Thomas Schmidinger teaches at the University of Vienna in Austria and is both secretary-general of the Austrian Society for the Promotion ofKurdology 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.
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.
His travel was denied with absolutely no
explanation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Dr.Schmidinger
could not fly despite the U.S. Embassy in Vienna stating that there is
no formal travel ban from the U.S. State Department against him and
despite having a valid Ten Year Multiple Entry Visa granted recently
for a conference in Rhode Island just last year in the U.S.
This is clearly a politically motivated action by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who have banned many scholars and activists, as well as PM Press authors, from entering the country. Along with the reprehensible travel ban of people from six Muslim-majority countries and growing crackdowns on immigrants and refugees, Homeland Security seems to be increasing their scrutiny of people who are critical of U.S. domestic and foreign policy. They are secretly placing them on the No-fly List without explanation. The problem is getting worse, and the political consequences are serious and disturbing.No-fly list. No-drive list. No-walk list. No-talk list. When will it end?
Dr. Schmidinger pondered these questions and more on his return trip to Vienna, “Does Homeland Security now prevent scholars on Iraq, Syria, Iran or Jihadism to enter the U.S.? Do they prevent other scholars on Kurdish Studies to enter the U.S.? Do they prevent people who work in deradicalisation and rehabilitation of Jihadis? Did they get some Turkish propaganda lies and follow instructions from Ankara? I really don’t know, but I would be curious to find out. Until now, I just know that after years of traveling to the U.S., after living and working in Minnesota for a whole year, after being invited to 4th of July parties in the residence of the American ambassador, it seems that I am seen as an enemy and security threat now.” The Battle for the Mountain of the Kurds: Self-Determination and Ethnic Cleansing in the Afrin Region of Rojava appears to be the book Homeland Security does not want you to read – if you need another reason to buy it, read it, and share it.
Statement by PM Press and Andrej Grubacic, editor of KAIROS book series
and the Chair of the Anthropology and Social Change Department at the
California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA _______
is a political scientist and a cultural and social anthropologist. He
teaches at the University of Vienna and is both secretary-general of
the Austrian Society for the Promotion of Kurdology and coeditor of the
Vienna Kurdish Studies Yearbook. He is the author of a number of books
on migration, cultural integration, the Middle East, and other topics,
several of which have been translated. His previously translated book
is Rojava: Revolution, War and the Future of Syria’s Kurds was
published by Pluto Press in 2018. His newest book is The Battle for the
Mountain of the Kurds: Self-Determination and Ethnic Cleansing in the
Afrin Region of Rojava (PM Press, 2019), part of the KAIROS series
imprint of the Anthropology and Social Change Department at the
California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA. _______
Thomas Schmidinger’s book tour for The Battle for the Mountain of the Kurds was to be as follows:
September 13th at 12noon – Minneapolis, MN at the Institute for Global
Studies at the University of Minnesota, Social Sciences Building 267
19th Avenue S, Room 710
Monday, September 16th at 7pm – Berkeley, CA at Books Inc., 1491 Shattuck Ave
September 17th at 7pm – San Francisco, CA at the California Institute
of Integral Studies -First Floor Lobby, 1453 Mission St. Hosted by the
Anthropology and Social Change Department and cosponsored by the Bay
Area Mesopotamia Solidarity
Wednesday, September 18th at 7pm –
Philadelphia, PA at The Wooden Shoe Books 704 South St. Cosponsored by
Wooden Shoe Books and The Radical Education Department (RED)
September 19th at 7pm – New York, NY at Bluestockings Books 172 Allen
St, Sponsored by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office
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.
In 2016, Kathryn began her second Master’s in Musicology at the University of Minnesota and is now in her fourth year as a PhD candidate in Musicology. Kathryn’s dissertation examines the affective influence of sonic media technology, and the philosophical nature of sounds in Holocaust museums and memorial representations. In other words, how does what a visitor hears in a museum exhibit or representation of the Holocaust impact their response and understanding of the Holocaust? Addressing a breadth of sonic variants—from the sonic influence of language in the Holocaust; to audio guides; and further, to pre-existing soundscapes at the historical sites, such as Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kathryn highlights the role of sound in a field that has primarily focused on visuality. Kathryn just finished a 3-month research fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where she worked closely with the “First Person” survivor testimony program. This upcoming 2019-2020 academic year she will begin curating an audio guide for the Treblinka memorial site as an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow under CHGS. She aspires to curate an audio guide that will bridge the gap between theory and practice, as she will investigate the implications and challenges of curating an audio guide about the Holocaust, and will make the audio guide live and accessible to the public via a phone application. Kathryn hopes that if her research makes any impact at all, it will at least encourage people to truly listen to their world and each other.
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.
exposes the bureaucratic extent of German settler-colonial practices in
Namibia. In a folder of “native passports” (Paßmarken), I found several lists of all “employed
prisoners-of-war.” These records include a person’s name, age, “tribal”
affiliation, and the last-known location of their parents. In most cases,
officials simply wrote “dead” (tot) with no additional information. Several colonial
administrators remarked in documents that these efforts provided the imperial
government an “effective means of controlling the local
After the arrival of
German settlers in Namibia in 1884, colonial officials moved quickly to
displace Africans from their traditional lands, first through negotiations and
the establishment of so-called “protection treaties,” and later through force
of arms. The most destructive effort began in 1904 when soldiers under the
command of General Lothar von Trotha initiated the first genocide of the
twentieth century against the Herero and Nama, the largest and most powerful
communities in the colony.
In what historians now refer to as his “Annihilation Order,” Trotha decreed in October 1904 that:
The Herero are no longer German subjects [and] must now leave the country. If it refuses, I shall compel it do so with the [great cannon]. Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. Such are my words to the Herero people.
resulted in the murder of approximately 60-80% and 25-35% of the Herero and
Nama’s pre-1904 populations, respectively. The German colonial government also
rounded-up entire families and placed them in concentration camps (Konzentrationlager), where thousands more died from exposure and inhumane treatment. In
1908, German authorities relocated survivors to segregated “native
reservations” (Eingeborenenwerften), required them carry “native passports,”
and forced them to rely on the colonial government for basic
commodities and supplies.
Descendants of Herero
and Nama victims continue to lobby Namibian and German political leaders for
reparations and the return of their traditional homelands. Their appeals and
legal efforts, however, have thus far warranted them few victories.
historian recognizes the importance of historical context and the necessity for
evaluating the past on its own terms. At a time when high-profile media
personalities invoke a skewed or blatantly false historical narrative to
justify policy on a seemingly daily basis, I am wary of
arguments that clumsily rely on unnuanced comparisons.
responsibility does not abjure scholars the right to call attention to
present-day human rights crises, from those fleeing systematic violence in
Syria to the reported atrocious conditions and treatment of people in detention
centers at the U.S. southern border. Academics in the humanities, in
particular, dedicate their careers to the collection, examination, and
comparison of diverse source materials in
an effort to provide answers to
complicated questions. Critical analysis, however, oftentimes
leads to uncomfortable conclusions.
We can no longer
comfort ourselves in a false logic that regards discriminatory practices
against so-called “stateless” peoples as a unique aspect of German history or
the distant past. It is incumbent for each
of us to
continue to learn about the
plight of the
rightless so as to identify the
dangerous potentials of
History does not repeat itself, but a critical evaluation of past events can at
least provide us means to learn about the destructive capabilities of
nationalism, racism, and collective fears of a so-called “Other.”
The tenets of liberal democracy necessitate that we contemplate the lessons of history. A failure to do so imperils the standing of everyone, but most especially those who have nothing left except for what Hannah Arendt pointedly identifies as their “abstract nakedness of being human.”
Dr. Adam A. Blackler is an assistant professor of history at the University of Wyoming. His current book project, entitled Heathens, “Hottentots,” and Heimat: Southwest Africa and the Boundaries of German Identity, 1842-1915, explores the transnational dimensions of German colonialism, race, and genocide in German Southwest Africa. He is presently co-editing After the Imperialist Imagination: A Quarter Century of Research on Global Germany and Its Legacies, an anthology on German interactions across the globe (Peter Lang, 2020). He will publish “Settler-Colonialism and Its Eliminatory Repercussions in the Nineteenth Century” in A Cultural History of Genocide: The Long Nineteenth Century (Bloomsbury, 2020).
Collection citation: Archives: National Archives of Namibia (NAN) – Windhoek, Namibia
Collections: Kaislerliches Bizirksamt Windhoek (BWI) Zentralbureau des Kaiserlichen Gouvernements (ZBU)
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.
To probe this question my colleague Vicente
Sánchez-Biosca, and I have curated a special issue of the International Association of Genocide Scholars’
journal dedicated to the exploration of
images in genocide studies – with a special focus on memory – and its
“You Could See Rage”: Visual Testimony in
Post-genocide Guatemala by Lacey M. Schauwecker. The author
analyses the link between narrative and audio-visual testimonies to study the
Guatemalan genocide, using the notions of visuality and countervisuality. In
this context, she examines how survivor Rigoberta Menchú and performance artist
Regina José Galindo utilize the testimony to express rage. Thereby, Schauwecker
associates this type of testimony with the witnesses’ right to testify on their
own terms beyond institutional processes and imperatives.
Nineteen Minutes of Horror: Insights from the Scorpions Execution Video by Iva Vukušić is the third article. In there, the author
notes that the video recorded by the Scorpion unit during the Srebrenica
genocide in the summer of 1995, provides unique insights into the nature of the
crime, as well as the behavior of the perpetrators, and it constitutes a
significant contribution to our knowledge of the events.
article focuses on photographs taken by Nazi perpetrators. In Bonding
Images: Photography and Film as Acts of Perpetration the author analyses
how photography is utilized to create an in-group, noting that, as images are
performative, the imagery bound the in-group.
The figure of the perpetrator is also analyzed by Ana Laura Ros in her analysis of the documentary
film El Mocito. In her article El Mocito: A Study of Cruelty at the Intersection of
Chile’s Military & Civil Society. The author argues that the film poses
questions about responsibility for, and complicity with, the cruelty that took
place during the military regime and beyond, which all members of Chilean
society must consider.
In Vicente Sánchez-Biosca’s article, Challenging Old and New Images Representing the Cambodian Genocide: ‘The Missing Picture’, the author examines the film “L’image Manquante” by Rithy Panh to highlight the way in which the French-schooled Cambodian director approaches the classical question inherited from the Holocaust of the non-representability of a genocide.
In Cockroaches, Cows
and “Canines of the Hebrew Faith”: Exploring Animal Imagery in Graphic Novels about
Genocide, Deborah Mayersen suggests that graphic novels about genocide
feature a surprisingly rich array of animal imagery. While there has been
substantial analysis of the anthropomorphic animals in Art Spiegelman’s Maus,
Mayersen argues that the roles and functions of non-anthropomorphized animals have
received scant attention. In this vein, in her article she carries out a
comparative analysis of ten graphic novels about genocide to identify and
elucidate the archetypical functions of nonanthropomorphized animals.
Nora Nunn’s article, The
Unbribable Witness: Image, Word, and Testimony of Crimes against Humanity in
Mark Twain’s King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1905), studies the crimes committed
in the Belgian Congo Free State through the work of Mark Twain. The author
suggests that this text aimed to evoke its Euro-American audience’s empathy by
activating their imaginations. In this way, Nunn considers how the visual
imagery in Twain’s text engenders questions about fact, testimony, and witnessing
in the realm of human rights and mass violence
The final article, Memory and Distance: On Nobuhiro Suwa’s A Letter from Hiroshima byJessica Fernanda Conejo Muñoz, examines the short film’s various memory strategies regarding the atomic bombing in the Japanese city referenced in the title. Conejo Muñoz argues that this film is a reflective game whose approach to the past is based on distancing effects.
Lior Zylberman has a Ph.D. in Social Sciences (UBA), is a professor of Sociology (UBA) and a researcher at the CONICET (National Scientific and Technical Research Council) and at the Center for Genocide Studies (UNTREF). His research topic is the representation of genocides in documentary film and he has published numerous articles on the subject.
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.
The largest conference on memory studies to date, the program featured a keynote lecture from Aleida Assman (University of Konstanz) and Viet Thanh Nguyen (USC) and multiple roundtables and special sessions, like the one on “Memory Traditions around the World”, which included our colleague Iyekiyapiwin Darlene St. Clair (St. Cloud State University). Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from prominent scholars on topics such as publishing, careers in memory studies, institutional memory politics, and memory activism. These roundtables were especially helpful for graduate students and gave them the opportunity to interact with scholars like Jeffrey Olick, Barbie Zelizer, Astrid Erll, Daniel Levy, Marianne Hirsch, and Michael Rothberg. With over 200 panels, attendees were treated to a comprehensive look at the state of memory studies today.
In addition to scholars from around the globe, our very own graduate students and professors participated in this year’s conference. From second-year PhD students to established professors, the Minnesota contingent did a fantastic job showcasing their work and participating in discussions concerning the future of memory studies. The strong presence of UMN scholars from various departments across CLA demonstrates not only its interdisciplinary nature but the importance of the field. Through their own scholarly work and support of graduate students, professors such as Alejandro Baer (Director, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies), Joachim Savelsberg (Sociology), and Ofelia Ferrán (Spanish and Portuguese) have ensured that students are constantly thinking about the critical role of memory in historical, socio-political and literary scholarship.
List of Presenters and Papers:
Alejandro Baer: “De-colonizing Columbus? Spain’s resistance to a “Politics of Regret.”
Ofelia Ferrán: “Francesc Torres: The Performance of Trauma.”
Joachim Savelsberg: Roundtable, “American Exceptionalism in Memory Politics.”
Darlene St. Clair (St. Cloud State University): Roundtable, “Connecting Memory Traditions around the World.”
Michal Kobialka: “Of Awkward Objects and Collateral Memories.”
Christopher Levesque: ‘Denkmäler der Scand’ in Charlottesville and Berlin: Comparing Far-Right Populism and Collective Memory in the American and German Context.”
Taylor Nelson: “American before Anything Else: Race and Responsibility in the U.S. Peace Corps.”
Erma Nezirevic: “Pedir un café puede costarte la vida”: Phobias of Democracy in (Post-) Crisis Spain
Jazmine Contreras: “‘We do not commemorate perpetrators’: The Politics of Memory at the May 4th Remembrance Day Commemoration in the Netherlands.”
Jazmine Contreras is a sixth-year PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation examines contemporary historical memory of the Second World War and Holocaust in the Netherlands.
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.)
In your work, you introduce concepts that disentangle the often mystified term ¨collective memory.¨ Can you elaborate on those?
memory tends to imply that there’s one collective memory that everyone shares
or that collective memory is this mystical group mind. And I don’t think of it
that way. So in my own work, I refer to what I call “mnemonic practices”
practices and also “mnemonic products” and “mnemonic processes.” And there are
wide numbers of different mnemonic practices, and products, and processes. So
for instance, remembering your phone number is a particular kind of mnemonic
practice. Remembering who the president is is another one. Remembering that
time we went on a hike is yet a different one. Remembering that America had a
civil war is yet a different one. So is giving a speech or painting a painting
about the past, or telling a story, or recalling a set of numbers and facts.
These are all different mnemonic practices. The question from memory studies is
how they relate to each other or don’t. There’s also a variety of mnemonic
products. You know, a statue is a mnemonic product. A historical movie is a
mnemonic product. An essay is a mnemonic product; so is a story I might tell at
a dinner table. These are different mnemonic products. The question is, how are
they, in the words of media scholars, how are they intermedial? How does the
telling of the story at the dinner table, affect people’s experiences and the
way in which a museum is constructed? So the question is how do all of these
different mnemonic products, practices, and processes relate to each other?
Which is, I think, a more differentiated way of speaking about the many things
that constitute what we label with the term collective memory.
So, I have a “personal interest”
where do you see emotions in all this? Like where do you see and how do you
think we can theorize in emotions into this interaction between individual and
collective memory or mnemonic practices?
So I would
say, first of all, that memories preserve emotions and can call up emotions in
interesting and complex ways. So that, for instance, remembering something that
angered you in the past, can make you angry again. Emotion also feeds into the
ways in which we decide something is worth remembering. The notion of the trope
in politics, particularly the politics of genocide, “Never Forget.” That
implores us, it demands us, it demands something of us, it riles us up, it
creates a strong sense of obligation. So emotions feed into both what we
remember and memory feeds into and creates emotions when we do remember. One of
the interesting things though is the ways in which both memory and emotion can
be separate. So I can remember that I was really angry at my partner or my kid
or something like that, but I’m not angry anymore about it. I can remember that
I was, but it’s gone away. I remember what caused it, and isn’t it strange that
I was so angry at the time, but I don’t feel that anger anymore. By the same
token, I can remember the feeling of anger sometimes. I wake up (this is a
terrible thing to say about myself), sometimes I wake up angry and I can’t put
my finger on what it is I’m angry about… So these work in complex ways, but I
should also point out that so much of the discussion in memory studies is about
trauma, and negative memories, and outrage, and things like that. There’s also
memories of joy and happiness. It’s very important in certain circumstances to
hold onto positive memories; that something actually worked really well or was
really nice. Of course, the one lesson of a long life is that it’s very hard,
you can’t step in the same river twice, that even something you remember as
great, may not have been all that great in fact. So this is one of the
distortions of nostalgia, which is an emotional distortion. You venerate a past
and you load extra emotions onto a past that may or may not have been actually
a part of the process in the first place.
In your book “The Sins of the Fathers” you develop a new concept, legitimation profiles. Can you explain it for us, and talk about its applicability to different cases?
The Sins of the Fathers is organized on two analytical principles: profile and genre. Profile is meant to understand the relational structure of memories within cultures at particular moments or in a particular epoch; whereas genres are meant to understand the ways in which every version of the past is in dialogue, not only with the past itself but with previous memories or versions of the past. So the genres are the connective structure through time; profiles are the non-reductive structure or totality of a system of meanings in the present. So from French structuralism we know that there is a discursive structure where tall and short, fat and skinny, high and low, and lots of other kinds of concepts are in a paired relational structure at a particular moment. So a particular version of the past may fit with a particular legitimacy claim. So in the book, I argue for instance, that in the 1980s when German politicians are trying to legitimate Germany by saying it’s a normal nation, the idea of Germany as a normal nation entails a particular view of the past. And so they produce a particular form of public memory that relativizes the Nazi past; whereas, in contrast, in earlier periods, for instance, in the 1960s, in what I call the moral nation, which is the legitimate profile, Germany wants to appear to the world as a moral entity with authority. And a key part of being a moral nation is to have a deep acknowledgment of the guilt of the past, and this is captured, for instance, when the German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, goes to Warsaw and goes down on his knees in a gesture of repentance. This is something that the later Chancellor of Germany, Helmut Kohl, would never have done because he’s trying to claim that Germany is normal. In Sins of the Fathers, I talk about 3 legitimation profiles: the reliable nation of the 1950s and early 60s, the moral nation of the mid-1960s to early 1970s, and then the normal nation of the 1980s up through unification. To capture the ways in which images of the past fit within a wider political-cultural system of meanings; some of which concern the past, some of which concern the present. So in other words, not to treat memory as something separable, something that can be pried out of a deeper cultural nexus intact. Memory works together with other meanings and symbols in what I think of as an irreducible profile.
In recent talks, you have introduced the concept of “regions of memory”. How does it fit within the overall trend of transnationalization?
There’s been an argument about, with the mass media and the worldwide knowledge about certain historical events, there’s been a globalization or universalization of memory. So in a way, global memory has replaced national memory as the point of reference. What I want to show is also that there are entities or clusters between the level of the nation-state and the global, which I call regional. So there are regional constellations of memory like Central and East-Central Europe, where different nation-states, and different groups are remembering the past in complex ways which are not global, but nor are they constituted particularly by the nation-states that can be found on a map in this geographical arena. A good example of work in this field is the impact of Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands; where he shows that there is a territory and a broad period of destruction from the late 1920s through the 1950s, which cannot be delimited by the declaration of war in 1939 or 1941 and the declaration of the end of war in 1945, nor can it be defined solely by what happened in Germany or what happened in Poland, but these issues spread out and there are complicated geographical and cultural clusters; which I try to capture with the notion of regions of memory. There are ways in which, for instance… countries in the Southern continent of Latin America are dealing with similar kinds of issues. There are ways in which Canada and, to some extent, the United States, but also Australia and New Zealand are a region of memory, dealing with the treatment of indigenous peoples. There is a cluster of issues which define Northeast Asia as a region of memory; South Korea with the comfort women issue and Japanese imperialism and the Rape of Nanjing all form a sort of cluster of issues that come about from a century of Japanese imperialism resulting in the Pacific War, but what can’t be defined solely as Japanese memory or Chinese memory or South Korean memory.
Yagmur Karakaya is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She studies nostalgia as a collective force, highlighting its central place within both populist political discourse and popular culture. Her work has appeared at American Journal of Cultural Sociology and New Perspectives on Turkey. With Alejandro Baer, in an article, forthcoming in Sociological Forum, she compares Holocaust Remembrance Days (HRD) in Spain and Turkey to argue that even though memory travels transnationally, the nation-state still is the most powerful translator.
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).
It is precisely this concept of “race,” one that
associates issues of blood purity with relatively recent conversion to
Christianity, which was later applied to the classification of peoples in the
Spanish colonies. This ordering was crucial for the correct organization of a
colonial enterprise whose stated mission was to impose Christianity upon a
population of pagans and heretics. The consequences of these developments went
far beyond the already vast Spanish Empire. Indeed, it was through the
repudiation of its ethnic diversity and the subsequent establishment on the
American continent of systems of production based on the exploitation of
ethnically differentiated groups that Spain established, more than five hundred
years ago, the fundaments of globalized modernity.
It is against this background that Jews and Muslims in
Contemporary Spain: Redefining National Boundaries analyzes the place granted
to Jews and Muslims in the construction of contemporary Spanish national
identity. In the book, the focus is put on the transition from an exclusive,
homogeneous sense of collective self toward a more pluralistic, open and
tolerant one, in a European context. Given Spain’s crucial role at the genesis
of the global hierarchization of the world population along “racial”
lines that took place about five hundred years ago, the efforts undertaken by
the end of the twentieth century to adopt the country’s structures to the
increasing valorisation of diversity, borders permeability, and coexistence of
minority cultures within the nation-state can be considered as paradigmatic of
the reassessment of religious difference in late modernity. The book is the
result of an original combination of quantitative and qualitative
methodologies, approached from a rich trans-disciplinary analytical framework.
In addition, the choice in favor of a comparative study of Muslims and Jews,
uncommon in the context of studies of contemporary Spain, proves to be
particularly fruitful and revealing.
The study approaches this process from different dimensions.
At the national level, it analyzes the reflection of this process in
nationalist historiography, the education system and the public debates on
national identity. At the international level, it tackles the problem from the
perspective of Spanish foreign policy towards Israel and the Arab-Muslim states
in a changing global context. From the social-communicational point of view,
the emphasis was put on the construction of the self–other (Jewish and Muslim)
dichotomy as reflected in the three leading Spanish newspapers (El País, El
Mundo and ABC). In addition, attention was paid to the changes undergone by the
Jewish and Muslim local communities during the same period.
The work shows that since 1986, Spain experienced
significant transformations at the social, cultural, and international levels.
These changes affected the construction of Spanish contemporary identity
directly, as the different national narratives were conveniently adapted to the
circumstances. The images of Muslims and Jews generated in this context were
often ambivalent, in correspondence with the intrinsically problematic attempt
at avoiding any explicitly ethnocentric rhetoric while implicitly preserving
it. Since then, this central contradiction permeated Spanish nationalist historiography,
education system, and predominant national narratives.
There is an active line of continuity between the
perceptions of Muslims prevalent at the birth of the Spanish empire, which
according to Anibal Quijano laid the basis for the global structures of
coloniality still commonplace in today’s world, and those widespread in today’s
Spain. During the period under study, Muslim otherness had two main dimensions:
the complementarity between their legal marginalization as immigrants and their
incorporation into the economic system as underpaid laborers, on the one hand,
and their construction as internal and external enemies, on the other.
In the case of Jews, the central role they have historically
played in the construction of Spanish national identity and their small numeric
presence in contemporary Spain make their difference more conceptual than
practical. Unlike Muslims, Jews – even those coming from North Africa – are not
“colored” in modern Spain. They are not assigned attributes of
“racial” inferiority to justify economic exploitation and/or
political paternalism. Instead, Jewish otherness is related to deeply rooted
notions of extraordinary power and moral purity/impurity.
Martina L. Weisz is a Research Fellow at the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA). She studied Political Science and International Relations at the Universidad Nacional de Rosario in Argentina, holds an M.A. in International Relations from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and completed her Ph.D. there as well. Her publications focus on human rights, foreign policy, racism and religious difference. Her book Jews and Muslims in Contemporary Spain: Redefining National Boundaries was published by DeGruyter Oldenbourg in 2019.
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.
Huether: I wanted to start with Michael Rothberg’s text regarding
migration and the Turkish immigrant in Germany, in your book you discuss
the distinction between a Holocaust
tourist and pilgrim, and it just reminded me of the “double paradox”
that Michael Rothberg highlights. Could you speak more of your
distinction between the pilgrim and tourist?
Daniel Reynolds: Yes, I guess I would be sure to say that it is a distinction but not an opposition, I would say that for me, when we think of pilgrimage, there are echoes of the sacred. There is also some echo of homage to one’s ancestors, one’s family background. I think that’s very much a part of many people’s purpose in going to Holocaust memory sites. In turn, it was also important to me to address the fact that not every visitor to sites of Holocaust remembrance can make a pilgrimage, and that I think many are there by accident. Maybe they happen to be on a city tour; many times it is school children who are often reluctant participants in a tour. But I also want to allow for the possibility that tourists—even if they don’t plan on it—can have experiences that are so deep and so meaningful that they can convert their experiences into a form of pilgrimage. Maybe it forces them to have a kind of reflective experience that we often associate with the Holocaust. I think we should use the word tourist without having to apologize for being a tourist at Holocaust sites.
Yes. And do you think that perhaps certain sites are more conducive to
that—because certainly, Auschwitz-Birkenau is where most people go…but
sites such as Treblinka offers
much more reflection, but it is harder to get to?
Yes, it is harder to get to. And I think that it is definitely a part of it. When I think of pilgrimage, it’s funny, when I think of sites of pilgrimage I think of Bethlehem and the Church of Nativity which gets packed with people. There are ways in which sites that we think of as typical destinations of pilgrimage actually highlight some of the more unpleasant attributes of tourism that we criticize, i.e. the crowds. But yea, I would agree that different sites lend themselves to more reflective experiences. I think Treblinka for me was very moving, and Belžec, of course is this massive installation, but it’s also very remote so you’re often alone there. And I would say at Auschwitz that Birkenau is by far the more reflective space.
That’s great. I wanted to bring it back to your book and much of your argument is based on this concept that you call
phenomenology of tourism. Could you speak more of that?
So phenomenology of tourism, I’m not a trained ethnographer—I don’t have tons of interviews with tourists that I’ve conducted and I don’t have a method for quantifying anything experientially…I am not so interested in showing how some tourists feel one way versus how many think the other way. I am more interested in demonstrating the range of possibilities for responses. And I think phenomenology, which is how we come to know of the world, not just through logic and rational thought, but also through sensory perception and affect [, in relation] to tourism is always an embodied encountered in space. So you’re always experiencing the site sensorially, in ways that you are not necessarily consciously processing; affectively, responding to different behaviors in addition to the information you’re given—it’s never just about the information presented at the site. So I’m really interested in how all of those things kind of influence one another. I think it’s a way for me as a humanist, someone who is not trained as a social scientist who works with data, to ask questions about tourism and give as much knowledge as possible.
agree—it’s very close to what I’m working on now. And I wanted to push
this a bit further, you focus your phenomenological reading on the
visual, and of course there are multiple
senses that are impacted—last summer I was able to visit the
preservationist department at Auschwitz-Birkenau with my fellowship
group from the
Auschwitz Jewish Center, and the preservationists dedicate a
large part of their efforts to preserving objects such as shoes,
suitcases, shoes, toothbrushes, etc.—but this act of preservation is
strongly connected to the visual, and one of the preservationist
said that within fifteen years “this toothbrush will be gone, this
suitcase deteriorated.” And, I feel a bit dark saying this, but one of
my colleagues asked, “what are you going to do with the human hair when
that is gone as well?” Are you going to replace
it with fake hair, for instance as the infamous gate that reads “Arbeit
Macht Frei” is no longer the original, replaced after the original was
stolen—so, is there something about the “authenticity” of the object
that needs to be present, juxtaposed to sites
such as Treblinka, when the materiality and object centered
preservation is nonexistent? How is the visual of Treblinka, for
instance, different from that of Auschwitz-Birkenau?
That’s great, yea, that touches on a lot of things…the ephemerality of these material traces is something problematic, but then also you can’t nottalk about the hair as it’s human remains. I understand the impact of it…I wonder what they’ll do. I think, of course, the goal of these displays is to convey the enormity of the Holocaust, no one has ever seen that amount of human hair, or that many shoes before…
but even then, the presentation of the exhibits is very curated. The
room with the shoes, the coloring is very specific, organized so that a
pristine red heel sits on the
top, you can see children’s shoes right up front…
Yes, yes that they are an assemblage—that is very important to acknowledge. And I know that the hair is treated with certain chemicals so that it is preserved longer…Yea, I think that probably, these sites are going to have to find another way to convey what they are trying to convey. The image that is largely associated with Holocaust sites is the thousands of shoes, and I sometimes think that maybe a single shoe, or a single pair of shoes, would be more powerful. I think we need to be aware that these displays are curated and assembled, that is very important, and that we need to think about a future when these objects are no longer there to display. That is a challenge that preservationists certainly need to take on […].Because John Urry, of course, is often faulted because of his preference for the visual dimension of tourism, and not all tourists are sighted, so what do you do when sight is not a category of perception? I remember when I was at Auschwitz and the sound of crunching of gravel beneath my feet, then trying to imagine how that sounded with thousands of prisoners on it…I don’t know if that answers your question.
no, that’s okay. Do you think that perhaps the emphasis placed on
preserving these objects, I don’t want to say takes away from, I don’t
want to say “better presentation,”
but like at Auschwitz there are so many people there and everyone is
walking around with headphones over their ears and it is so crowded. It
actual site itself, but perhaps there is a more effective way of presenting that without millions of people at the site?
Yea, I think maybe what this gets at, is that there are two impulses in this museum curation. First, what is an aesthetic choice, what makes the best arrangement of most impact on the audience—like the color to catch the eye? But the other, and what I think predates this, is that these sites were museum sites established to preserve the forensic evidence, originally to bring the Nazi perpetrators to trial. But we now live in an age where they still serve a forensic purpose to show Holocaust deniers the truth, so I think that is what’s keeping us grounded or rooted in this preservationist mode. But unfortunately, there will always be challenges despite all the material evidence.
Yes, so continuing off of that, with the graduate students we were talking about the
Jewish Museum in Berlin and POLIN—Museum of Polish Jews in Warsaw, and you stated that you thought
POLIN was more effective, but also I think it’s really interesting because Berlin has actual artifacts and
POLIN does not, given the history of Polish Jewry and such, but could you speak more to that distinction and your preference for
Okay, so it’s been a few years since I’d been to POLIN, and I was happy to hear your response to it, so I have a reason to go back. You know, I think that the building in Berlin is a really powerful space—the architecture is wonderful. Also the architecture in POLIN is really striking as well. I think, what for me, struck me about Berlin—and they are redoing the permanent exhibition, so I’m anxious to see—but there were always a lot of effects, and it just felt crowded to me. Just the way it was arranged, I found it hard to have the physical space to contemplate—whereas POLIN, it’s a more comfortable space in. So I don’t know if POLIN is more effective, but I found it a space that I could spend time and think in.
Did you use an audio guide by chance?
I did, and of course I didn’t follow it step by step, but I used it at both museums.
Yea, I don’t think most people follow it.
I wasn’t well versed in Polish Jewish history, so I think I learned something—but I was just really impressed by the space, and the reconstruction of the synagogue—that was is preserved beautiful, so I think appreciating the beauty of Polish Jewry is what POLIN offers. And, I talk about this in the book, I also think that the Jewish Museum in Berlin is kind of at the crossroads of its function, on the one hand it wants to celebrate Jewish life and Jewish culture, but it is also, built into its very bones, is that it is a Holocaust memorial, and the curators say, “we’re not a Holocaust museum, we’re a Jewish museum…”
Right, it was made to be one…in its mission, Daniel Libeskind designed it to reflect the Holocaust.
Right, it’s hard to be both. And some might say that perhaps that is how the museum
is effective, because it is jarring.
That’s kind of what I argue, yes, that it is because you don’t really settle on either end…
Yes, I think I would just like the museum directors to be more direct about the fact that it is both.
Oh, I agree, they did actually change the audio guide, and I think this incorporates the narrative more. But back to
POLIN, I also used the audio guide, and I did not have a
contemplative experience, I thought the sound was overwhelming, but of
course, that’s what I’m paying attention to specifically.
Yea, I need to go back. It’s not like the thumping heartbeat of Warsaw at the
Warsaw Rising Museum.
Did you listen to it really closely? Because each strand is supposed to be a distinctive song from wartime Poland.
Fascinating, yet that museum is filled with points of inquiry.
I wanted to bring it back once again to the sensorially aspect, and to
Treblinka, which doesn’t have the materiality of Auschwitz-Birkenau. And
presently, a visitor can download
an audio guide from the app “AudioTrip,” which I think adds an acoustic
architecture, a materiality of sorts.
Yea, I think that certainly takes away from the experience. I was not fond of the fake wind whistling through the barren landscape—that’s not what you experience, particularly if you go there in the summertime, which has lush trees and green grass. And the idea that you would have manufactured forest sounds, and block out the real forest sound, doesn’t make sense to me. I think that the space, even without its materiality, has a lot to offer. Under headphones you can’t listen to the reaction of other visitors, which can be really powerful, such as laughing when they shouldn’t be, or hearing someone say something really profound or insightful that you wouldn’t have thought of before necessarily. I think technology like that can certainly take away some of the agency of the tourist.
Kathryn Agnes Huether is a Ph.D. student in Historical Musicology with a Graduate Minor in Cultural Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation research is an extension of her work on Holocaust memory and sonic affect, assessing the usage of sound and music within Holocaust museums and memorials.
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.
In 2016, the USHMM launched its History Unfolded project, in an attempt to “uncover what ordinary people around the country could have known about the Holocaust from reading their local newspapers in the years 1933–1945.” The project engages high school and college students in identifying and cataloging articles from local and regional newspapers related to one of 37- events from the 1930s and 40s for a growing public archive maintained by the museum. While most events highlight Nazi persecution of Jews, others focus on America’s responses to the growing refugee crisis after 1938, as well as racial segregation, isolationism, and antisemitism within the United States. This archive currently consists of roughly 16,000 articles (including opinion pieces, editorials, letters to the editor, and political cartoons) from every U.S. state; though, few there are very few articles from African American-run newspapers. The pedagogical implications of the archive are twofold: First, the existing archive is fully searchable by city/state, topic, date, or name of the newspaper, allowing teachers and students to search and print individual articles to supplement lessons and projects. Second, the archiving project will enable students to conduct original research online, a local library or historical institution to submit additional articles. Thus, History Unfolded provides an opportunity for students to participate in research and the creation of an active, public archive, both engendering authentic disciplinary skills, as well as engaging in the recasting of a collective narrative around what ordinary American knew about the Holocaust.
Americans and the Holocaust
The USHMM’s Americans and the Holocaust exhibit opened in 2018. Visitors to the exhibit are asked to reflect upon two questions: (a) “What did Americans know?” and (b) “What more could have been done?” These questions are repeated throughout the exhibit as visitors examine various events (many mirroring the 37 events used in the History Unfolded archive) related to the persecution of European Jewry, the Holocaust, as well as issues of racism, and antisemitism in Europe and the United States. One of the first displays visitors encounter is a large touchscreen map of the United States, allowing users to search for newspaper articles from the History Unfolded archive. Newspapers from the archive are also used throughout the exhibit to illustrate what the American public could have known about the Holocaust.
In addition to newspaper and other media coverage of the Holocaust, the exhibit also uses public polling data, displayed on movable pedestals. Visitors first see the poll question, with the responses revealed by spinning the screen.
Reviews of the exhibit have been overwhelmingly positive; though, some scholars have voiced critiques over the omission of particular narratives, such as American corporations and universities’ collaboration with their German counterparts and the Nazi government. Further critiques have focused on the exhibit’s conclusion that the Roosevelt administration’s inaction around easing immigration restrictions or rescuing European Jews was largely the result of their inability to subvert public opinions, which were markedly isolationist. Such critiques trouble the supposed role of public opinion polling, a relatively new development in the 1930s, in influencing government policies and actions.
Teaching with the History Unfolded project and the Americans and the Holocaust exhibit helps to engage students in challenging an American Holocaust myth. Both seem intended to push students to consider their role, as well as that of the larger society, in addressing genocide. Indeed, each year, my students, despite having taken previous courses in American history, are shocked to learn that ordinary Americans had access to reliable, detailed information about the increasing persecution of Europe’s Jews. Inevitably they ask: If they knew about the Holocaust, why didn’t people do something to speak out about what was happening? For these students, History Unfolded and Americans and the Holocaust seem to make it clear that ordinary Americans shirked their moral responsibility to speak out against Nazism and aid Europe’s Jews. Rather than allow students to come away with a simplistic narrative of America’s moral failure during the 1930s and 40s and their assured commitment to “never again,” I push them to consider that the project and the exhibit only suggest what ordinary Americans could have known, not what they did know. Additionally, I ask, are we only able to draw such clear lessons from these events in hindsight, after they have been selectively culled from the millions of other pages of news articles that appeared in the 1930s and 1940s?
In recent years, my students and I have also discussed the ongoing genocide of Rohingya in Burma, of which students have little prior knowledge. We examine contemporary newspaper coverage of the atrocities, which though rarely appearing on the front-page and often absent from algorithm-controlled social media newsfeeds, are, nevertheless, easily accessible for these well-educated and highly-resourced students. Not lacking in opinions about the moral responsibility of the United States to influence the course of the genocide, these students often feel powerless to bridge the knowledge-to-action gap that, in this case, feels more like a chasm. It is at this point in our discussions that we use the History Unfolded project and the Americans and the Holocaust exhibit to examine the role of an unrestricted news media within the public sphere and discuss their roles and responsibilities in advancing civil discourse within democratic civil society.
George Dalbo is the Educational Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and a Ph.D. student in Social Studies Education at the University of Minnesota with research interests in Holocaust, genocide, and human rights education. Previously, he was a middle and high school social studies teacher, having taught every grade from 5th-12th in public, charter, and independent schools in Minnesota, as well as two years at an international school in Vienna, Austria.
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.
The Netherlands has a long and complicated history with antisemitism. During the Nazi occupation, 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported East to concentration and extermination camps. Despite the high deportation numbers, most analyses of collaboration and wartime behavior forgo an examination of the Netherlands in favor of Eastern European countries. This is due in part to the development of a postwar resistance narrative and the association between Dutch identity and tolerance. The resistance narrative, which states that the entire country resisted the imposition of Nazi rule and fell victim to its cruelty, has prevented the country from facing international scrutiny for its role in the Holocaust. While the field of Holocaust studies has certainly expanded in the Netherlands since the 1980s, the public has yet to fully move away from the resistance narrative. In addition, once the Shoah became the focal point of the Dutch Second World War experience, critics began accusing Jews of exploiting their victim status. The late historian Evelien Gans explains this phenomenon as secondary antisemitism or, “the conviction that the legitimate desire to draw a line under the past and move on to normalization is heavily obstructed by the frantic attention to the Shoah.” In addition, Muslim immigrants are often blamed for antisemitism in order to sidestep uncomfortable truths about Dutch treatment of their Jewish neighbors.
In the first article published in the NRC-series, political scientist Nonna Mayer remarked, “antisemitism is not back, it was never gone.” While antisemitism never vanished from Dutch society, the rise of far-right and populist political parties has contributed to the increased visibility of antisemitism. Right-wing rhetoric has not only emboldened antisemites but popularized antisemitic sayings and actions. The growth of antisemitism poses a serious threat to Jewish communities and by extension Holocaust memory. While the Jewish community in the Netherlands is far from homogenous, many feel that Jewish wartime experience has been marginalized. For example, the Jewish community faced a backlash in 2012 for speaking out against the broadening of the National Commemoration to include Dutch SS-volunteers. More recently, the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee has encountered numerous roadblocks to the building of a new Holocaust monument. After years of fighting local residents over a location, the city is now postponing the construction because they refuse to cut down 24 trees. It is clear that preserving Holocaust memory and supporting the Jewish community has taken on new importance within our political atmosphere. The NRC’s investigation of Dutch and European antisemitism will hopefully increase awareness of new forms of anti-Jewish sentiment and encourage people to speak out when they see it. At the very least, these articles reveal that silence is no longer the default reaction to Jewish persecution.
Jazmine Contreras is a sixth-year PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation examines contemporary historical memory of the Second World War and Holocaust in the Netherlands. She is currently instructing History of the Holocaust.
About Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities promotes academic research, education and public awareness on the Holocaust, other genocides and current forms of mass violence. It was established in 1997 by Dr. Stephen Feinstein as an interdisciplinary research center. Read more…