Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives

Edited by Alvin H. Rosenfeld

86Dating back millennia, antisemitism has been called “the longest hatred.” Thought to be vanquished after the horrors of the Holocaust, in recent decades it has once again become a disturbing presence in many parts of the world. Resurgent Antisemitism presents original research that elucidates the social, intellectual, and ideological roots of the “new” antisemitism and the place it has come to occupy in the public sphere. By exploring the sources, goals, and consequences of today’s antisemitism and its relationship to the past, the book contributes to an understanding of this phenomenon that may help diminish its appeal and mitigate its more harmful effects.

76In August 1941, Winston Churchill noted that, while confronted with the atrocities that his intelligence services had discerned in Europe, the world was faced “with a crime without a name.” The second World War marked efforts to define atrocities and mold cultural memory by distinct institutions, such as the media, judiciary and academia; each of which continue to offer their own unique but overlapping framing.

While it is evident that representations of past atrocities have since influenced responses to more recent acts of bloodshed, the connection between such representations, and their ability to effectively prevent or reduce atrocities, has received little analysis.

On April 5th and 6th, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, hosted the symposium, Representing Genocide: Media, Law and Scholarship, to explore the intersections between journalistic, judicial and social scientific depictions of atrocities, with a focus on cases of the Holocaust, Darfur and Rwanda.

83.jpgThe symposium was organized by the Center’s Director, Alejandro Baer, and Professor of Sociology, Joachim Savelsberg, and made possible by the Wexler Special Events fund for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the Center for Austrian Studies, The Center for German and European Studies and several other centers and departments across the university (for a complete list click here).

Seventy-five participants attended the two-day symposium, which featured renowned scholars -in the fields of law, academia, and journalism-speaking to the increasing tension between local and global representations and memories of mass murder. Day one of the symposium opened with an analysis of the term “genocide,” including an exploration of the term’s origins and a discussion on whether the Holocaust could be considered on its own or as a larger framework of genocide.

85.jpgThe afternoon session explored representations of genocide through the lens of law. Specifically, scholars employed historical examinations of the prosecutions of crimes committed during Argentina’s “Dirty War” and the Darfur conflict to inform our normative assessment of those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Examples of prominent Holocaust related trials, notably the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem and the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial in Germany, were also analyzed to demonstrate the varying approaches to accountability for mass murder.

Day two of the symposium addressed the wavering depictions of genocide and mass atrocities in the media and the consequences that such representations have on external interventions.


Corresponding with the anniversary of the start of the Rwanda Genocide, the failure of the international media to properly cover and define this horrific massacre was examined, as well as the physical and moral consequences of this neglect.

Scholars also examined how nation states’ own collective memories of genocide, as well as associations with global institutions such as the International Criminal Court, affect the reporting and discourse on the conflict and interventions in Darfur.

Furthermore, scholars addressed the Holocaust paradigm and how it has been contextualized in Spain in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, as well as how the transnational memory of fascism and the Holocaust played a role in Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970s.

These cases demonstrate how cross-historical memory movements can often contain politicalized narratives but also help us to understand the motivations for contemporary mass atrocities. The symposium allowed for a frank exchange that cultivated new ideas on how and when the memory of mass atrocities through distinct institutions can lead to effective anti-genocide policies. For more information about the symposium please click here.

Tracy Baumgardt has been providing program support to CHGS since February, 2013. Prior to this she was working as a Human Rights Field Officer with Peace Brigades International in Kathmandu, Nepal. There she supported at-risk human rights defenders through protective accompaniment, advocacy and capacity building. For almost three years she also served as the Program Coordinator for the Washington D.C. based NGO, Democracy Coalition Project, which conducted research and advocacy related to the advancement of human rights internationally, particularly through United Nations mechanisms. Ms. Baumgardt graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs with a Masters of Public Policy and a minor in Human Rights. 

Pius XII and the Holocaust: Current State of Research 

Edited by David Bankier (Author) Iael Nidam-Orvieto (Editor), Dan Michman (Editor).

81.jpgDilemmas, silence, active rescue, and passivity are words often associated with Pius XII. “Critics” emphasize the wartime Pope’s failure to condemn Nazism, while “defenders” maintain that Vatican neutrality facilitated rescue activities by the faithful. This publication, which consists of the oral presentations of scholars gathered at Yad Vashem (Israel`s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust) for a groundbreaking international workshop, attempts to present the current state of research on Pius XII and the Holocaust, based on new documentation.

“If Herodotus is the father of history,” wrote renowned historian Yosef Yerushalmi (1932-2009), “the father of meaning in history was the Jews.”  The upcoming Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on April 8th, will give, like every year, this quote its proper significance.

Throughout the liturgical year-cycle the Jewish tradition looks back at the events in the history of the people of Israel not with a particular historical curiosity. Rather, it asks what the events of the past mean for us today. How can the past illuminate our present?

We now know much about the Holocaust. The Shoah has generated more historical research than any other event in Jewish history. Preserving the record of the disaster was a major concern for the survivors and those with whom they shared their worlds. However, survivors also struggled, from the very beginning, to extract some meaning from the events they had lived through and to convey relevant lessons for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Yom HaShoah pays tribute to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. It serves, at the same time, as a powerful landmark in the calendar that highlights the ongoing problem of genocide and mass atrocities throughout the world.

This year at CHGS we will commemorate Yom HaShoah by engaging in a cutting edge scholarly symposium on “Representing Genocide.”  Leading thinkers in the field will try to respond to a fundamental and urgent question: When and how can memories of past mass atrocities, embodied in journalistic, judicial and scholarly representations, lead to effective anti-genocide policies? What is the impact of memory on unfolding events of mass violence?

CHGS is grateful for the support received from colleagues, departments, centers and community donors to put together this important symposium.

We look forward to meeting you on April 5th and/or 6th at the University of Minnesota.

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. 

Perceptions of the Holocaust in Europe and Muslim Communities. Sources, Comparisons and Educational Challenges 

G. Jikeli & J. Allouche-Benayoun (eds.)

67.jpgThe way people think about the Holocaust is changing. The particular nature of the transformation depends on people’s historical perspectives and how they position themselves and their nation or community vis-à-vis the tragedy. Understandably, European Muslims perceive the Holocaust as less central to their history than do other Europeans.

Yet while the acknowledgment and commemoration of the horrors of the Holocaust are increasingly important in Europe, Holocaust denial and biased views on the Holocaust are widespread in European Muslims’ countries of origin.

In this book, a number of distinguished scholars and educators of various backgrounds discuss views of the Holocaust, explore the backgrounds of biased perceptions but also highlight positive approaches and developments. Many of the contributions were written by people working in the field and reflecting on their experiences.

This collection also reveals that problematic views of the Holocaust in Europe are not limited to Muslim communities.

With the coming of the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I was thinking about the Center’s first art exhibition, Witness and Legacy, curated by founding director Stephen Feinstein, with the American Museum of Art in St. Paul Minnesota in 1995.  CHGS did not physically exist until 1997, but the roots of what it would accomplish were planted years earlier with this exhibition.

The artwork exhibited in Witness and Legacy traveled throughout the country until 2002 and is now available on the CHGS website in our virtual museum. The pages have been updated so that visitors can see the original exhibition and utilize the hyper links (where available) to visit the artist’s sites to see how their work has developed over the last 18 years.  Many have continued to explore the Holocaust-some have moved on to other themes.

Witness and Legacy was created as a commemorative exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and was conceived to examine a spectrum of Holocaust-related art from various mediums, as well as different perspectives:  that of the survivor-artist, the second-generation artist, and the empathizer.

Memorial (1986) Samuel Bak

This generational approach allowed the viewer to see how various artists handled the subject matter based on their relationship to the Holocaust.  The survivor artist is a professional artist who was an actual witness to the event:  a victim of the Nazi regime. This art is considered “authentic” as it was created by those with actual memories of the event. The problem for all survivors in terms of creating art is how to translate the experience that cannot truly be understood by those who were not there.  This art tends to be about visual and metaphorical representations of the event. It is also can be a cathartic act, able to help heal the artist of the wounds created by their Holocaust experience. An example of a survivor-artist is Samuel Bak, a professional artist whose career began at the age of nine in the Vilna ghetto. Bak’s work is steeped in memory, fragments and the need to repair what was destroyed by the Holocaust.

Second generation artists also carry the burden of the Holocaust.  As children of survivors they deal with their parents’ traumatic experiences, either directly or indirectly conveyed.  Children of Holocaust survivors deal with their parents’ memories and that which cannot be forgotten or lives that cannot be recovered.  As descendants they continue to feel a direct connection to the trauma they did not actually experience. Examples of these artworks can be seen on the Witness and Legacy page under art by second-generation artists.

The art of the empathizer is more complex and carries not only esthetic, but new certain moral and ethical implications. As we get farther and farther away from the actual event and the first-hand witnesses are gone, we will see more of these artists dealing with the Holocaust as a theme.  These artists are those who have no direct connection or memory of the event, but have been moved by it in such a way that they feel a responsibility to include it in their work.  The empathetic artists in Witness and Legacy use the Holocaust as a theme to connect to their Judaism or to current human rights issues. Some also use it to raise awareness of other traumatic events or genocides.  Whatever the intentions of the empathetic artist there have been times that their efforts have been seen as disrespectful and trivializing based on the fact they have no direct connection to the Holocaust.

Abstract art has been used on many occasions to respond to the Holocaust.  Many artists have chosen to work with it in order to convey the horror of the Nazi crimes from a safe distance. For survivor artists it is to place a barrier between their experiences and the memory of those experiences. For others, especially the empathetic artist it can be a way of approaching a subject that they have no relationship with, conveying that distance through the abstraction.

Most recently a Swedish artist, Carl Michael von Hausswolff created great controversy over his abstract painting “Memory Works” which he claims he created using ashes that he collected (illegally) from the Majdenek death camp in Poland during a visit in 1989.  The abstract painting (he claims) represents all Holocaust victims suffering.  There are several issues with Hausswolff’s intentions and motives, since the idea of using human ashes is ghoulish, disrespectful and unnecessary.  It makes the work seem false by sensationalizing the crime by use of actual human remains.

The most troubling aspect and greatest objection to the work is the “stealing” of the ashes themselves.  Hausswollf’s actions have been seen as no better than grave robbers, as every space of an extermination camp contains the remains of the dead. (At this time the state of Poland is considering an investigation.)

Is Hausswollf, who usually works with electronic recording equipment, truly interested in the Holocaust and paying tribute to its victims? Is he trying to make a statement about society’s fascination with sensationalistic violence or the trend of using the Holocaust as a metaphor and symbol for everything we consider bad or evil in this world? What if he was a survivor-artist or second generation would we still question his motives or would he have a right to incorporate the ashes into his work because he had a direct connection to the event?

The question of artistic representations in connection to atrocities, and the Holocaust in particular, is not new. It began soon after World War II with Ardorno’s often quoted dictum about “writing poetry after Auschwitz.” This question is something we continue to wrestle with as the Holocaust continues to be represented in artistic ways that on many levels fail to satisfy us.  How often have we heard critics remark on representations that are not real enough, or as in the case of Hauswolff (whose use of what might be actual ashes) is too crude and disrespectful to be considered art? What Witness and Legacy did was to begin a conversation and an exploration of the Holocaust as a subject in art.  With the rise of the empathetic artist these questions will be something we will continue to ask, and explore.

Jodi Elowitz is the Outreach Coordinator for CHGS and the Program Coordinator for the European Studies Consortium. She began her career at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in 1997 as an intern and graduate student under the tutelage of former director Dr. Stephen Feinstein.  She was the Director of Holocaust Education at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas and the Executive Director of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission. Jodi received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities and her Master Liberal Studies degree at the University of Minnesota.


66.jpgOn April 19th, 1945, only a few days after American troops had liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp, thousands of survivors gathered at its Appellplatz (the roll call square) and took the following oath: “We will not stop fighting until the last perpetrator is brought before the judges of the people! Our watchword is the destruction of Nazism from its roots. Building a new world of peace and freedom is our goal. This is our responsibility to our murdered comrades and their relatives.”

After the Buchenwald Oath was read aloud, the survivors raised their hands and said: “We swear”. This was probably the first act of Holocaust memory ever performed.

A month later, after the war in the European theatre came to an end, the Jewish Historical Commission stepped into action. Charged with preserving a record of the gruesome events, by way of research and documentation, the Commission produced and distributed posters encouraging the survivors in the DP (Displaced Persons) camps to bear witness and to write “the history of the last Churban“. With the termChurban, the poster invoked the supreme paradigm of Jewish collective disaster: the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

In the Buchenwald Oath, Nazi atrocities fueled a call for broad antifascist resistance. Many of the survivors were socialists, and they believed socialism to be the anti-fascist solution. In the poster addressing Jewish survivors, by contrast, the atrocities were primarily understood as an event in the history of the Jewish people. The Nazis here appeared as the latest in a long succession of murderous outsiders. As I. B. Singer said through a character in one of his books: “Every generation had its Pharaos, Hamans and Chmielnickis. Now it was Hitler”.

Jewish and socialist survivors of the Nazi camps were the forerunners of a complex memory culture that is now widely established. However, the Holocaust for long remained a collective memory primarily for the immediate victims. Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day), on the 27th of the Jewish calendar month of Nissan (April/May) became a central day within the Jewish world.

Only in the 1990s did European countries gradually introduce days of Holocaust remembrance. Some used anniversaries of local events such as the beginning of deportations, the evacuation of ghettos or the introduction of antisemitic legislation. These initiatives turned out to be only first steps toward the establishment, at the onset of the new century, of an international Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date is January 27, the day on which, in 1945, Soviet troops liberated the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. January 27 was thus selected in order to provide a moment of collective annual remembrance across many different countries and to”reaffirm humanity’s common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice” (Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust).

But, can memory be transferred? Can the Holocaust be meaningfully remembered outside the communities that were directly affected by it?

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a supranational initiative that encourages states, institutions and individuals worldwide to collectively invoke this European and global symbol of absolute evil -with Auschwitz as its token- and to transform the term Never again into a universal imperative. As such, the Holocaust should render universal human rights, tolerance, and pluralism politically relevant to all who remember this event, particularly those -today a majority- who have no immediate relation to this past.

This year, on the 27th of January, the Holocaust will be commemorated in 35 countries. There is no doubt that the Nazi crimes, epitomized by the term “Holocaust,” are not one totalizing signifier containing the same meanings for everyone. As in Buchenwald and in the DP Camps in 1945, today there is not necessarily consensus on how exactly to commemorate the Holocaust.

However, our duty to remember remains untouched. “It happened”, wrote the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi,”therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”

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. 



On December 26, 2012, at 10am, a solemn procession of horses, carrying Dakota men, women and children, will enter Mankato, MN and proceed to a site near the Minnesota River.  These riders will have begun their journey in Lower Brule, South Dakota, and no matter the weather, they will ride for sixteen days in order to arrive at precisely this spot at precisely this time.  They will gather near a hulking stone statue of a buffalo, across from the Mankato Public Library.

60It was on this spot, at precisely this time, that the largest mass execution in American history took place one hundred and fifty years ago.  Thirty-eight Dakota akicita (warriors) were simultaneously hung by order of Abraham Lincoln as punishment for their part in the Dakota-US War of 1862.  That war, which has mistakenly been called the “Sioux Uprising,” lasted for six weeks from August 18 to late September, 1862; it happened for many complicated reasons, one of which was the failure of the US government to deliver the gold, provisions, and food promised by the treaties in which the Dakota signed away thousands of acres of land. The Dakota were starving. Little Crow, who led the akicita into battle, did so against his better judgment. He had been to Washington, DC, and knew the might of the government and the huge number of Euro-American settlers.

Disease, war, and starvation. These are the three primary factors that caused the genocide of the indigenous people of North America. Historian David Stannard estimates that 16,000,000 native people lived in North America pre-Columbus. By the late 1800’s, only 250,000 remained. As Stannard puts it in his book, American Holocaust, “There was, at last, almost no one left to kill.” Dakota scholar Dr. Chris Mato Nunpa has written and spoken persuasively about how the genocide of Native Americans can be accurately described by the United Nations Convention on Genocide, though, of course, this convention and the very word “genocide” did not exist until after World War II.

In 1862, the population of Mankato was roughly 400 people, but 4,000 whites came to observe the spectacle of the hanging.  The hastily buried bodies of the Dakota men where dug up by physicians eager to use their corpses for experimentation. In subsequent decades, beer ads carried images of the hanging as did metal trays used in bars.  This year’s commemoration will be a more sober, somber affair and, it is hoped, will bring deeper understanding of the complexities of this profoundly sad moment in American history.

Dr. Elizabeth Baer, Professor of English and Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College, recently completed teaching the course: “Commemorating Controversy: the US-Dakota War of 1862,” which was accompanied by a six-part lecture series open to the general public in January of 2012.

See the upcoming art exhibition, “Hena Uŋkiksuyapi: In Commemoration of the Dakota Mass Execution of 1862,” at the Hillstrom Museum of Art at Gustavus Adolphus College from December 17, 2012 through February 8, 2013. Click here for more information.

Titles for Further Research

David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (1992).A well-regarded and relentless account of the genocide of the indigenous people of the Americas as a result of four centuries of colonization and adherence to the concept of American exceptionalism.

Waziyatawin, What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation of Dakota Homeland (2008).  A riveting account of “how Minnesotans wrested the land from Dakota people” and proposals for restitution and reparations.

“Dakota 38” (Smooth Feather Productions, 2011).  This award-winning film, which can be downloaded from the film’s website, recounts the dream vision of Jim Miller, a Dakota spiritual leader; that dream led to the first commemorative march to Mankato in 2008, which is dramatically presented in the film.

Gwen Westerman and Bruce White,  Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota (2012).  A remarkable new book, providing Dakota history from a Dakota perspective.  One reviewer has called it “a new genre of scholarship . . . a geo-historical discourse that dexterously interweaves multiple voices across generations, cultures and places.”

Links: US-Dakota War 1862 

Elizabeth Baer is a Professor of English, Holocaust Studies and African Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Her new book, The Golem Redux: From Prague to Post-Holocaust Fiction, is available from Wayne State University Press.

Genocide since 1945

by Philip Spencer

64.jpgIn 1948 the United Nations passed the Genocide Convention. The international community was now obligated to prevent or halt what had hitherto, in Winston Churchill’s words, been a “crime without a name”, and to punish the perpetrators. Since then, however, genocide has recurred repeatedly. Millions of people have been murdered by sovereign nation states, confident in their ability to act with impunity within their own borders.

Genocide since 1945 aims to help the reader understand how, when, where and why this crime has been committed since 1945, why it has proven so difficult to halt or prevent its recurrence, and what now might be done about it. It is essential reading for all those interested in the contemporary world.


“We are in the presence of a crime without a name,” said British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941, in a radio broadcast in which he described the barbarity of the German occupation of the Soviet Union.

Only a few years later, thanks to the determined and tireless efforts of the Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, this type of atrocity the destruction of entire human groups would have a name and be declared a crime under international law in a treaty that is binding on all states that ratify it: the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. While it was too late to save the Jews of Europe, there was a lesson to be learned from the widespread passivity in the face of the Nazi mass killings. As Raphael Lemkin wrote in the postwar years, “by declaring genocide a crime under international law and by making it a problem of international concern, the right of intervention on behalf of minorities slated for destruction has been established.”

December 9 marked the 64th anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Genocide Convention, which has come to embody a milestone in the history of human rights and the promise of a world free of this odious crime.

We know that this promise, symbolized by the words “Never again,” has not been fulfilled. Still, the Genocide Convention laid vital foundations and has borne significant fruit.

Sixty-four years down the line, mass atrocities cannot be universally ignored. More states have signed the Convention, fewer states believe that sovereignty is a license to kill, many perpetrators have been held accountable for their crimes, and, above all, the international community has shown that it can take collective action to prevent and punish genocide.

Best wishes for a peaceful new year.

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.