Genocide education teaches lessons not to be repeated

May 1, 2018
By Joan Elliott, Librarian/Manager Stewart Resources Centre

It has been 77 years since Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” which combines the Greek prefix genos, meaning race, with the Latin suffix -cide, meaning killing. He developed the term in response to the Holocaust, as well as in response to other historical events aimed at the destruction of particular groups of people. Lemkin was also instrumental in having genocide recognized and codified as an international crime in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

Tragically, other genocides have occurred since that time, including those in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda, and there are many current examples of the abuse of power.

Outcomes related to genocide occur throughout Saskatchewan curricula and indicators on bullying, prejudice, abuse of power and authority, disregard for human life, human rights and social justice appear in many English language arts, social studies and history curricula.

A children’s book approved for English language arts and social studies in grades 3, 4 and 5 is entitled Enough. Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, it is about a young farm girl in Ukraine who hides sacks of grain during the Ukrainian famine so that the villagers can continue to plant grain for food.

Books recommended for Grade 6 English language arts include: Half Spoon of Rice: A Survival Story of the Cambodian Genocide, by Icy Smith, which was written in memory of those who perished during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, and Broken Memory: A Story of Rwanda, by Elisabeth Combres, which describes the impact of the Rwandan genocide on a young girl.

Books in the Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers are also approved for middle years English language arts. Titles at the Grade 7 level include: The Underground Reporters and Clara’s War, both written by Kathy Kacer. Hana’s Suitcase: A True Story was written by Karen Levine and is recommended for Grade 8. The Holocaust Remembrance Series Teacher’s Guide: Elementary Social Justice Teacher Resource, developed by Shawntelle Nesbitt, provides excellent support for the books in the series.

The Saskatchewan government passed legislation in 2008 recognizing the Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine, as a genocide. Resources about it include: Genocide Revealed, an award-winning documentary produced by MML Inc., Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, by Anne Applebaum, and The Holodomor Reader: A Sourcebook on the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine, compiled and edited by Bohdan Klid and Alexander J. Motyl.

Voices Into Action: Genocide and Voices Into Action: Holodomor, two Canadian bilingual online teaching units for History 20, 30 and Social Studies 20, 30, were recently added to the Ministry of Education’s Additional Resources section for each curricula. They can be accessed at

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has stated that residential schools and other assimilationist practices aimed at suppressing Indigenous people’s languages and culture amounted to a policy of cultural genocide. Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America, a scholarly collection edited by Andrew Woolford, Jeff Benvenuto and Alexander Laban Hinton, explores the destructive effects of colonialism such as massacres, land appropriation, the spread of disease and the forced political restructuring of Indigenous communities.

Canada’s First Nations and Cultural Genocide, by Robert Z. Cohen, provides a brief overview of the trauma inflicted upon Indigenous peoples. It is suitable for middle years social studies.

Several organizations, such as the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies and the Holocaust Museum Houston recognize April as Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Education about genocides is crucial so that the tragedies of the past will never be repeated.

To borrow these and other resources, please email