154Professor Philip Spencer is Director of the Helen Bamber Centre for the Study of Rights, Conflict and Mass Violence, at Kingston University. The Centre, which he founded in 2004, provides a focus for research and teaching in these areas. His own research interests include the Holocaust, comparative genocide, nationalism, and antisemitism. He is also Director of the University’s European Research Department.

Professor Spencer was a panelist at the CHGS and the Center for Austrian Studies’ discussion on “Antisemitism Then and Now” and gave a lecture on “The Recurrence of Genocide Since the Holocaust”, both of which took place at the University of Minnesota December 5 & 6, 2013.

Is there a necessary divide between Holocaust Studies and Genocide Studies?
The field generally was dominated by the study of the Holocaust; that is the genocide about which we know the most. There are complicated reasons why this is the case, but there is massive literature about the Holocaust, which significantly outnumbers literature about any other genocide. Historically, the study of genocide emerged out of Holocaust Studies, and scholars or survivors of the Holocaust became interested in genocide more generally. Some people argue that the Holocaust distorts our understanding about other genocides because it is not a typical case. So one answer was to set up an alternative to Holocaust Studies: Genocide Studies, which is actually challenging the place of the Holocaust, sometimes with a polemical edge, especially in North America. So then you argue we need to move beyond this unhealthy competition, which is a kind of competitive victimology, which is not sensible or right. One should not compare suffering. It´s not about suffering, it is about the nature of a conscious genocidal project. It has a distinctive specificity because of the particularity of the project; Antisemitism as ideology is an important factor.

What is your approach?
We need to understand that both Holocaust and Genocide Studies have a place. But we need to do this by rethinking the place of the Holocaust in the history of genocide. Genocide is both intent and outcome, and the Holocaust is part of the history, it was preceded and followed by genocides. The most influential way of thinking about this now is that we shouldn´t privilege one over the other and we need to think in a more sophisticated way about structure and intent. That view would lead you to thinking that we don´t need to privilege the Holocaust, that we shouldn´t have something called Holocaust and Genocide Studies. My approach is to say, yes, there are important ways of which to say the Holocaust was part of a bigger genocidal story, but the Holocaust also has particular features, which make it a central event in the history of genocide.

If you think about the history it is unlikely that the Genocide

Convention would have been possible without the Holocaust. The Holocaust provided the language and the law to talk about genocide.

How and when should there be intervention?
I try to distinguish the elements necessary for genocide to take place. If you had the intent, the desire, and the fantasy to commit genocide, what would be possible to carry it out? But what I am most interested in are motives and the motivation of states and their populations to intervene and when they are reluctant to become involved. The question of how and when intervention should take place had to be reconsidered at the end of the 1990s, after Rwanda and Yugoslavia. We are reasonably clear now, with what authority the interventions should take place, but we are less clear on the timing. We can take the research on likelihood and proportion, but we do not know about political will.

How do people move from being bystanders to rescuers?
There is quite limited literature on rescuers, especially compared to a lot of literature on perpetrators. Most of it is indeed psychological, about distinguished moral virtues of helpers, their feeling that they just had to help.

But I think it is also important to note that people are not always heroes from day one to the end. Rather, people can move around, become one and the other at different times of a genocide.

What is interesting is the research about the political aspect of what makes people more likely to help others, like resources, capacities and pressures. The question of under what circumstances could people become rescuers raises a valuable contribution to stopping genocides.

— This interview was conducted by Wahutu Siguru & Verena Stern

Holocaust Memory Reframed: Museums and the Challenges of Representation

by Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich

Museum administrators and curators have the challenging role of finding a creative way to present Holocaust exhibits to avoid clichéd or dehumanizing portrayals of victims and their suffering.

173In Holocaust Memory Reframed, Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich examines representations in three museums: Israel’s Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Germany’s Jewish Museum in Berlin, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. She describes a variety of visually striking media, including architecture, photography exhibits, artifact displays, and video installations in order to explain the aesthetic techniques that the museums employ. As she interprets the exhibits, Hansen-Glucklich clarifies how museums communicate Holocaust narratives within the historical and cultural contexts specific to Germany, Israel, and the United States.

Every year in April, the international community recalls the genocide in Rwanda and the failure to intervene. This year, on the 20th anniversary of the genocide, we did the same in several sites and countries around the world. Here at the University of Minnesota, we held a three day-long event that brought together practitioners, scholars, activists and K-12 educators. We asked ourselves what we learned from the Rwandan experience and how these lessons can be used to prevent and intervene in future atrocities. I personally think the world has learned very little from the genocide in Rwanda and that we have failed to efficiently put to use our limited knowledge to prevent other atrocities.

Over the last several months, I have highlighted the on-going atrocities in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) and South Sudan and the abject failure of the UN, African Union (AU), French and other foreign troops in stopping these two atrocities. In that time things have only gotten worse in both countries. Instead of recognizing these failures we have been accosted by reporting that seems hell bent on reminding us of the fact that lessons have been learned. This can be seen in online news organizations such as Think Progress, who thought it more important to remind us that the U.S. had prevented “another Rwanda” and the New York Times reminding us that we are allowing ‘another Rwanda’ in CAR.

The on-going atrocities in South Sudan presents more damning evidence against the assertion that the international community has learned from Rwanda. Last week in Bentiu town the atrocities reached a new low. Rebels stormed the town, killing and pillaging as they went through it. The target group appeared to be anyone that was not from the Nuer community. As the government and rebels trade accusation as to who is responsible, the U.S. government again seems to be twiddling its thumbs and merely called the atrocity in Bentiu an abomination.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), like the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), has strongly condemned “the use of Radio Bentiu FM by some individuals associated with the opposition to broadcast hate speech,” and tried to evacuate as many civilian as it could. What started as a rebellion against the government is now taking a more ghastly turn as the AU and UN debate what to do and how to do it. Perhaps what is even more instructive about this particular atrocity is the fact that the rebels used FM Radio to order the attacks. This in itself should send chills down our spines but also perhaps push the UN and AU to act more decisively.

So have we learned anything from Rwanda? Unfortunately there is no clear answer to this question. From where I sit though, I believe we have learned nothing at all. If we had, I strongly believe we would stop calling every other atrocity ‘another Rwanda’ and instead work on nipping them in the bud. For the dead in the town of Bentiu it will be hard to convince their families that Rwanda has taught us anything, seeing as the order to attack was given on the radio. For the Muslims being evacuated from CAR and for all those who have died and been maimed there, how do we look them in the eye and say “yes, Rwanda did teach us some useful lessons that we have applied in CAR.”

The genocide in Rwanda happened, we let it happen, we need to stop focusing on trying to correct that mistake and focus instead on the current atrocities. This does not mean that the similarities in how the international community and the UN have behaved can be ignored, nor should they. We should think, however, very critically about the effect this has for the conflict. Lest we forget, for most people, Rwanda was a conflict that was particularly based on ethnicity and not political machinations or the fall of commodity prices in the global market. What we have in CAR and South Sudan is not and never was based on ethnicity. Both were a struggle for political power between the government and rebels groups that have now coalesced around religion and ethnicity respectively. These conflicts and related massacres are in no way “another Rwanda” and talking about them as such misses the point of the atrocities.

Wahutu Siguru is the 2013 Badzin Fellow in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and 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. 

No nos une el amor, sino el espanto.
(We are not united by love, but by horror)

Jorge Luis Borges
(Argentinean poet)

Since Auschwitz it has indeed been possible to speak of a
German-Jewish symbiosis-but of a negative one. For both
Germans and for Jews the result of mass extermination has
become the basis of how they see themselves, a kind of
opposed reciprocity they have in common, willy-nilly.

Dan Diner

The above-cited quotes reveal a tragic irony. The Holocaust has bound forever “Germans” and “Jews” to the past. It has also opened an insurmountable gap that conditions the mutual relationship, as well as the passing on of group identity – of victims and of perpetrators stuck in a permanent position of culpability – to the next generations. Moreover, it perpetuates in time a binary division constructed by the Nazi ideologues: Germans vs. Jews.

Dan Diner’s “negative symbiosis” – this communality of opposites – is not only an appalling legacy of the Holocaust, it represents a fundamental dilemma in post-genocide contexts.

This month of April we commemorate Yom Ha Shoah and also the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Between April and July 1994, approximately 800,000 people defined as Tutsi were brutally slaughtered by members of the Hutu majority. Today’s Rwandan Tutsi-led Government condemns and even outlaws the use of the vicious ethnic markers of Hutus and Tutsis. “We are all Rwandans” is the watchword. At the same time it insists on naming the events, in ceremonies, memorials and museums, the “Genocide against the Tutsi”.

We often hear that memory helps societies that have suffered large-scale political violence come to terms with and overcome their past. But is remembrance of genocide always a unifying and healing force? By remembering the genocide, Rwandans may well be trapped in the paradox of perpetuating the divisions that they are trying to overcome.

Genocide memory is thus entangled in a problematic logic of questionable group identities and boundaries. According to the UN convention of 1948, genocides are “acts committed withintent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such” (my emphasis). In other words, without defining a specific group that is targeted for destruction the crimes would not qualify as genocide. Rafael Lemkin coined the term with the objective to set international standards to prevent and punish these type of mass atrocities. But its public remembrance can be a mixed blessing.

Alejandro Baer is the Stephen Feinstein Chair and Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He joined the University of Minnesota in 2012 and is an Associate Professor of Sociology. 

War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice

by David M. Crowe

164In this sweeping, definitive work, leading human rights scholar David M. Crowe offers an unflinching look at the long and troubled history of genocide and war crimes. From atrocities in the ancient world to more recent horrors in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, and Rwanda, Crowe reveals not only the disturbing consistency they have shown over time, but also the often heroic efforts that nations and individuals have made to break seemingly intractable patterns of violence and retribution – in particular, the struggle to create a universally accepted body of international humanitarian law. He traces the emergence of the idea of ‘just war,’ early laws of war, the first Geneva Conventions, the Hague peace conferences, and the efforts following World Wars I and II to bring to justice those who violated international law.


He also provides incisive accounts of some of the darkest episodes in recent world history, covering violations of human rights law in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, Guatemala, the Iran-Iraq war, Korea, Tibet, and many other contexts. With valuable insights into some of the most vexing issues of today – including controversial US efforts to bring alleged terrorists to justice at Guantánamo Bay, and the challenges facing the International Criminal Court – this is an essential work for understanding humankind’s long and often troubled history.

161Standing on Polish soil is to stand upon the fertile ground of memory. Poles see themselves as a people who have struggled to maintain their national identity amidst occupation and oppression. The Polish past is negotiated on a daily basis between the generations of Poles who lived (or grew up) during World War II, those who lived during the Soviet regime, and those who have come of age after the fall of Communism. All three of these groups have grown up with the narrative of Poles as rescuers, resisters and martyrs. This idea was shaped during the Soviet years and reinforced through Polish popular culture.

Immediately after World War II Polish cinema began this narrative with the first film to deal with Auschwitz, Wanda Jakubowska’s The Last Stop (Ostani etap), 1948. Jakubowska, who wrote and directed the film, was a former inmate of the camp. Filmed in Auschwitz, the narrative was crafted to be a story of resistance and solidarity of the inmates against Fascism. Jews were folded into a national victimhood. Jakubowska highlights this by equating the Jewish prisoners and the Polish prisoners in the struggle against the Nazis – the Jews are not singled out as the intended targets of mass extermination. Communism, with Stalin at its helm, is the hero of the film and reinforces the Soviet – created narrative about Poles as victims and martyrs during World War II.

The Polish film Aftermath (Pokłosie) fundamentally challenges this narrative. And the reaction to the film is a prime example of the fragility of Holocaust memory in Poland. Aftermath is based on Jan Gross’s book Neighbors. Neighbors received much attention in Poland when it was released in 2001, as it exposed a horrible truth about the actions of the Poles against their Jewish neighbors in the town of Jedwabne. After years of believing the Nazis were responsible for the murder of the town’s Jews it was brought to light by Gross that, in fact, it was the Polish neighbors who committed the murder. Gross’s revelation caused much pain amongst the Polish people, as it forced them to take a closer look at their historic narrative and understand their role in the destruction of Polish Jewry.

Aftermath continues what Gross started. Over seven years in the making, it is not a Holocaust film; it is a film about the paving over of history, of hiding an uncomfortable truth about a past in anarrative that absolves the witnesses of the crime they helped to commit or of choosing to remain silent in the face of this crime.

This film touched a nerve with Polish nationalists and right-wing political factions, as well as the general public, who labeled the film anti-Polish. They prompted a media barrage of anti-semitic rhetoric and propaganda against it’s director, Wladyslaw Pasikowoki, and one of the lead actors, Maciej Stuhr, equating his role of one of the brothers trying to uncover the past to betraying Polish nationalistic honor. Immediately after the release of the film mainstream Polish weeklies ran covers of Stuhr, including one with a Star of David scrawled across his face, calling him “a Jew.”

This is not the first time a film has angered the Polish populace. In 1985, Claude Lanzmann’s SHOAH was televised on Polish TV to scathing reviews, as it was criticized for making Poles look ignorant, cruel and willing accomplices to the Nazis. While it is not uncommon in European Holocaust film history that locals resent outside filmmakers telling them how to remember their past, Aftermath is a Polish film made about Poles for Poles. There are no Jews in the film; instead the film focuses on two Polish brothers who unwittingly discover the truth of what happened to the Jews that lived in their town, which causes much discontent among their fellow Polish neighbors.

No film about the Holocaust or the actions of Poles towards Jews during the war will bring about a change in the memories that have been crafted over time. More careful and deliberate dialogues will need to take place, but, as has been shown many times over, it is often popular culture that directs the discussion towards exploring history and its unfolding through memory narratives. If Aftermath is allowed to be seen by Poles once the initial reaction has played out, it could be used as a catalyst for examination and opening a productive and process of self-awareness and responsibility.

The European Studies Consortium, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Institute for Global Studies, the Center for Jewish Studies, the Department of French & Italian, the Center for Austrian Studies and the Film Society of Mpls/St. Paul will present the Twin Cities premiere of Aftermath at the International Film Festival on April 10 & 16, 2014.

Jodi Elowitz is the Outreach Coordinator for CHGS and the Program Coordinator for the European Studies Consortium. Elowitz is currently working on Holocaust memory in Poland and artistic representation of the Holocaust in animated short films.  

Last week CHGS and several other centers and departments at the University of Minnesota voiced their concern and condemnation regarding a Nazi-themed dinner that took place in the Minneapolis restaurant Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) and the Minnesota Rabbinical Association (MRA), also responded to this disturbing event and sent a public letter to the restaurant’s owner.

The news and photographs of the gathering – Nazi flags and men clad in SS and Wehrmacht uniforms – were shocking. But even more worrying was to discover how many people, who posted their comments on the Star Tribune website or emailed and voice-mailed the Center, were ready to defend the Nazi re-enactors and the restaurant that hosted the party. Their response reveals an astounding lack of common sense and a failure to understand the gravity of the case.

How “innocent” was this re-enactment? Were the participants and the restaurant owner really unaware of the implications and effects of the symbols they were displaying? One hopes that all of Gasthof’s cards will soon be on the table.

Alejandro Baer is the Stephen Feinstein Chair and Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He joined the University of Minnesota in 2012 and is an Associate Professor of Sociology. 

You are not obliged to complete the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.

Rabbi Tarfon (from the Talmud)

On February 6, as part of the IAS Collaborative Reframing Mass Violence lecture series, CHGS partnered with the Human Rights Program and the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul for a screening of the documentary film Granito: How to Nail a Dictator  A discussion with its director, Pamela Yates, and producer, Paco de Onís followed.  Granito tells a breathtaking story of courage and perseverance in the pursuit of justice that uniquely embodies the quote above from the Talmud.

The film spans thirty years as five protagonists in Guatemala, Spain, and the United States attempt to bring truth, memory, and justice to the violence-plagued Central American country. A US filmmaker, a forensic anthropologist, a Spanish lawyer, a Maya survivor, and a Guatemalan witness activist each become a “granito,” a tiny grain of sand, adding up to an extraordinary accomplishment three decades after the atrocities: the indictment and trial of ex-dictator General Ríos Montt, former de facto president and responsible for a genocidal campaign that killed thousands of indigenous Guatemalans during the bloodiest phase of a war against the leftist guerrillas in 1982-1983. On May 10, 2013, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. It was the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a court in his own country.

The last chapter of this Guatemalan story is yet to be written. Only ten days after the ruling, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala overturned the conviction under pressure from an organization representing the country’s deeply reactionary oligarchy.

Still, the judgment marked a turning point in Guatemalan history, and it has also become part of the history of human rights. It sends a clear message to other parts of the world where present or former perpetrators still live in freedom and privilege despite proven involvement in atrocious crimes. It also teaches an important lesson: As a collective effort, step by step or “grain by grain,” even in Guatemala-one of the most profoundly unjust societies in the Americas-justice can be achieved.

Alejandro Baer is the Stephen C. Feinstein Chair and Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.


Genocide: A Reader

By Jens Meierhenrich

148Genocide is a phenomenon that continues to confound scholars, practitioners, and general readers. Notwithstanding the carnage of the twentieth century, our understanding of genocide remains partial. Disciplinary boundaries have inhibited integrative studies and popular, moralizing accounts have hindered comprehension by advancing simple truths in an area where none are to be had.

Genocide: A Reader lays the foundations for an improved understanding of genocide. With the help of 150 essential contributions, Jens Meierhenrich provides a unique introduction to the myriad dimensions of genocide and to the breadth and range of critical thinking that exists concerning it. This innovative anthology offers genre-defining as well as genre-bending selections from diverse disciplines in law, the social sciences, and the humanities as well as from other fields. A wide-ranging introductory chapter on the study and history of genocide accompanies the carefully curated and annotated collection.

147In the past month two significant events occurred in two of Africa’s on-going conflicts. The National Transitional council members in Central Africa Republic elected former Bangui (the nation’s capital) mayor, Catherine Samba-Panza as its new interim president and South Sudan signed a ceasefire between Kiir and Machar. Kiir is the president of South Sudan and Machar is his immediate former vice-president and the de facto rebel leader.

Ordinarily this would be good news, not this time however. What we have instead seen in CAR is an increase in hostilities between the Muslim and Christian Militias , the killing of a politician who spoke out against the violence, and the threatening of Catherine Samba-Panza by self-proclaimed anti balaka leader Richard BejouanePeter Bouckart, of Human Rights Watch, has done a wonderful job of highlighting the ever-shifting loyalties of the Chadian troops, a lynching by CAR military and claims of a failure by the French military to carry out its mandate to protect the civilian population.

In south Sudan, barely 24 hours after the peace agreement was signed clashes across South Sudan with both government and rebel leaders accusing the other of breaking the truce. The sticking point appears to be the refusal by the Kiir government to release political prisoners. The situation is complicated by the claims that rebel forces have committed atrocities against some of the populace.  As if all this is not complex enough, Uganda has refused to withdraw its troops sent to help the Kiir government.

One would have assumed that the election of a new interim president in CAR and the signing of a peace deal in South Sudan would do the trick. Unfortunately, both of these are often a means to an end and not an end in and of themselves. Foreign intervention has been shown to not be the panacea for ending intrastate conflict not just in South Sudan and CAR but also other conflicts like the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Assumptions that power-sharing deals (like the one crafted by Koffi Annan in Kenya) are the best solution have also been shown to be a mixed bag. If Rwanda, Darfur, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Mozambique tell us anything, it’s that power sharing agreements are fragile at best and catalysts for future violence at worst. Peace talks need to be understood as stopgap measures and the international community has to  exert more pressure on the leaders to ensure a resolution occurs in a timely fashion; instead of assuming that the parties at conflict are altruistic and wish to maximize the welfare of the nation as a whole. As CAR and South Sudancontinue to show us leaders sometimes do not have the political and institutional capabilities to maximize the nation’s welfare.

So how do conflicts end? Unfortunately there is not clear-cut answer to this question. The case of CAR provides a counter narrative to the assumption that all we need is the presence of peacekeepers and South Sudan highlights the dangers of weak and non-existent political institutions that are inclusionary and transparent. There is no magic drug in the pursuit to end these conflicts. In my previous post I called for a rolling of sleeves by the international community. What we have mostly received is moral outrage instead of actual proposals to solve the long-term problems in both these countries. It is within this context, one of multiple actors and issues and of near lack of functioning institutions that the setbacks in CAR and South Sudan should be understood. Any proposals must contain processes for structural changes and be cognizant these changes have to remedy the situation while also chart a way forward.

Wahutu Siguru is the 2013 Badzin Fellow in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and 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.