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The academic field of genocide took a comparative turn in the 1980s, thus setting the stage for its modern disciplinary character. Contemporary genocide studies is characterized by a growing overlap between scholarly and advocacy efforts, especially seen through a modern emphasis on preventing future genocide by flagging gross violations of human rights as they happen in real-time. As another outgrowth of this comparative turn, the historical record—particularly during the twentieth century—was re-examined. This “second look” has resulted in several previously overlooked cases, including the 1930s Ukrainian Holodomor (“death by hunger”), gaining increased research visibility. Ukrainian independence in 1991 resulted in the de-classification of previously hidden governmental records of this Soviet forced-famine under Joseph Stalin, and slow-but-steady translations of this evidence continues to allow for wider international research accessibility.

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No, I am not talking about Bernie Sanders’ revolution, I am talking about the one and only revolution that ever happened in American history.

But let me start by taking a step back. I always felt that the most exceptional thing about the United States was the fact that its political institutions have been virtually the same for over 220 years. This appears even more unique when you take into account that throughout this entire time period, democratic voting has been the default mechanism to put people in and out of office. There are some exceptions of course, such as the Civil War and four presidential assassinations. But still, compared with, let’s say, France, which is on its fifth republic since the French revolution and went through two Napoleonic empires and several more revolutions along the way, the United States always looked like the long-standing haven of democratic solidity, pragmatism and reliability. It looked even better from the perspective of my home country, Germany, with its mix of monstrous Reichs and numerous attempts at democracy that failed until finally the United States and its allies helped out after WWII.

There is always room for improvement – tumultuous session of delegates during the first French republic in 1794, which since then has been followed by four more.

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Imagine a trial rocking a nation: accusations of collusion with a hated enemy, wealthy and influential elites taking sides, an entire country riveted by headlines. The trial would fundamentally alter the country; both changing how citizens viewed each other, the military and other national institutions.

No, this is not related to the current investigation into President Trump’s alleged ties. While the Dreyfus Affair, as it would become known, happened more than a century ago, there are more than a few passing similarities between the events of today and those from the 1890’s.

In 1894, a young army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of selling military plans to France’s mortal enemy, Germany. In a highly publicized trial, Dreyfus was convicted of treason and sentenced to life on Devil’s Island, France’s military prison island in the Caribbean. Soon after Dreyfus’ family began appealing the decision. The case split the country; conservative pro-army factions clashed openly with intellectual pro-republican leaders. In January 1898, Émile Zola published J’accuse…!, a rallying cry of support exonerating Dreyfus. Eventually cleared of his treason conviction, Dreyfus was instead sentenced to a 10 years hard labor, although that too was commuted. It wasn’t until 1906 that Dreyfus was officially cleared of his conviction.

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Was Hitler a bully?   Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, shared in an essay in Slate how his 5-year-old daughter’s teacher compared the “worst criminal in history to a playground tormentor.” Perhaps an extreme example. Yet to understand this increasingly common trend to educate students about “Bully Hitler,” one must recognize two developments that are currently shaping the way teachers, curriculum writers, and educational institutions in the United States are educating young people about the Holocaust. First, there is a universalization of the Holocaust in an attempt to make its study relevant to students’ lived experiences and to provide them with overt moral and ethical lessons in the form of social-emotional and character education. Second, increasingly, many state legislatures have mandated Holocaust education, often suggesting a study in the form of character education to younger students, some as young as elementary school (5-10 years old). New Jersey’s Commission on Holocaust Education, the entity responsible for ensuring schools meet the state’s Holocaust-education mandate, reminds educators that, “the law indicates that issues of bias, prejudice and bigotry, including bullying through the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide, shall be included for all children from K-12th grade.” Thus, increasingly, students are taught to link the Holocaust with bullying and pushed to contemplate the choices they might have made during the Holocaust, as well as the choices they might make in their school’s cafeterias, hallways, and playgrounds as bullies, bystanders, or upstanders.

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The Spanish daily El País published a shocking story last week about a rare and controversial document from the Buchenwald Nazi Concentration Camp. A PhD Thesis done by a Nazi camp doctor, Erich Wagner, titled On the Subject of Tattoos, that analyzes the tattoos of the camp’s earliest prisoners, many of whom were Jews arrested during Kristallnacht.

Wagner “meticulously catalogued the race, nationality, criminal past and education” of those sent to Buchenwald in an attempt to connect tattoos with criminal tendencies – an approach, needless to say, with no scientific merit.

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I have fond memories of spending childhood Thanksgivings with my Slovak grandmother in Eastern Pennsylvania. Never a traditional meal, we ate city chicken and Serviettenknödel (a Bohemian dish not dissimilar to traditional dressing). The stories I heard around the dinner table were of the hardships of my immigrant family coming to the U.S. and, despite facing immense adversity, surviving and thriving due to honest hard work. Despite learning about the myths surrounding Thanksgiving and teaching my high school students about Indigenous genocides, it’s been only recently that I began to connect these stories to the larger narrative of U.S. settler colonialism. Maybe it’s because my holiday traditions seemed so rooted in my family’s immigrant past and stories of hardships and survival, which seemed so removed from the myths of Native and European encounters. Maybe it’s a reluctance to connect my happy childhood memories and traditions to ideas of genocide.

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On October 24th, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) hosted a celebration honoring 20 years of serving its mission to promote awareness and encourage collaboration in the study of mass violence. The event brought together faculty, community members, advocates, as well as current student and alumni, to commemorate the legacy of Steven Feinstein, CHGS’s founding director, and to acknowledge the Center’s current initiatives. Guests toured a pop-up exhibition of artwork from the CHGS archives and enjoyed a musical program.

Speakers included Dean Coleman from the College of Liberal Arts, CHGS Director Alejandro Baer, graduate student Wahutu Siguru, Program Coordinator Jennifer Hammer, and Dr. Rebecca Feinstein, daughter of founding director Steven Feinstein. Many spoke of the interdisciplinary strength of CHGS, which works with faculty and students from a number of departments across campus. Others discussed the wide variety of CHGS initiatives, from outreach events to past symposiums, as well as future course offerings.

Guests left with a copy of the annual report, news on upcoming events, and pages from the first-ever CHGS newsletter 20 years ago. Overall, the event provided an opportunity to reflect upon 20 successful years of CHGS, as well as the chance to look ahead at what is to come.

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Dr. Rebecca Feinstein, daughter of founding director Steven Feinstein
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Musical program featuring Natalie Moiseeva (violin) Rena Kraut (clarinet) and Ivan Konev (piano)IMG_8692.jpg

Artwork Exhibition from the CHGS Archives

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CHGS Team. From left to right: Alejandro Baer, Camille Grey, Wahutu Siguru, Tomas Romano, Brooke Chambers, Alexandra Tiger, Demetrios Vital, Dana Queen, Miray Philips (Missing: Jennifer Hammer)

One of the more pressing questions I consistently get asked about genocides and mass atrocity is: What would motivate an individual to kill their neighbor? Understanding the answer holds the key to end genocides and mass atrocity.

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On October 14, 2017, one of the worst truck bombs ever experienced in Africa ripped the capital of Somalia, Mogadisho. On a global scale, this blast was only second to the 2016 attack in Iraq that killed 341 people in Karrada. This particular attack was so horrific that even a former Al-Shabaab leader was pictured donating much needed blood. As of October 16th, almost 276 people had been declared dead with 300 hundred injured. This number is likely to increase in the coming hours as the rubble is sifted through. Due to the intensity of the blast, there is a very real chance a large number of the dead will never be identified. One of the victims of the attack is Dr. Maryama Abdullahi who was to graduate from the medical school this week and whose parents’ joy and anticipation has now become unbearable grief. Another was Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, a Minnesota man who prayed at the Dar-Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. I’m not sure if you saw this in your regular news outlets or if it even crossed your social media platforms.

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On March 19, 2015, two armed men entered a museum in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, and opened fire, killing 19 people. The assailants specifically targeted a popular tourist destination with the alleged goal of generating maximum impact on behalf of the Islamic State (IS). This example is hardly unique. Between mid-2015 and mid-2016, numerous large-scale attacks against civilians occurred in the capitals of France, Indonesia, Turkey, the UK, and Belgium, to name only a few. Why do insurgents choose to target capital cities? Are these attacks evidence of a global trend? Are there specific circumstances in which attacks on capital cities are more likely?

Insurgent Attack in Tunisia, 2015 (PC: CNN)

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