Nikoleta (Nika) Sremac is a third-year Ph.D. Student in the Department of Sociology. She received her BA in Political Science – International Relations from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her research focuses on the intersections of gender, culture, politics, and collective memory of mass violence in the U.S. and the Balkans. She is interested in the role of cultural production and political activism in processing past violence in the service of post-conflict reconciliation.
Originally from ex-Yugoslavia, Nikoleta’s family immigrated to Amherst, Massachusetts in 1995 during the Yugoslav Wars. After finishing college, she spent a year serving in a refugee resettlement agency in Worcester, MA. She then held positions at the Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights in Boston and at Harvard University in Cambridge before beginning her graduate career at the University of Minnesota.
Nikoleta currently works as a Research Assistant with Joachim Savelsberg on a project that seeks to understand the role of gender in the establishment of collective memory around the Yugoslav Wars, funded by the UMN Human Rights Initiative (HRI). She also works as a Research Assistant with Joachim Savelsberg and Alejandro Baer on a project investigating the role of digital memory activism in constructing genocide narratives in Serbia.
She will be conducting fieldwork abroad in Belgrade, Serbia for the fall semester of the 2021-22 academic year. In addition to her research, Nikoleta serves as a member of the graduate editorial board for The Society Pages and as Associate Director of Grants for the Council of Graduate Students (COGS).
One of the most dangerous weapons in the world has been increasing in prevalence over the past few decades. This deadly weapon is not advancing technology, nuclear weapons, nor lethal biological warfare. Instead, it is something that is not immediately seen as a threat, something that undermines our sense of security due to perceived innocence and peacefulness. Women.
Scholars and society alike have long viewed males as the primary perpetrators of crime, specifically regarding terrorist attacks. Women’s roles as perpetrators of violence have often been overlooked. In fact, women have long played primary roles in criminal acts. Over the past few decades, their roles have increased in terrorist attacks, specifically in suicide bombings.
Women and young girls have become more and more frequently chosen as suicide bombers, used explicitly by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Their utilization of female suicide bombers has resulted in the killing of 800 known individuals over only a three-year span, injuring 526 others.
When women commit violent, criminal acts, the media often uses three narrative frames to help explain how women could engage in such violence: Mother, Monster, and Whore. These frames have emerged from the assumption that women are inherently peaceful and innocent and thus do not willingly engage in such violent acts.
The mother narrative suggests that a woman becomes violent in response to the loss of her son(s). The loss of the son(s) (symbolic or real) results in a woman’s need to avenge the death and protect and nurture the rest of the family. Alternatively, the monster narrative presents violent women as psychologically unstable. Their deviant actions are driven by an insane, socially unacceptable version of femininity. Lastly, the whore narrative emphasizes a woman’s inappropriate sexual desires. These desires stray from traditional feminine sexuality and suggest a woman’s capacity for violence is linked to this inappropriate sexual drive.
Some depictions in the media have supported these narratives. The mother narrative has been particularly salient in relation to suicide bombing. These narratives depict women’s participation in terrorist organizations as directly related to their fear of losing or having already lost their children. Representing the whore narrative, alternatively, some women are depicted as being brainwashed or engaging in terrorist activities in hopes of solidifying a marriage. When women aren’t presented by the media as mothers or whores, they are often portrayed as monsters. Female suicide bombers are seen as transgressing gender norms for their violent acts, and as a result, they are presented as abnormal or suffering from psychological disturbance.
Investigative journalism has compounded these narrative frames. Interviews have emphasized women’s narratives of abduction and forced participation. In some cases, women are presented as having to choose between becoming a suicide bomber and marrying one of the members of the terrorist organization.
These narratives often present women as being victimized by men and the choice to commit violence being forced upon them. These narrative frames assume women’s motives are distinct from men’s. Women are rarely presented as joining these organizations because of their own ideological beliefs and alignment with the organization’s goals and motives.
Women are depicted in societies throughout the world as innocent, peaceful, and virtuous. This representation causes society to not immediately view them as perpetrators. As a result, women are much more likely to bypass security measures and succeed in terrorist activities than their male counterparts. For example, women are less likely to be properly searched for bombs or other weapons, making them able to travel long distances weaponized or enter high-security areas. Thus, terrorist organizations actively recruit women for these reasons.
The presence and growing commonality of female suicide bombers demonstrate that, contrary to common misconceptions, women do play an active role in violence and killing. Their perceived peacefulness and innocence obscures the ability of women to engage in violence. This common perception that women are peaceful and therefore can not engage in violence makes female suicide bombers an unforeseen threat.
Because of the perception that women cannot and do not participate in mass violence, it is seen as exceptional when they do. And thus, the media attempts to explain this exceptional behavior by using the aforementioned mother-monster-whore narratives. These narratives reify society’s assumptions that women are inherently innocent and peaceful and that only those who are abnormal could engage in such violent activities. We must move away from these narrative frameworks that present women as non-agentic and reduce women who engage in violence to a single category.
Alexa Cofer is an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota majoring in Psychology and Sociology of Law, Criminology, and Deviance. Her academic interests include mass incarceration; mental health of the incarcerated; and prison reform, reintegration, and recidivism. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school and pursue a doctorate in forensic psychology.
The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) recently released the second draft of proposed social studies standards. The draft, part of a mandatory process to review teaching and learning standards every ten years, will not only secure but significantly expand Holocaust and genocide education across the state for years to come.
The months-delayed second draft follows the release of a controversial first draft in December 2020, which did not mention Holocaust and genocide education. The decision meant not carrying through the three existing references from the current social studies standards, which were adopted in 2011.
This first draft drew widespread criticism from many fronts. A broad coalition called for the inclusion of ethnic studies; the Sikh community lobbied for the inclusion of Sikhism, and several conservative groups spoke out against the shift away from patriotic and whitewashed narratives of U.S. history. The omission of the Holocaust, in particular, became a rallying cry for the conservative Center for the American Experiment, which, however, made no mention of the omission of other genocides and railed against the expanded coverage of Indigenous history in the draft.
As a high school teacher and Ph.D. candidate in Social Studies Education researching genocide education and working with the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), I lobbied MDE to reinstate and expand Holocaust and genocide studies, while also supporting efforts to include ethnic studies, absent narratives, and Indigenous histories and contemporary realities in the standards. Genocide education is an important component of these and other efforts to expand social justice via education.
Along with CHGS and JCRC, I am heartened to see that the second draft of the standards has included all of my suggestions regarding Holocaust and genocide education, which ensures that Minnesota is in line with many other states expanding their genocide education requirements in recent years. I am also encouraged to see the inclusion of an ethnic studies strand, a focus on absent narratives, and robust coverage of Indigenous peoples in the state’s past and more recent history.
Below is a discussion of how Holocaust and genocide education is framed in the second draft of the standards.
Defining Genocide Education
A careful reader might note that the second draft includes no reference to specific cases of genocide, except the Holocaust and Indigenous genocide. This broader language allows districts, schools, and, importantly, teachers to tailor a study of genocide to meet the needs and desires of their students. For example, an eighth-grade benchmark states: “Examine the Holocaust, genocides, and other cases of mass violence in the 20th and 21st centuries […] and analyze how individuals, groups, and societies around the world have been affected by genocide and mass violence, including communities resettled in Minnesota” (22.214.171.124). Thus, teachers can include in a study of history those cases of genocide that match the lived and community experiences and interests of increasingly diverse students.
Additionally, the draft standards do not define genocide; instead, teachers and students can explore definitions within their classrooms. This opens possibilities for a broader study of what genocide scholar Alexander Hinton termed “hidden genocides.” Hidden genocides are those cases of mass violence that are either, when they are taught, not labeled or discussed as genocide or simply not taught at all. For example, the events and aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, though taught in sixth-grade classrooms, may not be examined through the lens of genocide. While some cases of genocide, such as the Holodomor, are too often not taught about at all in Minnesota classrooms. The broader language of the standards opens up possibilities for an expansive study of genocide.
Scope and Sequence of Holocaust and Genocide Education
The proposed standards will include Holocaust and genocide education in both middle and high school. More importantly, Holocaust and genocide education will be scaffolded and developmentally appropriate. For example, a high school benchmark states: “Evaluate historical narratives about World War II and the Holocaust in the United States and on a global scale” (126.96.36.199US7). This builds on a middle school benchmark, which states: “Outline the causes and conduct of World War II […] and the Holocaust” (188.8.131.52). Here, the scaffolding from a study of the “causes and conduct” of the Holocaust at a younger age results in students being ready and able to “evaluate historical narratives” about the Holocaust on a “global scale” in high school. An additional high school benchmark asks students to “describe the responses of individuals, communities, nations, and the world community to human rights violations, including the Holocaust and genocides” (184.108.40.206WH6). As a result of this careful scaffolding, students will not only study the history of the Holocaust, but they will also examine the Holocaust in the context of world history and analyze how individuals and societies respond to mass violence.
The proposed standards do not include Holocaust and genocide education in the elementary grades. Holocaust and genocide education scholars Simone Schweber and Samuel Totten have each written out against teaching this content to younger children, finding that these lessons necessarily trivialize the history of the Holocaust and genocides and can potentially traumatize students.
Indigenous Genocide and Settler Colonialism
The second draft includes several references to Indigenous genocide in Minnesota and North America and settler colonialism. Beginning in fifth grade, students will “explain how Indigenous nations responded in different ways to settler colonialism” (220.127.116.11) and “analyze how rivalries among European nations and the search for new opportunities led to the exploitation and genocide of indigenous peoples and the theft of indigenous lands (18.104.22.168). Significantly, under the proposed revisions, students will study the “genocide that occurred within the land that is Minnesota today” (22.214.171.124). Such language is a powerful call for truth-telling regarding the history of Minnesota.
While I laud the work of the committee in securing and expanding genocide education in Minnesota for years to come, I also recognize the limitations of the state’s teaching and learning standards. Despite the new language, districts and, especially, classroom teachers acting as curricular gatekeepers will ultimately decide what and how content is taught within their classrooms. Once these standards are finalized (expected in late 2021), the work of supporting educators across the state to implement them begins. CHGS is already working with university and community partners to expand its resources and educational outreach.
Note: MDE is seeking comments from the public on the second draft of the social studies standards through August 16, 2021.
George Dalbo is a Ph.D. candidate in Curriculum and Instruction and Social Studies Education at the University of Minnesota and a Research Assistant at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. George’s research broadly centers on how the Holocaust, genocide, mass violence, and human rights are taught in K-12 classrooms. George is also a full-time high school social studies teacher in rural south-central Wisconsin. Entering his 16th year of teaching, George has taught every grade from 5th-12th in public, charter, and private schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin and two years in Vienna, Austria.
The CHGS collections include not only a diverse array of papers and physical objects but also many of the Center’s past lectures and events, as well as a backlog of oral testimonies from survivors of genocide. Not to mention: CHGS partners with the UMN Libraries to promote the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, which includes 55,000+ oral testimonies from genocide survivors.
Although this rich set of materials is used by faculty, students, researchers, and K12 teachers alike, there are obstacles to managing the collections. Arguably central, and accessioned at various points over time, are under-utilized parts of the collections that include artworks, photographs, materials from Center-sponsored exhibitions, and rare items from private donors. Two such collections are the focus of this blog post.
One of the Center’s most prolific photojournalist collections is that of the images captured by Maxine Rude for the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). Although the images are available on Elevator, and some are also available via the UMN LIbraries through their digital conservancy platforms, the images are in the process of being rescanned. Furthermore, a lack of item-level descriptions and cataloguing reflects the challenging curatorial decisions at play. Does one strive for clearer distinctions between disparate collections and media (thereby preserving as much as possible about the items’ materiality and provenance), or should one try to thematically link various materials at the risk of overdetermining their relation to one another? And most importantly: if similar materials are found elsewhere through larger archival and library databases, how to best link these materials together and make them accessible to larger audiences?
These dilemmas emerge in Rude’s photographs. Although most of Rude’s subjects appear only once, there are a few exceptions. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited the Zeilsheim DP (“Displaced Person”) Camp in the American Zone of occupied Germany, appears in three separate photographs, and each photo reflects different geopolitical phenomena present in the camp.
In one photo, Roosevelt and GIs can be seen listening to a male figure, perhaps a DP, although we are unsure based on the limited captioning of the photograph. Professor Alejandro Baer, CHGS Director, has also written about the challenges prior curators faced with this collection, namely: what subject(s) appear? What should viewers glean from an image, and when photographs themselves are incomplete snapshots of a larger scene? One can glean a lot from Roosevelt’s body language as she earnestly listens to her subject, as well as members of the Allied forces looking on, especially as they played outsized roles in the postwar German landscape for decades.
In another photograph (that is currently only available through the Center’s Elevator site) Roosevelt walks past what is presumably the Polish repatriation center that operated in DP camps. A notable early tension between Soviet and American forces was the question of DP repatriation to the Eastern Bloc; should repatriation be forced or voluntary? In this mediated, stylized snapshot, larger political moments are taking center stage, and become part of a larger discussion of world history.
There is one other photo of Roosevelt that caught my eye as a Yiddish speaker. Barely recognizable in the left background, Roosevelt is part of a larger, chaotic scene. Almost in the center of the image is a post with the name of the port city of Jaffa (Hebrew: יפו) and in the background: a banner in Yiddish and English.
Why in English? Certainly, the American lingua franca was ever-present in the DP Camp within the American Zone and among GIs who did not usually have language skills beyond that of English. But more notably, the propagandized English appears alongside Yiddish, which was the lingua franca of 10-12 million Eastern European Jews worldwide prior to the Holocaust and spoken by roughly 4.5 million of the 6 million Jews murdered. The Yiddish (מיר װילן גײן! מיר מוזן גײן! און מיר װעלן גײן קײן אַרץ־ישׂראל / Mir viln geyn! Mir muzn geyn! Un mir veln geyn keyn Erets-Yisroel!) matches the English: We want to go! We have to go! We will go to Palestine!
Much of this information is irrelevant to the average viewer of this photograph, and especially within the larger context of the dozens of photographs taken by Maxine Rude in the collections. And too much curation leads to overdetermined description and information. I can’t help but ask: what do I glean from this photograph? There is certainly too much to say within the span of one blog post, and more importantly: others will have different readings of this image. But my first reaction upon seeing the Yiddish: can I take the banner at its word? Does this image represent DPs’ mass exodus to Palestine following World War II?
It is certainly true that life in DP Camps was not easy, and it took years for foreign governments to allow DPs to be resettled in other parts of the world. For many Jewish survivors from Eastern Europe, many simply waited to go to the British Mandate of Palestine (either with or without the British government’s permission), even if for political reasons, not all wanted to go, according to survivors and children of DPs recounting their postwar journeys out of Europe.
In fact, many personal accounts point to the complicated feelings DP’s had for the destinations in question. Many certainly believed anything was better than languishing in camps on German soil. But as was the case with resettlement in Palestine, many were uncertain of their prospects in the US, having been active in Yiddishist or leftist politics in the interwar years.
These photos, taken by Rude, are just a few examples of the rare historical images in the Center’s archive. In addition, the digitizations, descriptions (or lack thereof) etc. I have included in this blog entry represent insights as well as challenges for community archives when permanently preserving and curating these collections for in-person and online use.
Usable item descriptions (or even a lack thereof) can, however, lead to additional problems with categorization. As a Yiddish speaker interested in any other Yiddish artifacts I could find, I was thus surprised to find a photo album, out of place among various materials related to the Third Reich. The photo album did not appear to have been donated with the Nazi-related items in question.
The album was a personal item from Kenneth and Jeanette Frank, two donors who lived in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They had been active in Yiddish theater in the Landsberg am Lech DP Camp after having survived the Holocaust. The two did not have any children, and at some point in the 1990s prior to their deaths had donated the object to the Center or its former director, Stephen Feinstein. Kenneth Frank is in several of the pictures, cast as the Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Loew) in H Leyvik’s well-known play, Der Goylem(The Golem). The troupe also produced Yankev Gordin’s “Der vilder mentsh” (The Wild Man).
Other materials with the photo album that are equally important to contextualize and preserve for educators and researchers: handwritten notes (it is unclear by whom, presumably to detail images and documents in Yiddish that are difficult to decipher without someone fluent in the language), and a large pamphlet given to passengers onboard the USS Muir, a navy transport ship used for a time in the fifties to transport DPs to various corners of the globe.
Also included were announcements from the U.S. Displaced Persons Commission in Frankfurt (am Main), translated into Yiddish for passengers on board the ship regarding U.S. Customs regulations.
Also available are laminated scans of Yiddish newspaper clippings from the DP Camps published in transliterated Yiddish, reflecting the lack of Yiddish typesets available at the time. Many of the typesets were “unavailable” (i.e., they had been destroyed during the war), and Yiddish journalists had to resort to transliteration for publications. Although some of the materials inserted into the photo album use Yiddish orthography, many use Latin fonts, which reflect this reality.
Apart from the find itself (i.e., that this photo album existed in the collections in the first place), I can’t help but note what it depicts: the memory of genocide survivors who, even after losing their homes and much (if not all) of their extended family, a continued act of resistance came in in the form of cultural production (i.e., staging masterpieces of Yiddish theater. The photo album, initially categorized as restricted, is now publicly available on the Center’s collections site.
Meyer Weinshel is the center’s educational outreach and special collections coordinator, and a PhD candidate in Germanic Studies. He is completing a dissertation on translations of German poetry into Yiddish before and after the Second World War. In addition to teaching German Studies coursework at the University of Minnesota, he has also been active in Yiddish language pedagogy and revival. He helped pilot the Yiddish Book Center’s new language textbook in Twin Cities, and worked for the Yiddish Book Center’s intensive summer language program for undergraduate students in 2020. In addition to working for CHGS, he was also a visiting lecturer of Yiddish Studies at the Ohio State University in 2021.
“Beautiful feelings make for bad literature.” French literary tradition has proved André Gide’s assertion wrong, of course. “Beautiful feelings” of empathy and commitment to equity infuse Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and Emile Zola’s Germinal, which have remained on the international bestseller list for over a century.
Curiously post-1945 programs for reconciliation, another “beautiful feeling,” among European formerly enemy nations, and which led to the establishment of the European Union (EU), have not inspired a Transeuropean literature. Robert Menasse’s widely translated novel Die Hauptstadt is an exception.
The Austrian writer and enthusiastic supporter of European integration by his own admission, pens a darkly satirical tale in which self-centered EU bureaucrats invent a “Big Jubilee Project” around the theme of “Auschwitz” to mark the 50th anniversary of the EU Commission. Historical facts are wrong, this is, after all, fiction, but the novel provoked heated controversies in the German-speaking world. Critics felt that the novel “cheapened” the Holocaust by distorting its role in the foundation of the EU.
It may be that “beautiful feelings”make for good literature only when catastrophe is involved. But how to invoke empathy and peaceful conflict resolution in the midst of an ongoing catastrophe such as the Israel-Palestine conflict?
Half of The Holocaust and the Nakba consists of comments on literary works, with pride of place given to Lebanese-born Elias Khoury searing novel Children of the Ghetto, the fictional memoir of Palestinian expatriate Adam Dannoun, who was born during the all too factual Lydda massacre of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Co-editors Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg, who presented their book at CHGS in October 2020, acquaint their readers with a much lesser-known Jewish Israeli literature also, which reflected in the late 1940s and 1950s “the feeling that the plight of Palestinians refugees bore a remarkable resemblance to that of the European Jews.”Mendel Man’s An Abandoned Village (1956), written in Yiddish and published in Hebrew, exemplifies this feeling, which was not confined to radical left-wing Zionist publications.
Metin Arditi’s novel Rachel et les siens (only available in French) offers a passionate and highly readable account of Jewish Israeli and Arab Palestinian’s intertwined fates under 70 years of Ottoman rule, the British mandate, and Israeli rule. Rachel, an Arab-speaking Sephardi Jew, grows up with her adopted Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi sister in a middle-class home shared with a Christian Arab family in Jaffa. Already as a child, Rachel writes a theater play, which highlights the growing rivalry over land between Arabs and Jews and pleads for cohabitation. Multilingualism is both a practical necessity and a norm to be cherished. In 1937 she loses her daughter and her husband, a philosopher trained by Martin Buber, to a terrorist attack committed by Arab Palestinians.
To hide the identity of her second daughter’s father, she moves from Tel Aviv to Istanbul and then Paris, where her plays are staged to critical acclaim. But she scolds herself for her “lies.” Eventually, she returns to Israel to help raise a beloved handicapped grandson, whose genetic make-up includes Arab Palestinian and Jewish Israeli ancestry. The melodramatic plot stretches credibility at times, and yet self-reflective accounts of the protagonists compel the reader to identify with many Others.
Colum McCann’s Apeirogon is part novel and part factual account of two tragedies: Jewish Israeli Rami Elhanan lost his 13-year-old daughter Smadar to a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 1997 and Muslim Palestinian Bassam Aramin his ten-year daughter Abir in 2007 to an Israeli soldier’s bullet in front of her school. Rami and Bassam had become friends well before Abir’s death through the organization Combatants for Peace, and they have spoken together against the vicious cycle of occupation and revenge in Israel and across the world many times since. The book draws the reader into the lived experiences of Palestinians and Israelis powerfully, although its 1001 narrative sections, several of which have no obvious relation to the main story, weakens emotional connection with Bassam, Rami, and their families’ heart-rending stories occasionally.
Arditi, Bashir, Goldberg, and McCann refuse to recommend a specific political solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, be it a confederation, a federation, a one-state or two-state solution. Their books express, however, similar “beautiful feelings”: No, to nationalism and Occupation. Yes, to a binational solution for a joint Arab Israeli democratic dwelling. No, to the objectification of the other and silence. Yes, to speaking up authentically and listening. No, to conflating the Holocaust with the Nakba. Yes, to “empathic unsettlement,” which transforms “otherness” from a problem to be disposed of into a moral and emotional challenge. And yes to flawed political compromises and even reconciliation between the two peoples.
Considering the tragic renewal of violence last May in Israel and the occupied territories, isn’t this all pie in the sky? Renowned Israeli novelist Assaf Gavron acknowledges that books have little immediate impact. “Changes are made slowly and by small bits.” His advice to the writing profession: Be humble and keep writing. Arditi, Bashir, Goldberg, and McCann need not be reminded.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the virtual Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Film Festival, specifically a showing of short films about activism. While I watched several shorts, it was the gut-wrenching work of Director E.G Bailey in his film “Keon” that still has me reflecting on anti-Black violence in the United States and the racial climate in Minneapolis.
In this 27 minute black and white short film, viewers are introduced to Keon, a young black photographer who spends the day in Minneapolis trying to acquire a new camera so that he may finish his portfolio — a necessary component of his college application. One becomes quickly enamored with the playful, joyous, and talented Keon as he spends the day taking photos of his brothers and friends in Minneapolis.
Throughout the short film, however, viewers are exposed to the erasure of Black joy. Throughout the film, White men approach Keon asking him to stop taking photos and leave public areas. For example, Keon is asked to stop taking pictures on the metro, Keon and his friends are asked to leave a coffee shop, and Keon is even chased out of a yard — all by White men.
What viewers witness is the erasure of Black bodies from public spaces throughout the city, and simultaneously, they watch Keon’s spark diminish slightly each time he is asked to take his passion for photography elsewhere. The short ends abruptly and dramatically when two White police officers stop Keon and his brothers, walking through what appears to be a back alley in South Minneapolis. Keon slowly raises his hands at the law enforcement officers’ requests — showing a slight hesitancy as his camera is in his hands. But it is at that moment; the two officers mistake his camera for a gun — shooting Keon dead in the alley.
“Keon” is a powerful film. E.G. Bailey carefully crafts this important narrative– a narrative known all too well by Black Americans. But this film is not just about the current epidemic in this country of law enforcement officers killing Blacks. This film is about the erasure of Black joy and Black bodies from our public spaces. Throughout the film, viewers are struck by how often Keon and his friends are asked to vacate public spaces. They are seen as loud and unruly — despite the fact they are simply attempting to compile a college entrance portfolio.
Two other shorts only strengthen this underlying message about erasure found in “Keon” in the Activism category: “Never Turn Your Back to the Wave — The Travis Jordan Story” and “Ignited States.” These two films continue to document police killings of Black men in Minnesota.
The first tells the story of Travis Jordan, who when two rookie White cops killed when they responded to a wellness call. The county has ruled the death justified. “Ignited States,” directed by Jud Nichols, continues the narrative of anti-Black violence in its documentation of the protests and speeches of politicians in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. It respectfully documents the South Minneapolis community’s confusion, grief, anger, and hope for change. It challenges the state’s response to protests, concluding with a simple message: “you can’t protect without love.”
Together, these activism shorts relay powerful messages about White violence against Blacks in America, specifically in Minnesota. While highlighting police brutality, these shorts illustrate the depth of the issue; violence against Black Americans does not just happen at the hands of the police; it occurs through everyday actions and attempts to remove Black joy from the public sphere. The impact of these films are especially poignant in the wake of last year’s recorded murder of George Floyd and the extrajudicial killing of Winston Smith earlier this year. These police killings and the films in which they tragically inspired have provoked difficult conversations about race, law enforcement, and justice in the Twin Cities.
Eric D. Weitz’s untimely passing on Thursday, 1 July, sent shockwaves throughout the academic community. A distinguished professor of Modern European History at City College of New York, Eric was among the foremost researchers on human rights, the Armenian Genocide, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, settler-colonial genocide in German Southwest Africa, and Weimar Germany.
Among his most well-known publications include Creating German Communism, 1890-1990: From Popular Protests to Socialist State (1997), A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation (2003), Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (2007), and A World Divided: The Global Struggle for Humans Rights in the Age of Nation-States (2019). Eric also published numerous articles, chapters, edited volumes, editorials, and op-eds on these and many other topics during his illustrious career.
His contribution to the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, both as a researcher and Center director at the University of Minnesota, is immeasurable. From pathbreaking work on the emergence and consequence of “population politics” in Europe to settler-colonial genocides in Africa, Asia, and North America, Eric’s scholarship remains essential reading for anyone interested in the history of nationalism, race, and mass violence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Eric was at this best when his curiosity inspired him to move past his topical expertise into subjects that often receive little or no attention from historians in Genocide Studies. He was not afraid of controversy and always welcomed a good-natured discussion on his latest project, whether in graduate seminars or during a book or conference presentation.
Eric received various awards and recognitions for his research and countless invitations to speak at national and international venues throughout his career. He particularly enjoyed his time as the Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian Chair in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota (2001-2012), a position that afforded him occasion to expand programming on the history and legacy of the Armenian Genocide and to work closely with his good friends and fellow historians, Taner Akçam and Omer Bartov.
In addition to his notable scholarly achievements, Eric made an indelible impression on students and colleagues as a popular teacher at St. Olaf College, the University of Minnesota, and City College, and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. A talented lecturer with an acute ability to facilitate discussion on difficult subjects in classes both large and small, he modeled what it means to be a historian inside and outside the university.
Among his lesser-known talents was his success as an academic advisor. As his final doctoral advisee at the University of Minnesota, I can personally speak to the ceaseless dedication, kindness, and humor that Eric shared with each of his students, as well as the many hours he devoted to one-on-one meetings, independent studies, writing instruction, and all other matters that one hopes to find in an academic advisor.
Perhaps most importantly, he taught me the importance of writing and its significance to the disciplinary fabric of History. I will always keep his copious notes on my chapter submissions as a guide for how to approach my future disciplinary interests, as well as a reminder that the best gift one can give a student is attention and unfailing support. I can say with absolute certainty that I owe all of my professional accomplishments to his patience, supervision, and vast disciplinary knowledge.
Until We Find Them (2021) is a short documentary film directed by Hunter Johnson that premiered at the 40th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. At first glance, it is an intimate portrait of the affective and working relationship between two journalists residing in Guadalajara, Jalisco. But as we look into the lives of Darwin Franco and Dalia Souza, reporters for ZonaDocs, we experience the way in which the journalists interact daily with the universe of disappearances in México, which, in the context of The War against Drugs, has generated more than 80,000 disappearances.
As Darwin expresses, “In México, no one disappears. In México, people are disappeared.” Thus, his mission and his job are to make sure these events are never forgotten and that the fight of those who protest against the disappearances doesn’t go unnoticed. Johnson’s documentary, by focusing on the portrayal of Dalia and Darwin, also chases this purpose. Through the use of space, music, sound, testimonies, and intertextuality, Until We Find Them presents the spectator with two vast stages of the disappearance phenomenon.
The first stage is crude desolation; the documentary, through the testimonies of Dalia, Darwin, and the mothers of disappeared individuals, tries to explain the possible causes and consequences of the disappearances in México. In this landscape, for example, mothers explain how the criminalization of the victims has been used as a strategy by the government to justify the country’s militarization and silence the families of those who have disappeared.
In the same manner, Dalia expresses the difficulty of finding justice in a sea of high impunity levels and a multiplicity of perpetrators (mainly organized crime and agents of the state) that act either independently or collude to execute these crimes against humanity. And, finally, through the presentation of the spaces of the Servicio Médico Forense (Medical Forensic Service, SEMEFO) and the cemetery, Darwin gives an account of another crisis that sprouted from the violence of The War: a forensic crisis with the flooding of 40,000 unidentified bodies in which the state is accused of disappearing the disappeared twice, by incinerating unidentified bodies that were not even DNA tested. Visually profound, Johnson’s creeping camera movements and voice-over testimonies create an emotional atmosphere that echoes the gravity of the words that are being said by the participants.
The second stage presented by Until We Find Them also comes from the disappearance phenomenon, but it provides the spectator with a different look. It proves as Darwin mentions, that “as journalists, we have to be able to acknowledge the horror of the war, but we also have to be able to acknowledge how hope and love grow even in the darkest of places.” This stage is led by the families of the disappeared and the networks of support that are built around the victims of disappearances in México.
Through his lens, Johnson not only portrays these people and their daily struggle but through subtle yet precise close-ups, he emphasizes the importance of looking into the face of the families of the disappeared. He documents how mourning is shared through a hug, through contact with one another, and in the case of Darwin and Dalia, through journalistic articles that call for justice.
To understand how these support networks are created, the documentary makes heavy use of intertextuality. For example, by incorporating other perspectives the spectator gets to know one of Jalisco’s anti-monuments: The Glorieta de las y los desaparecidos (Roundabout for the Disappeared). The spectator also joins the mothers of the victims at the moment in which they, through their searches, find a bittersweet treasure: a person’s body.
Undoubtedly, the main contribution is that through these testimonies and scenes, Until We Find Them shouts a message for the Mexican and foreign spectator to hear, so that the disappearance phenomenon in México may change, as Dalia words it: “What needs to change is the meaning we, as people…give to the life, the dignity, and the integrity of the other. We have to understand that if something happens to her, to him, to you, to them, to whomever, it is also happening to me.”
Olga Salazar Pozos is a Ph.D. Candidate of Hispanic Literature and Culture from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies at the University of Minnesota. She has collaborated with the Observatory on Disappearances and Impunity in Mexico, a research project of the Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota And, currently, Salazar is working on her dissertation, which is titled: “Between the Erasure of Violence and the Political Force of Collective Mourning: Artistic Representations of Mexico’s War on Drugs.”
In this context of extreme violence, it is important to analyze alternatives for resolving the current crisis. Since the first day of the strike, the presence of the Indigenous movement has been salient. The Misak and the Nasa from the Cauca region, one of the most violent provinces of Colombia, have been particularly visible because of their approach to strike using non-violent actions. This article analyses the strategies of these two Indigenous groups and why their participation in the strike is key for the short- and long-term resolution of the crisis.
In Colombia, during the colonial period, native groups were congregated, located in specific territories and paid their taxes together. They were discriminated against, and considered inferior, but that at least implied the recognition of their existence and their differences. In contrast, the new republic of Colombia was constituted under liberal ideas, in the name of progress and equality and based on individual citizens. There was no place for collective lands; hence, Indigenous people were excluded from equal economic, social and political participation. Moreover, the Indigenous population was relatively low compared with other countries, and the mestizaje process was very strong. In the new republic, all people should be “civilized,” a homogenous group of individual citizens, free and mestizo. Therefore, equality implied the suppression of differences.
The 1991 constitution recognized the multicultural reality of the country and grants special rights for Indigenous and afro descent ancestral territories and authorities. These groups could finally live under their own customs and authorities, as long as they do so in their own assigned territories. The implementation of these rights, however, has been eclipsed by the constant violence and conflicts in the country. Consequently, the lack of a real integration and interaction with the broader society. Furthermore, the violence in the country puts Indigenous communities at a big risk of stigmatization, racism, and genocide.
Misak people re-signifying history during the strike
Sebastián de Belalcázar arrived in Cauca in 1537, claimed the territory for the Spanish crown and founded the city of Popayán, as he did with other cities in Colombia, like Cali. These settlements implied the subjugation of the Indigenous population and were essential for the Spanish to establish control over newly conquered territories. In 1937, the mayor of Popayán commissioned the construction of the Belalcázar monument in commemoration of the quadricentennial anniversary of the founding of Popayán. The monument was placed at the Morro de Tulcán, a ceremonial center of the Pubeneses, a confederation of Indigenous groups that inhabited the territory when the Spanish arrived. During the inauguration of the statue, the poet Rafael Maya claimed that the statue symbolized Popayán’s best “a heroic race, wisdom, beauty, holiness, poetry and song.” Therefore, it is considered that the statue symbolizes the Hispanidad, an Iberian and Catholic identity.
Today, September 16th, 2020, the year in which 55 massacres have accumulated in Colombia and when terror, lies, deception and power deepen their fascist and racist war from the Wall Mapu to Chiapas and beyond. Today, finally, from the hand of the daughters and sons of the Misak people, that is, of the earth; today Sebastián the murderer has fallen and with him, right now, those who have exercised the power of terror for more than 500 years are also coming down.
Belalcázar was accused of genocide, dispossession, land grabbing as well as physical and cultural disappearance of the peoples that were part of the Pubense Confederation (from which the Misak are considered the direct descendants). The punishment was that Belalcázar should be remembered as a murderer and the genocide, instead of being remembered as a “hero.”
By the sunrise of the 28th of April, 2021, the city of Cali in the southwestern part of the country woke up without one of its most iconic statues: Sebastian de Belalcázar. The statue was knocked down by the AISO in a continuation of the trial of 2020.
Since then, the list of statues that have fallen across the country has been increasing throughout the strike. Five more statues have fallen in different cities. Most of these statues were constructed by local governments after independence as icons of a postcolonial society that aimed to foster a sense of patriotism and strengthen the history of the nation.
On the 9th of June, they also tried to knock down the statues of Christopher Columbus and Isabella the Catholic in Bogotá, but the police stopped them. The next day, however, the Ministry of Culture removed the statues and a consultation table was established. This initiative seeks to listen to ethnic communities, historians and other actors about the meaning of monuments and to define whether these statues will be erected again or if they will be sent to a museum. This was celebrated by Misak people.
Indigenous Misak actions invite Colombian people to reflect on their colonial past and heroes. Misak people call for a broad historical perspective, which includes Indigenous history. Moreover, these actions show that Indigenous people and young protesters are tired of a ruling class that glorifies a bloody past and identifies with Spanish and European history more than its own.
The Nasa people from northern Cauca are part of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council – CRIC, the biggest and oldest indigenous organization in the country. The Nasa are known around the world for their Guardia Indígena – GI (Indigenous Guard), a network for community protection of women, men, boys and girls who voluntarily and non-violently defend indigenous territories. The GI responds to a process of historical resignification of the ancient struggles and to a practical need for territorial control in Indigenous lands overwhelmed by armed conflict. The GI won the Front Line Defenders recognition in 2020 for their actions and contribution to peacebuilding. It is a non-violent initiative where its members are unarmed and use only symbolic weapons, such as a bastón (walking stick), symbolizing power bestowed on them by their community to claim territorial control.
On May 3rd, the Minga (an Indigenous political meeting) from Cauca arrived in Cali to join the national strike. The GI joined the barricades that were created in different marginalized neighborhoods and their presence inspired young people of the “Front Line.”
On May 9th, civilians armed with handguns attacked a group of guards that were on their way to provide food and supplies to the Minga in Cali. The videos easily remind us of the battles between the Indigenous and the Spanish, the former with darker skin and without weapons whereas the latter had whiter skin and sophisticated weapons. The attack against the Minga was carefully planned but the GI, completely unarmed, followed the gunmen to try to capture them. As a result, eight indigenous people were injured and two days later, on May 11th, the Minga went back to the indigenous territories in Cauca.
The GI has become a symbol of nonviolent resistance and it is a very attractive icon among the youth. The current strike has been led and carried by young people, who do not see any future for themselves, hence, initiatives like the GI provide an alternative for young individuals who are searching for their place in this country.
Both strategies, those of the Misak and the GI, and the reactions from some sectors of Colombian society, show us that colonialism continues to be a contemporary tension. A process that inhabits people in everyday life and, for this reason, what is at stake in the symbolic actions described above is not only Colombia’s past but also its present. The ultimate goal of the Indigenous people’s strategies is that their actions, knowledge, beliefs and struggles become part of the democratic conversation, so they can contribute to resolving the complex problems of the modern world, and their contribution can be recognized and acknowledged.
*Editors Note: This piecewas originally posted by MinnPost.
During Pride Month, the University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies grapples with the complicated legacy of remembering and memorializing LGBTQIA+ individuals, who for too long remained absent from collective memory of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide or mass violence. As I worked to compile resources for K-12 and university educators teaching about these topics, certain patterns became clear. It is true that homosexual men are the subjects of existing Holocaust historiography, as men engaging in homosexuality were sent to concentration camps in large numbers, and they faced incredibly brutal treatment during and after the Nazi period. However, Nazis’ strictly prescribed roles for gender and sexuality also meant that others fell victim to state violence and persecution and post-war, queerphobic, collective amnesia.
Furthermore, Holocaust testimonies rarely mention homosexuality in a positive light, which continues to lead to additional elisions among the organizations and institutions tasked with preserving this past. If queerphobia continues to serve as a means of ostracization and exclusion, queering the past and histories of genocide is an ongoing and a multidirectional task. Queer activists, students, and scholars past and present self-critically continue to recover, complicate, and amend certain orthodoxies when studying genocide and mass violence; the resonances across time and space among various groups are profound. Gender and sexuality remain (among many topics) understudied within genocide studies more broadly. Where, then, does a larger, more inclusive understanding of the past enter into K-12 and university curricula? With a discerning eye, the past begins to circulate anew, and more inclusive histories emerge in unexpected ways.
As I made my way through Sarah Schulman’s extraordinary “Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP, 1987-1993,” subtle (and not-so-subtle) reverberations with both our present moment and our collective past became apparent. While we are globally still battling the COVID-19 pandemic, the story of AIDS activism certainly touches on another recent example of governments’ in/action, public backlash and ignorance around deadly diseases, and the disparities around race, gender, and socioeconomics in health care around the world. But within this book, one that critics have coined “part sociology, part oral history, part memoir, part call to arms,” the resulting story of AIDS activism also illuminates other focal points beyond the lack of government intervention and public apathy; Schulman also stresses the central role of imagery and words (i.e., symbolism) from the past for ACT UP’s (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power’s) messaging.
The importance of (rehashed) symbols and slogans for political activism is nothing new, and it was not what solely made ACT UP a revolutionary protest movement. Nevertheless, in a post-Stonewall world, ACT UP consisted of many prominent artists and advertisers in its ranks, and they created polished campaigns that effectively circulated memorable language and images to combat the lack of action around HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, many of the activists themselves were HIV+, and either queer, from marginalized groups, or a combination of intersectional identities.
It was ACT UP that spurred public awareness surrounding the persecution of sexual minorities and the policing of gender under the Nazis (at least in the Anglophone world) post-Stonewall. Many of the movement’s activists were also Jewish, and often had familial ties to the Holocaust. One such intersection of queer and Jewish history occurred at a protest at the World Trade Center. ACT UP activists dressed as office workers, wore masks that said FACELESS BUREAUCRATS, and carried lunch board signs that read, “IT’S NOT MY FAULT, I DIDN’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT. NOBODY TOLD ME ABOUT THE OVENS.” A common defense among Nazi war criminals, collaborators and ordinary citizens alike, this common adage satirically used by ACT UP exposed the societal complicity in mass death of PWAs (People with AIDS). When the response from public officials ranged from apathy to scapegoating, it did not take much to link these non-responses to other iterations of state-sponsored violence and public apathy.
The success of ACT UP’s images lay in a larger politicization of aesthetics that reverberated for years. One of ACT UP’s most successful campaigns was Silence = Death / Silencio=Muerte, which utilized the pink triangle used in Nazi concentration camps to identify homosexuals. Instead of the triangle being upside down (the way in which it was used by the Nazis), the triangle was placed right-side up. This not only subverted and departed from the Nazi usage, it also effectively conjured up the memory of past persecution of sexual minorities without reducing minoritized groups to victimization.
The imagery was so successful that the ways in which these mediated images and symbols took on a life of their own. Silence = Death circulated within the Klezmer revival movement, where many of its musicians and activists were queer and/or Jewish, and were revitalizing Yiddish language, music, and culture after its decimation in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust. The most notable example was with the Klezmatics, who used the Yiddish translation, שװײַגן איז טױט (transliteration: Shvaygn iz toyt) for their debut album in 1989. On the album cover, the text appears in both Yiddish orthography and transliteration, surrounding a photo of the band members, at least one of whom, Lorin Sklamberg (who identifies as gay) is wearing a pink triangle.
Echoes of the past appear in unexpected places, not always directly connected to the acts of mass violence in question, but surface in a myriad of ways within a larger culture and are equally worthy of critical study and examination. How does Yiddish music in the late 20th century not only grapple with the genocide of Eastern European Jewry, but how can it place itself in dialogue with a larger community of cultural and political activists? How can the memory of genocide serve not to re/traumatize, but to instead work through the myriad ways targeted groups survive mass violence, even if justice is never served on their behalf? As a gay Yiddishist myself, who teaches university and community-education students in multiple languages (including English, German, and Yiddish), these are central questions when studying these topics.
These two examples of ACT UP that incorporate Holocaust memory also demonstrate that queering history in this way (and especially the histories of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide and mass vioence) would not be possible today without the protest and political movements that made LGBTQIA+ visiblity possible. Knowing that a genocide took place is not enough. Yes, engaging with culture(s) destroyed by fascism in a nuanced way is a next step, but so is learning of cultural revival and continuation in spite of a violent past. The same approach holds true for the myriad of queer histories we are obligated to study and complicate. It is an approach that serves as a reminder: Singular histories fail to grapple with the events in question, as the events resonate differently across time, space, and among affected groups.
A recent interview with Professor Alisa Solomon on Eve Adams, a radical queer Jewish feminist, who was deported by the United States to Poland and later murdered by the Nazis. A new book about her can be found here:
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.
About Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities promotes academic research, education and public awareness on the Holocaust, other genocides and current forms of mass violence. It was established in 1997 by Dr. Stephen Feinstein as an interdisciplinary research center. Read more…