Jeffrey Olick, one of the main engines behind the global and
growing field of Memory Studies visited the University of Minnesota in May
2018. On May 6, he gave the CHGS hosted talk “The Sins of Fathers: Germany,
Memory, Method” where he discussed the variety of ways that Germany’s leaders
since 1949 have negotiated national identity and political legitimacy, with a
particular focus on how those approaches have changed over time. On May 7, he
joined the Sociology Department’s weekly workshop series, laying out where the
field of memory is going, this time, in front of a sociological audience. His
“There’s No Such Thing as Memory, and Even if There Is, It’s Not What You
Think” was widely attended and sparked further questions. This interview by
Yagmur Karakaya brings some of these discussions to the public.

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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Twenty-five years have now passed since the Rwandan genocide. On the evening of April 6th, 1994, the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana served as a final trigger for violence after decades of propaganda, animosity, and killing. Within 100 days, 800,000 Tutsis were dead, as were numerous Hutu political opponents of the genocidal state.

Many Rwandans and foreigners have sought to capture this moment through media coverage, memoirs, film, and documentaries. Images of the killings and of refugee processions, of machetes and of bullet holes, are familiar across the world. But for those who grew up in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, the pain of this violence is far more immediate than these decades-old snapshots have the capacity to show.

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The 2019 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival kicks off Thursday with more than two weeks of films from around the world spread across theaters in the Twin Cities and Rochester. Included in this year’s festival are a number of movies that have piqued the interested of several of us at the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies.

Read on to get our picks for some of this year’s can’t miss films:

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We’re at crossroads today: learning lessons from the Holocaust is fundamentally important. Understanding the dire consequences of hate and intolerance is more important today than just about any point in history. Unfortunately, it comes at a time when our memory of the Holocaust is fast fading. It seems as we continue to lose survivors and their critical connection to the past, we lose our willingness to apply their lessons to our own time. A year ago, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany brought this sobering reality to the forefront: Nearly half of millennials cannot name a single concentration camp. Nearly a third of Americans drastically underestimate the number of victims of the Holocaust. Most astounding, almost 70% of Americans say they don’t care about the Holocaust.

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In the woods of northern Minnesota, tucked along the shores of Turtle River Lake, is a small German village called Waldsee. Waldsee, which translates to “forest lake,” is home to Concordia Language Villages’ (CLV) German-language isolation-immersion programs, one of fifteen such language villages sponsored by Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Each summer, hundreds of staff and students pass through the village’s main building, dubbed the “Bahnhof,” or “train station,” to spend two or four weeks fully immersed in German language and culture. Until recently, most were completely unaware that the Nazis once used the name Waldsee as a euphemism for Auschwitz.

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Teaching about Genocide (Volume I), the first of a two-volume series edited by well-known Holocaust and genocide education scholar Samuel Totten, provides cogent, practical advice for those wishing to bring this difficult topic into their classrooms. The book builds on Totten’s previous work but is unique in its specific focus on combining insights from both secondary and post-secondary educators in each volume. Roughly half of the chapters were written by secondary educators, with the remaining composed by post-secondary professors and instructors. This combination helps to bridge the persistent gap between academic genocide studies research and secondary classroom teaching about genocide. Indeed, as a high school teacher of a semester-long comparative genocide studies course, I have often struggled to find ways to approach various aspects of genocide with my students. This volume both reaffirms the importance of genocide education while providing practical support for classroom teachers.

The necessity for such a work at this moment is clear. While the Holocaust, especially since the mid-1990s, has become a mainstay of American K-12 school curriculum, teaching about so-called “other” genocides or “genocides other than the Holocaust,” has become increasingly common across the country. Though, despite this trend, few resources exist for educators, who, are often left to teach such difficult topics with little content or pedagogical support.

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