I have long wanted to develop and teach a unit on the Nanjing Atrocities for my students at Millennium Brooklyn High School. As a high school history teacher with an undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies, I see it as an important history that we seldom teach in the United States.
Images are an important entry to stories of genocides and mass violence. They provide evidence and context but they can also shock us, jolting us into the immense amount of human suffering that occurred. This is why we must be careful when we prepare lessons for students that touch on such graphic and often difficult-to-absorb topics.
It is impossible to imagine what Raphael Lemkin would be thinking and doing if he were alive today. He dedicated his life to stopping mass violence against people based on their identities and to holding those who were responsible accountable for their crimes. As a young man, he studied past slaughters, including pogroms against Jews, and he immersed himself in understanding the mass murder of the Armenians by the Turkish state, the failure to stop it, and to punish those who were responsible for it. In the midst of his efforts to draw attention to these issues, he lost 49 family members, including his parents, in the Holocaust. They died in the Warsaw ghetto, in concentration camps, and in the death marches.