In 1942, in the midst of the Nazi effort to implement a “final solution” to the “Jewish Question” that had been posed by much of Christian Europe for centuries, my father, Shalom Peck, stood in a portion of the Lodz, Poland, Jewish cemetery called the “Cemetery Fields.” His job, as a resident of the Jewish ghetto established in 1940, was to help bury the Jewish and Sinti and Roma (Gypsy) dead. Before the ghetto was liquidated in the summer of 1944, more than 43,000 men, women and children would be buried without recognition or ceremony as a part of the Holocaust.

My father had just finished his shift when a Nazi officer entered the cemetery to inspect his work. He complimented my father and said he was doing a good job. My father, shocked by the fact that an SS officer had spoken to him in an almost human manner, felt comfortable enough to ask him a question that he had thought about for a very long time.

Holocaust survivor Helga Weissova-Hoskova recorded what she saw in “Deportation” and other drawings. On Wednesday at USM, a keynote speaker and a panel will talk about how genocide survivors’ descendants cope with this history and its trauma. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“Excuse me,” my father asked, “but why do we deserve this as Jews? What did we do?” The SS officer became agitated and began to shake. He took out his pistol and pointed it at my father.

“Listen, you Jewish piece of vermin,” he screamed at my father, “I don’t talk to Jewish vermin as a rule, but I will tell you. You Jews are forgotten by God and are a superfluous people in the world.”

It was at that moment, my father recalled, that he understood the meaning of evil.

What my father experienced was part of a much greater evil.

It has been estimated that more than 35 million people died in the 20th century’s international and domestic wars. But it has also been estimated that more than 170 million were killed in massacres and mass executions carried out by countries in which they were living.

Since 1948, we have had a term to define that kind of mass killing, what Winston Churchill called “the crime without a name.” We call this evil genocide. It means the killing of a group – whether it is for racial, gender, religious or a whole host of other reasons. But recognized genocides occurred well before that year and after – from the destruction of groups in German Southwest Africa to the atrocities in Darfur.

What about the generations who inherit this unwanted legacy of genocide? How do they cope with this history and its trauma and the need to keep its memory alive and transmit it to future generations?

We, the generations of genocide, bear a soul wound.

Soul wound” is not my term. It has been an integral part of Native American people’s knowledge since Columbus landed in this hemisphere. What is a soul wound? When this nation was colonized, many Native Americans were killed and herded like cattle onto reservations because of who they were. The killing eventually stopped; the wounds to the body healed. But the mind did not heal, and the pain lasted for generations and continues to last because the wound was to the soul of the human being.

When this nation enslaved and killed African Americans because of who they were, the killing eventually stopped, and now slavery and Jim Crow laws seem to be a thing of the past. The wounds of the body healed. The mind’s wounds did not, and the pain lasted and continues to last for generations because the wound was to the soul of the human being.

We belong to a sorority and fraternity of loss who ask the world to bring us no more members.

On Wednesday, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall, the generations of genocide invite the Portland-area community to hear our stories. We invite you to listen to Yael Danieli, a psychologist whose heroic efforts to break the “conspiracy of silence” in the treatment of trauma in genocide survivors and their families allowed so many of us to face our deepest fears and begin the process of healing.