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.

Henry Friedlander, quoted in the introduction, writes: “The problem with too much being taught by too many without focus is that this poses the danger of destroying the subject matter through dilettantism. It is not enough for well-meaning teachers to feel a commitment to teach about [genocide] they also must know the subject.” This is particularly true of secondary educators who must be masters of, and adept at teaching, a huge breadth of content. Teaching about Genocide gives voice to those educators who have struggled to develop ways to teach about genocide in their classrooms to inspire their fellow educators.

The 22 chapters in the work are divided into two sections: “Insights and Advice from Secondary Level Teachers” and “Insights and Advice from College and University Professors.” Both sections begin with chapters providing general overviews and rationale for teaching about genocide before progressing to more-specific case studies. Minnesota high school teacher, and long-time collaborator with the CHGS, Nancy Ziemer’s, “Advice on Teaching About Genocide,” provides an overview and suggestions pulled from her 25 years of experience teaching about genocide, while my contribution, “Why Don’t We Talk About Rape?” offers rationale drawn from my classroom experience for teaching about sexualized violence in genocide. While the chapters don’t provide specific, structured lesson plans, authors pair descriptions of classroom experiences with resources, such as Gregory Stanton’s 10 Stages of Genocide, providing inspiration for teachers to create their own lessons suitable for their students and contexts. In short, both beginning and experienced teachers alike will find this book useful in their classroom practice.

The latter half of the book, devoted to advice from professors and university instructors, provides chapters from well know genocide scholars, such as Israel Charney, Ernesto Verdeja, and Kjell Anderson. Drawn from a number of academic fields and research/teaching contexts, these chapters extend and supplement earlier chapters, providing advice and insights that are equally appropriate and useful for secondary contexts. Indeed, Kimberley Ducey’s “Survivors of Sexual Violence in Rwanda Speak: A Letter-Writing Assignment to Combat Psychic Numbing” provides a lesson idea and classroom anecdotes that pairs with my chapter on teaching about sexual violence. This and many other chapters have already informed my own planning and found their way into my teaching. The book closes with an annotated bibliography, pulling together additional genocide education resources.

While the book’s focus on curricular and pedagogical insights for secondary and post-secondary educators seems a logical choice, as, in many cases, there is little intellectual or emotional divide between upper-level high school and college-level students, this work fails to address the growing need for resources at the elementary and middle school levels. While Totten and other scholars have written persuasively against teaching about the Holocaust and genocide to students in the elementary, A growing number of middle school students encounter such content each year, with states like New Jersey requiring Holocaust and genocide education for students in grades 5-8. Many of my colleagues have voiced the need for similar work addressing the specific pedagogical demands of teaching younger students.

Teaching about Genocide (Volume II) was also published in late 2018. The decision to publish a second volume in the series, thereby reducing the cost of both volumes, makes this an affordable book for educators.

George D. Dalbo is a Ph.D. student in Social Studies Education at the University of Minnesota with research interests in Holocaust, comparative genocide, and human rights education in secondary schools. 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.

Last week, two students from Minnetonka High School in suburban Minneapolis posted a photo of themselves giving a Nazi hand salute accompanied by an antisemitic sign. This incident is just the latest of a number of similar instances, with photos surfacing from Indiana and Wisconsin showing students giving the Nazi salute. Understandably, each case has sparked calls for more and better Holocaust education in schools. This latest photo prompts the question: what do students in Minnesota’s public schools learn about the Holocaust?

Gauging the state of Holocaust education in the United States is no easy task. The decentralized nature of American public schooling means that state departments of education, local districts, and individual classroom teachers decide what to teach and how it is taught. No comprehensive survey of the state of American Holocaust education exists, and such an assessment would be nearly impossible to conduct. The New York Times recently reported on an unsettling survey, which found that while the majority of Americans believe Holocaust education is important, many people, especially millennials, lack even a basic awareness of the history of the Holocaust. In 2013, Rhonda Fink-Whitman’s viral YouTube video showing American college student’s lack of knowledge of the Holocaust renewed a push for Holocaust education legislation in Pennsylvania and across the country. Indeed, Pennsylvania joined a growing list of states that have passed Holocaust education legislative mandates.

While no such mandate exists in Minnesota, the Holocaust is included in state social studies standards for both middle and high school students. One might reasonably assume that most students in public schools encounter the Holocaust at least once in the course of their education. Indeed, Minnetonka High School leadership, as well as the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has reported that Minnetonka students do receive instruction in the Holocaust, and many students had even heard local survivor Judith Meisel speak during the last year. Indeed, Judith (Judy) Meisel also spoke last year with high school students in my comparative genocide and human rights elective course about her experience during the Holocaust, as well as her later involvement in the civil rights movement in Philadelphia during the 1960s. Judy spoke very powerfully about the dangers of both antisemitism and racism. Though a powerful experience for my students, without the context of the history of the Holocaust and other the genocides we’d been studying all semester, I wonder what my students would have taken away from Judy’s talk if it had been their only exposure to the Holocaust. Perhaps, in light of the photos that have surfaced, we should not only be calling for more but better, more purposeful Holocaust education in Minnesota and across the country. Though in the midst of making such calls, we should bear in mind that what’s needed is more robust education on the history of the Holocaust, rather than lessons solely focused on tolerance.

Too often it seems that in classroom practice, the history of the Holocaust is eschewed in favor of lessons that aim to shock or moralize, to instill in students, according to Holocaust education researcher Simone Schweber, “the moral lessons most people want conveyed to students from rigorous study of that history – that racism is abhorrent, that interceding on behalf of the unjustly oppressed is necessary, and that every single person can make a difference in the world.” While, on the surface, these are admirable educational outcomes, Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer writes that “the Holocaust is too often turned into vague lessons of the danger of hatred or prejudice at the expense of really trying to understand the reasons and motivations for the genocide.” Though it seems an obvious statement, in order for Holocaust education to be effective, it must be done well; students must learn about the history of the Holocaust, its antecedents, the breakdown of the democratic state, the mechanisms of othering and persecution, and its aftermath. It is also important to remember that, even when it is done well, Holocaust education is not a panacea for all of the ills of contemporary society, but it can, in conjunction with learning about other topics, help create more knowledgeable, thoughtful, and tolerant students.

To be clear, the photo posted by two Minnetonka High School students is repugnant. It speaks to the need for more and better Holocaust education in Minnesota. Students need more exposure to the history of the Holocaust. Single-day lessons and isolated visits from Holocaust survivors, while powerful experiences, will likely do little to educate students about the roots of the Holocaust and help them recognize and challenge contemporary antisemitism. In our calls for more Holocaust education, we should also call for more teacher support. Teachers need increased professional development, especially social studies and English language arts teachers, who in Minnesota, are not required to learn about the Holocaust or Holocaust education as a part of licensure. Most states that pass Holocaust education mandates go on to fund the creation of a robust curriculum for students, increase funding and opportunities for teacher professional development, and develop partnerships with Holocaust museums and educational organizations. Perhaps it is time for Minnesota to consider a Holocaust education mandate.

Editor’s Note: For over 20 years, the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies has offered world class resources and workshops for educators looking to bring lessons about genocide and mass violence into their classrooms.

George Dalbo is a Ph.D. student in Social Studies Education at the University of Minnesota with research interests in Holocaust, comparative genocide, and human rights education in secondary schools. 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.

One hundred years ago this month, facing defeat and pressure from the Allied powers than won WW I, the Ottomans began attributing blame for the massacre of its Armenian and Greek citizens. Putting the Three Pashas (Talat, Enver & Djemal) on trial with other leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress, the Turkish Military Tribunals found the defendants guilty and sentenced to death. However, , the Pashas were able to flee Turkey and escape punishment (for some time, at least). The allies, frustrated by the perceived ineffectualness of the Turkish courts, in turn established the Malta Court to prosecute war criminals. By 1922, though, the Turkish defendants were repatriated to Turkey, largely due to the absence of a legal framework for prosecution. The lack of justice from the international community would spur a young Raphael Lemkin toward a lifelong goal of pursuing legal safeguards to prevent massacres like those of the Armenians from reoccurring.

In a 1949 broadcast interview, Lemkin said “As a lawyer, I thought that a crime should not be punished by the victims, but should be punished by a court, by international law,”  He first coined the term ‘genocide’ in 1944 in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. That framework would be used to help prosecute Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Tribunal . In 1948, Lemkin had largely fulfilled his goal when the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the document enshrining much of the jurisprudence he had seen lacking more than two decades before. On December 9th last year, the Genocide Convention marked its 70th anniversary.

Although the Genocide Convention was passed in 1948, it would not be until 1998 when it was used in force by an international tribunal when Jean-Paul Akayesu was convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity for crimes committed in Taba, Rwanda where Akayesu was mayor.  Since then, the Genocide Convention has been used by courts around the world to prosecute perpetrators of mass violence, including international courts and tribunals established in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Cambodia. Courts elsewhere have convicted individuals, either using universal jurisdiction (as with the trial of Adolfo Scilingo, who was convicted in 2005 by Spanish Courts for crimes against humanity for his role in Argentina’s State terror against political dissidents in the 1970s. A charge of genocide was eventually dropped) or by a state addressing crimes (as with the 2001 conviction of Petras Raslanas by a Latvian court for his role in a 1941 massacre while a member of the NKVD).

While courts continue to prosecute genocide and test its legal boundaries, scholars have continually explored definitions beyond the one inscribed in the UNGC, for instance including terms such as politicide or feminicide . They have also studied ways to predict and thus prevent genocide. In 1996, Gregory Stanton published his landmark work “The Eight Stages of Genocide” which charted the gradual steps towards genocide. Since then, several agencies, including the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Aegis Trust, have invested countless resources in predicting genocide around the globe. Today, scholars are looking towards Lemkin’s more expansive definition of genocide to better understand crimes of the past, and provide a better framework for understanding events unfolding today. The massive devastation of sites around Iraq and Syria at the hands of ISIS recently have provided a sobering reminder of Lemkin’s description of a crime that robs the affected communities, and humanity, as whole of cultural treasures, and adds an incentive for bridging the divide between academic study of genocide and its legal definition.

Seventy years since it’s adoption, the Genocide Convention remains a testament to the perseverance of one man’s vision for the protection of the physical and cultural integrity of the group under international law. Lemkin’s concept and the law that followed has been used by victims around the world to call attention to the crimes and trauma experienced by countless communities. Far from set in stone, our idea of genocide will likely continue to evolve to meet contemporary challenges.

Joe Eggers is the Research and Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies. His master’s thesis explore differences between Lemkin’s original concept of genocide and the one found in the Genocide Convention.

In October, the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies welcomed Hasan Hasanovic to campus to discuss his experience as a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide. Mr. Hasanovic was 18 when Bosnian Serbs systematically murdered more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in July 1995. Since then, Mr. Hasanovic has written an account of his story, Surviving Srebrenica (The Lumphanen Press, 2016), and spoken around the world on the topic of Srebrenica and genocide more broadly. For the last decade, he has served as a curator at the Srebrenica Memorial.

Joe Eggers: I’ve watched several of your interviews on television and especially your presentations at schools. What’s one message you hope they take away after you speak?

Hasan Hasanovic: It’s interesting. After the Holocaust, the whole world said “never again.” And very similar things were [still] happening afterwards—in Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia. It’s happening here and now with Rohingya Muslims. Now we have this situation in China with Muslims—one million are being held in labor camps. Somehow we don’t have a mechanism to prevent these atrocities. We talk about them after ten, twenty years, and we feel sorry for victims and we try to say something about it and try to educate people, and that’s it. But what is lacking is that global mechanism, which should be the United Nations. Sadly, world powers have different interests and those interests are standing the way of global intervention and prevention of mass atrocities. I’m trying in a way to make a point that we need to talk about it and to make sure we keep that memory alive and to educate people, but at the same time remember that it’s still happening. And my hope is that when I talk to these audiences—that some of them will become politicians, some of them will pursue other professions—they will use this story and other stories of other atrocities in their lives, as a lesson, and they will become better individuals, better politicians, more humane politicians. And if they get a chance…to decide something that they will make an appropriate decision, thinking from a humane perspective, rather than the perspective of the interests of their political party or the interests of that power.

Thinking more collectively about humanity?


To that point, I watched one of your presentations you did at a school in London back in 2015 and there was a lot of talk about the dangers of othering people. How have things changed in Bosnia in the last 23 years? Are communities still divided? Is Islamophobia still something you’re experiencing in Srebrenica?

You know, the war ended with the signing the Dayton Agreement, which actually divided the country into two sections. One is the Republic of Srpska governed by Serb political parties. Bosniaks-Muslims and Croats are minorities, so they don’t even have a voice there. They are basically treated like second-class citizens. In the other section, it’s a mostly Muslim-dominated autonomy and 20% Croats. There are different perspectives of what happened during the past. Serbs have their story, Croats, Bosniaks-Muslims, et cetera. The war ended without a winner, so all the three sides are writing their own history. Each one of them have their own perspective of what happened, which actually prevents us from having one common narrative and to build a brighter future for our children. We are faced with the constant denial of the genocide, like the downplaying of war crimes in Bosnia, through political media and academic elites from Serbia and this Bosnian-Serb autonomy. An entire new generation of Serbs are being taught the wrong historical facts. They are being taught that the ICTY [The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] is biased, that it’s anti-Serb, that the whole Western world is against them, and that what happened in Srebrenica is nothing, that it’s not genocide, which actually prevents them from going through the process of trying to admit what happened and consequently hinders the process of reconciliation. Without a genuine confrontation with the past, it’s impossible to go towards any reasonable reconciliation.

Now in Bosnia, the situation is like this: the country is divided, perspectives of the past are different. I’m still waiting for some sort of international intervention in this case, to bring people together as we should be again: Bosnians. We should have one Bosnian identity. That’s what the international community was supposed to work on: bringing us back together. If people in Rwanda could get back together after 800,000 people were killed, what about us in Bosnia? We are the same race, basically the same ethnicity! We got separated only because of different and divisive political interests over all these years. When we line up say 10 people—Muslims, Croats, Serbs—and you mix them up and put them in a line and ask an outsider “could you identify their race, their ethnic background?,” that individual would say these guys are the same race, the same ethnicity. We have more things in common than we have things that break us apart, so we should work on that, and this work should be encouraged by the international community. Because we had a terrible war, we had to recover from the war, and now is the time to work on this issue, because these issues are very important for our children!

If we don’t confront our past, we cannot build a better future. It’s impossible to forget about the past, and because it has been 24 years since the war, I think now is the time to start facing what happened. I think once the situation changes in Serbia politically, then it will affect the Bosnian-Serbs and that would be better for all of us. Sadly, I think those in the current government have never given up on the ideology of wanting to have a greater Serbia, which is the biggest problem and the key problem of the entire situation. They still have aspirations to have that Bosnian autonomy governed by Serbs (as a part of that project of a greater Serbia). That would be a big problem. It would probably ignite in other conflicts, which we don’t want, that would be probably a much bloodier war than the previous one, which was much bloodier than the Second World War. Humanity has in a way progressed with science, technology, everything, but in our mindsets, we have regressed. We keep coming back and repeating the same mistakes from our past, killing one another, and we don’t do anything about it. The question is: How is it possible? What is wrong? This is a very difficult question. So what is wrong with us as a world, as humanity, that we keep letting these things happen. We have big universities all over the world, we try to educate people, but these things are repeating again, all over, all over again! That’s why it’s very, very important that we educate young people. I just find it very important that we teach these young people—some of them will become politicians, some of them will run this state and other states—about the Holocaust, about subsequent genocides, as much as we can. Just to make them understand and have a connection with the current situation here or globally. That they can have a global picture and understanding of what is happening. That is very important.

You’ve talked a bit about reconciliation, but I wonder for you personally, being a survivor and losing so much during the genocide, what does forgiveness look like to you? Or is it something you’ve really thought about?

Because of this situation with the denial of genocide and continuation of Serbian political program of wanting a greater Serbia, we have never been approached by anybody to ask for forgiveness. So nobody asked me for forgiveness, and I don’t have anything to forgive basically. I can possibly forgive what was done to me individually, but I have the right not to forgive on behalf of my father and my twin brother, because I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t know how they were killed, how much they suffered, if they were buried alive in mass graves. So who am I forgive in their favor? When you ask Holocaust survivors about this, all they say is that it’s very difficult to forgive, almost impossible to forgive. But it would be easier if the people we are talking about would have admitted it, if they would have approached to us and said okay, the Milošević regime did it. I never talked about Serbs as a people but about the Milošević regime and the Bosnian-Serb army and the militants from Serbia. It would be unfair to stigmatize the whole nation for the wrong-doings of the regime. If someone, from the current government (in Serbia ), would say, “it’s Slobodan Milošević, they feels sorry! What can we do to maybe rectify some things, to build a better future for our children,” it would be easier for me really to think about that, but they don’t even give me a reason really to think about that.

In 2010, the Serbian government apologized for the “massacres” of Srebrenica but stopped short of calling it a genocide. For you, why is it important for it to be called a genocide?

Because of the way my father was killed, how my twin brother and how my uncle were killed; the circumstances under which they were killed were judicially established by the ICTY, the ICJ [International Court of Justice], and the Bosnian party. Calling it other crimes would mean that they were killed under different circumstances. So, I don’t know why there is a problem for Serbia to accept the judicially established truth. The truth is much worse than even the tribunal has established. The tribunal never get to know the real human suffering. They only deal with facts and numbers and what happened. They never talk about the suffering of people, not just when they were being killed and wounded, but afterwards what happened with mothers, with sisters, with wives, with me, with survivors. There is no verdict in this world which would be enough, good enough, for those killed. So I think it’s a political thing you know, because genocide is a source of shame. So probably, knowing that Serbs, as a part of the Bosnian-Serb Army and Police, committed the genocide, is a big stigma for the entire nation. I am afraid that they will never accept it as genocide unless they are really pressured by the European Union, from Americans. Without this acceptance, I’m sure we will have a continuation of unfriendly relations among Bosniaks-Muslims, and Serbs in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Without recognition of this as genocide, I don’t see that there would be genuine reconciliation between these two peoples. I think probably the key issue of solving the crisis in the territory of the former Yugoslavia is the relations between Bosnians and Serbs. Of course, there are lots of problems with Kosovo and with Croatia, and Serbia has a lot of these issues it hasn’t been able to solve. But I say again, it shouldn’t be a problem.  If the two highest (UN) tribunals have established it as genocide, everybody is, in a way, obligated to respect it. If you are a member of United Nations, you are obliged to respect the conventions and the verdicts of that tribunal.

If they don’t accept the verdict from these two tribunals, how would they accept my story? My individual story? They would say, “Okay you are making things up. Where is the proof?” So basically, when people want to deny, they do so many foolish things. Sometimes they don’t know even what they are denying and they deny it. It’s often being presented by media and sometimes in political rhetoric and it gets in people’s minds, and they think those things. They don’t even know what it means, because they never got to go to Srebrenica, they never got to meet survivors, they have never met the mothers, the victims, who have suffered the most. And then, from their one village in Serbia, they are saying, “Srebrenica—it was not genocide.” How do you know? I mean, you don’t know! You are repeating what politicians say from television. My hope is our young people, people who travel from Serbia from here or elsewhere or in Serbia even! There are really good human rights organizations like the Helsinki Counseling Committee of Serbia, Women in Black, Humanitarian Law Fund… even a number of MPs in the Parliament who admit the genocide, they advocate for it! They are seen as traitors, anti-Serb, pro-Western, but they are, you know, normal human beings. And they are really influencing many young people. Sadly they don’t get access to public institutions like faculties, schools; it’s all still being controlled by the government, as every government…

In the West we have this very legalese perception of justice, that justice is administered through the courts. But as a survivor, do you feel there has been a sense of justice through the ICTY and tribunals, even though denialist rhetoric is still commonplace?

That’s a really good question. I would say that justice hasn’t been served completely. We were given some justice. Everybody had expected the ICTY to bring complete justice, to bring people back together, to reconcile people. Those expectations were not real. How could someone expect such a small institution to fulfill such a massive mission? But they’ve done amazing work in establishing judicial facts, which are now, in my understanding, the only independent source [on the genocide].

You have these different narratives from different groups, and you have the ICTY’s independent source of information, judicially established information. In this sense, the work of the ICTY is precious. They brought only a small number of people to trial for Srebrenica, only 18, not 80, to speak for Srebrenica. Most of them were convicted of genocide and for some other crimes against humanity, a group of them were convicted for being members of a joint criminal enterprise, which means that behind the genocide, there has to be a system, either state or, in this case, the Bosnian autonomy called the Republic of Srpska, which is a very, very important verdict.

Most of the criminals, probably 95%, will never face justice, because we would need hundreds of these tribunals and millions of dollars and victims are dying and witnesses are dying. It’s difficult to testify—the standards when it comes to these tribunals are very high. It’s very difficult to convict someone; you have to see that someone killed someone. It’s not just enough for basically someone to say, “I saw someone who was a soldier in Potočari, in Srebrenica during the genocide.” It’s not enough to get even an indictment, not to mention a conviction. Because of this, many people got discouraged and have said they’re not going to testify because it’s very difficult to get a conviction. At the end of the day, though, I think what is important is that the ICTY established amazing archives of judicially established facts, which we can use in many ways now to learn what happened, so academia can use it as a source on Srebrenica, to learn about that. And another thing was that what happened was established as a genocide. It’s very important, it’s another source of comfort for the victims.

Another important thing to note is that most of the victims were found in mass graves and excavated and identified by the ICMP and the International Commission of Missing Persons. Eventually it led to the memorial which was established by the international community in Potočari and near Srebrenica. We have international recognition of what happened, we have those archives of information, of judicially established truth, we have the place for memorial where we can keep the memory alive. The issues I have mentioned before—denial, unreadiness from Serbia and the Bosnian autonomy to admit—prevent us from reaching a greater sense of justice–and I don’t know when, or if, that would ever happen. But I thought that [Ratko] Mladić and [Radovan] Karadžić would never be arrested, I thought only a couple thousand would be identified and buried, but now we have almost 7,000. 7,000 who were identified through scientific DNA, which is exact science, common sense cannot deny it. It’s unbelievable! So we have many achievements and we also have many expectations in terms of wanting Serbia and Bosnian Serbs to accept it as genocide and for us to be able to move on with reconciliation.

I’m curious about the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial. Memorials really serve two main purposes; allowing a place for families and communities to mourn and honor victims, and educating the public. How does the memorial and museum in Srebrenica balance these two goals?

I think it fulfils both. It honors victims; it has a cemetery where they were buried; there is a museum there where their stories are told and where there is a narrative of what happened. Thousands of people from all over the world come to visit the memorial, and people are being educated about what happened. And of course, we need to connect more globally. It is a very young memorial—the genocide happened in 1995; Auschwitz and other memorials took a long time to start being developed and built. I believe that the Srebenica Memorial is growing and that, with time, we will have more things there and will connect it with other, similar memorials and attract more people. We will focus even more on educating young people, trying to affect them, trying to make them think more of what happened for their own good.

One thing I’m always interested in is how memorials are reflections of the communities. How would you say the Srebrenica Memorial is a reflection of your community?

With Srebrenica memorial and the cemetery, I would say 99.9% of victims memorialized there are Muslims, because they were targeted. There are not Serbs in the Memorial because they were not in Srebrenica during the siege. At the start, it was very difficult to even establish the memorial and it was basically created by a decree from the international community, from the High Representative. The American government and the American embassy has always been a big supporter of the memorial.

What has the local response to the memorial been?

 Local Serbs follow what their position, the Serbian government and the Republik of Srpska government, says on television—they didn’t like the memorial being established there. I think, as years go by, they have accepted it. We have never had any incidents. I’ve been working there almost ten years and nobody has even said an insulting word to me. They know everybody knows me and I work there and I have a lot of public exposure. I think they know what happened and they are very much afraid to admit it, because if you admit it, there would be consequences. Because it is a small space and Bosnians aren’t a big population, and if you say something—for instance, admit what happened in Srebrenica—you may lose your job: as a professor, as a teacher, as anything. And if you lose a job, it is difficult to find one later. At the same time, being called a traitor, you’ve betrayed your ethnicity. It’s too much for people! Someone will say, probably in private, “yes it’s happened,” but I cannot afford to lose a job, I cannot afford for my family to go through this torture of me being called traitor and then people talking about me. Then Bosniak-Muslim community there is mainly families of victims. People almost never got to talk about what happened. I call this a culture of silence. People talk about sports, weather, agriculture, but almost never about the past because we know what to expect from one another. You don’t want someone to spoil your day if you ask what happened? And they say, “It didn’t happen.” There is no point even in arguing about this, especially if you are a survivor or a mother. People don’t really talk about this because they know what to expect.

When I was in Armenia in 2015 during the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, I was shocked by how absent the Genocide was in the public conversation. That was an event a century ago; I can’t imagine what it’s like only 20 years later in Srebrenica.

This is a problem. We still feel this burden of the past on our shoulders. An outsider, someone who comes to Srebrenica, and says, “Oh it’s beautiful!” by which they mean it’s a beautiful town, and the countryside, it seems almost unreal; the setting and it is so surreal. And at the same time, someone will say, “Oh people are functioning. What is the problem here? Everybody’s talking.” But it actually takes a number of days, month and months—I don’t know how many days—for an individual to spend with people and really immerse themselves with the community to understand these things that I’m talking about.

Many members of survivor communities, especially those who fled, swore never to return home. I’m thinking of survivors of the Holocaust. Why was it important for you not only to return but to be present and active in Srebrenica? 

When I buried my father and twin brother, that hit me very hard. It actually changed my life forever. When that happened, I was unable to deal with that as a human being and I had nobody to talk to, and because the country was destroyed after the war, there were no such services that could help for free. So later, surviving my trauma and surviving my dreams and being hunted in my dreams, I decided to go back to the actual place at the root of the whole thing. That’s how I thought I would heal myself. And I think now I am much stronger than I was when I buried my father and twin brother, that was 2003 and 2005. Ever since, I have done so many things, travelled globally. It’s not a job for me, it’s a mission. That’s what I owe to brother and my father and my uncle and everybody else because they are speechless. I did not survive because I was better. I think I survived to tell what happened to me and especially what happened to them. I feel that moral responsibility, that I should not escape and get away from that. I could have gone, I could have escaped, I could have gotten a job easier anywhere, anywhere in the world. And just to get away from there and say, you know it’s too much, I cannot live there. But what if we all run? What if we all leave these people and nobody would talk about them? It’s very easy to get away from problems, but it takes courage and dedication to do something as noble as a job at this Memorial here (Srebrenica genocide Memorial).

Moving forward, how do you envision the West helping raise awareness and recognition of what happened in Srebrenica?

There is this charity in London called Remembering Srebrenica. In 2013, I went there with three survivors, and we met with the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his office to educate him and others. Ever since, they’ve been educating people, organizing over 450 events throughout the UK every year. They work with schools, they talk in schools, they educate teachers, they encourage them to teach children about what happened. They organize Memorial Week in July there, where top politicians come to attend to hear survivors’ stories. They bring children and professors and politicians to Bosnia, to Srebrenica, to learn and some of them will be affected and they will pledge to do something. They intend to build an education center and global memorial in Birmingham where students in the UK will come to learn. This is what every country, especially big ones, should do for any genocide: Armenian genocide, Bosnian genocide, Rwanda, Darfur. Memorials and education about Holocaust has been developed everywhere, so in a sense, it’s finished—almost. We should never forget it—genocide as crime against humanity, as much as it concerns me, it should concern you and every human being on this planet. It’s not the type of thing to say, “Okay it happened in Bosnia, I don’t care.” No, no. It concerns you because it happened against human beings and we should all be concerned.

That’s why I say this big country, the United States, should have such a center, maybe to have all these major genocides in one center where children will be taken from schools to visit. It could be a project for the government. I don’t know who should initiate it or how, because it’s difficult to get people to listen to you and take an idea and support an idea. I think it would be the best thing that anybody could do for humanity and for these children and for the students.

Joe Eggers is the Research and Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies.


Since the 1990s there has been a virtual academic consensus that a genocide was perpetuated by Germany during the Herero and Nama War. But the question of responsibility and continuity are still being debated.

In the last two decades, the Herero and the Nama have sought justice, recognition and reparations from the German government for the genocide they endured at the beginning of the 20th century. Recently, they have taken their struggle to an American court, which started hearing their case a few weeks ago. The German government officially referred to the 1904-1907 events as a “genocide” only recently (in 2016) and still refrains from dealing with who was responsibility and rejects calls for reparation. Instead, Germany has attempted reconciliation through other channels, such as providing aid to the Namibian government and returning victim remains that were stored in Germany after the genocide.

The historiography of German colonialism and Namibian history has witnessed fierce debate regarding the events that took place in Southwest African between 1904-1907. Still today, some historical questions remain. This short essay will try to identify the main debated issues of this genocide and will highlight the most important ideas of the historians who have researched this subject.

What have Historians Discussed?

Historiographical discourse about the genocide only began in the 1960s in East Germany, where archives as well as political motivations facilitated academic interest in German colonialism. The meager academic occupation with the war was still evident in the 1980s, when American historian Jon Bridgman stated that “this war has, in a little more than two generations, disappeared from history”.[1] Nevertheless, the scholarship of the genocide has surged since the 1990s. The ongoing historical debate about the roots of the Holocaust, most prominently around the argument for a German ‘special path’ (Sonderweg), as well as the independence of Namibia (1990) and the 100th commemoration of the war (2004), all contributed to the increasing interest in the genocide. The Herero and Nama War was now described as “the first German Genocide,”[2] “the first anti-partisan war in the history of the German Army,”[3] and “the first German attempt to establish a racial state.”[4] These epithets mirror the transformation of the genocide into a key issue, even a milestone, within the broader history of Germany.

It is important to note that the historical writing about the genocide has mostly been done by German scholars based on German sources. With few expectations, most of these scholars unfortunately largely ignored the perspectives of the Herero and the Nama.

In the last few decades, historians have been engaged with three key questions. The first question is the debate whether the Herero and Nama War qualifies as a genocide (and not, say, a typical, though quite ruthless, colonial war). The second question revolves around the motivations for the genocidal violence and the importance of the ideas that stood behind it. Strongly related to this is the issue of the genocide’s inevitability, and its place within the broader history of Germany. The third question regards the responsibility for the genocide, and is crucial for the current claim for reparations.

First Debate: Was the Herero and Nama War a genocide?

Since the 1960’s, main-stream historiography tended to accept that a genocide was perpetrated during the war, notwithstanding some debate about this issue at the end of the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s.

The first historian to provide a comprehensive research on the genocide was Drechsler in his 1966 monograph Südwestafrika unter Deutscher Kolonialherrschaft: Der Kampf der Herero und Nama gegen den deutschen Imperialismus.[5] Drechsler was the first scholar to claim that the German army perpetrated a genocide (then a relatively recent term coined by Rephael Lemkin in 1944) during the war, and that its atrocities were far more brutal than previously believed. German policies and motivations, coupled with the high death rate, are proof that the events were tantamount to genocide. Drechsler claimed that although a surprise, the war was aligned with the colonial goals of Germany, and enabled the colonialists to use it as an excuse to fulfill their greedy and power-hungry ambitions. Drechsler pointed out that the groups who benefited the most from the war were the big corporations, land and shipping companies, and war-related industries. Drechsler’s work fitted in the East-German criticism of West-Germany and capitalism in general, drawing a connecting line between Imperial capitalism, the Third Reich and the West-German Federal Republic.

Even if Drechsler’s Marxist agenda was at times looked upon with suspicion, his conclusion that the war entailed a genocide was a historiographical breakthrough, adopted by Western historians and remained widely accepted in the academic community today. This virtual academic consensus supported the U.N. decision to declare as early as 1985 that the “German massacre of the Herero in 1904” qualifies as a genocide, and therefore as the first genocide of the 20th century.[6]

The most significant challenge for this consensus appeared in the second half of the 1980s. In 1985, anthropologist Karla Poewe claimed that the language of extermination used by the military leadership during the war was part of a psychological war, and did not reflect authentic genocidal intent.[7] In 1989, Brigitte Lau, a German-Namibian historian, published an essay that rejected the now widely accepted claim that the Germans perpetrated genocide during the war.[8] Lau argued that the historians of the war viewed it through an Europocentric lens, for example by describing the Herero and the Nama as helpless natives, and the German army as supposedly undefeated. Lau doubted the number of victims calculated by Drechsler and others, and noted that most of the relevant documents about the war were lost during WWI.

Lau’s essay evoked a fierce reaction among scholars, who responded with a new wave of publications that aspired to reaffirm the common historiographical stance about the genocide.[9] The challenge posed by Lau and others, thus, was beneficial for developing and complicating the analysis of the genocidal nature of the war. Scholars paid growing attention to the question of genocidal intent and planning, the use of genocidal discourse, collective responsibility and the participation of the state’s apparatuses in the killing. The solid evidence to support the genocidal nature of the war was summarized, clarified, rethought and refined, and ultimately weakened the revisionary claims of Poewe and Lau, whose arguments were now marginalized and widely denounced.

Second Debate: What were the motivations behind the genocide? Was the context local and specific, or broad, systematic and embedded in German/European culture?    

This question can be divided to two. The first is about the specific reasons that led Germany to conduct a genocide in Southwest Africa. While it is virtually agreed that both ideological and military-realistic aspects existed in the background of the genocide, different scholars have tended to emphasize one over the other. Some scholars stressed the prominent weight of racist beliefs among the architects of the genocide, mostly General Lothar von Trotha and Field-Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen, as well as the genocidal tendencies of the German administration and settlers in Southwest Africa. Conversely, other scholars have accentuated the military and realistic sides of the genocide. These scholars claim that the genocide was not pre-planned and the racist views, albeit prevalent, were secondary within the strategic and tactical war policies. Instead, the genocide was caused by the escalation and radicalization of the German military campaign, that happened largely because of the difficulty and frustration of fighting a guerilla war without the right theory or experience to do so. A recent contribution to this argument is the work of Susanne Kuss. Kuss compared the Herero and Nama War to two other German colonial conflicts that were fought in the first decade of the 20th century – The “Boxer Rebellion” and the Maji-Maji War. These two conflicts, though violent and brutal, did not end up as a genocide. By comparing these three cases, Kuss argues that German colonial military policy depended mostly on local circumstances, and the genocide in Southwest Africa was a result of “the collapse of a carefully planned orthodox military strategy” and not a deliberated intent.[10]

The second issue within this debate about the motives behind the genocide relates to the place of the genocide within the broader history of Germany. This question has been a platform for a heated scholarly debate in the last two decades. The proponents of placing the war within the framework of German historical continuity focus on highlighting the war’s influences on and links with later parts of German history, i.e., the First World War, the rise of Nazism, the Second World War and the Holocaust. One of the leading scholars to argue for continuity is Jürgen Zimmerer, who published in 2011 a monograph named From Windhoek to Auschwitz. Zimmerer claimed that the genocide committed in Southwest Africa marks a historical turning point from ‘traditional’ colonial massacres, committed largely by local or private actors, to state-organized, centrally-planned and bureaucratized mass killings, such as those perpetrated in the Holocaust. Zimmerer stressed the immense importance of ideological precedents that emerged during the war, such as the realization of the previously-fantasized race war and the post-war establishment of a ruling system based on social engineering and ethnic hierarchies, which potentially enabled a foundation for a racial utopia.[11]

Another perspective on the continuity of German history is provided by Isabel Hull. Hull emphasizes German-Prussian military thought as the main reason for the radicalization of violence during the war.[12] She demonstrated how the immense independence of the German Military within the decision-making process in the Empire and its free access to the Kaiser, were crucial factors for the unfolding genocide. By doing so, Hull has put the onus on German militarism, rather than German racism, and thus highlighted the war’s links to the First World War, rather than Nazism or the Second World War.

On the other hand, some scholars have questioned the claim that the genocide represents a German peculiarity, pointing out to the broader imperial and settler-colonial context. Some claimed that the local and regional contexts of an asymmetric war conducted in a settler colony were more relevant than the German peculiar system. For instance, one of the first West-German scholars of the genocide, Helmut Bley, asserted that “South-West Africa offers many parallels to development in other European colonies, and in its outline German expansion followed a well-established pattern of colonial growth.”[13]

Others pointed out that the genocide was not significant in Nazi thought, and that there was a stark difference between the Herero and Nama genocide and the Holocaust. Birthe Kundrus, for instance, argued that “the way from Windhoek to Nürnberg was far, very far.”[14] Parallelism between the Herero and Nama genocide and the Jewish Holocaust is methodologically dangerous, since it may reduce German colonialism “to a mere precursor of National Socialism.”[15] She claimed that European antisemitism and colonial racism have different roots and attributes, and they are two distinct experiences.

Third Debate: Who was responsible for the genocide? 

Even though most scholarship agrees on the fact that genocide happened in Southwest Africa, the question of who to blame is still highly debated. Was annihilation mostly a personal initiative of the military commander in charge, General Lothar von Trotha? And by extension – was it a military initiative independent of, and even defying, the German political leadership? Or, on the contrary, the military policy was only an execution of political orders or – at least – mindset?

Most historians agree that either way, General von Trotha’s role was extremely significant to the unfolding of the genocide. It is also agreed that German military high command favored, or at least did not actively oppose, von Trotha’s tactics. It is also commonplace that the German government in Berlin and the administration in Southwest Africa had reservations about the genocidal violence, but the stances of the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, are still contested.

The evidence is ambiguous. On the one hand, it was the political authority that ordered to halt the extermination policy conducted by von Trotha and supported to a large degree by the German military high command in Berlin. There were also strong voices in the German government, the colonial administration and among German settlers that vehemently opposed the mass killings, and blamed von Trotha personally.

On the other hand, as mentioned, von Trotha had the support of high officials in Berlin, and claimed that the Kaiser himself gave him the green light to suppress the Herero revolt by any means. Scholar Jeremy Sarkin elaborated on the issue of the preexisting genocidal intent, and claimed that the orders for genocide were given to von Trotha by Wilhelm II before the former was sent to the colony.[16] Sarkin was criticized for basing his argument on scant material and overinterpretation, but his claim is significant as it raises the question of responsibility and therefore contributes to the present debate about reparations.

In addition, as Bley contended, the second phase of the genocide which included mass confinement in concentration and labor camps was mostly committed by civil authorities and not by the German military.

Conclusion: New Directions?

The scholarship about the Herero and Nama War has evolved and grown in the last two decades. Memory of the war has not disappeared as was claimed in the 1980’s. Yet, many aspects of the war still require a better scholarly focus.

First, there are still some more “classic” issues which have not yet been explored. Biographies, especially full scale and academic ones, of the main figures behind the war are still rare. Comprehensive biographies of Lothar von Trotha or Hendrik Witbooi are warranted.

Second, some historical groups still have not received appropriate attention. Especially the victims. Only two significant works were published about the Herero and only one about the Nama. The German settlers, a prominent group during and after the genocide, hardly received designated focus by scholars, who tend to focus on the German authorities and institutions. The role of the settlers in the genocide is crucial, since it is intimately connected to the question of responsibility. In addition, the role of other indigenous groups, such as the Ovambo, during the genocide are also largely unexplored.

Furthermore, granting the war and Southwest Africa in general more global as well as local perspective is necessary. The war has been well researched vis-à-vis the German metropole, and is well-placed within the framework of German history. Nevertheless, it was hardly put in the global context. Comparative research is still very limited, and the war was not fully positioned within the broader history of Settler Colonialism as well as the history of global colonial wars. The war is also required to be examined in relation to the local histories of Southern Africa and Namibia specifically. Scholarship has yet to examine the war’s long term, post-German implications on the balance of power in the broader Namibian society, as well as the influence of the war on other societies in the region, native and European alike.

Asher Lubotzky is a PhD student in the History Department at the University of Indiana, focusing on Africa


[1] Jon Bridgman, The Revolt of the Hereros, Los Angeles, CA, University of California Press, 1981: p. 1. More than a decade later, Bridgman’s statement was criticized by Gesine Krüger for his disregard of the Herero memory. Krüger, pp. 14-15.

[2] Gesine Krüger, Kriegsbewältigung Und Geschichtsbewusstsein, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999: p. 7.

[3] Walter Nuhn, Feind überall: Der Grosse Nama-aufstand (hottentottenaufstand) 1904-1908 In Deutsch-südwestafrika (namibia): Der Erste Partisanenkrieg In Der Geschichte Der Deutschen Armee, Bonn, Bernard & Graefe, 2000.

[4]  Jürgen Zimmerer, Von Windhuk nach Auschwitz?, Berlin, Lit, 2011: p. 23.

[5] Horst Drechsler, Südwestafrika unter Deutscher Kolonialherrschaft: Der Kampf der Herero und Nama gegen den deutschen Imperialismus (1884 – 1915), Berlin, Akad. -Verlag, 1966.

[6] See paragraph 24 of the UN Whitaker Report, 1985: “UN Whitaker Report on Genocide, 1985, paragraphs 14 to 24, pages 5 to 10”, <http://www.preventgenocide.org/prevent/UNdocs/whitaker/section5.htm#p17> [accessed 10 December, 2017].

[7] Karla Poewe, The Namibian Herero: a History of the Psychosocial Disintegration and Survival, New York, E. Mellen Press, 1985. Poewe relied on a questionable publication by Gert Sudholt which appeared in 1975, and has been since harshly criticized by most of the experts of German colonialism.

[8]  Brigitte Lau, “Uncertain Certainties. The Herero–German War of 1904”, Mibagus, 2 (1989).

[9]  See for example: Tilman Dedering, “The German-Herero War of 1904: Revisionism of Genocide or Imaginary Historiography?”, Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1993): pp. 80-88; Werner Hillebrecht, “‘Certain Uncertainties’ or Venturing Progressively into Colonial Apologetics?”, Journal of Namibian Studies, 1 (2007): pp. 73-95.

[10]Susanne Kuss, German Colonial Wars and the Context of Military Violence, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2017. p. 4.

[11] Jürgen Zimmerer, Von Windhuk nach Auschwitz?, Berlin, Lit, 2011.

[12] Isabel Hull, Absolute Destruction, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2005.

[13] Ibid: p. xvii.

[14] Kundrus, Phantasiereiche: p. 126.

[15] Kundrus, “From the Herero to the Holocaust”: p. 300.

[16] J. Sarkin, Germany’s Genocide of the Herero: Kaiser Wilhelm II, his General, his Settlers, his Soldiers, Woodbridge, Currey, 2011.

The Enemy arises as an immemorial figure of our imaginations. The Enemy, also named the Adversary, relating to the biblical figure of Satan, is located at the heart of the European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern pre-modern worlds and cultures, playing a very central role in the three monotheisms: Judaism, Christianism and Islam. Satan is a prototypical figure of temptation, setting doubt and disorder. Also known under the name of Lucifer, “the bringer of dawn” or “the morning star”, he is the former purveyor of light who became a fallen angel.  His rebellion and ban have been exemplary sung and narrated by the British poet John Milton in Paradise Lost (1667). He has been celebrated two centuries later as the “Prince of Exile” by the French poet Charles Baudelaire with “Les Litanies de Satan” in Les Fleurs du Mal [The Flowers of Evil] (1857). This figure can overtake different forms, faces, or genders. Lilith, the female demon, who has the capacity to take the shape of diverse nocturnal animals, is already present in different Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian traditions (see for instances Myths of Babylonia and Assyria by Mackenzie, 1915). This adversary, previously known as a light bringer, eventually condemned by divine justice to an unending exile both physical in spiritual, could be an impeccable metaphor reflecting the uses and misuses of ideologies and identities and the very important function that affects and emotions are playing out within the realm of reason, which, like our worldviews and understandings, is incredibly limited.  As Gershom Scholem reminds us in the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition, Satan, or evil, is the product of a crisis ascending through the severity of divine judgment. Its advent occurs during the development of that great fire of anger that burns in God, which is normally tempered by his mercy. But when the latter is no longer sufficient to appease this pruritus, an imbalance operates, an energy exhales and breaks away from the divine, finding its own autonomy, that is “evil” (Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 563). This dialectic between evil and freedom has been highlighted by the German philosopher Rüdiger Safranski in his 1999 essay Das Böse, oder Das Drama der Freiheit [Evil, or the Tragedy of Freedom]. Freedom, free will and the issue of establishment of norms and laws are inseparable from political action, something that essentially defines power as Michel Foucault states. In his “Critique of Violence” essay written in 1921 during the first years of existence of the Weimar Republic in defeated Germany, Walter Benjamin questions the relationships between divine violence, justice, and power in a secular society: “Law-making is power-making, and, to that extent, an immediate manifestation of violence. Justice is the principle of all divine end-making, the power of the principle of all mythical law-making.”

In any legislative power lies the notion of divine violence which naturally questions a certain approach and conception of law and law-making, of justice, and well beyond that a certain idea of history, ways of embracing and translating imaginaries that are palpable. What we want to inquire through the notion of “Constructing the Enemy” is how and to what purpose identities are defined? How this identity conception and perception encapsulate symbolic powers, draw boundaries, and thus unveil a certain definition of sovereignty? We find within the triangle figure constituted by identity, sovereignty and power the potentialities or incapacities of racial hatred, Antisemitism and Islamophobia depending on ethical and moral judgments and actions related to the political and legislative power and language that structures imaginaries and penetrates the unconscious from one generation to another. This sort of “dominant” impetus we entertain in relation to identity might operate individually in our intimacies through projection of desires, but also through the nurturing of resentments (in its most Nietzschean meaning) and feelings of incompleteness, which become political leverages in times of socio-economic and political crisis. The need for recognition and authority in a society structured by norms, the alleged importance of the gaze of others in a globalized consumer society, and how our own image is perceived (we can consider here Guy Debord’s critic in his essay The Society of Spectacle, 1967), tightened by the obsession of defining and categorizing by so-called “majorities” and “minorities”, has contributed in shaping cultural imperialism, but also predatory views on environment and otherness.  This dominant propensity has fashioned our intellects, identities, territories, even our intimacies, setting a cultural unconscious that determines our futures in the dead angle of reason.

The enmeshment of political, economic, cultural and identity threads has created a very specific definition of the border. Something that appears as crucial or vital to our ontological integrity and alleged survival. Each time this border is crossed by an alleged or defined alien, adversary or enemy, the strength of cultural differentiations, the legacy of geocentrisms, the assumed need to protect a territory defined as the property of a proclaimed majority enacts and legitimizes a hideous hatred unleashed to the face of the other defined and perceived as a threatening “beyond”, an other that symbolically represents death. This fear of dispossession, of disappearance, of a weakening of its own image reappears today in the rhetoric used by far-right parties, but gets also unfortunately instrumentalized by republican, sometimes socio-democratic parties and elected representatives in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland, Hungary, or in the United States of America. French secularism, also called Laïcité, has been ideologically instrumentalized to mark the French Muslim community in times of political instability and global terrorism. The Muslims, their culture, faith and customs have been far too often essentialized in order to create a set of repulsion and fear distorting the numerous economic, geopolitical and postcolonial failures which are at the origin of extremist religious violences which are most of the time targeting the Muslims themselves in North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle-East. The return of Antisemitic violences, such as the torture and burning of an Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, aged 85, by a group of young men in France in March 2018, the increasing profanation and degradation of Mosques and Muslim cemeteries in France in the last seven years, the entrance in the German Bundestag for the first time since the second world war of an identitarian and racist party such as the AfD (Alternative for Germany) campaigning against the notoriously baptized  “refugee crisis” and against the offensively called “Islamization of Europe” should question us about our progressive ethical and political disengagement as citizens in our western democracies in the last two decades, and probably certainly since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In the aftermath of the decolonization and Shoah periods, what the scholars Alejandro Baer and Natan Sznaider have crystalized through the notion of “Ethics of Never-Again”, having its famous French equivalent in the idea of “devoir de mémoire” [duty of remembering], seemed to have been at the same time constantly weakened and proclaimed. Srebrenica, Chechenia, Rwanda are the names of a city, a republic and a country that resonates with the remembrances of promises never hold. The figure of an Enemy necessarily constructed arises again. Two wars in Iraq, the second invasion of Afghanistan, the international knot of an unending civil war in Syria has allowed the rise of a Salafist monster that seems to reflect the features of an unethical and politically immoral and irresponsible western face in a supposed postcolonial period. A period which, in fact, never ceased to be neocolonial under the name of economic interests or under the rubble of democracy.

Antisemitism, racial hatred, Islamophobia are progressing as the last electoral results in many European countries reflect. The status of refugees and migrants fleeing wars and disastrous humanitarian conditions in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Sub-Saharan countries, is permanently questioned and used as a scarecrow.  European conservative governments that are at once defending a globalized market economy and the permeability of borders for merchandises, want to strengthen their immigration laws, implementing in an alleged open and free market economy racial and ethnic aspects, as the study of Mezzadra and Neilson shows (Border as Method,53-59). Yet these situations in those countries are also the result of catastrophic European and American political meddling that have been diagnosed by far too many commentators and scholars like Noam Chomsky, Nicholas Mirzoeff (Watching Babylon, 2005), W.J.T. Mitchell (Cloning Terror, 2011), or more recently in an exemplary manner by Achille Mbembe (See is article, Necropolitics, 2003 and Politiques de l’inimitié, 2016). In such paradoxical circumstances where economic ideology and expansionism meets conservatism, populism and the racial unconscious, the necessity to create and delocalize political concerns inside or outside of the national borders, becomes a biopolitical issue where questions of sovereignty and power, the capacity to let live and let die, to punish or threaten requires an idiosyncratic enemy that might conflate with René Girard’s notion of the scapegoat, which precisely becomes a mean to achieve consent and satisfaction in the community in a period of crisis or disorder (De la violence à la divinité, 33-46). The Enemy converts as a lever of governance to wrest a majority blessing that should, at least locally, enable a temporary political equilibrium.

Through the emblematic and tyrannical figure of the Enemy, the secular world has been able to reclaim and influence a cultural territory deeply rooted in our collective unconscious to produce “consent”. This consent is crucial to the sovereign or to the State in order to rule. If, as Michel Foucault puts it in a series of lectures at the Collège de France, pastoral tradition from the old world was one of the essential components in the exercise of power, this very same tradition remains central in the modern world (Security, Territory, Population, 161-208). A world that strengthens its borders, territories and identities, but also a world that needs more economic, political and territorial permeability to benefit from an economic growth, to expand and conquer new spaces which permanently are at the same time socio-economic, political, and cultural. As we can see, Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, and particularly of “cultural hegemony” is a key-concept sustaining the nature of any biopolitical power and agonistic relations (Prison Notebooks – Volume II, 186). The issue of exercise of freedom in the liberal and neoliberal world is fundamentally linked to a specific form of sovereignty. Majority consent is necessary for the exercise of a certain economic and political power based on mass productivity, the mass being here perceived as an alienating concept that doesn’t allow for differentialism (Naissance de la biopolitique, 84). As we can see the majority paradigm is therefore needed for a certain conception and use of power.

Unlike the enemy, the Adversary can be accepted as an opponent who doesn’t necessarily require to be eliminated. The enemy is often defined or perceived as a threat. Enemy of the people, enemy of democracy, enemy of the nation, are the few vindictive catchphrases belonging to the sovereigntist and belligerent political language pointing out a border line traced inside and/or outside of a nation. The use of this rhetoric of enmity has empowered the stigmatization, relegation, deportation and murder of individuals and communities represented and defined as nemeses. They are remnants of a physical and symbolic frontier defined as the limit of a culture or a civilization that either requires to be erased or absorbed. Something that let us question the true nature of the “assimilation” concept in colonial and postcolonial France.

The sociological, historical and political dimensions of this multifaceted figure as a political and legal artefact of our modernity responds without any doubt to the “Friend-Enemy” political notion developed by the jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt. Someone, who also was a strong inspirer and advocate of the Nuremberg racial Laws of 1935 (see Zarka’s Un detail nazi dans la pensée de Carl Schmitt, PUF, 2005). His political and agonist notion of  “the friend and the enemy” has determined and continues to influence several domestic and foreign policies, always based on identity issues that veil whole facets of Western imperialist history linking both the paradigms of territorial domination and influence, the economy (actually global and neoliberal), and political sovereignty, which in the postcolonial, post-Holocaust and post-industrial eras continues to be measured by the ability of these nations to deploy themselves beyond their own established and recognized borders. This extraterritorial deployment is precisely done for economic reasons, linking the exploitation of energy and mining resources to local and geostrategic disorders that rather emerge as expressions of a neocolonial policy fulfilled by American, Chinese and European nations in former colonized countries (Mbembe, Sortir de la grande nuit, 307-313).

The history of Antisemitism, which culminated with the production of a visceral and thus metaphysical identity enmity against European Jewish populations, led to the creation by the Nazis of a sort of enemy “from within.” This at once transcendental and immanent hatred for the Jews was a core definition of Nazi identity itself. The extermination of more than 6 million European Jews is the result of this dynamic that is not simply a delirious dynamic happening out of the frames of History. It is the product of an ideological reflection and theorization, of means and technical progresses that have been mobilized and concentrated to generate death, pertaining to the realm of Necropolitics. In radically different registers and contexts, the inheritance of a colonial world structured by “zones” as Frantz Fanon had rightly recognized and described (Les damnés de la terre, 44), in alliance with policies of catastrophic economic interference, led, as some intellectuals and researchers such as François Burgat in France seem to attest it (Comprendre l’Islam politique, La Découverte, 2016), to the intensification of rebellious extremist movements and the hardening of identities. The terrorist Salafism that revealed itself over the past 15 to 20 years is probably inseparable from a policy of terror, as it was carried out for supposedly democratic reasons by the United States and its allies during the second Gulf War in 2003, destabilizing the whole Middle East region and leading, after the Soviet Union in the 1980’s, to a second invasion of Afghanistan. The harmful fallout from the Salafist terrorist actions has first and foremost affected the Muslims, both in the Middle East and Asia (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan) and in Europe as well, especially in France and Germany, two countries which do not do not practice the same multicultural and secular policy as the United Kingdom or the United States.

Far from wanting to tackle this issue on a larger and directly related part of the discussions that will be part of this conference, we will not challenge the strictly ideological and political question of adversity or its agonistic expressions in democracy as they may have been theorized for instance by political theorist Chantal Mouffe, or by the philosopher Roberto Esposito, or even Jacques Derrida or Jürgen Habermas. Our main concern will be to focus on racial and Antisemitic constructions that come together and intertwine in our postcolonial and post-Holocaust eras, revealing a central figure having a biopolitical, cultural and economic relevance that structures our visions of nation-states and identities as territories of exclusion, stigmatization, violence, estrangement and power.

Selim Rauer is a PhD candidate focusing on Francophone and French postcolonial literature and drama, European postwar theater aesthetics, and French politics. This year, Selim is the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow with the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies. Selim is currently working with former CHGS director Bruno Chaouat.

On the 29th of November 2016, State representative Frank Hornstein (DFL) organized a public lecture through the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College entitled The Use of Holocaust and Nazi Analogies in American Politics. The speaker for the event, Professor Gavriel Rosenfeld (Fairfield University), was interviewed for this month’s scholar spotlight.

Dr. Gavriel Rosenfeld

In your presentation, you mention that Holocaust and the Nazi card is employed by liberals against the right wing, and conservatives against the liberals (on abortion, for instance). Where do we draw a line of appropriate comparison? Can it be done?

It is easy to spot polemical comparisons when they grossly exaggerate or distort the facts about a contemporary issue in order to force it to “resemble” something from the Third Reich. There were no “death panels” in the Affordable Care Act, though Tea Party activists tried to imply as much in order to discredit the legislation. Much less were those “panels” in any way comparable to the Nazi euthanasia campaign known as T4. Let me be clear: the act of comparison is perfectly fine. But there are good and bad comparisons. A good one stresses differences as much as similarities. Most partisan comparisons only do the latter.


What does the constant comparison to the Holocaust say about the Holocaust as a historical event in public awareness? 

It’s a paradox. Comparisons keep the Holocaust in the public eye, which is good. But exaggerated comparisons (especially ones that don’t hold up to scrutiny) end up desensitizing people to the magnitude of the Holocaust in reality. And it may lead them to tune out when the event is evoked in the future.


Can the Holocaust be used as a bridging metaphor, which helps raising awareness on other –past and present—Human Rights violations?

Yes, absolutely. During the Yugoslav civil war and the Kosovo crisis in the mid and late 1990s, world awareness of the atrocities going on in Europe was boosted by comparisons to the Holocaust. Again, many of those comparisons stressed differences as well as pointed to similarities. Of course, there are other instances where Holocaust memory could not mobilize public intervention in an atrocity (witness Rwanda). But that should not be blamed on the legacy of the Holocaust, but on political indifference.


Doesn’t Holocaust and Genocide education hinge on learning from history and establishing comparisons with other events?

Definitely. All historical research and teaching involves either implicit or explicit comparisons. We can only learn by recognizing what events and phenomena are singular or are part of a larger pattern or trend. Genocide is an unfortunately common occurrence. The Holocaust is an instance of genocide. That does not mean the Holocaust did not have singular features that were absent from other genocides. But all genocides have their distinct features. Comparisons should not put us in a position of “ranking” genocides in terms of “severity” in a perverse hierarchy. But we should also not lose sight of the ways in which they differ. (This is partly the difference between analyzing a phenomenon from a social science vs. a historical perspective.)


In the article With gratitude toward Donald Trump, Michael Berenbaum wrote that, as an educator, he was grateful to Trump for making it easier for him to explain to his students, how it was possible for the Nazis and Hitler to come to power. Is this a proper use of historical knowledge of Nazism and the Third Reich?

As long as differences are stressed as well as similarities, I have no problem using any comparison as worthy of consideration. The trick is to make students understand that any comparison has the risk of eliding differences. And also of tempting people to make cheap partisan political points. That said, historical analogies are great teaching devices, when used properly.


You discussed normalization of historical memory as an erasure of uniqueness of an event. Is this always a bad thing?

A good question. Normalization is often viewed with concern, as it erodes the moral perspective that people apply to the past (i.e. the desire that certain historical legacies require extra attention because they have special moral lessons). In this view, normalization is equated with forgetting the past, and potentially setting the stage for repeating it. On the other hand, normalization does not have to be bad. It can be welcome, in fact, if a certain historical legacy has too much of a moralistic framework around it. In other words, excessive moralism can lead the past to become distorted. If we view Hitler, for instance, as the incarnation of evil (i.e. a moralistic perspective), we can end up losing sight of his “human” dimensions – i.e. the dimensions that made him popular – and we can fail to understand him. This is the tension between having historians both explain and judge. Too much moralism impedes explanation. Not enough leads them to fall short in their ethical duties. It’s a balancing act.


The concept of aesthetization of the Holocaust seems to work to commodify the suffering so as to enable a more palatable consumption of others’ pain. With the age of twitter memes and the lasting effects of Hollywood movies, is there a way to remedy or prevent aesthetization?

In the free marketplace of ideas, aestheticized representations of any historical event will be common. I tend to recommend counteracting offensive speech with opposing speech. If one sees representations one finds objectionable, one should offer an informed and serious rebuttal. There is no banning any offensive representations of the Holocaust. We know this as Holocaust denial continues to flourish. But I believe we have to marshal facts and build social consensus around their true existence in order to win the debate. It’s not enough just to have the facts on your side, you have to “market” them effectively too.


Lastly, I know you mentioned this in the presentation, but would please expand on why Holocaust analogies are so popular in the U.S. despite the U.S. having a repository of atrocity that Americans can draw from?

It’s not just in the U.S. that Holocaust analogies are common. It’s been common throughout western culture since the 1960s. Non-western cultures are less invested in the analogy, as the Nazis were a deformation of western civilization, not Asian or Latin American or African civilization. That’s why you see Indian and South Korean businesses using Nazi iconography to sell commodities. It’s not seen as offensive. Still today, though, throughout the west, the Third Reich represents the apex of evil for most people. So, it’s become a benchmark for measuring contemporary problems. Let’s hope it stays this way and that no future criminal exceeds Hitler’s crimes, thereby displacing him from the top spot in the hierarchy of villains.


Wahutu Siguru is a PhD candidate in the Sociology department at the University of Minnesota. Siguru’s research interests are in the Sociology of Media, Genocide, Mass Violence and Atrocities (specifically on issues of representation of conflicts in Africa such as Darfur and Rwanda), Collective Memory, and perhaps somewhat tangentially Democracy and Development in Africa.

December 9th is the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide. It commemorates the adoption by the United Nations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948. On this 68th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention, it is a stark reminder that the world still lags behind the ambitious goals envisaged by not only Raphael Lemkin but also the signatories to the convention. Over the past few months, the United Nation’s Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide has issued warnings on the current state of affairs in South Sudan, Aleppo, Syria and Northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. In a rather ironic twist, we have grown accustomed to debating whether a conflict is a genocide or not, rather than working together to stop genocides from unfolding. Despite clear and early warnings about the possibility of a genocide unfolding, there is still a yawning gap between how events unfold, and our response to ending/curbing human suffering due to conflict.

Displaced South Sudanese Refugees, from Al Jazeera

This column has been talking about South Sudan and the renewed hostilities  between former political allies that have had deleterious effects on the civilian population. It has also pointed out the extent to which the state is abdicating its responsibility to ensure that there is some level of stability in the young nation. Actions by the United Nations such as the push for an arms embargo against the South Sudanese state, have come extremely late in the process. Some view it as yet another action to signal ‘concern’ that often accompany conflict in Africa, even more so when we consider that calls for an arms embargo have long been made by observers of South Sudan. Yet it is only when the term genocide was used that the United States stirred itself from its deep slumber and sought to push for an arms embargo. It is almost as if the deaths of South Sudanese does not count unless the term genocide is used and even then, the world engages in perfunctory shows of concern without really engaging in meaningful actions to end suffering.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the genocide convention, it is incumbent on us to think about what the convention actually achieves. Does it help us identify what conflicts may be genocidal? Does it help us define the circumstances that should push us to intervene? Who is allowed to intervene and how should they intervene? This weekend, as we think of this important declaration we must question whether this is how Raphael Lemkin envisioned responses to preventing and ending genocides. In other words, how would we respond to Lemkin today if he asked us why we let South Sudan, Aleppo, Rakhine State or Burundi unfold the way they have?

Wahutu Siguru is a PhD candidate in the Sociology department at the University of Minnesota. Siguru’s research interests are in the Sociology of Media, Genocide, Mass Violence and Atrocities (specifically on issues of representation of conflicts in Africa such as Darfur and Rwanda), Collective Memory, and perhaps somewhat tangentially Democracy and Development in Africa.

Below is an open letter sent to President-elect Donald Trump by Generations of the Shoah International.


November 30, 2016

Donald J. Trump
President-elect of the United States
Trump Tower
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Dear President-elect Trump:

In your election night speech, you said, “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division. It is time for us to come together as one united people.” Instead, those divisions are escalating. When members of the alt-right meet in Washington, DC and question if Jews are really people, it is time for moral leadership to put a stop to hate speech, to anti-Semitism, to racism.

We ask you, Mr. Trump, to stand up and speak out forcefully, using all the channels available to you, against the bigotry that divides us. We and millions of other Americans look to you to help heal the divisions in our country.

Sadly, your appointment of Stephen Bannon as White House Chief Strategist sends a mixed message. As executive chairman, he proclaimed that Breitbart was “the platform for the alt-right,” a movement that strongly rejects diversity in any form and promotes white nationalism, racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism. Bannon’s appointment telegraphs the message that hate groups’ activities will not only be tolerated but will be endorsed and promoted by your Administration.

Millions of Americans have expressed fear and concern about how they will be treated under your leadership. Advisors you appoint will either validate those fears or help unite the country.

As Holocaust survivors, children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, and as members of the Coordinating Council of Generations of the Shoah International (GSI), the world’s largest Holocaust family organization, we know what our parents and grandparents lived through. It was a time when virulent anti-Semitism was accepted. That bigotry was allowed to spread, unchecked, and systematic genocide ensued.

We are vigilantly watching and ready to support actions that promote justice and respect for all Americans.

We strongly urge you to build a White House staff committed to core American values of inclusiveness and respect for diversity.

May your family, including your Jewish grandchildren who are descendants of Holocaust survivors, be able to look back at your Presidential legacy with pride.


The Undersigned Members of the Coordinating Council of Generations of the Shoah International (GSI)

Esther Toporek Finder, President, Generations of the Shoah – Nevada
President, Holocaust Survivors Group of Southern Nevada
Past President, The Generation After, Washington, DC, and
Member of the US Delegation of the Holocaust Era Assets Conference, Prague, June 2009

Ken Engel, Chair, CHAIM (Children of Holocaust Survivors Association in Minnesota), Minneapolis, MN

Janice Friebaum, Immediate Past Chair, Generations After – Descendants of Holocaust Survivors in Greater Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ

Charles Silow, President, C.H.A.I.M. – Children of Holocaust-Survivors Association in Michigan, Detroit, MI

Dina Cohen, Coordinator, Generations of the Shoah – New Jersey
Member, New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education
Board Member, Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest, New Jersey

Anat Bar-Cohen, Coordinator, The Generation After, Washington, DC, Mayland and Virginia

Daniel Brooks, Coordinator, 3GNY (Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors in New York)

Doris Schwarz-Lisenbee, Chair, Second and Third Generation Programs of Silicon Valley Holocaust Survivor Associations, San Jose, CA

Raymonde (Ray) Fiol, Past President and Board Member, Holocaust Survivors Group of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, NV

American Civil Liberties Union
Anti-Defamation League
Association of Holocaust Organizations
The Atlantic
Chicago Tribune
Denver Post
The Forward
Jerusalem Post
Jewish Telegraph Agency
The Jewish Week
Los Angeles Times
The New York Review of Books
New York Times
Southern Poverty Law Center
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Wall Street Journal
Washington Post
World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants

After the arrival of thousands of U.S. veterans, the long-standing Dakota Access Pipeline protests culminated in a small victory on Sunday when President Obama ordered the Army Corps of Engineers halt work on the pipeline. Victories like the one on Sunday and the President’s previous order in September have been overlooked, though. The BBC has called the protests the largest gathering of Native Americans in a century; why then do they feel so invisible? What accounts for the lack of media coverage at Standing Rock?

In October, the Daily Intelligencer interviewed Amy Goodman, host of the independent news site Democracy Now!, speculating how it is possible that “in this oversaturated age for a mass-protest movement to fly under the radar” on “the battle over the building of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline,” and Goodman suggested a larger, systemic problem:

“I dare say the lack of coverage may be because this is a largely Native American resistance and protest. This is an under-covered population generally.”

The invisibility of Native Americans as a people, their sovereign lands, and sacred burial sites (a significant element to the Dakota Access pipeline story) is illustrated by Energy Transfer Partners’ proposed construction map for the Dakota Access pipeline. The map both minimizes sovereign territory, but also denies the existences of sacred land—it does, however, clearly depict a potential threatening environmental hazard along the Missouri River, the sole water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Such maps of exploitation by non-Native interests stand against an extensive backdrop of colonial settler expansion of the ‘American frontier’ and the historical erasure of the indigenous population. It is here where Euro-American ideology of land, its use, and claims to ownership —predicated on the Doctrine of Discovery, a 19th century Euro-Christian concept used to validate the taking of indigenous lands by colonial powers —present a sharp contrast with that of Native American cultures.

Creating Maps and Erasing Place

Maps themselves, of course, can represent places of physicality but they are also cultural, conceptual, and invested in meaning and value. The following series of maps illustrate this point. British maps created during the colonial period (1600-1700s) provide a stark contrast to the infamous Catawba “Deerskin map” from 1721—one of the only maps made by the indigenous people of the Americas.

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1624 map of Virginia from John Smith
1729 map of North America

As can be seen in the 1624 map of Virginia—created by John Smith who would later lead the British colony of Jamestown—native figures are represented along the upper left corner and right side of the map. Euro-colonial cartography of this time stands out by the sharply defined separations of land claims, detailed boundaries with place names, and the treatment of “unclaimed” space as “unknown” despite contrary accounts indicating the known presence of indigenous tribes west of “known” territory (Map 2). Contrast these with the map created on deerskin by a Catawba leader.

1721 Catawba “Deerskin Map”

First, it’s important to note that such a map was an official document—a lens with which an understanding could be built and not imposed—presented by a Catawba community leader to the Governor of South Carolina to communicate with European authorities the particular relationships and perspectives of the tribes near the new settlements. We see a network of villages connected by trails and delineated by circles, which symbolize southeastern Native unity in political, genealogical, and ceremonial bonds. The trails connect the Native groups to the European settlers in both Charleston (rectangular grid) and Virginia (plain rectangle) whose representation is angular and sharp, similar to their own mapmaking.

Significantly, this map does not necessarily tell the traveler how to get from “Point A to Point B”, but rather, conveys social and political relationships that embody a shifting and dynamic landscape; one that is shaped by both past and present experience. Spatial presentation here is not limited to universalizing or creating precise landscape illustrations for the purpose of defining set boundaries and ownership.

Standing Rock, the Pipeline and Maps

Through the recent developments at Standing Rock, the ‘unfinished’ project of the American frontier and its colonial expansion through the Doctrine of Discovery is once again made clear. The boundary-defined and legitimated landscape that we have come to know as the United States was established through an imperial ideology of ownership and domination, defining what constituted real and unreal, empty and occupied. As we have seen with the projected Dakota Access Pipeline, Native Americans continue to be separated from and invisible to the land they inhabit in Euro-American maps, enabling genocide. From this perspective, cartography has been used as a tool of violence for Euro-colonialists, and continues to be part of the capitalistic culture in pushing the American frontier in more vertical endeavors.

Brieanna Watters is a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests are in mass violence, collective memory and post-colonialism in the United States.