Rachel is a third-year PhD candidate in the department of German, Nordic, Slavic & Dutch. She received her BS in Commerce & Business Administration and her BA in Foreign Languages and Literature from the University of Alabama in May 2017. She then spent a year abroad in Augsburg, Germany before returning to the University of Alabama to earn her MA in Germanic Studies in May 2020. She moved to Minneapolis in August 2020 in pursuit of her PhD in Germanic Studies with a minor in Moving Image Studies.
The first month of the calendar year happens to include the first of many events to remember the victims of genocide perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators. Various events occur around the world, in numerous languages, and have their origins in different geographies, political ideologies, and cultural-linguistic milieus.
But like every year—for personal and professional reasons—deciding what to say for International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27th) or the more Zionist-laden Yom Hashoah (April 18th), while avoiding what hasn’t already been said, is a challenge. Personally, and as a Jew, I certainly “remember” in a diverse set of ways, and I openly talk about these practices. From regular write-ups for the Center in my professional capacity, to the reading group I run with former students—as we read Yiddish literature in the original on a weekly basis—individual and collective memory acts take place.
But every year, coterminous events and life experiences inevitably end up shaping the direction of these memory acts, too. This year was no exception.
Today, we remember those who lost their lives 29 years ago during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
Lasting only 100 days, April 7th, 1994, marked the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide in which over 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed as the international community and UN peacekeepers stood by. Emboldened by state-sponsored propaganda and armed with rudimentary weapons, ordinary Rwandans of Hutu ethnicity were mobilized into killing militias. Scholars have estimated that the rate of killing was four times that of Nazi Germany and carried out by 175,000 to 230,000 Hutus. Much has been written about the causes and courses of this tragic event, as well as commemoration practices in Rwanda. But today, in honor of the lives lost, I would like to share with you how some Rwandans work to prevent future genocide in the land of a thousand hills.
Editor’s note: This is the second in our collected statements in response to SF 2442, a bill currently being debated in the Minnesota legislature. If passed, the bill would mandate Holocaust and genocide education in middle and high schools across the state. Please see the earlier post by CHGS Interim Director Joe Eggers for background and context on the bill and Joe’s statement in response. Below is a statement submitted by George D. Dalbo, UMN Ph.D. and High School Social Studies Teacher.
University of Minnesota
Twin Cities Campus
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
College of Education and Human Development
March 20, 2023
Chair Cheryl Youakim
Republican Lead Ron Kresha
Members of the Education Finance Committee;
“Why have we never learned about this before?” This question was asked by a high school junior in my Genocide and Human Rights course just last week as we began learning about the Cambodian Genocide. The student, a second-generation Hmong-American whose family members experienced mass violence and came to the United States as refugees, is often frustrated that, until my course, her education has excluded most of the genocides we are covering in the course. Quite frankly, as her teacher, I am also frustrated and disheartened that most of my students have little knowledge of these events and the broader patterns of genocide. Thus, I am writing to support HF 2685 and Holocaust and genocide education in the State of Minnesota. As both a middle and high school social studies teacher and a scholar in the field of Social Studies Education, I have seen firsthand through my teaching and research the power of Holocaust and genocide education.
Last week, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, for their role in the alleged forced transfer of Ukrainian children back to Russia. Putin is the latest in a series of sitting heads of state to be issued an arrest warrant by the ICC since the Rome Statute came into force in 2002, including Omar al-Bashir, who was charged with several crimes, including genocide, in 2008.
Although the forced transfer of children is explicitly listed as one of the four examples of genocide in the Rome Statute and the UN Genocide Convention, neither Putin nor Lvova-Belova were indicted for genocide. What do the charges mean, and is there any likelihood that Putin or Lvova-Belova will face trial? We asked Dr. Joachim Savelsberg, Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian Chair and Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, what to make of the news.
This spring, the Minnesota legislature is debating a proposed mandate requiring Holocaust and genocide education in middle and high schools across the state. The proposal comes on the heels of work done in 2021 to increase the presence of the Holocaust and genocide in the revised social studies standards. This bill codifies the language in the standards revision. It establishes a task force of educators, experts, and community members that would work closely with the Minnesota Department of Education to implement requirements. The bill is a joint effort between CHGS and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota & the Dakotas.
If passed, Minnesota would join twenty-two other states with similar policies, but with two significant differences. First, unlike most states, our proposed mandate would provide funding for educator training. This would ensure teachers from across the state have equitable access to training and resources regardless of where they live. Second, the language in Minnesota’s proposal is more inclusive than other states, listing Black and Indigenous genocides. Specifically, the language includes “Indigenous dispossession, removal, and genocide.” This legislation would be the first state in the country to include Indigenous genocide.
Recently, Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, has notoriously gone on antisemitic tirades on social and other forms of media. In early October, Ye tweeted that he was going to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” Shortly thereafter, his Twitter account was removed and he has since gone on multiple podcasts to explain himself. During his interview with Piers Morgan, he argued that his tweets stemmed from signing unfair record deals with “Jewish businessmen.” Going on, he claimed that he cannot be antisemitic due to he himself being Jewish and one of the “12 Lost Tribes of Hebrew.” The notion Ye speaks of is that the 12 Lost Tribes of Hebrew are actually Black, an idea coined by Black preachers during the Jim Crow era to counter the notion that Black Americans were an inferior race. Although the belief is not necessarily antisemitic, the concept has been co-opted by known hate groups. Since Ye’s statements, there has been a large fallout, with Ye losing almost all of his brand deals and affiliations. The statements themselves and the people who still choose to support Ye demonstrate, at best, tolerance for casual antisemitism and, at worst, support for it, in the US. Supporters of Ye have used the First Amendment to argue that his viewpoints are protected by Freedom of Speech and that cancel culture is censoring viewpoints.What they refuse to understand is the breadth of what Ye is stating. People are too slow to realize that antisemitism is another form of racism, and that a man as influential as Ye saying these things is a call to action for some. Just recently, an antisemitic hate group hung a banner over a freeway in Los Angeles that stated “Kanye is right” and proceeded to make a Nazi salute gesture.
There are some odd places in Germany’s Deep South that are strangely attractive to American tourists. For one, there is the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s Alpine refuge, which, not too long ago, one of my university colleagues cheerfully described as the high point of his German sightseeing tour; on TripAdvisor the Eagle’s Nest gets just as many thumbs-up as Austria’s Sound of Music tour. Growing up in 1970s Germany, I don’t remember anyone using the term “Eagle’s Nest” or Adlerhorst, probably because political winds were steadily blowing left and pilgrimage to Nazi remnants wasn’t a thing. Another southern tourist attraction—less creepy but still weird enough—is Bavaria’s fairy tale castle Neuschwanstein. A kitsch monster from the 19th century, it was designed by Mad King Ludwig who never, even in his wildest hallucinations, imagined that one day it would be lifted into the corporate logo of the Walt Disney company and become the go-to castle for Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
It was only recently that northern Germany came up with an answer to these architectural challenges from the south, which is no less Disneyesque than Neuschwanstein and historically at least as unappetizing as the Eagle’s Nest. It’s a replica of the Royal Prussian Palace planted in the middle of Berlin, home to Germany’s last kaiser whose madness was far more consequential for world politics than Ludwig’s. Kaiser Wilhelm’s passion was world domination, not building fairy tale castles, and WWI was a direct result of his imperial hubris. In the end the Kaiser’s empire collapsed, but his palace didn’t. It even remained more or less intact through the next world war and another failed attempt at world domination, this time by the owner of the Eagle’s Nest. And yes, this all sounds like the typical plot for 007 movies: supervillains living in fancy hideouts trying to bring the planet under their control. Even the grand finale could have been taken from a James Bond novel: the Kaiser’s palace was spectacularly blown to bits with dynamite like Auric Goldfinger’s volcano lair in You Only Live Twice. The palace’s lucky streak was over when it ended up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, in Berlin’s Soviet Sector, where feudal architecture didn’t have many fans. Later, the communists would proudly claim responsibility for the Big Bang that finished off Prussia’s history and its most visible symbol. Once and for all, so they thought.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Luxembourg Agreement, the resulting agreements from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, commonly known as the Claims Conference. The meeting, held just six years after the Holocaust, negotiated tens of billions of dollars in compensation for survivors of the Holocaust, implemented the following year. Each year, the Claims Conference continues to support survivors in dozens of countries around the world. Just last month, the German government pledged another $1.2 billion in funding, including funds explicitly for Holocaust education for the first time.
The staggering level of support from the German government is in line with the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi government between 1933 and 1945. The Claims Conference, while clearly unable to atone for the past, is an attempt by the German government to answer to crimes committed against European Jews under the Nazi regime. On a recent trip to Berlin, I was reminded that signs of this culpability extend all the way down to the streets, where memorials, placards, and other public history displays make clear the role of the National Socialist government in perpetrating the Holocaust.
*Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in the Oral History Journal.
Gelinada Grinchenko, Professor of History at Kharkiv National University, Ukraine, President of the Oral History Association, Ukraine, and Scholar at Risk at the University of Wuppertal, Germany, reflects on her forthcoming book and series of accompanying short films On Kharkiv and ourselves: the city’s fates and experiences in its inhabitants’ oral histories. Gelinada also discusses her experience and role in the context of the current conflict in Ukraine as an oral historian, survivor, and potential storyteller in the future.