April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

– T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” (1922)

AUGUSTA — For almost as long as they have been a people, Jews have understood the words of T.S. Eliot’s epic poem. Each spring, the reading of the Passover haggadah recounts a mixture of the memory of the Exodus from Egypt with the professed desire to endure the burden of exile “till next year in Jerusalem.”

And each April or early May, Jewish communities and individuals mark Yom Hashoah – the Day of Holocaust Remembrance. I am among those who mourn the millions of Jewish men, women and children who perished at the hands of the Nazis and their many collaborators.

But April’s memory and the 20th century’s cruelty are shared by others. On April 24, the world’s Armenians remember the April night in 1915 when the Turkish government rounded up the leading Armenian religious, political and intellectual leaders in the capital of Istanbul and murdered them.

Before the killing of Armenians would stop, over 1 million men, women and children would die in the 20th century’s first great genocide. For a century, their descendants have had to live with the knowledge that the perpetrators of these crimes and the generations who have followed them have never admitted their guilt, have never shown shame or remorse for their inhumanity.

Three decades later, world Jewry would sit traumatized in April 1945 as the first reports of the concentration camps began to reveal a mass murder unprecedented in human history. Six million Jewish men, women and children, one-third of Jews in the world, were murdered as part of the Nazi plan to destroy European and ultimately all Jewish life.

No one knew what to call these terrible crimes against humanity, but one man, a Polish Jew who had escaped the tragedy of European Jewry, but left dozens of family members behind to perish among the millions, finally gave them a name. In April 1946, Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer and academic, wrote an article titled “Genocide,” thus identifying a phenomenon that Winston Churchill called “a crime without a name.” Now, Lemkin identified these mass murders as “the crime of destroying national, racial or religious groups.”

The cruelty of April could now become its promise as the world said, “Never again.” Those words were of little comfort to the people of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on April 17, 1975, as the victorious troops of the Khmer Rouge entered the capitol, victors in a brutal civil war. Within four years, in a genocide that killed 1.7 million people out of a population of 8 million, the Khmer Rouge and their leader, Pol Pot, made certain that the words “never again” held no meaning.

Two decades later, on April 6, 1994, the first of 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis were murdered in 100 days of the most efficient genocide the world has known. Their murderers, radical members of the Hutu tribe of Rwanda, shared a similar language and culture, but that obviously was not enough. Never again

In the past century and into the beginning of this one, we have heard requiems for millions of victims of mass killing and genocide. There is one unassailable fact behind this ignoble litany of human conflict and suffering: Political or social groups wanting to commit mass murder do. Though there may be other obstacles, they are never hindered by a lack of willing executioners

The world shouted “Never again” and shouted it after each terrible genocide. We need not only to shout the words “Never again” but also to understand how little we have done to bring about change. We need to shout them because we live in a world that is the byproduct of the ovens of Auschwitz and the failure of Western civilization and what passed as its humanity – a world that sanctions the evils of genocide.

We need to understand that the task is not only to acknowledge what our world has become because of this monstrous thing we call genocide. The task is much larger because the suffering of millions of others, their deaths and the consequences for the generations that follow are also an integral part of our need to understand the evil that was and continues to be. The time to repair our world is now, and the place to begin is here. The cruelty of April needs to become its promise.