Featured Film/Book

Between 1975 and 1979, the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), also known as the Khmer Rouge, fundamentally transformed the social, economic, political, and natural landscape of Cambodia. During this time as many as two million Cambodians died from exposure to disease, starvation, or were executed at the hands of the state.

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The dominant interpretation of Cambodian history during this period, known as the Standard Total View (STV), presents the CPK as a totalitarian, communist, and autarkic regime seeking to reorganize Cambodian society around a primitive, agrarian political economy. Under the STV, the victims of the regime died as a result of misguided economic policies, a draconian security apparatus, and the central leadership’s fanatical belief in the creation of a utopian, communist society. In short, according to the STV, Democratic Kampuchea, as Cambodia was renamed, constituted an isolated, completely self-reliant prison state. My publication From Rice Fields to Killing Fields: Nature, Life, and Labor under the Khmer Rouge (Syracuse University Press, 2017) challenges the standard narrative and provides a documentary-based Marxist interpretation of the political economy of Democratic Kampuchea.

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Review of Sarah Donovan’s (2016) Genocide Literature in Middle and Secondary Classrooms: Rhetoric, Witnessing, and Social Action in a Time of Standards and Accountability.

In 2016, Michigan became the newest state to enact legislation to mandate the instruction of genocides for secondary students, specifically citing the Holocaust and Armenian genocide. Michigan joined seven states that have legislative mandates to teach about the Holocaust and genocide in public middle and high schools. Currently, several projects are calling for directives to teach about the Holocaust from all 50 states (e.g. New York’s Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect and The Butterfly Project). more...

Congratulations to Alejandro Baer, Natan Sznaider, Bruno Chaouat, Lisa Hilbink and Ofelia Ferrán for publishing new books! Below are short descriptions of each.

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A competent accomplished woman goes up against a populist outsider who has created a reputation built on lies.  Sound familiar? Maybe, but this is not about the 2016 US election: it is the plot of the film Denial (2016), based on the true story of the trial between Jewish Studies and Holocaust scholar Deborah E. Lipstadt and British Holocaust denier David Irving.

There is no denying that Denial is a film for our times. Conceived nine years ago, and filmed in 2015, the parallels between the trial and the President election is not lost on viewers. Frustratingly, we do seem to live in a time in which history is ignored, facts seem like an inconvenience and there is a prevailing ideology – that one’s opinion is more important, regardless if you can back it up with facts or not.  What happens in this scenario is that there can be no debate between anyone because those espousing opinion, cannot rationally articulate their argument against those who cite facts.

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This month, Jodi Elowitz shares five selections that explore recent Holocaust fiction and documentaries from a variety of perspectives.

Now Streaming on Netflix

MV5BMjE2MjQ2MzA2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzAyMTI5NjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,687,1000_AL_What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy (2015) is a documentary based on the article My Father, the Good Nazi (2013) written by British Lawyer, Phillipe Sands in the Financial Times Magazine. The article discusses the relation of Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, Governor General of occupied Poland (General government) and Horst von Wächter, son of Otto von Wächter, District Governor of Krakow, Poland and later District Governor of Galicia during World War II. Both men were responsible for overseeing the extermination of Jews and charged with war crimes. Frank stood trial at Nuremberg and was found guilty on counts three and four (war crimes and crimes against humanity), sentenced to death, and executed on October 16, 1946. Wächter escaped prosecution and died while hiding in Rome in 1949.

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Bystanders, Rescuers or Perpetrators? The Neutral Countries and The Shoah

Edited by Corry Guttstadt, Thomas Lutz, Bernd Rother, Yessica San Román

unnamedThis volume offers a trans-national, comparative perspective on the varied reactions of the neutral countries to the Nazi persecution and murder of the European Jews. It includes a chapter by CHGS director Alejandro Baer and historian Pedro Correa entitled “The Politics of Holocaust Rescue Myths in Spain.”

The volume is based on the conference papers of the international conference of the same name which was held in November 2014 in Madrid. The conference was originally funded through IHRA’s Grant Program and co-sponsored by CHGS, among other organizations. The entire volume can be downloaded for free at this link.

Look_Whoa_s_Back-329719366-largeThe idea of reviving a historical figure to return from the dead to our own time period is not new.  Many novels and films have dealt with this premise before though usually they focus on the return of someone likable. In the German film Look Who’s Back (Er ist wieder da) we get Adolf Hitler in Berlin circa 2014.

Billed as a comedy, Look Who’s Back opens in the clouds, reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will. At first, Look plays like a science fiction film around the return of the deceased. It turns into a buddy-road picture, as Hitler and the recently fired, down-on-his-luck filmmaker Fabian Sawatzki (played by Fabian Busch) drive about Germany in Fabian’s mother’s floral delivery van. They film people’s reactions to Hitler in the hopes that Fabian can get the footage on the air at the TV station that fired him. (These scenes are actual reactions of unsuspecting people on the street to Hitler as played by the actor Oliver Masucci.) Is it a comedy? Yes. Is it funny? Yes. There are laugh-out-loud moments, several moments of uncomfortable laughter, as well as a few cringe-inducing scenes.

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efef9762783e0a46f7211677ee95dda5_originalOn Saturday, February 20th the Italian Cultural Center of Minneapolis & St. Paul presented If Only I Were That Warrior as part of their annual Italian Film Festival followed by a moderated discussion. In the film, director Valerio Ciriaci examines Italy’s brutal attempts to colonize Ethiopia in 1935 through the lens of the 2012 erection of a monument dedicated to Rodolfo Graziani. The monument, located in the Italian town of Affile, reignited the tense politics surrounding Graziani’s involvement in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and its legacy today.

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4b07767d4cc171ce795ecfb8a1a41c3e-1.jpgSon of Saul is a film about a member of the Sonderkommando (Jewish prisoners forced to aid in the killing process and clean up) at Auschwitz.  What sets Son of Saul apart from most films that deal with the Holocaust is that it is not presented in a traditional narrative structure. Hungarian director László Nemes upon accepting his Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film said “over the years the Holocaust has become an abstract. It deserves a face.” Certainly he does this immediately as the camera never leaves Saul; we are either looking directly at his face in close-up or over his shoulder. We experience events with Saul as he goes about his work and later his self-imposed mission, the burial of a boy. The movie is a visceral experience — there is very little dialogue, and we only see and hear what Saul sees and hears.  Nemes gives us very little to go on, we know nothing about Saul’s past, who he once was, prior to landing in Auschwitz.  Saul is introduced to us as he emerges from a combination of mist, smoke and sound. We are immersed in a world that is out of focus and filled with a cacophony of sounds, some so sharp and real one turns to look for the offending speaker in the audience.  Nemes and his sound designer Tamas Zanyi, recorded over eight different languages speaking dialogue to create aural chaos, these layers of sound combined with the close-ups and long takes are intended to disorientate, forming a psychological experience with Saul. Nemes does not use any sentiment or melodramatic devices to tell his story. We never form an emotional bond with Saul as one might to other characters in other films on the Holocaust.
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On Saturday, October 17th, 2015, the Minneapolis Film Society screened Pretty Village at St. Anthony Main theater, a documentary depicting the experience of Kemal Pevranic and his village during the war in Bosnia (1992-95). Pevranic, the main subject of the film, is also the producer and a human rights activist who works to raise awareness and to rebuild his community in Bosnia by working on reconciliation efforts, particularly with young people of all three ethnicities in Bosnia. The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies co-sponsored the film screening event, in which I participated as the moderator of the post-screening discussion. more...