Day 23 of 30 Days of Testimony: Wolf Gruner on the testimony of Israel Charny

“Get angry about it”, the conclusion of this clip, presents one of Israel Charny’s most important messages. In his book, How can we commit the unthinkable?, Charny, born in 1931 in Brooklyn, New York, psychologist and one of the early genocide scholars, had warned that most events of genocide are marked by massive indifference and inactivity of the people.[i] But he does not call for a state intervention to stop mass murder, rather for every individual to intervene with much earlier forms of persecution and discrimination against certain groups, as those might lead to genocide as the ultimate antidemocratic, human rights crime, as Charny calls it. For the scholar, the political, economic and social process of genocide starts with what he calls the “cultural genocide.” This idea can be traced back to first and broad definition of genocide provided by Raphael Lemkin in 1944. While the UN Genocide Convention adopted in 1948 did not include such terms, both, Lemkin and Charny equally saw the destruction of the historical tradition, religious expression and/or cultural cohesion of a group as an important step on the path to mass murder. Charny as a scholar, who most of his life taught in Israel, has openly made a stand against the denial of the Holocaust, but equally against the Armenian genocide. He cofounded the International Association of Genocide Scholars in 1994 and authored and coedited influential books on the topic of genocide.

Author: Wolf Gruner, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of History and Director, USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research.


[i] Israel Charny, How can we commit the unthinkable?: Genocide, the human cancer, Westview Press 1982, p. 284.

Language: English