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The Minnesota State Capitol, not unlike other political spaces around the world, displays artwork meant to illustrate important moments in the history of the state. Of these, a number of paintings have created significant debate among politicians and community members.

Nearly a decade after the contentious Dakota War of 1862, an oil painting depicting Dakota warriors attacking white German settlers in New Ulm has, until this year, hung on the walls of the Minnesota State Capitol. The artist, Anton Gag, created “Attack on New Ulm” nearly forty years after the event. On January 26th, 1887, The New Ulm Review reported that, “Mr. Gag’s undertaking is commendable and every one interested in the history of the dark days of New Ulm should aid him.”

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“Attack on New Ulm” by Anton Gag, 1904

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The lifeless body of a 16-month old Rohingya boy, Mohammed Shohayet, was found laying face down on the bank of River Naf at the Bangladesh-Burma border. Although reminiscent of the photograph of Kurdish-Syrian Alan Kurdi, neither this photograph nor the conflict in Burma have received nearly as much attention as the crisis in Syria. Of course, although coverage is important, it has not necessitated action in either conflict.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in Burma (also known as Myanmar), mainly residing in the Rakhina State. While the conflict in Burma has not yet been declared a genocide, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) compiled a report last May on the early warning signs of genocide. The Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide found evidence of a variety of key warning signs, including physical segregation of the population, restrictions on both marriages and births, constraints on movement, and physical violence. And since the release of this report, additional and increasing troubling information has continued to flow from the nation, with the most recent report by the United Nations documenting crimes against humanity. Media organizations have had limited access to the Rakhine state as the government continues its propaganda campaign, but recently leaked footage captured police officers attacking a group of Rohingya men. The government later arrested the officers and stated that the beating was an isolated incident, while claiming similar footage from the previous month was faked. As a result of the conflict, tens of thousands of Rohingya are displaced and have tried fleeing to neighboring countries on boats, only to be rejected.

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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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“The irony in this is that this is a country that people are fleeing to…[but it’s] becoming one of tyranny, is becoming one of dictatorship and is becoming one that’s turning its face against the values that it’s supposed to stand for.” – Ilhan Omar

An executive order signed on January 27th, ominously falling on Holocaust Remembrance Day, enacts a series of changes impacting people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen. The Twin Cities, home to the largest Somali community in the US, is heavily struck. In just the last three months of 2016, 433 Somali refugees were resettled in Minnesota contributing to a total of approximately 77,000 Somalis in the Twin Cities. Almost two-decades of civil war has resulted in one of the largest displacement crises, with almost 1 million registered as refugees, and another 1.1 million displaced within Somalia.

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Below is an open letter sent to President-elect Donald Trump by Generations of the Shoah International.


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November 30, 2016

Donald J. Trump
President-elect of the United States
Trump Tower
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Dear President-elect Trump:

In your election night speech, you said, “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division. It is time for us to come together as one united people.” Instead, those divisions are escalating. When members of the alt-right meet in Washington, DC and question if Jews are really people, it is time for moral leadership to put a stop to hate speech, to anti-Semitism, to racism.

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After the arrival of thousands of U.S. veterans, the long-standing Dakota Access Pipeline protests culminated in a small victory on Sunday when President Obama ordered the Army Corps of Engineers halt work on the pipeline. Victories like the one on Sunday and the President’s previous order in September have been overlooked, though. The BBC has called the protests the largest gathering of Native Americans in a century; why then do they feel so invisible? What accounts for the lack of media coverage at Standing Rock?

In October, the Daily Intelligencer interviewed Amy Goodman, host of the independent news site Democracy Now!, speculating how it is possible that “in this oversaturated age for a mass-protest movement to fly under the radar” on “the battle over the building of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline,” and Goodman suggested a larger, systemic problem:

“I dare say the lack of coverage may be because this is a largely Native American resistance and protest. This is an under-covered population generally.”

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Dr. Gavriel Rosenfeld

Minnesota State Representative Frank Hornstein is inviting students and community members to a guest lecture with Dr. Gavriel Rosenfeld, Professor of History at Fairfield University. Dr. Rosenfeld’s presentation, titled The Use of the Holocaust and Nazi Comparisons in Contemporary American Politics, will discuss the implications of comparisons between the Holocaust and the current political climate. Rep. Hornstein writes:

“For the past year, I have been researching the use of Holocaust and Nazi comparisons in the contemporary American political scene as a fellow with the Sabo Center for Democracy & Citizenship at Augsburg College. The use of these comparisons is quite common; for example, Donald Trump is compared to Adolf Hitler on an almost daily basis. The Iranian regime was routinely compared to Nazi Germany during last summer’s debate on the Iran nuclear agreement, while some in the gun lobby blame the Holocaust on gun control measures. Nazi comparisons are often made in a variety of issue debates ranging from abortion to climate change. The phenomenon has significant implications for how the Holocaust is remembered, and how history is interpreted. It also has profound and complex impacts on American civil discourse.”

The lecture will be Tuesday, November 29th at 2:00pm. Those interested in attending the lecture are invited to attend in person at Augsburg College in the Riverside Room in Christensen Center, or participate online. For more information or to register, log onto the lecture’s Eventbrite page.

In addition to Rep. Hornstein, the event is sponsored by the Sabo Center.

Early this week Frank Navarro, a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum trained teacher who has taught at Mountain View High School in California for 40 years, was put on leave after a parent complained about the parallels he was drawing in his world studies class. He was accused of comparing Trump to Hitler, but in actuality he had only pointed out the connections between Trump’s presidential campaign and Hitler’s rise to power.

On September 1 of this year, Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum wrote in the article With gratitude toward Donald Trump, how as an educator, he was grateful to Trump for making it easier for him to explain to his students, how it was possible for the Nazis and Hitler to come to power. In my own classroom, it is my students who have made the connections, as I certainly did not have to spell it out for them.  We all agree that Trump is not Hitler, but certainly the rhetoric and unabashed racism, antisemitism and xenophobia unleashed by his campaign reminds us of the tactics used by Hitler, the Nazis and his followers.

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Paper presented by Francisco Ferrandiz (CSIC, Madrid), Alejandro Baer (U.Minnesota) and Natan Sznaider (Academic College of Tel Aviv Jaffo) at the 115th meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Minneapolis.

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Last month marked the 5th anniversary of the 2011 Maspero Massacre. During the first Egyptian revolution, almost 10,000 Copts and allies gathered in Cairo to peacefully protest the demolition of a Coptic Church in Upper Egypt. The army responded to these protests and initial clashes resulted in the death of three soldiers. TV show host, Rasha Magdy, reported that Copts were attacking the army, and that “patriotic people” should take to the streets to protect the military from the “violent crowd of Copts”. Eyewitness accounts claim that alongside mobs, the Egyptian army and security forces used riot gear, batons, live ammunition and armored vehicles to attack the protesters. However, the extent of the involvement of the Egyptian army is still contested. These clashes resulted in nearly 30 deaths, mostly Copts, and almost 300 injuries, marking this incident as the Maspero Massacre. Five years later, only three soldiers were punished with a maximum sentence of three years, and the massacre is not even recognized as one, let alone commemorated.

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