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Yehuda Bauer Comments on the Role and Responsibility of Bystanders

Yehuda Bauer, Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The responsibility of bystanders witnessing this kind of elimination, annihilation, murder, is very grim. And all of us are bystanders. I mean, what did we do when the Tutsis in Rwanda were being killed? Very, very little. The United Nations knew, before it ever happened, that a mass murder in Rwanda would take place. They were warned by their local representatives, they were given the documentation, and they did exactly nothing at all. So the bystander has a tremendous responsibility, even when the bystander has no way of actually preventing the genocide. He can at least yell, scream, shout. We didn't do that.

Well, I said in a speech in the German Parliament, the Bundestag, in 1998, that I come from a tradition that created the Ten Commandments -- which unfortunately, for many people, have become the Ten Suggestions. And I would add three more commandments to the ten: Thou shalt never be a perpetrator. Thou shalt never be a victim. And thou shalt never, but never, be a bystander. And I said that because I know that we all are bystanders.

Now, this sounds very pessimistic. But in order to utilize the possibility within us to oppose genocide, and we have that possibility within us, we must warn others. So, the Holocaust is a warning; and it shouldn't become a precedent, you see, because it has been taken up as a precedent already by others, and we must prevent that. We can.

The point is that we face tremendous political obstacles, and in order to overcome them, a concerted effort is needed by the academic world. The academic world is much more influential than it leads others to believe, because no government in its right senses today will do without think tanks. Very often these think tanks are more tanks then think. But they do exist, and they should be utilized.

The media, TV, Internet, and so on can be of tremendous influence: and not for propaganda, but simply by telling the truth, simply by reporting what people are capable of and warning others it can happen to yourself, and then realizing that we are all in the same boat, because we and our children and our children's children are going to suffer if we don't do something about these things. It'll take a long time. I don't want to create any kind of illusions. But there is a possibility of creating a slightly better world than in the one in which we live. There is no possibility of creating a good world, but there is a possibility of creating a slightly better world.

Yehuda Bauer
Yehuda Bauer Comments on the Role and Responsibility of Bystanders