Not even numbers

October 2 is the anniversary of the start of the Parsley Massacre in 1937. Which despite the name is not remotely comic. It was a five-day massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. And I for one knew nothing about it.

Not much is known. Estimates even of casualties vary enormously, from fewer than 600 to around 20,000. It’s not even known whether butchers working for Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo really did force potential victims to say the word “perejil,” Spanish for parsley, to see particularly from how they pronounced the “r” and the “j” whether they spoke with a French or Haitian Creole language or a Dominican Spanish one.

We do know that it was carried out on Trujillo’s orders. And he was a nasty dictator who dominated the Dominican Republic for decades whether officially holding office or not. He’s a bit unusual among nasty dictators in that he had the habit of renaming cities and mountains for himself one associates with ideologically grandiose tyrants without having had much in the way of systematic ideas. He mixed in a few laudable policies like opening doors to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution in the 1930s despite a general brutal denial of rights to anyone and manipulation of popular fear of disorder generally and crime by ethnic Haitians in particular. But really all that’s beside the point here.

What matters is to give at least passing remembrance to a group of poor, desperate people massacred in a dark corner of history and the globe, largely unnoticed at the time and forgotten since. The fact that we aren’t even sure to an order of magnitude how many perished under horrible conditions even by the standards of Dominica underlines just how little value anyone seems to have attached to them at the time or later.

The massacre had no geopolitical consequences. It didn’t even awaken the conscience of the world, or part of it, as the Holocaust and Holodomor did. True, Trujillo himself was eventually assassinated, in 1961, but more as part of failed sordid political maneuvering than in retaliation for all the murders he ordered and organized. And really it is hard to devise an appropriate punishment for having as many as 50,000 people killed over three decades, although I certainly favour executing such people.

What we can do is remember. Especially those wiped out so thoroughly, and with so little notice or protest, that they lack even a number let alone names.