One day in the winter of 1941, as he “walked through the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto,” Hermann Wygoda, “Ghetto smuggler,” tried to make sense of what was happening to him and the people around him: “I wondered whether God knew what was going on beneath Him on this troubled earth. The only analogy I could find in history was perhaps the pogrom of the Jews in Alexandria at the time of the Roman governor Flaccus … or the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks during World War I.”
Wygoda was not the only one seeing this parallel. The German Social Democrats in exile reported continuously on the situation in Germany in their “Germany reports.” In February 1939 they warned, “At this moment in Germany the unstoppable extermination of a minority is taking place by way of the brutal means of murder, of torment to the degree of absurdity, of plunder, of assault, and of starvation. What happened to the Armenians during the [world war] in Turkey is now being committed against the Jews, [but] slower and more systemically.”
We could also mention the famous German-Jewish writer Franz Werfel who in 1932/1933 wrote his most well-known novel about the Armenian Genocide, Forty Days of Musa Dagh, mainly to warn Germany about Hitler. The book was later extremely popular in the Nazi-imposed ghettos of Eastern Europe.
There seems to be something obvious connecting both great genocides of the 20th century. Yet, in its hundredth year, the Armenian Genocide is still a peripheral object in the violent history of the 20th century. Most of the new grand histories of World War I marginalize the topic, if they mention it at all. It seems as if the topic is an exclusively partisan affair of the Armenian diaspora and a few confused others (like me). But the Armenian Genocide is an integral part of the history of humanity’s darkest century. There can be no doubt that it is an important part of the prehistory of the Holocaust, even if history books suggest that the two genocides were separated by a great distance in time and space.
Mainstream history writing has not only been reluctant to discuss the Armenian Genocide at all, but even more so to even think about the possible connections. The alleged and imagined controversy over the factuality of the Armenian Genocide — or more correctly the denialist campaign sponsored by Turkey — have contributed to this impression of a great distance separating this genocide from the Holocaust.