalism, Intentionalism, And The Concept Of Scapegoating Excerpt from interview with Professor Dominick LaCapra Cornell University June 9, 1998, Jerusalem Interviewer: Amos Goldberg Available at: [Accessed in 3 December 2011].


Samantha Power, (2007),  “A Problem From Hell” America and the Age of Genocide, Chapter 10, Harper Perennial, London UK.


Samantha. Power, Bystanders to Genocide http, The Atlantic Magazine, September 200. Available at:  [Accessed in 4 December 2011].


Sarkin. Jeremy, Sarkin-Hughes, and Colonial Genocide and Reparations Claims in the 21st Century: The Socio-Legar Contet of Laims under International Law by the Herero against Germany for Genocide in Namibia, 1904-1908, 1st edition, Greenwood Publishing Group. 2009.


Shaw. Martin, (18 August 2010) The Holocaust, genocide studies, and politics. Open Democracy free thinking for the world. Available at: [Accessed in 20 December 2011].


Straus, S. (2006), Introduction. In S. Straus. The Order of Genocide: Race, Power and War in Rwanda. Ithca, US and London, UK: Cornell University Press.