Thomas Schmidinger teaches at the University of Vienna in Austria and is both secretary-general of the Austrian Society for the Promotion of Kurdology and coeditor of the Vienna Kurdish Studies Yearbook.

He is an expert on Syria, Iraq, and Iran and the author of a number of books on migration, cultural integration, and the Middle East, several of which have been translated by U.S. publishers.

Dr. Schmidinger was invited by multiple U.S. Universities, institutions, and bookstores to give a series of lectures this September on his newest book, The Battle for the Mountain of the Kurds: Self-Determination and Ethnic Cleansing in the Afrin Region of Rojava (PM Press, 2019). The organizers and publishers worked for months on the book tour, and he had all travel plans and papers in order. Everything was set, or so it seemed.

When Dr. Schmidinger arrived at the boarding area on Thursday September 12th, 2019 for the connecting flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis, where he previously spent a year as a research fellow at the University of Minnesota, he was detained and questioned by airline security about his research in Syria, Iraq, and Iran and his travels to these countries. The security personnel expressed their assurances that he would be allowed to board, but they needed to get the go-ahead from Washington, D.C. Then, the unexpected happened.

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Kathryn Agnes Huether was born and raised in rural Montana. As the daughter of a music teacher and a school superintendent, music and education were always at the center of her life. At the age of 4, Kathryn’s mother, Renée, introduced the violin into her life, driving 100 miles one way for a half-hour violin lesson. Renée’s dedication to her daughter’s musical training dynamically shaped Kathryn’s worldview and studies, as did David, her father, who exemplified hard work and kindness. Kathryn graduated with a double BA in Violin Performance and Religious Studies from Montana State University in 2013. Following undergrad, Kathryn went on to attend the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she received a Master’s in Religious Studies, with an endorsement in Jewish Studies. Her first Master’s thesis was the catalyst for her PhD research, as she examined the soundtracks of two Holocaust film documentaries, Night and Fog (1956) and Auschwitz Death Camp: Oprah, Elie Wiesel (2006), arguing that the accompanying soundtracks subjectively influenced a viewer’s reception and understanding of the documentary material presented. 

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Germans also separated children from their parents. In a previously unknown collection at the National Archives of Namibia in Windhoek, I recently discovered documents that confirm colonial authorities used family separation as a means of domination in German Southwest Africa (present-day Namibia), Germany’s first and only settlement colony.

A dispatch to the Omaruru District Commander, for instance, details the separation of Emma, an 8-year-old Herero girl, from her parents as they departed from the capital city of Windhoek. It concludes that “she ran after her parents since she belongs with her Omaruru family.” Emma’s fate remains a mystery to the present day. 

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Genocide studies has always been characterized by its interdisciplinarity. The consolidation in the last few decades of visual studies (including film and media) as academic fields, has allowed for a far more rigorous analysis of images of genocides that rests upon formal and semantic expertise specific to audio-visual representation. Thus, it is no longer a matter of invoking images as illustrations, but rather of wondering in what ways they contribute both to the knowledge of events and to the transmission of memory, whether individual or collective.

To interpret images of genocide consequently involves a double competence, which puts genocide specialists (historians, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, among others) and image analysts (semiologists, film or photography historians, new media specialists) in a separately delicate situation. The task demands the command of theory and methods within multiple scholarly fields, including specific instruments for the analysis of visual texts. The question continues to be: what can the image contribute –as iconography and as a visual narrative– to the comprehension of genocide and mass violence that could not be gained from other available documents which were traditionally studied by the discipline of history. This is a far reaching and complex question, and therefore its answers must be both ambitious and open to discussion and contestation.

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This past June, the Memory Studies Association held its Third Annual Memory Studies Conference at the historic Complutense University Madrid. Hundreds of memory scholars from all over the world flocked to the city for the four-day conference, which was co-sponsored by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The conference primarily took place at the Faculty of Philology buildings, which was a fitting location (considering its central role during the Spanish Civil War) to contemplate and reflect on the role of memory in our world today. 

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In this interview with Yagmur Karakaya, Prof. Olick demystifies processes involved in collective memory, discusses the role of emotions and nostalgia in remembrance, and introduces the notion of regional constellations of memory. Olick also untangles the fruitful concept of “legitimation profiles”, which he applies in his latest book to the ways Germany confronts the specters of its Nazi past. 

Jeffrey Olick is a professor of sociology and history and chair of the sociology department at the University of Virginia. He is a cultural and historical sociologist whose work has focused on collective memory and commemoration, critical theory, transitional justice, postwar Germany, and sociological theory more generally. His books include “The Politics of Regret: On Collective Memory and Historical Responsibility,” and “The Sins of Fathers: Germany, Memory, Method”.

(Editor’s note: This is a condensed version of our interview with Dr. Olick. Follow the link at the end to read the interview in its entirety.)

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The roots of today’s racial and religious structures can be found in late medieval Spain and its colonies. It was in the Iberian Peninsula, during the fifteenth century, that terms like raza (race) and linaje (lineage) went from being used to describe horse or dog breeding to being applied to Jews and “Moors.” This switch coincided with the appearance of anti-converso ideologies, which would turn theological categories (like Jew and Muslim), into biological ones (limpieza de sangre).

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Daniel Reynolds is the Seth Richards Professor in Modern Languages at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. His works examines the ways representation of the Holocaust has shifted in museums and memorial sites across the United States, Poland and Germany. His most recent book, Postcards from Auschwitz, was published last year.

In November, the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies welcomed Dr. Reynolds for a lecture where he touched on the themes of his latest book and Holocaust tourism’s effect on how we remember.

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Situated adjacent the National Mall in Washington D.C., the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) dominates the landscape of American Holocaust consciousness, remembrance, and education. On an elevator ride to the sixth floor and the start of the permanent exhibit, visitors to the museum watch a 15-second-long video showing footage of American soldiers encountering one of the concentration camps in 1945. In a retrospective voiceover, one soldier reflects on his initial shock at seeing the horrors of the camp: “We had come across something and were not sure what it was – a big prison of some kind. There were people running all over: sick, dying, starved people. You can’t imagine it; things like that don’t happen.” This video foreshadows the incomprehensibility of the Holocaust that visitors are about to witness in the permanent exhibit. The video also serves to perpetuate an American Holocaust myth; the myth that Americans had little to no knowledge of the Holocaust until the reporting of the liberation of the camps in 1945. For, as the myth goes, had Americans known about the atrocities, surely, they would have done something to speak out, to collectively, publicly condemn the mass murder of European Jewry. Though it is entirely possible that this individual soldier may not have known about the Nazi camps, the opening of Dachau in 1933, the persecution and plight of Germany and Europe’s Jews, and the ultimate extermination of millions were widely reported in the New York Times and local papers across the country. A recently-opened exhibit at the USHMM, Americans and the Holocaust, seeks to examine what ordinary Americans knew about the Holocaust in the 1930s and 40s.

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In March 2019, the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad ran a four-part series examining antisemitism in the Netherlands and Europe. Published in the midst of global concerns regarding the rise of antisemitism and violent antisemitic attacks, the question of the resurgence of anti-Jewish sentiment is more pressing than ever. According to the Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI), there was a 19% increase in cases of antisemitism in the Netherlands from 2017 to 2018. In a survey conducted by the NRC, 70% of Jewish respondents (163 out of 800 identified themselves as Jewish) stated that antisemitism is indeed on the rise and 80% stated that while they have not witnessed antisemitism themselves, they are worried about its growth. This survey is backed by a recent investigation of antisemitism in twelve EU-member states. 89% of European Jews stated they experienced an increase in antisemitism in their home country, with another 38% responding that they have considered emigrating because they feel unsafe.

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