Reflections

April 27th is Yom HaShoah, one of several Holocaust remembrance days observed around the world at various points in the year. It is also Genocide Awareness Month, which marks the anniversaries of the Armenian Genocide (which began on April 24th, 1915), the Holocaust (or, namely the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19th, 1943), the Cambodian Genocide (on April 19th, 1975), and the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda (on April 7th, 1944), As I mentioned in January, dates such as these mark a need for a collective memory, even as dates and temporal boundaries often fail to account for the long-term effects of genocide and mass violence. 

As a Jew, and at this particular moment during the ongoing war and mass violence in Ukraine, I struggle in 2022 (as in most years) to reconcile the official calls to remember with the more subjective, personalized constructions of memory that inevitably emerge from events such as these. I am reminded that public displays of memory, though central, can be brittle, and often serve contemporary state politics. Yom HaShoah is no exception, as a holiday directly tied to the State of Israel’s larger memory projects. The “complications” this date entails for both Jews and non-Jews alike, who are critical of Israeli domestic and foreign policies, also pertains to my specialized knowledge Yiddish history and culture that often gets left out of Zionist narratives. Days such as Yom HaShoah should in theory be encouraging a broader, more inclusive definition of collective memory, but we know that these calls often fail to reach beyond the limits of nationalism and geopolitics. 

more...

As far as I can think back, an odd-looking, faceless porcelain bunny has been part of the Easter decoration in my parents’ house in Remscheid, Germany. It has an artistic twist to it with a coat that shimmers in purple, blue and red. Originally it must have looked just like his fellow rabbits, but it no longer does. That’s because it got a second glaze in the early morning hours of July 31, 1943, when the house it lived in was burnt to the ground during an Allied air raid on my hometown. As my grandparents sifted through the rubble a couple of days later, that bunny was pretty much the only thing that emerged intact. 

“Der Angriff” (attack) and how my grandparents miraculously survived the fire under some wet blankets in the backyard became part of our family folklore. My mother who got the bunny as an Easter gift earlier in 1943 still has a hard time dealing with sirens after spending too many nights in bomb shelters as a child. During her first visit to Minneapolis, an unexpected tornado siren test sent her immediately looking for the basement—unfortunately without success since our house is one of the few in Minneapolis that doesn’t have one. That story is now also part of our family folklore.

more...

“As I am sitting in the kitchen of complete strangers who have opened up their home to me, gave me food, shelter, and a brief feeling of safety, I am holding back my tears… We take a shot of alcohol in the name of the fallen. We take another shot in the name of our soldiers. We take another in the name of Ukraine. We whisper our little speeches. We share our gratitude. We share hope. And I realize we are… unbeatable. Because we do not lose our strength. We just can’t. We wouldn’t be Ukrainian if we did. As long as we whisper in unison “Слава Україні” (Glory to Ukraine), we are strong… I shed a tear when I say, “воля або смерть” (“freedom or death”). I am glad they don’t see in the dark. I think of all the people for whom this familiar phrase became too real.” – Alexandra Markova

more...

“There’s a swastika in the bathroom,” says a high school senior casually as he walks into my classroom at the beginning of the seventh period; “it’s carved into the toilet paper dispenser.” After the class begins working on the day’s lesson, I walk down to the bathroom and snap a photo with my phone camera. Hardly the first, this is just the latest in a rash of swastika graffiti drawn and carved in the boys’ bathrooms at the small school where I teach high school social studies in rural south-central Wisconsin. As a community, we are struggling to understand why swastikas keep appearing in the bathrooms, and, more importantly, we are struggling to respond to this hate speech.

more...

January 27th marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the date on which the Red Army liberated Auschwitz in 1945. Although a monumental moment in the history of the Second World War, the war itself did not end in Europe until May, and globally the death and destruction continued in the Pacific theater until August of that year. This simple reminder of the war’s timeline illustrates the ways Holocaust, which did not end on January 27th with the liberation of Auschwitz, is difficult to confine to a set of dates within the larger sequence of global events. 

In the Center’s collections are photographs taken for the UNRRA by Maxine Rude. Rude, originally from southwestern Wisconsin, traveled throughout Europe while on assignment to document the plight of “Displaced Persons” (DPs) living in allied-run DP-Camps. The images include a variety of subjects, from refugees working in trades they occupied prior to the war (or newly learned at some point in the interim), to Jewish war orphans looking after other vulnerable children. One takeaway from these images, is the lack of certainty many faced for years following the war’s end. Liberation might have occurred abruptly, but normalcy and stability did not. Jewish DPs languished for years before receiving entry visas, or the ability to enter the British Mandate of Palestine. Many non-Jewish DP’s were “repatriated” nationals with newly-drawn borders in Eastern Europe, where they faced uncertain fates. As we mark this important day in the history of genocide, we remind ourselves of the provisional nature of liberation. 

more...

One of the most dangerous weapons in the world has been increasing in prevalence over the past few decades. This deadly weapon is not advancing technology, nuclear weapons, nor lethal biological warfare. Instead, it is something that is not immediately seen as a threat, something that undermines our sense of security due to perceived innocence and peacefulness. Women.

Female Chechen suicide bomber (Daily Star, 2010)

more...

Holocaust and Genocide Education Workshop at The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) recently released the second draft of proposed social studies standards. The draft, part of a mandatory process to review teaching and learning standards every ten years, will not only secure but significantly expand Holocaust and genocide education across the state for years to come. 

The months-delayed second draft follows the release of a controversial first draft in December 2020, which did not mention Holocaust and genocide education. The decision meant not carrying through the three existing references from the current social studies standards, which were adopted in 2011.

more...

 “Beautiful feelings make for bad literature.” French literary tradition has proved André Gide’s assertion wrong, of course. “Beautiful feelings” of empathy and commitment to equity infuse Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and Emile Zola’s Germinal, which have remained on the international bestseller list for over a century.

Photos of three books: (left) Rachel et les siens, (middle) Apeirogon, (right) The Holocaust and the Nakba

more...

Eric D. Weitz’s untimely passing on Thursday, 1 July, sent shockwaves throughout the academic community. A distinguished professor of Modern European History at City College of New York, Eric was among the foremost researchers on human rights, the Armenian Genocide, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, settler-colonial genocide in German Southwest Africa, and Weimar Germany.

Eric Weitz and Adam Blackler at the University of Wyoming

more...

On April 28th, 2021, a strike against a tax reform started in Colombia, and almost two months later it is still ongoing. As of June 21stofficial reports confirm that at least 72 people have been killed by the police or paramilitary groups and the number is growing every day. On June 8th, the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights visited the country to clarify the situation, and a formal statement is expected soon. 

In this context of extreme violence, it is important to analyze alternatives for resolving the current crisis. Since the first day of the strike, the presence of the Indigenous movement has been salient. The Misak and the Nasa from the Cauca region, one of the most violent provinces of Colombia, have been particularly visible because of their approach to strike using non-violent actions. This article analyses the strategies of these two Indigenous groups and why their participation in the strike is key for the short- and long-term resolution of the crisis.

more...