Event Reviews

In May, the Armenian Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and members of the Jewish community, gathered in the St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Pail to commemorate victims of genocide and mass violence from their communities. This gathering appears to be the first time that these three communities have come together to remember their pasts. The event came to fruition over friendship and food, as well as a recognition that supporting one another, especially over similarly tragic pasts, is important for the survival of minority communities.

Speakers from each community emphasized a commonality between all three religions, whether a shared history of victimization or a shared theology. Each community has a tragic history, histories that Fr. Tadeos, the priest of the Armenian Church, wished would remain in the past. However, he emphasized that the Coptic Church continues to experience these tragedies today.

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Thursday marks the start of the 37th annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, a two plus week celebration of cinema from across the globe. This year’s events feature more than 250 films spread across six theaters throughout the Twin Cities.

Here are a few selections that may pique your interest:

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“A Holocaust video game!” exclaimed the man sitting to my left with an alarmed look on his face. Professor Wulf Kansteiner, in a keynote address, had just suggested both the inevitability and the necessity of such a video game in his argument for expanded tolerance towards the shifting nature of Holocaust narratives in societal consciousness and education. Indeed, half the audience gathered at the three-day Holocaust education conference, “Near but Far: Holocaust Education Revisited,” in Munich, Germany seemed incensed by the idea of a video game about the Holocaust. The other half – a mix of professors, teachers, and site educators – nodded their heads, if not in approval, perhaps knowing that the future of Holocaust education, as outlined by Kansteiner, is already emerging. Indeed, such games are making a tentative foray into an industry whose revenues have surpassed those of the movie industry for more than a decade.

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From now until March 24, the Guthrie Theater is presenting Paula Vogel’s Indecent. Surely, this is the 21st century’s greatest play about the Jewish experience in 20th century Europe and America.

It’s a play about a play—Polish (later American) author Solomon Asch’s The God of Vengeance, one of Yiddish theatre’s most famous plays (along with The Golem and The Dybbuk)—but don’t let that put you off. In the hands of Vogel, the history of this work raises many issues relevant to our current times. Plus, the lively staging by Wendy Goldberg includes a good deal of Klezmer music and Jewish dance (choreography by Yehuda Hyman), so the heartbreaking story is thoroughly entertaining.

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The recent “Truth, Trials and Memory Conference” at the University of Minnesota revealed an often overlooked concern in the field of Transitional Justice, namely that of the family, and its place and function for a forward-looking memory that is passed on from one generation to another. The panel on Memory in El Salvador took on a sentimental tone centered on the ideals and utopias held by one generation, as well as memories of political violence and victimhood experienced addressing how the next generation engages with them.

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Professor Méndez participated this month in the International Conference Truth, Trials and Memory. An Accounting of Transitional Justice in El Salvador and Guatemala at the University of Minnesota. After his panel on “Truth-seeking Lessons from the Guatemala Experience”, he shared more insights with Michael Soto (UMN Graduate Student, Sociology). Below, is the first part of their exchange on peace processes. You can read the second part on truth-telling here.

Juan E. Méndez, a native of Argentina, is a Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence at the American University – Washington College of Law, where he is Faculty Director of the Anti-Torture Initiative. In February 2017, he was named a member of the Selection Committee to appoint magistrates of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and members of the Truth Commission set up as part of the Colombian Peace Accords. He has previously held positions as UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, an advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, and the Special Advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the Prevention of Genocide.

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The “Truth, Trials, Memory” conference, held at the University of Minnesota between November 1 – 3 opened with an ambitious quest: twenty years after the historical clarification commission in Guatemala, what does accountability look like? Further, in a time of increased civil discontent, protest, and resistance sweeping the United States, what can we learn from transitional justice and indigenous Guatemalan liberation projects?

Keynote speaker Pablo de Grieff opened the conference by naming four key components to transitional justice work done in post-conflict contexts: establishing truth, activating instruments of justice, the dispersal of services and reparations to victims, and the guarantee of non-recurrence. Yet, as the conference rolled onward, it became clearer and clearer to panelists and audience participants the grave difficulties and consequences of such achievements.

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Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj presents at the “Truth, Trials, and Memory” conference. Seated are Yassmin Barrios and Dr. David Weissbrodt (PC Hale Konitshek).

Indigenous K’ichee’ anthropologist, activist, author, and journalist – as well as the main protagonist of Pamela Yates’ newest film 500 Years – Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj concluded her presentation with a powerful response to transitional justice researchers and practitioners. After describing the story of a woman who had to flee her own community during the conflict with her husband and four children, only to return alone after the conflict ended, Velásquez Nimatuj declares (orig. Spanish):

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When I first saw Fritz Hirschberger’s paintings in art storage, I was struck with cognitive dissonance. In the time that I’ve worked for CHGS, I looked at Hirschberger’s paintings and read about the artist quite a bit, but only in print or online in CHGS’ digital collection.

This was my first encounter with a Hirschberger painting in its physicality. Five feet tall, painted in translucent layers of bright oils, there, before me, stretched a saturated orange and purple canvas filled with the a war horseman brandishing deadly weapons. Hirschberger chose the Fifth Horseman precisely because it could not be discerned through physical senses,* yet here in my first encounter seeing this piece in person, it was arresting precisely because of its physical nature.

Weeks later, the paintings were installed and ready as part of [Re]Telling, an exhibition of Holocaust art, narrative, and contemporary response, held in the Tychman Shapiro Gallery at the Sabes JCC. Yehudit Shendar, retired Deputy Director and Senior Art Curator of Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, gave remarks at the opening reception of [Re]Telling featuring seven paintings by survivor Fritz Hirschberger selected from the CHGS permanent collection.

“[Re]Telling” participating artists and artwork by Robert O. Fisch

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“Nasty, brutish, and short.”

In a recent lecture by Ambassador Stephen Rapp, hosted by the Human Rights Program, he borrowed from Thomas Hobbes’ famous line to describe life in a world without justice. His presentation kicked off a lecture series about the ongoing Syrian crisis.

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Ambassador Rapp

Saying that Ambassador Rapp has an extensive resume is an understatement: he served as Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes in the Office of Global Criminal Justice, a position which brought him around the globe to address a wide span of conflicts during his 2009-2015 term. His legal experience includes positions in the International Criminal Court and the International Tribunal for Rwanda, where he helped prosecute the first conviction for a member of the media in inciting genocide. Currently, he holds positions with the Hague Institute for Global Justice and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

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On Holocaust Remembrance Day Trump’s White House issued a statement condemning Nazi terror and resolving to prevent generalized atrocities in the future. The statement, however, did not mention Jews or antisemitism. This omission raised eyebrows. Upon questioning, a spokeswoman for Trump’s administration cited inclusivity of and sensitivity to all of the groups that perished under Nazi brutality as the cause for ambiguity in the aforementioned statement. The spokeswoman directed attention to an article that discussed the killing of six million Jews as well as the killing of  “priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters” under the Nazi regime.

While these groups were Nazi targets, no group was targeted as indiscriminately as the Jews. Antisemitism produced a unique brand of blind hatred. At the Holocaust Remembrance Day event held on January 26th in the Twin Cities, Patrick Desbois – a French Catholic priest known for his work identifying sites of genocidal violence and author of The Holocaust by Bullets – explained that Jewishness was a source of unequivocal condemnation. “Never was there a Jewish child too young or a Jewish woman too old for the Nazis to destroy,” he said.

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Father DesBois at Beth El Synagogue on January 26th, 2017 (Photo Credit: JCRC)

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