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.
Community engagement is vital—now more than ever—for fostering a more inclusive understanding of the liberal arts and sciences in this current world. Following a brief hiatus during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CLA Engagement Hub (located in Pillsbury Hall) began hosting residencies in 2021-2022. Scholars from the university have since partnered with community members to promote shared interests within the public spaces of both Pillsbury Hall and the larger Twin Cities metro.
In this piece, we are highlighting a recent public art exhibition that features one of the current Engagement Hub residents, Voice to Vision. Professor Feinberg also holds a CLA Engagement Hub residency for the 2022-2023 academic year, and is continuing his collaborative project with various storytellers with connections to the Twin Cities.
This summer my tenure as director of CHGS comes to an end. Since the moment I arrived in Minneapolis from Germany in August 2012, I have marveled at the intellectual vigor, ingenuity, and enthusiasm for learning at the University of Minnesota. I feel honored and humbled to have worked alongside and with so many wonderful colleagues. What we have achieved here at the Center over the last decade in essence is due to the special bonds and partnerships forged between our inspiring faculty, tirelessly dedicated staff, and superb student scholars. Collaboration and timely exchanges at the local, national and international levels have also enabled us to develop an exceptional range of scholarly, teaching, and public engagement programs.
I truly take heart in the manner in which our team has upheld the Center’s strong tradition of outreach to educators and the public at large, affirming the legacy of the Center’s founding director Stephen Feinstein. To that end, it was imperative that we expanded the Center’s resources on the Holocaust and other genocides, including those that occurred on North American soil.
These past ten whirlwind years have been a time of intense learning for me. I have been touched by survivors and descendants who confided in me their stories of loss and pain, but also resilience and hope. I was privileged to learn from artists whose work illuminated the past in powerful new ways, and from teachers seasoned in engaging creatively, learners with the difficult truths of the histories and lasting legacies of mass violence. In my classes, I was heartened by students who shared their deep convictions in ending hatred and embracing humanity’s fullness.
There are several towns named Wittenberg in the US, but there is only one in Germany. Growing up in West Germany I didn’t hear much about it because Wittenberg was in the East, on the other side of the Iron Curtain. We learned at school that Martin Luther taught there and kicked off the Protestant Reformation. However, that he personally nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg—as the story goes—is just as likely as Walt Disney having drawn the first Mickey Mouse draft himself. After the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain went away in 1989, Wittenberg awoke from its Dornröschenschlaf (Sleeping Beauty slumber), dusted itself off and emerged as a major tourist destination. Today it is the city with the highest density of UNESCO World Heritage sites, four in total and all connected to Luther’s life and the Reformation—must-visits in a Mecca for evangelical globetrotters. One of those sites received a lot of press coverage earlier this month that once again exposed the ugly underbelly of Luther’s teachings and the callousness of Germany’s highest court.
*Editor’s Note: This piece was originally posted by the UMN Human Rights Program. Click here to read the original post.
In Serbia, since the wars accompanying the breakup of Yugoslavia ended in 2001, another battle has been waged over representations of that violence. Competing interpretations are advanced by state and non-state groups over what happened and who is to blame. This battle can result in denial of genocide and other atrocities, which causes pain for survivors and victims and can enhance risk of future violence. While some research has been conducted on this process, gender has been under-researched as an important corresponding dimension. Women have unique experiences and memories of war and violence which may not be included in dominant narratives. In Serbia, women anti-war activists like Women in Black have been leading efforts for genocide acknowledgment and post-conflict reconciliation between opposing ethnic groups. In collaboration with Professor Joachim Savelsberg and thanks to the generous support of the Human Rights Initiative, we are exploring the role of women in the cultural processing of the Yugoslav wars in Serbia.
The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the UMN School of Music had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Badema Pitic in March for a talk titled “Remembering Through Music: The Srebrenica Genocide in Bosnian izvorna Songs.” Watch a recording of the talk here. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Pitic about her research on music, transitional justice, and reconciliation in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Dr. Badema Pitic is a Head of Research Services at the USC Shoah Foundation – Institute for Visual History and Education. She earned her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology in 2017 from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on the intersections of music, memory, and politics in the aftermath of war and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Her research interests also include oral history and testimony, transitional justice, and perpetrators’ music.
April 27th is Yom HaShoah, one of several Holocaust remembrance days observed around the world at various points in the year. It is also Genocide Awareness Month, which marks the anniversaries of the Armenian Genocide (which began on April 24th, 1915), the Holocaust (or, namely the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19th, 1943), the Cambodian Genocide (on April 19th, 1975), and the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda (on April 7th, 1944), As I mentioned in January, dates such as these mark a need for a collective memory, even as dates and temporal boundaries often fail to account for the long-term effects of genocide and mass violence.
As a Jew, and at this particular moment during the ongoing war and mass violence in Ukraine, I struggle in 2022 (as in most years) to reconcile the official calls to remember with the more subjective, personalized constructions of memory that inevitably emerge from events such as these. I am reminded that public displays of memory, though central, can be brittle, and often serve contemporary state politics. Yom HaShoah is no exception, as a holiday directly tied to the State of Israel’s larger memory projects. The “complications” this date entails for both Jews and non-Jews alike, who are critical of Israeli domestic and foreign policies, also pertains to my specialized knowledge Yiddish history and culture that often gets left out of Zionist narratives. Days such as Yom HaShoah should in theory be encouraging a broader, more inclusive definition of collective memory, but we know that these calls often fail to reach beyond the limits of nationalism and geopolitics.