Monday, April 24, 2017

Gay Concentration Camps in Chechnya: Let's Not Forget What Happened During the Holocaust

Never again. It was a rally cry that reverberated throughout the Jewish world after World War II to remind us the atrocities that happened during the Holocaust. Hitler primarily targeted the Jewish people in such a way where he murdered six million Jews, or what was considered about a third of the Jewish population at the time. It has made its mark on the Jewish psyche for the past seventy-plus years. As much as Hitler wanted to see the Jewish people wiped off the face of the planet, and as much as the Jews were disproportionately affected by the Holocaust, the Jews were not the only group targeted. The Nazi government targeted another group of individuals: homosexuals. As the United States Holocaust Museum points out, the Nazi government wanted to stamp out the "vice of homosexuality" in order to bring about racial purity. Homosexuals under the Nazi regime were arrested, and many were sent to concentration camps.

As much as sending homosexuals to concentration camps seems like a relic of the past, the sad truth is that it is happening right now in Chechnya. Since February 2017, the Chechen government has detained 100 individuals that it suspects of being homosexual, some of whom have been tortured and killed. As if the reports of the concentration camp-style prisons isn't enough, Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov reportedly said that he wanted to completely cleanse Chechnya of LGBT individuals by Ramadan, which is May 26.    

This would be the first concentration camp for homosexuals since Nazi Germany, which is more all the sobering considering that today is Holocaust Remembrance Day (יום השואה). This is the year 2017. World War II ended 72 years ago, and yet you would think the world would have learned by now that detaining, torturing, and killing people simply for being different is a gross human rights violation.

I know that after the horrors that the Nazis unleashed, there have been more mass killings: Rwanda, Kosovo, Cambodia, the list goes on. I would like to hope that the phrase "Never Again" can have some bearing on our lives instead of being a hollow slogan. Exerting enough pressure to stop this atrocity is no easy task. However, just because the vast majority of us are not high-level politicians does not mean we can at least do something towards helping. Here are a few ideas:

  • The Russian LGBT Network is the main NGO that is working on getting LGBT Chechens evacuated so they don't get arrested by the Chechen government. A donation to this organization (see here and here) would go a long way. Canadian LGBT NGO Rainbow Railroad is also offering to help the Russian LGBT Network. 
  • Since the Russian economy is heavily dependent on oil revenues, asking oil companies, many of whom have protections for the LGBT employees, to put pressure on the Russian government could also help. 
  • Sign this petition that asks the Russian Prosecutor to investigate the atrocities (or you can Tweet him). 
  • Many gay men who are attacked in Russia and Chechnya are targeted on such LGBT apps as Grindr and Hornet by criminals who pose as gay men. You can urge the owners of these apps to send warnings to their Russian users. 
  • Share pictures of the state-sponsored terrorism on Instagram and tag Kadyrov
  • If you're able, go to your nearest Russian embassy and protest. Alternatively, you can contact your local Russian embassy and ask them to investigate. 

Holocaust Remembrance Day is not only a time to remember those who perished during the Holocaust, but also to do our utmost to help those under oppressive regimes. We should take this as a time to remember that anti-Semitism does still exist, and how we should be vigilant against such hatred. However, we also need to remember that unchecked racism does not just affect the Jewish people. We should remind ourselves that dehumanizing others, regardless of religion, race, gender, political beliefs, or sexual orientation, is a blemish on humanity. Our thoughts, words, and deeds should reflect that "Never Again" truly means that we believe in freedom for all. We should do whatever we can to challenge this inhumanity. To close with the famous words of Pastor Martin Niemoller:

"First, they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me." 

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