Before I visited Laos, I knew little about the country and its history. My sister had recommended I go for its natural beauty and laid-back tourist atmosphere. While visiting the capital city, Vientiane, I passed by a few humble buildings, tucked away from the roadside: the COPE Center. Intrigued, I paid a visit.

“Cope Visitor Ceter” by ccarlstead is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. The photo has not been altered.

The COPE Center provides prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation programs for people maimed (and the families of those killed) by UXOs (unexploded ordinances). The Visitor Center presents material about the bombing campaigns that were waged against Laos, as well as Cambodia and Vietnam, during what Americans call “the Vietnam War.” Estimates are around twice as many bombs were dropped on those countries between 1955 and 1975 than were dropped during all of World War II. The Visitor Center also presents current efforts to clear UXOs in Laos.

“‘Bombies’ at COPE Center” by fabulousfabs is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. The photo has not been altered.

Decades after the bombs fell, their effects remain devastating. After being dropped from planes, large bombshells were set to open mid-air, releasing dozens of smaller cluster bombs (about the size of softballs), known as “bombies”. At the Center, I learned that today, both the larger bombs and their smaller bombies lay unexploded in 87,000 square kilometers of Laos, or about one-third of the country. Only forty square kilometers can be cleared of UXOs each year.

The Center displays some of the prosthetics it provides to maimed survivors of UXOs. Prosthetics for missing hands are designed to help someone complete a particular task, including separate extensions with a toothbrush or a spoon for example. These basic prosthetics are far simpler than the advanced, sometimes robotic, ones attainable by citizens in advanced industrialized nations.

The Center also presents pictures and videos of the individuals it serves. It upset me to hear stories of farmers and their families affected by UXOs, living in simple rural huts. These families now needed to both care for an injured family member and continue to farm manually.

Laos is a developing country. Much of it is rural, with some areas cultivated as farmland. Many farmers merely subsist and feel compelled to further develop nearby land to survive. Poverty, then, drives Laotian farmers into developing uncleared (or contaminated) areas. Also because of poverty, people who find such UXOs might try to retrieve and take the bombs themselves (rather than calling on disposal teams) to sell the shells. The value of the shells can be far more than what a farmer typically makes in weeks. Finally, unexploded bombies can be found by children who may not understand what they are, who might want to play with them, and who might not tell their parents what they have found for fear of having to give up their new treasure.

“Prosthetic Limbs at the COPE Center” by fabulousfabs is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. The photo has not been altered.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have visited the COPE Center. USAID is one of the Center’s several funders. But a horrific lesson I took from the Center is that it exists because of everyday, avoidable tragedies that the Center can only address after the fact. Indiscriminate bombing campaigns left behind bombs ready to detonate, and the countries which dropped those bombs seem to feel only limited responsibility to remove those UXOs.

The COPE Visitor Center demonstrates the organization’s efforts to help Laotian victims of bombs dropped decades ago that still lie in wait. Instead of presenting righteous anger toward those whose attacks are still maiming and killing Laotians today, the Center’s simple slogan is “helping people move on.”

Individuals maimed (and their families) can need life-long assistance. To donate to COPE, visit:

Kurt Borchard is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Nebraska Kearney. He was a participant in the 2019 CHGS summer workshop for teachers. He teaches an undergraduate course on the Holocaust and has written extensively on cultural studies and homelessness.

For anyone caring about ending mass violence, memorialization, reparations, and the role of civil society in democratization, the closing down of Russia’s Memorial International and its sister organization the Memorial Human Rights Center by the Russian Supreme Court in late December 2021 is cause for mourning. These are concerns, which the University of Minnesota’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center has promoted unstintingly.

Since 1989, the two Russian NGOs have accumulated impressive archives documenting human rights abuses during the Soviet era, advocated for reparations to survivors, and defended human right svictims in conflict zones, in and around modern Russia, as well as the rights of minorities such as LGBTQ Russians.[1] Having played a major part in the ongoing efforts to democratize Russia, they have vowed to fight the closing down of their activities in court and to pursue their work. So far, their homepages are being updated regularly and accept gifts from overseas.[2] The US media covered the news; and petitions of protest are circulating.[3] But rumors of a pending Russian invasion of Ukraine soon distracted minds.[4]

The years of reform, glasnost and presetroika: Alexander Yakovlev, Mikhail Gorbachev, Eduard Shevardnadze walking in the Kremlin, 1989 (personal archive of Anatoly Chernyaev)
National Security Archive: The George Washington University

As talk of war between Ukraine and Russia reach a higher pitch, and NATO and the US exchange threats with the Putin regime, it seems counterintuitive to recommend more contact between Russian and Western civil societies rather than less. And yet, history and memory should guide us. Here are two examples.

In the post-Stalin years from 1955 to the early 1990s, Soviet, American and European scientists collaborated to propose actionable plans on arm control and nuclear disarmament, which made a difference to the senior leaders’ negotiations at the height of the Cold War.[5] Meanwhile Fulbright exchanges of US, Soviet and Russian scholars and students have continued for over 60 years. Although it is impossible to assess the program’s causal impact quantitively, one of the first Soviet Fulbright scholars was Aleksandr Yakovlev who spent a year at Columbia University in 1959, and attended George Kennan’s lectures. Over time he changed from a young Stalinist into a promoter of democratization, and he became the closest adviser to the Soviet Union’s reforming Secretary-General Gorbachev’s on glasnost and perestroika in the 1980s. He devoted the last years of his life to the Rehabilitation Commission, which helped publish archives of the Soviet years of terror and extermination. By 2005, when Yakovlev died, 43 books had come out. “Clearing the names of tens of millions of Soviet citizens” had become his “volunteer” calling.[6]

When I addressed Russian scholars and activists at the 24th Bathhouse Readings of the New Literary Observer in the Moscow Memorial Center in 2016,[7] I suggested that the Russian and Soviet pasts should be revisited not only to repent and repair, but also to remember a tradition of non-violent and collective self-transformation, which unfolded in the Soviet Union by fits and starts during the Kruschev-initiated Thaw (1956-1964) and the years of perestroika and glasnost (1985-1991). My audience was skeptical. Paradoxically Russian liberals and opponents of the Putin regime have forgotten these accomplishments just when Putin is working on a restoration of the cult of the Russian empire and Stalin. It is true that political, economic and judicial institutions and an effective state have failed to develop in Russia, at the cost of much suffering. This explains also why President Putin has remained in power for over 21 years: most Russians prioritize economic and political stability over human rights and civil freedoms.

Yet former US ambassador to Russia and Stanford professor Michael McFaul remembers experiencing a “euphoric moment” as a graduate student in 1991 in Moscow. The Russians “were victors as well in the Cold War and Ukrainians and Estonians and Georgians whom I knew at the time as well.”[8] Thousands of individual and collective acts facilitated the largely peaceful transition from a totalitarian regime to an emerging democracy, and Soviet Russian voters endorsed the almost-entirely non-violent disintegration of the vast Soviet empire, a first in world history, enthusiastically.[9]

It is, of course, much easier for external observers to be hopeful about the political future of Russia than for those who live under its authoritarian conditions. McFaul stresses agency beside structural factors. Even if Russians are shaped by historical legacies, cultural norms, and static institutions, “they are not trapped forever by them.” In the 1990s Russia was confronted with the unusual challenge of undergoing a triple transformation, from  “empire to nation-state, dictatorship to democracy, and command economy to capitalism.” Political science cannot predict, but McFaul thinks it more unlikely that Putinism will survive another two decades than for a new system, possibly a democratic one, to emerge.[10] Maria Zavialova, the Russian-born and trained curator of the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis-Saint Paul notes that, although the Russian system has become more repressive, “society is full of a lot of free-thinking people.”[11]

Outside Memorial’s office in Moscow, supporters have scribbled “Memorial Forever” and “We Love Memorial”
BBC, January 2, 2022

Since the 1970s, the Twin-Cities area has attracted some 50,000 people of Russian origin, half of them Jewish. The community has its media, a charter school, churches, synagogue and grocery stores. Like many other immigrants, Russian-speaking Twin Cities residents keep many connections with their home countries while observing public reserve on the US-Russian state relationships.

Sound information, however, is different from partisanship. Twin Cities businessman Todd Lefko, who is married to a Russian citizen, has chaired since 2019 the Russian-American Business & Culture Council (RABCC), which offers programs on Russian culture, but also current events, including “What’s really up between Russia and Ukraine?” in December 2021 with the participation of US, Russian and Ukrainian scholars.[12]

At the University of Minnesota, the Center for German and European Studies is sponsoring with the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) a research seminar in fall 2022 with senior scholars from Russia, the UK and the US, which is entitled: “Civil society in Germany, EU, and Russia and the ‘new Cold War:’ Learning from History; Planning for the Future”. A publication will follow. The scholars will examine how to think through the many manifestations of Russian civil society for democratization beside the Navalny movement, and its historical and sociological roots; and they will discuss whether Germany and the European Union should do more to support Russian civil society actors who work for democratization. They will also discuss what Western pro-democracy activists can learn from Russian civil society actors who have worked under duress for a long time, at a time when Radical-Right populism and authoritarian tendencies are growing in the European Union member states and the US. One wishes this last question would not be so relevant today.

Catherine Guisan is an independent scholar and Visiting Associate Professor affiliated with the Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Her research interests include European politics, politics of reconciliation, social movements for democratization, political theory. To read more of her work see: Un sens à l’Europe: Gagner la Paix (1950-2003)A Political Theory of Identity in European Integration: Memory and Policies, “Of Political Resurrection and ‘Lost Treasures’ in Soviet and Russian Politics.”




[4] For an excellent op-ed article comparing memory in Russia and the US, see John Rash, “Echoes of Stalinist past as Russia silences its top human rights group,” Star Tribune, Saturday January 15, 2022.

[5] Matthew Evangelista, Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1999.

[6] Masha Gessen, The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, London: Granta, 2017, 143-149, 250.

[7] The US State Department’s Speaker’s bureau sponsored my lectures in five Russian academic institutions, April 2016.

[8] (downloaded January 12, 2021).

[9] For more on this, see Catherine Guisan, “Of Political Resurrection and ‘Lost Treasures’ in Soviet and Russian Politics”, Europe-Asia Studies, 2018, 10 (9), 1381-1406.

[10] Michael McFaul, “Russia’s Road to Autocracy”, Journal of Democracy, October 2021, (downloaded January 15, 2022.

[11] Cited in John Rash, ibid. See also

[12] (downloaded January 19, 2021).

January 27th marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the date on which the Red Army liberated Auschwitz in 1945. Although a monumental moment in the history of the Second World War, the war itself did not end in Europe until May, and globally the death and destruction continued in the Pacific theater until August of that year. This simple reminder of the war’s timeline illustrates the ways Holocaust, which did not end on January 27th with the liberation of Auschwitz, is difficult to confine to a set of dates within the larger sequence of global events. 

In the Center’s collections are photographs taken for the UNRRA by Maxine Rude. Rude, originally from southwestern Wisconsin, traveled throughout Europe while on assignment to document the plight of “Displaced Persons” (DPs) living in allied-run DP-Camps. The images include a variety of subjects, from refugees working in trades they occupied prior to the war (or newly learned at some point in the interim), to Jewish war orphans looking after other vulnerable children. One takeaway from these images, is the lack of certainty many faced for years following the war’s end. Liberation might have occurred abruptly, but normalcy and stability did not. Jewish DPs languished for years before receiving entry visas, or the ability to enter the British Mandate of Palestine. Many non-Jewish DP’s were “repatriated” nationals with newly-drawn borders in Eastern Europe, where they faced uncertain fates. As we mark this important day in the history of genocide, we remind ourselves of the provisional nature of liberation. 

Baking Bread by Maxine Rude

These realities are apparent in David Feinberg’s (Professor Emeritus of Art) collaborative project, Voice to Vision, where survivors of genocide and mass violence created works of art using oral histories and objects of signifance as sources of inspiration. For example, Lucy Smith recalls the months she and her mother spent returning to Lublin (then the provisional capital) after the Red Army kept advancing westward. They hitched rides with soldiers in exchange for vodka, while also staving off extreme hunger. Even as the war was nearing its end, its effects were long-lasting. 

Similarly, it is important to remember that mass violence occurred for years prior to the outbreak of war, and that survivors’ paths to safety still encompassed hardship and death. In another Voice to Vision series, Margot De Wilde recounts how her family had received visas to enter the US, only to have them revoked with the United States’ entry into World War II. She, her husband, and extended family were ultimately deported to Auschwitz, resulting in what she calls “the twins that never met,” the life she might have had, had she been able to enter the US as planned. 

Twins Who Never Met by Margot de Wilde from Voice to Vision

One final example involves the ways children and descendants of those fleeing genocide and mass violence experience the past. Whether from Lithuania, Greece, Bosnia, or Sudan, the subjects on particular series chose objects that harkened to their families’ experiences fleeing violent conflict, and how the trauma indirectly shaped them decades later on a personal level, away from collective amnesia and public commemoration alike. 

The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies highlights these primary sources from its own archive and from its affiliate faculty to capture the complications of memorializing these events, and the aftermaths of which that continued to unfold for the months, and even years, to come. When teaching about these subjects, these realities should not be ignored due to their continued for groups today affected by genocide.

Meyer Weinshel is a Ph.D. candidate in Germanic studies at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, where he is the educational outreach and special collections coordinator for the UMN Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. In addition to being an instructor of German studies, he has also taught Yiddish coursework with Minneapolis-based Jewish Community Action and at the Ohio State University.

Flying the wrong flag can get you a lot of flak and usually from the wrong folk. Which is what French President Emmanuel Macron found out earlier this month when he had the flag of the European Union raised—blue with a circle of golden stars—in place of the French tricolor to mark France’s turn at the rotating EU presidency. Given the hysterical, mouth-foaming outrage of Macron’s conservative and rightwing rivals, it might as well have been the Union Jack of Boris Johnson’s Britain, France’s new-found favorite enemy.

Macron caved to the protests, and the EU flag, which was meant to make a symbolic appearance for some time, came down again after just one full day. Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant Rassemblement National, celebrated its removal as a “great patriotic victory.” A patriotic victory for the French, really? Not if you’d ask German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine who spent half his life in Paris. He wrote in 1836 that French patriotism “warms and expands the heart so that it includes the entire civilized world.” And since he spent the other half of his life in Germany, he also had something to say about patriotism across the Rhine: “A German’s patriotism means that his heart contracts and shrinks like leather in the cold, and a German then hates everything foreign, no longer wants to become a citizen of the world, no longer a European, but only a provincial German.” No longer a European? It sounds like Macron’s adversaries are unknowingly turning into old school Germans—or new school, if you include the populist far right Alternative für Deutschland, which currently holds a sizable chunk of seats in the German parliament. Their Bundestag members are known to be the only ones to wear lapel pins with an oversized German flag. The bigger the flag, the browner the shirt, I guess.

What’s with the flag fetishism these days? You wouldn’t have known that West Germany had a flag in the 1970s because it was hardly ever used—not even during soccer games. Fast forward to 2021 and you have Germany’s head coach assure the nation that even in retirement his heart will continue “to beat in black, red and gold.” This is not just cringeworthy fatherlandish kitsch (at least in my mind) but also utter biological nonsense and even more bizarre than bleeding in red, white and blue, as patriots on this side of the Atlantic like to do.

Macron’s ill-fated attempt to publicly emphasize the supranational and European flavor of French patriotism happened at the Arc de Triomphe. This monument in the center of Paris commemorates those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Beneath the arch lies the tomb of an unknown French soldier from World War I. Therefore, members of Les Républicains, the GOP’s doppelganger in France, have called flying the EU flag an erasure of French identity and an affront to France’s heritage and veterans.

I bet those veterans would be happy to hear that their sacrifice ultimately contributed to a peaceful and united Europe. And I don’t think they would mind receiving a blue and golden thank-you note from the EU.

Henning Schroeder is a professor at the University of Minnesota and currently teaches in the Department of German, Nordic, Slavic & Dutch. His email address is and his Twitter handle is @HenningSchroed1.

On Monday, December 6, 2021, President Biden announced that not a single U.S. official would be sent to Beijing Winter Olympics this coming February. The U.S. has not boycotted the Olympic Games since the Moscow Games in 1980, so why now? The United States is taking a public stance by symbolically protesting the atrocities committed to the Uyghur Muslim minority in Northern China.

The International Olympic Committee has always seen itself as a non-political progressive force that provides an alternative to conflict by promoting peace, unity, and egalitarianism embedded in the Olympic ideology of Olympism. The Olympics take great pride in being seen as a legitimate platform outside of the United Nations for international relations. However, time and time again, the Olympics have been an overtly political space. The Nazi games of Berlin in 1936, the Cold War propaganda between the United States and the Soviet Union, African nations protesting South Africa’s inclusion during apartheid, China protesting Taiwan’s participation, Puerto Rico’s use of the games for nationhood, and the labor issues during the Beijing 2008 and Sochi 2014 Games name a few occasions in which politics were front and center in the Olympics. This symbolic boycott by the United States is intriguing for understanding international politics and the political use of the label “Genocide.”

“Genocide” is one of the most politically charged terms that exists. Governments strategically choose when to apply the term genocide to an atrocity in order to avoid political and economic intervention. Look no further than the belated application of the label “genocide” by the United States government regarding Rwanda in 1994 and Darfur in 2008. The setback to label these events as “genocide” led to a delay in intervention, leading to increased violence and death tolls.

China is the United States’ biggest rival for the title of the globe’s Superpower nation. Like in the Cold War, the United States is using the Olympic Platform for political propaganda. Suppose the United States and the Biden administration were serious about the atrocities committed towards Uyghurs. Why do they not boycott the Games in their entirety? The United States is still allowing American athletes to compete in Beijing. The Olympics are an arena in which soft power manifests itself, where government officials and business elites attend from across the globe. It is a platform used to promote and perform a nation’s strength. The United States refusing to send a single government official represents the nation taking the moral high ground, while simultaneously allowing American athletes to compete demonstrates the ideological faultlines for this “symbolic” protest.

Now, history seems to be repeating itself with the politics of labels overriding politics of action. Just like in the past, the term “genocide” is only being used as a half-measure not to send officials to a sporting event dubbed the “Genocide Olympics” but not enough to justify the intervention of actual genocide. The United States may deem themselves self-proclaimed winners, but the Uyghurs are losing, and not on a semantic level.

Edgar Campos is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He studies cultural politics and how it affects international relations. His dissertation focuses on the politics of culture surrounding the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games. Campos will start a new role as an assistant professor of sociology at the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Texas Christian University in Fall 2022.

Eighty-nine years ago, a famine swept Ukraine, a result of intentional policies instituted by the Soviet government. A combination of confiscated harvests and the rejection of aid lead to the starvation of millions of Ukrainians (the exact number is still debated, as reflected in a graduate student panel hosted by CHGS last year). The name given to this man-made famine, Holodomor, means to kill by starvation. 

Although recognized by several international organizations and several nations as genocide, including the United States since 1984, the Holodomor is still little understood, and even less taught in the U.S. In a survey CHGS conducted of educators, less than 6% of teachers had an understanding of the Holodomor, and even fewer included it in their classroom lessons. Much of the shroud surrounding the genocide can be attributed to secrecy implemented by the Soviet government; understanding and awareness were kept under wraps until the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

This veil of secrecy surrounding the Holodomor is the theme of a recent film, Mr. Jones, released in 2019. The movie, starring James Norton as the titular Gareth Jones, centers on a reporter’s efforts to share news of the famine outside the Soviet Union after using his connections in the British government to gain entry into the Soviet Union. Mr. Jones hadn’t intended to cover the famine, but a delayed train to Moscow led to a stop in a rural Ukrainian village. What Jones found shocks him, prompting him to abandon his plans to write about the successes of Stalin’s government and raise the call for humanitarian relief for the people of Ukraine. 

The narrative in Mr. Jones primarily focuses on the efforts of Jones to raise the alarm in the West and the security apparatus trying to stop him. As such, the film focuses less on the grisly images found in most genocide films, instead opting to tell the story of how the genocide was covered up. That’s not to say it’s not without brutality. In one particular scene, Jones comes across a village home, finding two small children without their parents. It’s not long before Jones realizes, to his horror, that children have taken to cannibalism when faced with starvation as a result of the famine. 

Like The Cut or The Promise, both films about the Armenian genocide, Mr. Jones uses its two-hour run time to educate its audience on the Holodomor, opting for a pseudo-historiagraphy rather than delving into artistic expression. The Hollywood treatment of genocide has come with heavy hitters; The Promise cast included Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac and Oscar winner Christian Bale. For its part, in addition to James Norton, Mr. Jones includes Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard. The profile of its cast helped Mr. Jones garner wider attention, including its inclusion in this last summer’s virtual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. While the film itself is based on true events, it’s clear there is a certain degree of creative license being taken. Soon after its release, the family of Gareth Jones complained about certain scenes which they felt were exaggerated for dramatic effect. While this may be true, the film does an admirable job explaining how the orchestrated deaths of millions of Ukrainians could go largely unnoticed for decades. 

While Mr. Jones was screened as part of the 2021 MSPIFF, it is also available to stream on Hulu. 

Recently, the CHGS has also hosted several events focusing on the Holodomor, including a conversation with descendants of Holodomor survivors in 2020 and a commemorative lecture marking Holodomor Remembrance Day last year. In 2019, the Immigration History Research Archive added a collection of testimonies from survivors and their families of the Holodomor. 

Joe Eggers is the Assistant Director at the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies.

The Center has been busily promoting the work of Professor David Feinberg, who has retired from the Department of Art after an illustrious 50-year career. A retrospective of Feinberg’s work is currently on display at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the UMN West Bank Campus. 

The works on display serve as important reminders, best summed up in Feinberg’s own words: 

“All art comes from the unconscious. The unconscious makes connections between the past and the present. Truth has to be found, not contrived or preconceived. Seeking truth is the way to originality. The only true thing a person has is their unique perception of the world.” 

The exhibition, Divide Up Those in Darkness from the Ones Who Walk in Light, consists of two collections: Voice to Vision and a collection of Feinberg’s earlier works. Upon walking into the gallery, one first sees several of these early pieces on display, encouraging visitors to immediately engage with an overarching theme of the retrospective: the role of art for the individual—not only to shape public consciousness but also larger arcs of history. Subjects of these early pieces include partisans active during World War II, the 1956 explosion at the Brooklyn piers, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the “Day the Music Died” to name a few. 

The multimedia pieces in the exhibition include wood construction, collage, and other materials from photographs, news sources, etc. Extraordinary 2D/3D works depicting interior spaces, along with pieces that echo surrealist trends from the 20th century, stand alongside Feinberg’s “Kaddish for the Immigrant’s Son.” At 82 x 148 inches, the painting prominently features New York landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, with its head and torch trailing throughout the painting, and containing the transliterated words of the Kaddish (one of the central elements of the Jewish liturgy). 

David Feinberg, Kaddish for the Immigrant’s Son, 1987. Acrylic on linen, 82 X 148 in.

Over half of the retrospective is devoted to Feinberg’s Voice to Vision, a groundbreaking “memory project” focused on collaboration with survivors of genocide. Voice to Vision uses painting, drawing, collage, and mixed media to center individual survivors, who can often be lost in narratives dominating textbooks and public consciousness. Oral and visual testimony also takes a central role in the Voice to Vision artwork, which is clear as one walks through the gallery spaces. 

For example, genocide survivors from different parts of the world first share their stories through dialogue, and the stories, in turn, transform into works of visual art produced by the survivors themselves and a larger collaborative team. According to the exhibition program, approximately 200 people have been involved with Voice to Vision. 

Above: “We’re also Part of the Making of the Western World” – Voice to Vision XVII2021. Mixed-media construction. 31″ w x 32″ h x 5″ d
Brenda Child, Steve Premo, Benay McNamara, David Feinberg, Beth Andrews, Reid Luskey, Adolfo Menendez, Stefanie Suhon, Joey Feinberg.
Source: CHGS Elevator Site

Various series from the Voice to Vision Collection also put into dialogue different episodes of genocide and mass violence, thereby emphasizing that individual experiences—even if disparate—can illuminate rather than obscure human rights abuses as they continue to occur across time and space. In one particular piece from Voice to Vision III, “Romania 1941/Rwanda 1994,” draw on memories and sounds of survivors’ pasts that then appear in the multimedia artwork itself. Descriptions beside each work provide background information as well as the forms of collaboration that took place between survivors and artists to make each piece possible. 

Above: Romania 1941/Rwanda 19942006. Acrylic on canvas, collage, fluorescent Plexiglas. 52w” x 44h”.
David Feinberg. Drawing contributions from Romanian survivors Max Goodman and Edith Goodman, Rwandan survivor Alice Tuza and her sister Floriane Robins-Brown, with artists: Caroline Kent, Kelly Frush, David Harris, and Solomon Atta.
Source: CHGS Elevator Site

Each art piece emerged through close collaboration between artists and genocide survivors, all of whom exchanged ideas and made creative decisions together. The accompanying documentaries also feature original scores. This additional level of collaboration with musicians helps to shape the sound surrounding the survivor’s stories. As I walked through the exhibit, it is certainly clear from the screens playing the accompanying documentaries that sound (as well as the visual) plays an important role in public memory. 

The audiovisual recordings of the testimony produce another important effect for the viewer; the convergence of each voice involved in the project becomes part of an interactive journey through the gallery. The video documentaries will allow survivors, respective communities affected by genocide, and future generations to experience crucial aspects of the project beyond the artworks produced. These videos are also available on the CHGS Elevator site. 

Feinberg’s goal of the Voice to Vision project was to inspire others and to use the tools of dialogue and the visual arts to investigate, recover, and protect the narratives and emotional experiences of genocide survivors. The combination of physical art pieces and video documentaries can connect audiences to life-changing moments in history, and will stimulate discussion and education surrounding the events in question. 

The exhibition, Divide Up Those in Darkness from the Ones Who Walk in Light runs until December 11, 2021.

Olivia Sailer is an undergraduate student working for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Sailer is currently a junior and is majoring in Anthropology, with a focus on the sociocultural and linguistic subfields.

Meyer Weinshel is a Ph.D. candidate in Germanic studies at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, where he is the educational outreach and special collections coordinator for the UMN Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. In addition to being an instructor of German studies, he has also taught Yiddish coursework with Minneapolis-based Jewish Community Action and at the Ohio State University.

The American Swedish Institute (ASI) current exhibit, “Rescuing Children on the Brink of War,” provides various accounts from those who, as children, were sent to various countries to escape Nazi persecution between late 1938 and September of 1939. 

Originally a 2018 collaboration between the Yeshiva University Museum and Leo Baeck Institute (both located at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan), the exhibition created an outpouring of public interest around the Kindertransport’s 80th anniversary and led to the donation of numerous items that have since ended up on companion sites.

Following “Kristallnacht” on November 9th, 1938, the Kindertransport, as it came to be known, relocated approximately 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany (which, by late 1938 included Austria and the Sudetenland), Czechoslovakia, Danzig, and Poland. Most of the children arrived in Great Britain, which had the most open policies regarding refugee children. Sweden and other countries, with stricter quotas, still accepted a few hundred children until the outbreak of the war in September 1939. The Kindertransport is credited with saving the lives of approximately 10,000 children from what would have been certain death during the Holocaust. An estimated 1-1.5 million Jewish children were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. 

Susie Greenberg, associate director of Holocaust education for the JCRC of Minnesota and the Dakotas said in an article for TC Jewfolk, “[The exhibit] was not meant to be a traveling show…We were researching ways to educate more about the Kindertransport. This was an amazing opportunity.”

Because the majority of the Kindertransport children never saw their parents again, it is clear from the letters and artifacts that many of the children were left traumatized — with accounts of painful family separations, harsh immigration policies, and abusive conditions once in countries like the UK — experiences that refugees are experiencing in similar ways all over the world today. It was thus not uncommon for survivors to remain silent about the trauma of child separation and the murder of their parents, and the exhibit points to survivors who rarely (if ever) spoke of this moment in their lives for decades. 

The exhibition consists of the main display located on the ground floor, with additional items located in the Turnblad Mansion that highlight Minnesota Kindertransport survivors. 

The array of items, the Minnesota connections made, and the exhibition design are its main strengths. A wall of blank tags spanning one entire wall of the exhibition space represents the identification documents the children wore around their necks. In addition, personal effects from the children, some of which have never been publicly exhibited before, include prayer books, school supplies, correspondence, and other items. This range of both conceptual art and artifacts speaks to the symbolic and interpretive role such objects play for the stories we impart — as fewer and fewer Kindertransport survivors remain alive.

The exhibition will remain open at ASI until October 31st, 2021.

Meyer Weinshel is a Ph.D. candidate in Germanic studies at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, where he is the educational outreach and special collections coordinator for the UMN Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. In addition to being an instructor of German studies, he has also taught Yiddish coursework with Minneapolis-based Jewish Community Action and at the Ohio State University.

After 20 years, the Taliban have returned to power in Kabul. Two decades of progress for women and human rights are certain to be completely demolished. One group, in particular, the Hazaras, are especially fearful for what the future holds. 

Hazaras bury their children after a recent school bombing. Photo Courtesy of the NYTimes.

The Hazaras are an ethnoreligious minority in Afghanistan. They are Shia Muslims, claim descent from the Mongols, and for much of Afghanistan’s history have occupied a semi-autonomous region in central Afghanistan called Hazarajat. Making up 10-20% of Afghanistan’s population, they are mostly found in agrarian communities. For much of Afghanistan’s history, the Hazara have been subject to violence. 

This discrimination against the Hazaras goes back at least to the late 19th century. After the second Anglo-Afghan war, the British sought an Afghan leader who would rule the country but allow Britain control over Afghanistan’s foreign policy and maintain support for British interests in India. They found such a figure in Abdur Rahman Khan, the son of Afghanistan’s emir Dost Mohammad Khan. Abdur Rahman launched a series of internal wars against the autonomous areas of Afghanistan with the goal of creating a direct, autocratic rule for himself. He set his sights on Hazarajat. 

In the past, the Afghan government controlled only the edges of this region and ruled the rest indirectly. Abdur Rahman’s heavy-handed approach toward Hazarajat led to open rebellion. The “Iron Emir” had the Shia Hazara’s declared infidels, giving free rein to his soldiers to ignore the Islamic laws of war. Many were either killed or sold into slavery; over half of Afghanistan’s Hazaras were killed. 

The Taliban have cited Abdur Rahman’s injunction to justify mass killings of the Hazaras. Members of the Deobandi Islamic revivalist school, the Taliban regard Hazaras and others who do not share their extremist Sunni beliefs to be rafidha, or rejectionists. And as such, the Hazaras stand in the way of the Taliban’s goal of a pure Islamic state in Afghanistan. 

Targeted killings of the Hazaras by the Taliban go back to the 1990s. In 1998, the Taliban killed thousands of Hazaras after taking the city of Mazar-i-sharif from rebel control. A Human Rights Watch report quoted witnesses describing it as a “killing frenzy”–a melee of indiscriminate murders of civilians and combatants. The Taliban specifically searched for male Hazaras. Some of those who were not killed were imprisoned in metal shipping containers and suffocated to death. Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 2,000 people were killed in this violence. Recently, Amnesty International reported that in early July of this year, nine Hazara men were murdered by the Taliban in Ghazni, shortly after the Islamic fundamentalist group took over that province. According to the report, the men were tortured and then shot.  

The true extent of Taliban atrocities may not be clear at the moment. Since taking power in several provinces, the Taliban have cut off phone services and prevented news from reaching the outside world. But the past shows a clear pattern of Taliban reprisals against Hazaras. For example, a hospital of mothers and newborn babies were shot, older men were tortured and dumped into mass graves, and little girls were torn to pieces by an explosion at school. According to GenocideWatch, since 2015 Islamist terrorist attacks have killed at least 1,200 Hazaras. The stories are horrific and too numerous to detail.

Despite assuring the international community that they have changed since the 1990s, the Taliban has yet again committed targeted killings of Hazara, destroyed a statue of a Hazara leader in Bamiyan, and kidnapped Salima Mazari, a female Hazara governor of Chaharkint district in northern Afghanistan. There are also reports that the Taliban have turned Hazara away at the Kabul airport. 

Because the Taliban and other Islamist groups deliberately target hospitals and children, these are war crimes. And because this is directed against an ethnoreligious group, this almost certainly meets the definition of genocide. The question is, with the departure of American forces, will the international community come to the aid of the Hazaras? After abandoning the last holdouts of the Afghan government in the Panjshir valley, the prospects are not promising. The west, after 20 years, does not want to shed any more blood for what they see as a lost cause. 

Will Calhoun is an independent analyst and writer based in California. A 2019 graduate of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, his interests encompass Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, international security, and human rights. 

Rapprochement over estrangement, renewal, and hope, these sorely needed values strengthen our rituals for new beginnings. This applies to the new academic term and the Jewish New Year, which converged as we strive to overtake the pandemic this September of 2021. Sadly, the bright start to our gatherings was soon clouded by the disturbing news about attacks and attempts to cause harm to Hmong and Jewish communities in the Twin Cities.

Racist anti-Asian and anti-Black attacks and antisemitic assaults are very often perpetrated by the same offenders. Undoubtedly, blind hatred and intolerance are motivators of such heinous acts. The importance of collaboration and solidarity in the face of unabashed hostility cannot be understated and it is heartening when diverse communities unite, rally, and respond with a sense of shared purpose. At the same time, we are aware that antisemitism cannot be fully grasped when merely absorbed and understood as just another form of racism.

In my undergrad course on antisemitism in the Spring semester, students were frequently at a loss when confronted with the complex and contradictory nature of antisemitism. Jews have been despised and attacked for real or imagined religious practices, racialized with other minorities, and put on the bottom of a human hierarchy crafted by pseudoscientific propagandists. They are disliked for their particularism, for embracing Zionism, or for being rootless cosmopolitans. Jews are inferior and corrupted and at the same time resented, perceived as being on top and pulling the strings of power. A flyer posted by Neo-Nazis on our campus not long ago said, “The Jews are destroying your country through mass immigration and degeneracy.” In this type of delusional hatemongering, Jews are the masterminds of a plot to substitute the White population with people of color. Similarly, the infamous Charlottesville torch-carriers chanted “Jews will not replace us.” 

But the inherent difficulty of the subject matter was not the only source of confusion among my students. Perplexity was heightened by the shortcomings of current anti-racist scholarship and anti-racist initiatives to fully address the multifaceted relation of Jews to White majority society and the pervasive nature of antisemitism. Our colleague James Loeffler couldn’t have put it more clearly in a recent blog post:  “The American reckoning with racism has been painful and necessary; the reckoning with antisemitism has been at best an afterthought.”

We are committed to change this. Together with our colleagues at the Center for Jewish Studies, we will host the virtual symposium “Antisemitism and Racism in a Moment of Reckoning” on November 8th and 9th. How do racism and antisemitism overlap and where do they diverge, and why? What are constructive ways we can better deal with antisemitism in anti-racist scholarship and practice? How have antisemitism and the Jewish experience been included or excluded in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on US campuses?

I am grateful for the dedication and hard work of the Center’s team (Joe Eggers, Meyer Weinshel, Jillian LaBranche, and Sailer) and the support of our affiliated faculty members, without whom we couldn’t bring to you such a breadth of opportunities to learn, grow and engage.

We look forward to seeing you online and on-campus this semester.

Alejandro Baer, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and the Stephen C. Feinstein Chair and Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies