views updated Jun 27 2018


Genocide is not created or perpetrated in a vacuum. It is generally preceded by key decisions and acts and the plan for its conduct is usually mapped out ahead of time, whether in fits or starts or as a well-orchestrated process. Many perpetrators have left revealing and detailed documents that delineate—some extremely clearly, others not so clearly or under the cover of euphemism—the genesis and evolution of a genocidal process.

German Genocide of Hereros in Southwest Africa

In 1904 German military and government officials documented all aspects of the uprising of the Hereros of southwestern Africa and the colonial reaction to the uprising, including genocidal actions against the Hereros. Die Kämpfe der deutschen Truppen in Südwesafrika, published in 1907, is considered to be the "major source for the military operations of the Germans. [It] is based on official materials and was written by the Ministry History Section of the German General Staff" (Bridgman, 1981, p. 175). The General Staff produced and submitted fairly regular reports on the war to the German government, which were printed as appendices to the Reichstag debates over actions in Southwest Africa. The German Colonial Office also published a weekly magazine, Deutsches Koloniablatt, which included an overview of what was taking place under German rule, particularly as it pertained to the Hereros and other oppressed groups.

Ottoman Turk Genocide of the Armenians

The Ottoman Turks produced ample records (primarily directives, memoranda, and telegrams) of their plans and actions vis-à-vis the Armenian genocide. Most of the documents were riddled with intentional euphemisms (e.g., the use of the term deportation served as a code for "massacre" or "destruction"). Telegrams containing specifics about the genocide were burned immediately after they were read, by direct orders from the Central Committee of the Young Turks' Ittihad party government. Furthermore, fearful of prosecution and "drastic retributive justice" at the conclusion of World War I, the perpetrators destroyed "batches of state and party documents" (Dadrian, 1991, p. 86, 87). The obliteration of the vast bulk of the records produced and maintained by the Young Turks Central Committee, destruction of personal documents by the three key leaders of the Ittihad (Talat, Enver, and Cemal), and "the burning of all the evidence of the activities of the Special Organization," gutted the invaluable paper trail (Dadrian, 1999, p. 93).

Vahakn N. Dadrian, an expert on the Armenian genocide and the documentation of the Armenian genocide in Turkish sources, reported in 1999 that:

Nevertheless, a host of high-ranking officials supplied first-hand evidence in the course of a series of court-martial proceedings instituted in the 1918–1920 Armistice period by successive Ottoman governments anxious to exact punishment from the perpetrators involved. However exercised and reluctant, these officials in various forms of testimony grudgingly admitted to a scheme of deportation, the covert intent and end-result of which was the actual destruction of the masses of the deportees. Another group of Turks, most former military commanders and civil officials, recounted their relevant observations and knowledge through memoirs (p. 87).

Key information was gleaned from various Turkish documents that survived, and is now contained in the archives of the Turkish Military Tribunal, among other sources. The documents were used in the few prosecutions that took place. The Fifth Committee of the Ottoman Chapter of Deputies interrogated and deposed ministers who had served in the wartime government, and among those interrogated were two Seyhulislams (highest ranking religious official in the Ottoman Empire). During the months from October to December of 1918, the subject of the genocide was taken up in debates within the Turkish parliament.

The most voluminous and accurate information available on the Ottoman Turk genocide of the Armenians is located in the reports and archives of the German and United States governments. Dadrian asserts, "In terms of reliability and verifiability, no other single source may compare to the critical importance of official German records on the Armenian Genocide in documenting the capital crime of the genocide" (1999, p. 90). Beginning in mid-June 1915, reports of German consuls throughout the Ottoman Empire began to awaken the German government to the reality of what was taking place on the ground. A mountainous pile of German reports detailed the deportations, the looting of Armenian property, and the killing of Armenian civilians.

As for the information and documentation collected by the U.S. government within and during the Armenian genocide, the United States National Archives and Library of Congress now contains a microfiche set of 37,000 pages of documentation. Compiled and edited in the 1990s by Rouben Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute in Washington, D.C., the collection contains approximately 4,500 documents that were located in official U.S. archives. The collection is accompanied by a 475-page Guide that Adalian developed.

Nazi-Perpetrated Genocide of Mentally and Physically Handicapped, Jews, and Gypsies

The German leaders of the Third Reich and the perpetrators of the Holocaust kept meticulously detailed and voluminous records of all aspects of the events leading up to and culminating in the Holocaust (1933–1945). The records and pages, numbering in the tens of millions, are now held in various documentation centers. These include but are not limited to the Berlin Documents Center; the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine in Paris, France; the Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea in Milan, Italy; the Main Commission for Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland; the Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation); the Wiener Library in London; Yad Vashem in Jerusalem; and the Zydowski Instytut Historyczny in Warsaw).

The collection housed in the Berlin Documents Center is extensive, and features detailed information regarding major government officials in the Third Reich, including Joseph Goebbels, Herman Göring, Julius Streicher, and Joachim von Ribbentrop, as well as voluminous data on lower-ranking individuals. The documentation also includes correspondence carried out within the Nazi party and government offices, "ranging from the Gaue (the territorial units into which the Reich was divided for Nazi party purposes) all the way up to the Reich chancellery—and papers produced and used by the People's court and the Reich's supreme court" (Mushkat, 1995, p. 391).

The Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine was secretly established in 1943 in Grenoble. It contains key records on the Nazi occupation of France, the actions of the Vichy French collaborators, and the fate of the Jews captured, incarcerated, or deported by the Nazis.

The Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea contains important records regarding the fate of the Italian Jews at the hands of the Fascists and Nazis, with a particular emphasis on the period from 1938 to 1945. The records include information on the persecution of the Jews as well as the role of Jews in the Italian resistance movement.

The Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie holds hundreds of archives and collections of documents related to a wide variety of issues and events that deal directly with the impact of the Holocaust on the Jews of the Netherlands. Among the specific records housed here are documents collected by the Committee for Jewish Refugees (Comité voor Joodsche Vluchtelingen) and the Jewish Council (Joodse Raad), as well as documents pertaining to the Westerbork transit camp and the Vught concentration camp. Further collections include records of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA; Reich Security Main Office) branch in The Hague, and particularly those records that pertain to the RSHA's IV B 4 section, which dealt specifically with Jews. The institute also houses papers from The Hague branch of the Omnia Treuhandgesellschaft (Trust Company), which dealt with the policy of "aryanization" of Dutch-Jewish enterprises, as well as numerous German propaganda materials.

A particularly valuable set of captured German documents recorded the plans and actions of the Einsatzgruppen. These were the mobile killing units that operated in certain German-occupied territories during World War II and resulted in the murder of approximately 1.25 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens, including both Soviet and Jewish prisoners of war.

Following the end of World War II, a series of trials were held, during which defendants were tried on charges of conspiracy, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The most famous of the trials was conducted by the International Military Tribunal (IMT) and later came to be known as the Nuremberg Trial. Subsequent trials were also held, for example, by Great Britain (two of which were the Bergen-Belsen Trial and the Zyklon B Trial), West Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, and Romania. There was also the Eichmann Trial, held by Israel in 1961. Not only did such trials make use of Nazi-produced documentation, they also produced invaluable records of the charges and the evidence for such and detailed documentation of the cross-examination of the witnesses. Equally important is the record of the defendants' own words, and that is true even when the latter consisted of disclaimers, deceit, and outright denial of their involvement or guilt in the crimes of which they were accused.

The transcripts of the first Nuremburg Trial were published under the official title: Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 14, November 1945-October 1946. It ultimately filled forty-two volumes, and came to be known as the "Blue Series." These transcripts constitute the official text of the proceedings in the English, French, and German languages. The set contains the transcripts of testimony given by the defendants, the witnesses for the prosecution and defense, and tens of thousands of documents of incriminating documentary evidence.

Cambodian Genocide

The Khmer Rouge, the communist leaders of Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia) and the perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979, produced and maintained extensive documentation of its genocidal activities. The main repository of the various documents produced by the Khmer Rouge is housed at two major centers: Yale University's Cambodian Genocide Program and the Documentation Center of Cambodia, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Yale's Cambodian Genocide Program is developing a computer database that will contain all of the primary and secondary source material directly related to the Khmer Rouge overthrow of the Cambodian government and the Khmer Rouge's rule and activities between 1975 and 1979. The Documentation Center of Cambodia is an autonomous research institute, containing copies of all of Yale's documentation and research of the genocide.

The Khmer Rouge documents comprise two major sets: the archive of material maintained, produced, and collected by the Tuol Sleng prison, where the Khmer Rouge incarcerated, interrogated, tortured, and, ultimately, murdered suspected dissidents or enemies of the revolution; and the archive maintained by the Khmer Rouge's national security force, the Santebal, which was responsible for carrying out surveillance on and repression of its own people throughout Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge's rule.

When the Vietnamese invaded Kampuchea in 1979, the chief of Tuol Sleng Prison attempted to destroy the documents in his possession, but in his rush to escape he left over 100,000 pages behind. These documents provide detailed accounts of the Khmer Rouge's "security activities" beginning in 1974. Likewise, approximately 100,000 Santebal documents were discovered in a house that is thought to have been the residence of Son Sen, Democratic Kampuchea's Deputy Prime Minister for Defense.

Iraq Genocide of the Iraqi Kurds

In May 1992 and August of 1993, eighteen tons of official Iraqi state documents captured by Kurdish parties during the course of the March 1991 uprising were shipped to the United States for safekeeping and analysis. The human rights group Middle East Watch led a team that began researching the documents in 1992. The materials provide an in-depth view of Iraq's 1988 Anfal campaign of extermination against its northern Kurdish population.

The materials include "memoranda, correspondence, arrest warrants, background information on suspects, official decrees, activity and investigation reports, logbooks, minutes of meetings, membership rosters, lists of names, census forms and salary tables" (Human Rights Watch, 1994, pp. 1–2). Among the many documents included in the tons of materials are the Ali Hassan al-Majid tapes. These are more than a dozen audiotapes of meetings between Ali Hassan al-Majid, the Secretary General of the Ba'ath party's Northern Bureau, and senior Ba'ath officials in 1988 and 1989, during which he specifically commented on the chemical attacks he had carried out against the Kurds.

1994 Rwandan Genocide

A wide variety of documents—some produced or disseminated by high government officials, others by local leaders and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, and still others by radio announcers—were discovered in the aftermath of the genocide. Such records are being used by scholars in an attempt to understand the reasons for and process of the genocide, and are also being used in the trials of alleged perpetrators being held in Rwanda and at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania. Among the documents that have been unearthed, catalogued, analyzed, or used in one or both of the two court settings are examples of virulent anti-Tutsi propaganda, much of which was disseminated by hand or posted on local bulletin boards. Also included are speeches and directives issued by high governmental officials on Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) that were aimed at inciting members of the Hutu general public to seek out and kill Tutsis in general as well as specific, named individuals. The RTLM was jointly owned by members of Hutu Power, or the génocidaires, and virtually became the "voice" of the genocide.

In addition to these records, there are speeches by the Rwandan president and prime minister to the general Hutu populace urging them to continue to seek "security" for the nation, in which the term "seeking security" was a euphemism for "continue the killing." The documentation also includes letters from leading perpetrators seeking to instill fear in the Hutu masses and calling on the Tutsis to carry out "wartime security" measures (another euphemism for the mass killings of Tutsis). There are administrative records from governmental meetings and from communes and prefectures throughout Rwanda; government reports (disseminated throughout the country) falsely accusing the Tutsis of planning an armed insurrection; and "minutes of local meetings where operations against Tutsi were planned and correspondence in which administrators congratulated their subordinates for successfully destroying 'the enemy'" (Des Forges, 1999, p. 3). Equally important among these documents are the censuses carried out prior to the genocide for the express purpose of ascertaining how many Tutsis lived in each village; and carefully detailed records that tallied the number of people killed and "not just of overall numbers of dead, but also of the elimination of those persons named as priority targets for their communes" (Des Forges, 1999, p. 241). Two major sources for locating such documentation are the reports issued by Human Rights Watch and the trial records issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).


Many of the former leaders who are now alleged suspects in the commission of genocide in the former Yugoslavia were careful not to leave a paper trial of their true intentions. Nonetheless, many alleged perpetrators of genocide—including the leaders of the various factions—did make a plethora of assertions, announcements, and propaganda statements on both radio and televisions during the genocide, and both the transcripts and tapes of such broadcasts are still available. These clearly indicate the actual intent and motivation of the Serbian government, including its contempt and disregard for the safely and welfare of its foes and the desire to "cleanse" the area of groups it considered hostile. The intent and motivation come through clearly, despite the purposeful use of euphemistic words and phrases.

Over and above the broadcasts, other forms of documentation (including minutes of meetings, correspondence, reports, and internal governmental documents) have been collected and are being used by the prosecutors, defense attorneys, and accused at the trials being conducted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Much of this documentation is available for use by scholars and students, but to obtain information about or access to actual governmental documentation or documents produced by paramilitary groups that have been introduced during the course of a trial, a researcher must provide the press and public information personnel with the specific case name and exhibit number of the document.


While not all who perpetrate genocide meticulously document their plans and actions, many do. The minutes of meetings, memoranda, records of debates in governmental councils, legislation, mandates, and even records of the killing process and "body counts," among other types of information, all provide scholars with invaluable information and insights into the thinking, motives, decisions, and actions of the perpetrators of genocide.

SEE ALSO Evidence; Videotaped Testimonials


Adalian, Rouben (1999). "Documentation of Armenian Genocide in U.S. Archives." In Encyclopedia of Genocide, Vol. 1, ed. Israel W. Charny. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC CLIO.

Ali Hassan al-Majid Tapes. Available from

Bridgman, Jon (1981). The Revolt of the Hereros. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Dadrian, Vahakn N. (1991). "Documentation of the Armenian Genocide in Turkish Sources." In Genocide: A Critical Bibliographical Review, vol. 2, ed. Israel W. Charny. New York: Facts on File.

Dadrian, Vahakn N. (1999). "Documentation of Armenian Genocide in German Sources." In Encyclopedia of Genocide, vol. 1, ed. Israel W. Charny. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC CLIO Inc.

des Forges, Alison (1999). Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda. New York: Human Rights Watch.

The Documentation Center of Cambodia. Available from

Human Rights Watch (1994). "Bureaucracy of Repression: The Iraqi Government in Its Own Words." Available from:

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Available at

Mushkat, Marian (1995). "Berlin Documents Center." In Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, ed. Israel Gutman. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

Paape, Harry (1995). "Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumntatie." In Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, ed. Israel Gutman. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

Yale University's Cambodian Genocide Program. Available from

Samuel Totten


views updated Jun 11 2018

doc·u·men·ta·tion / ˌdäkyəmenˈtāshən/ • n. 1. material that provides official information or evidence or that serves as a record: you will have to complete the relevant documentation. ∎  the written specification and instructions accompanying a computer program or hardware.2. the process of classifying and annotating texts, photographs, etc.: she arranged the collection and documentation of photographs.


views updated Jun 11 2018

documentation All material that serves primarily to describe a system and make it more readily understandable, rather than to contribute in some way to the actual operation of the system. Documentation is frequently classified according to purpose; thus for a given system there may be requirements documents, design documents, and so on. In contrast to documentation oriented toward development and maintenance of the system, user documentation describes those aspects of the system that are of interest to end-users.