From the Director

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

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


The election of Donald Trump in November 2016 coincided with the 78th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s state-sponsored anti-Jewish riots known as Kristallnacht. On that occasion, we titled our newsletter: Infamous Past, Disturbing Present. The shocking ascendancy in a post-Holocaust world of a movement rooted in the United States, mainly powered by toxic rhetorical brawling and sheltering authoritarian and anti-democratic impulses, was destined to be a ruinous affair. The ransacking and rioting at the nation’s capital by those courted and enthralled by this cult of personality is deeply despairing.  

In 2016 we looked carefully at the facts and summarized our concerns about the potential direction of unrestrained incendiary speech and actions. Five years later, despite Trump not being elected President, or maybe precisely because of that, we have now reached the precipice. 


It is almost impossible to put into words how heartbreaking and grim these past days have been, as we watched in horror and distress the footage of Minneapolis police officers murdering George Floyd. The outrage and pain that followed have shaken the foundations of our communities to their very core. The magnitude of this moment cannot be minimized, as protesters have taken to the streets. Young and old alike have cried out for justice.  

When I was a youngster back in high school in Madrid I was deeply moved by a drama I read called Biedermann and the Arsonists, by Max Frisch. It is about a citizen who invites two arsonists into his house, even though they signal from the start that they will set fire to it.  


In the wake of the COVID19 outbreak, we are confronted with a globally massive threat to our health, where unparalleled measures are being proposed and enacted to counter it. We are chronicling in real-time the heroic actions of those in the field who are putting their lives on the line to make a difference coupled with heartbreaking stories of loss, separation, and suffering.

Medical personnel on the frontlines of this pandemic in my home country Spain are succumbing to illness at an astonishing rate. Currently, Spain is hobbled with the highest COVID19 caseload in all of Europe and reportedly ranks only behind the United States worldwide in terms of sheer numbers of those infected. 

Nurses in Madrid


In the past two decades, we have witnessed a steady expansion of interest, beyond Jewish institutions, by the number of government officials willing to introduce and participate in some form or fashion in public observances of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Commemorations are now held in more than 35 countries on January 27th, the day on which, in 1945, Soviet troops liberated the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. 


Editor’s Note: A copy of this editorial appeared on MinnPost on November 18th.

In Spain, the far-right were also-rans, effectively discredited and shunned in mainstream circles and government affairs since the end of the Francoist period in the mid-1970s. Those days are long gone.

Vox, which promotes itself as the “patriotic alternative,” burst onto the national scene late last year in the elections in the southern region of Andalucía, sending shockwaves through Spanish politics. In the wake of this political upheaval came the general election in April, where the ultranationalist party received just over 10% of votes and won 24 seats in the 350-seat Parliament. That election resulted in no clear majority and plunged the country into another round of voting. In the Nov. 10 election, Vox more than doubled its previous results. Now 52 seats strong, Vox has become the third-largest political force in the country.


Six years have passed since I joined the University of Minnesota and in a few weeks I will be starting my first sabbatical research leave.

In keeping with its founding goals, the Center has kept busy over these last six years.  We have welcomed new graduate students, hosted captivating scholars, developed new outreach initiatives, and built a robust intellectual agenda around the vital theme of responses to, remembrance and prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes. Through lectures, symposiums, courses, exhibits, and teacher workshops we have been privileged to learn, teach, disseminate research findings and expand the community of engaged students, researchers and genocide educators. We have built new partnerships – at the U of M, nationally, and internationally — and nurtured fruitful relationships with community organizations, schools, and cultural institutions in the Twin Cities.

I have immensely enjoyed being part of the exceptional CHGS team, comprised currently of its terrific Program Coordinator, Jennifer Hammer, Outreach Coordinator Joe Eggers, Research Fellow Artyom Tonoyan, and graduate students Miray Philips (Sociology), Brooke Chambers (Sociology) and George Dalbo (School of Education). The team also includes an outstanding board of affiliate faculty members, whose continuous input and collaboration is instrumental in making CHGS a major academic center in the country, distinguished both by its international scope and local sensitivity.

This newsletter celebrates the achievements of the Center in this academic year. I look forward to following the continuation of outstanding work of the Center next year from afar, and to rejoin my colleagues in the fall of 2019.

We are fortunate and grateful that Dr. Klaas van der Sanden, Program Director of the Institute of Global Studies, will serve as CHGS’s interim director during the academic year 2018/2019.

Thank you for the many ways you support the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Alejandro Baer is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota.

Monuments, plaques, statues, names on streets or buildings have become symbolic battlegrounds of different historical interpretations and often also irreconcilable values. There are representations of the past, which help us coming to terms with the legacies of violence, while others deepen divisions further.

These fields of dispute are not restricted to the debates over removal of Confederate monuments in the US South. Minnesota recently reverted Lake Calhoun to its original Dakota name Bde Maka Ska, opting for a name that honors the first inhabitants that settled along its shores instead of the former Vice President infamous for his support of slavery. A story from last Friday’s Star Tribune highlights the important changes taking place at the Minnesota Historical Society. Once deeply rooted in telling the white colonial story, it now embraces a fuller, and thus also more unsettling, picture of the state’s history.


There is no state that has been and continues to be as haunted by the specters of a criminal past as is Germany. What happens when State leaders cannot tell a positive story about the nation’s past? A damaged national identity is, of course, not unique to Germany. For German leaders, however, the task at hand was, and continues to be, the mastering of a past that has become the symbol of ultimate evil. Jeffrey Olick’s The sins of the fathers: Germany, memory, method examines, with an impressive wealth of documentation and meticulous attention to detail, the process by which the Federal Republic of Germany (1949–1990) confronted the burden of the Nazi crimes and dealt with its political costs.

Germany’s ‘legitimation profiles’

Jeffrey Olick argues that ‘much of the state-sponsored memory in the Federal Republic of Germany has been organized as an effort to deny collective guilt’ (p. 29). The book is structured around the presentation of three succeeding ‘legitimation profiles’ – each confronting the problem of collective guilt in singular ways.

The first one, the ‘reliable nation’, which was centered on institutional reform, rather than symbolic gesture, aimed to prove that the newfound German state was a trustworthy and responsible member of the international community. During this time, the country’ s leaders draw a clear line separating the criminal Nazi leadership from the general German population. The Nazis had committed crimes ‘in the name of the German people’, as chancellor Adenauer put it in the1950s.


Gas Chamber installationIn March 2006, performance artist Santiago Serra constructed a homemade gas chamber inside a former synagogue in the Cologne area and invited Germans to be symbolically gassed. Exhaust pipes from six cars were hooked to the building, which was then filled with deadly carbon monoxide and visitors entered the space wearing protective masks. What was the artist’s intention? Serra said his aim was to give people a sense of the Holocaust. The Jewish community was furious. It was considered a provocation at the expense of Holocaust victims, an insult to survivors and the whole community. “What’s artistic about attaching poisonous car exhaust into a former synagogue?” said writer and Holocaust survivor Ralph Giordano (1923-2014), “and who gave permission for this?”