Featured Scholar

Max Breger, a doctoral candidate and visiting scholar from the University of Siegen, Germany, was recently hosted by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Breger has been in the United States for the past roughly two months, conducting research on torture committed by U.S. agencies, especially in connection with the larger so-called “War on Terror.” His work is part of a larger comparative research project led by Professor Dr. Katharina Inhetveen. Breger presented on the project and shared initial findings from his work with members of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies (HGMV) Interdisciplinary Graduate Group in a talk entitled: “Violent Interrogation, Psychology, and Body Knowledge: Torture in the ‘War on Terror.'” I sat down with Breger for an interview to learn more about the project.*

Max (on the right) with the author.


In this interview with Yagmur Karakaya, Prof. Olick demystifies processes involved in collective memory, discusses the role of emotions and nostalgia in remembrance, and introduces the notion of regional constellations of memory. Olick also untangles the fruitful concept of “legitimation profiles”, which he applies in his latest book to the ways Germany confronts the specters of its Nazi past. 

Jeffrey Olick is a professor of sociology and history and chair of the sociology department at the University of Virginia. He is a cultural and historical sociologist whose work has focused on collective memory and commemoration, critical theory, transitional justice, postwar Germany, and sociological theory more generally. His books include “The Politics of Regret: On Collective Memory and Historical Responsibility,” and “The Sins of Fathers: Germany, Memory, Method”.

(Editor’s note: This is a condensed version of our interview with Dr. Olick. Follow the link at the end to read the interview in its entirety.)


The roots of today’s racial and religious structures can be found in late medieval Spain and its colonies. It was in the Iberian Peninsula, during the fifteenth century, that terms like raza (race) and linaje (lineage) went from being used to describe horse or dog breeding to being applied to Jews and “Moors.” This switch coincided with the appearance of anti-converso ideologies, which would turn theological categories (like Jew and Muslim), into biological ones (limpieza de sangre).


Daniel Reynolds is the Seth Richards Professor in Modern Languages at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. His works examines the ways representation of the Holocaust has shifted in museums and memorial sites across the United States, Poland and Germany. His most recent book, Postcards from Auschwitz, was published last year.

In November, the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies welcomed Dr. Reynolds for a lecture where he touched on the themes of his latest book and Holocaust tourism’s effect on how we remember.


In October, the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies welcomed Hasan Hasanovic to campus to discuss his experience as a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide. Mr. Hasanovic was 18 when Bosnian Serbs systematically murdered more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in July 1995. Since then, Mr. Hasanovic has written an account of his story, Surviving Srebrenica (The Lumphanen Press, 2016), and spoken around the world on the topic of Srebrenica and genocide more broadly. For the last decade, he has served as a curator at the Srebrenica Memorial.

Joe Eggers: I’ve watched several of your interviews on television and especially your presentations at schools. What’s one message you hope they take away after you speak?

Hasan Hasanovic: It’s interesting. After the Holocaust, the whole world said “never again.” And very similar things were [still] happening afterwards—in Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia. It’s happening here and now with Rohingya Muslims. Now we have this situation in China with Muslims—one million are being held in labor camps. Somehow we don’t have a mechanism to prevent these atrocities. We talk about them after ten, twenty years, and we feel sorry for victims and we try to say something about it and try to educate people, and that’s it. But what is lacking is that global mechanism, which should be the United Nations. Sadly, world powers have different interests and those interests are standing the way of global intervention and prevention of mass atrocities. I’m trying in a way to make a point that we need to talk about it and to make sure we keep that memory alive and to educate people, but at the same time remember that it’s still happening. And my hope is that when I talk to these audiences—that some of them will become politicians, some of them will pursue other professions—they will use this story and other stories of other atrocities in their lives, as a lesson, and they will become better individuals, better politicians, more humane politicians. And if they get a chance…to decide something that they will make an appropriate decision, thinking from a humane perspective, rather than the perspective of the interests of their political party or the interests of that power.


Chad Alan Goldberg is Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin Madison. His interests lie in the sociology of citizenship, including the development of rights and duties over time, changing levels and forms of democratic participation and shifting patterns of civil inclusion and exclusion. He is the author of Citizens and Paupers: Relief, Rights, and Race, from the Freedmen’s Bureau to Workfare. His most recent book, Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought examines how Jews became a touchstone for defining modernity and national identity in French, German, and American social thought from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.

Alejandro Baer: Your book highlights how for classical theorists, such as Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx or Robert Park, Jews became reference points for the interpretation of the new modern social order. Why do Jews occupy this singular space in the theorizing of modernity?

Chad Goldberg: To answer to this question, some people have pointed to the Jewish backgrounds of authors like Durkheim, Marx, Simmel, and Wirth. Others have suggested that the answer lies in the distinctive social positions that Jews occupied. There may be some truth to both views. Durkheim’s thinking, for example, was surely directed against the antisemitism of his milieu, and it’s true that German Jews were disproportionately engaged in commerce and more urbanized than the general population. But my book suggests another way to answer this question; I draw on the work of Lévi-Strauss to develop a relational (or, as others might say, structuralist) explanation.


Michael Rothberg is the 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies and Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. His latest book is Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization (2009). He is also the author of Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation (2000), and has co-edited The Holocaust: Theoretical Readings (2003), and special issues of the journals Criticism, Interventions, Occasion, and Yale French Studies. As part of the Seeking Refuge in a Changing World Series, Rothberg was invited by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide studies to give a talk titled, “Inheritance Trouble: Migrant Archives of Holocaust Remembrance.” You can watch it here.


How did you decide to bring postcolonial studies and Holocaust studies together, and what compelled you to address interlocutions between these two realms of study?

Since graduate school I’ve had an interest in both Holocaust studies and postcolonial studies, but I thought about them for a long time as separate projects and interests. Parallel to that, I had an interest in the relationship between Jewish American culture and African American culture. It was reading Paul Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic when it came out in the 1990s that made me realize I could bring these different fields together, and I started to do that in the conclusion to my first book, Traumatic Realism. After completing that book I discovered an essay by W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Negro and the Warsaw Ghetto,” which eventually became the origins of my idea of multidirectional memory, although I didn’t have the term at that time. I wrote an essay on DuBois and his visit to post-war Warsaw where he witnessed the rubble of the ghetto and saw the newly-erected Warsaw Ghetto Uprising monument. I thought this was a powerful response that had interesting things to say about race — especially in a comparative perspective. At the time, I thought I was working on a project on Blacks and Jews, a topic that is often grounded in an American national framework. I was interested in broadening that out into an international/transnational realm.


Natalie Belsky is Assistant Professor at the Department of History at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include migration, minority politics in the USSR, Soviet citizenship, and East European Jewish history. She has conducted research in Russia, Kazakhstan, Israel and the United States. Invited by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, she recently gave a lecture titled, “Shelter from the Holocaust: Rethinking Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union.” After her talk, Belsky shared more insights with Meyer Weinshel (UMN Graduate Student, German, Scandinavian and Dutch).


The multilingualism central to Jewish life and culture in Eastern Europe is fascinating, especially as it was shifting over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Can you speak to how Jews fleeing to the interior of the Soviet Union fared linguistically? Could they continue speaking the languages they knew, or did they have to adapt to their places of exile?

Soviet Jews are a particular case. Before 1939, Soviet Jews were relatively assimilated. But more broadly my research also includes Polish Jews, who had some knowledge of Russian but lived in rather multilingual communities. One of the things that I look at, is the encounter between Soviet and Polish Jews. In some cases, younger Soviet Jews found Polish Jews to be somewhat exotic, and it was difficult to see them as Jews like themselves. Over the course of those twenty years [between the Russian Revolution and the outbreak of the Second World War], the divergence taking place was profound. On the home front during the war, Central Asian languages factored into the equation as well. Jews who only spoke Yiddish, or who did not have the linguistic skills to navigate the Soviet system, faced additional challenges.


Ali Ahmida is Professor at the Department of Political Science in University of New England. His research interests are in political theory, comparative politics, and historical sociology. His scholarship is cross-cultural and focuses on power, agency and anti-colonial resistance in North Africa, especially in modern Libya. He is currently working on two books, one about genocide in colonial Libya and the other a biography of the Libyan freedom fighter Omar al-Mukhtar. Ahmida recently gave a lecture titled, “When the Subaltern Speak: Researching Italian Fascist Colonial Genocide in Libya, 1929–1934” as part of the African Studies Initiative Symposium on Reframing Mass Violence in Africa: Social Memory and Social Justice. After his lecture, Ahmida shared more insights with Miray Philips (UMN Graduate Student, Sociology).


What happened to the Libyans during 1929-1934 at the hands of Italian fascists?

110, 000 were interned in concentration camps for four years as a strategy to cut the base of support for the anti-colonial resistance. They were starved and denied medical treatment, and only 40,000 came alive after 1934.

Why is this genocide unknown?

The fascist Italian government denied any international media access to the camps. The allies covered up any trail of war crimes, and the fascist government was never put on trial. Libya remained a colony until 1951. However, since the foundation of Libyan Studies Center in 1977, there has been Libyan scholarship and documentations of the genocide in Arabic. The Center collected archival material and oral history from that year until 2000.


Professor Carlo Tognato gave a lecture titled, “Narrating the ‘Righteous in the Colombian Armed Conflict’: A civil pedagogy of solidarity for highly polarized and deeply divided societies” at the Holocaust, Genocide and Mass Violence Interdisciplinary Graduate Group. You can watch the lecture here. After his lecture, Tognato shared more insights with Michael Soto (UMN Graduate Student, Sociology).

Carlo Tognato is Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology at the Universidad Nacional in Colombia. He is also Director of the Nicanor Restrepo Santamaría Center for Civil Reconstruction in Bogotá and Faculty Fellow at the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University. For over a decade, he worked on cultural economic sociology. Since 2014, though, his research has almost exclusively concentrated on civil reconstruction in postconflict society, thereby taking a more interventive and public turn.


In your presentation on “Narrating the ‘Righteous’ in the Colombian Armed Conflict,” you highlighted that post conflict narratives tend to have a binary focus on victims and perpetrators. You introduced a third category, that of the ‘Righteous.’  What does this mean and why is it important?

The big problem with the victims-perpetrators binary is that it ends up feeding into extreme polarization and deep socio-political divisions. When you are under these circumstances, and you want to solidarize with a person who belongs to another group, then the people within your own group will see the act of solidarity towards people from other groups as an act of betrayal of in-group solidarity.