From Africa to Auschwitz

USF professor Edward Kissi modestly accepts his reputation as one of the leading experts on genocide.

“I think it’s a little too much for a humble scholar like me,” Kissi said.

Kissi, who is in his first year at USF, will share his expertise on the PBS/BCC three-part documentary Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, which airs Jan. 19 at 9 p.m.

“To be interviewed for the series is itself an acknowledgement,” he said.

Born in Ghana, Kissi’s knowledge of the Holocaust began with the genocide in Namibia, a country in southwest Africa.

“One can not understand the history of the Holocaust without understanding Germany’s colonial history,” he said.

In 1904, German colonialists slaughtered 80 percent of the Herero, the ethnic population of Namibia, Kissi said.

“That was the clearest case of intentional extermination of a group of people that the world had seen in the beginning of the century,” Kissi said.

During the 1920s, German anthropologists studied theories of racial purification in Africa. Their writings became the material the Nazis would use to justify their belief in eugenics.

“The road to the Holocaust went through Africa,” Kissi said.

A student of Concordia University in 1994, Kissi’s interest in genocide began while studying a famine in Ethiopia and the subsequent civil war and revolution of the 1980s.

“What struck me was many revolutions of the 20th century had resulted in genocide,” he said, but Ethiopia was an exception. The groups targeted by the revolution were political rather than ethnic.

Per the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, the killing of a political group was not recognized as genocide. The correct term in this case would be politicide. In Kissi’s opinion, to group politicide under genocide would be to trivialize its definition.

“There is a conflict between the relationship of politicide and genocide,” he said. “We have to protect the meaning of genocide or it may become a cultural cliché.”

During his 1998 fellowship at Yale, he began work on a book that would not be finished until 2003 or finalized until 2005. Later this year, Revolution and Genocide in the Third World will finally see the light of day. Writing and revising between teaching classes, his dedication to his students is what kept the book from completion for so many years.

“As a teacher I give 100 percent to my students. When school starts, work on my book stops,” he said.