Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia

By Michelle Caswell

0d665413-1421-4d46-9ec7-d90519ca6d88Roughly 1.7 million people died in Cambodia from untreated disease, starvation, and execution during the Khmer Rouge reign of less than four years in the late 1970s. The regime’s brutality has come to be symbolized by the multitude of black-and-white mug shots of prisoners taken at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where thousands of “enemies of the state” were tortured before being sent to the Killing Fields. In Archiving the Unspeakable, Michelle Caswell traces the social life of these photographic records through the lens of archival studies and elucidates how, paradoxically, they have become agents of silence and witnessing, human rights and injustice as they are deployed at various moments in time and space. From their creation as Khmer Rouge administrative records to their transformation beginning in 1979 into museum displays, archival collections, and databases, the mug shots are key components in an ongoing drama of unimaginable human suffering.

Holocaust Archaeologies: Approaches and Future Directions

Caroline Sturdy Colls

83ad12b8-2014-4c34-ae74-f0d25a3b6358Holocaust Archaeologies: Approaches and Future Directions aims to move archaeological research concerning the Holocaust forward through a discussion of the variety of the political, social, ethical and religious issues that surround investigations of this period and by considering how to address them. It considers the various reasons why archaeological investigations may take place and what issues will be brought to bear when fieldwork is suggested. It presents an interdisciplinary methodology in order to demonstrate how archaeology can (uniquely) contribute to the history of this period. Case examples are used throughout the book in order to contextualize prevalent themes and a variety of geographically and typologically diverse sites throughout Europe are discussed. This book challenges many of the widely held perceptions concerning the Holocaust, including the idea that it was solely an Eastern European phenomena centered on Auschwitz and the belief that other sites connected to it were largely destroyed or are well-known. The typologically, temporally and spatial diverse body of physical evidence pertaining to this period is presented and future possibilities for investigation of it are discussed. Finally, the volume concludes by discussing issues relating to the “re-presentation” of the Holocaust and the impact of this on commemoration, heritage management and education. This discussion is a timely one as we enter an age without survivors and questions are raised about how to educate future generations about these events in their absence.

Talking to a journalist in Nairobi this weekend, he mentioned something that I thought was as unnerving as it was interesting. The journalist lamented at the fact that it seemed the world had gotten so tired of Darfur that the news of soldiers raping at least 221 women and girls in the village of Tabit last October hardly caused a ripple. The first allegations of the 36-hour rape ordeal came in November when Radio Dabanga (The Hague) initially reported on the crimes. In December, the ICC prosecutor decided to shelve the war crimes probe after almost five years of stagnation by the world court, stating she needed more support to address Sudan’s lack of cooperation, and that the rape of the 200 women and girls in the village “should shock [the] council into action.” Sudanese security forces killed approximately 200 protesters in 2014 and the Sudanese state has been so confident that nothing would happen to it, it created a new force, the Rapid Support Forces, which was accused of having burned 3,000 villages in 2014.

We have come a long way from events that sought to raise awareness such as ‘Rock for Darfur’ (which according to Voice of America had 22 concert in 2006 alone), a long way from buying, and proudly donning, t-shirts 6086ed3a-bbed-40b0-b5c3-bc404feae1dbwith ‘Save Darfur’ emblazoned on them. Syria, Iraq, Liberia, South Sudan, and Central Africa Republic have overtaken Darfur in the attention sweepstakes in the news. In previous posts I have talked about Compassion Fatigue and the four horsemen of the apocalypse whenever atrocities were covered in the media. However, when is it ok to say enough is enough? When do we, as global citizens, stop shaking our heads and going “tsk tsk, it is so sad what is happening in that country”?  These are questions I have asked myself over the past few years. As a graduate student, I have often wondered if my keeping an eye on Darfur is influenced by the fact that my research is in the region. Would it matter as much if my research was on, say, farming practices in Africa?  I would like to think it would, if for no reason other than the fact that my country (Kenya) shares a border with South Sudan. I would like to think that whenever I opened the local daily at a coffee shop, or on my way to work in the morning, I would read the news about Darfur and seek out like-minded individuals to try and help in some way, shape or form. What form of help this would be I’m not sure as of yet. So to the question, what have I done for Darfur lately? My honest answer is not as much as I would have liked to do. As Darfur has morphed into a conflict occurring in the shadows (a dreadful prospect) my sense of hopelessness has also increased. What will your answer be?

Wahutu Siguru is the 2013 Badzin Fellow in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and PhD candidate in the Sociology department at the University of Minnesota. Siguru’s research interests are in the Sociology of Media, Genocide, Mass Violence and Atrocities (specifically on issues of representation of conflicts in Africa such as Darfur and Rwanda), Collective Memory, and perhaps somewhat tangentially Democracy and Development in Africa. 

Event Review: International Symposium “Reframing Mass Violence: Social Memories and Human Rights in Post-Communist Europe”

(IAS Collaborative)

March 4-6, 2015

An international symposium on “Contested Past, Contested Present: Social Memories and Human Rights in Post-Communist Europe” took place at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities on March 4-6. It was organized by the IAS Collaborative “Reframing Mass Violence”, and sponsored by the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, among other supporters.


The Dark Heart of Hitler’s Europe: Nazi Rule in Poland Under the General Government

by Martin Winstone

94e47c28-29dd-48e7-a860-a1bce7882457Even amidst the horrors of Nazi rule in Europe, the tragic history of the General Government – the Nazi colony created out of the historic core of Poland, including Warsaw and Krakow, following the German and Soviet invasion of 1939 – stands out. Separate from but ruled by Germany through a brutal and corrupt regime headed by the vain and callous Hans Frank, this was indeed the dark heart of Hitler’s empire. As the principal ‘racial laboratory’ of the Third Reich, the General Government was the site of Aktion Reinhard, the largest killing operation of the Holocaust, and of a campaign of terror and ethnic cleansing against Poles which was intended to be a template for the rest of eastern Europe.

792d6a4c-bc67-4b10-83d9-c42313e8740fUtjiua Muinjangue is the chairperson of the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu Genocide Foundation. Ms. Muinjangue spoke on behalf of the school of Social Work at the University of Minnesota on the genocide of the Herero on November 10, 2014.


e30c4b58-0e40-4824-9fc0-0c9da4edc48eCHGS is pleased to welcome Jennifer Hammer, new program associate in the Institute for Global Studies with special responsibility to support the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the Center for Austrian Studies. Jennifer completed her degree at the University of Minnesota in Anthropology and Japanese, and has done graduate work in the history of design. Jennifer comes to us from the Department of Communication Studies and has programming and management experience at a number of non-profit organizations including JSTOR, Artstor, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

We will have the thankless task of proving to a world which will refuse to listen, that we are Abel, the murdered brother.
                      – Ignasy Shiper (historian, killed at Majdanek in 1943)

adff11ac-9845-48f2-b73e-6cda63e8103eIn his acclaimed book Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi recounts a recurring dream he and other inmates had in the Nazi death camp: that he returned home to his family and told them about it, but nobody listened. “The person standing in front of me doesn’t stay to hear, turns around and goes away,” he writes.


The Bloomsbury Companion to Holocaust Literature

Edited by Jenni Adams

216The Bloomsbury Companion to Holocaust Literature is a comprehensive reference resource including a wealth of critical material on a diverse range of topics within the literary study of Holocaust writing. At its centre is a series of specially commissioned essays by leading scholars within the field: these address genre-specific issues such as the question of biographical and historical truth in Holocaust testimony, as well as broader topics including the politics of Holocaust representation and the validity of comparative approaches to the Holocaust in literature and criticism.

A Conversation with Gabriel Gatti (Professor of Sociology, University of the Basque Country, Spain)

Due in large part to humanitarian law and transitional justice, the categories of detained-disappeared and forced disappearance are today well established – so much so that in some places like Argentina and Uruguay an intense social life has taken shape around them and in their wake. Victims mix with institutions, laws, and professionals (forensic anthropologists, social scientists, jurists, psychologists, artists, archivists, and writers), occupying intersecting positions and doing so with varied narratives, from the epic and heroic to the tragic and traumatic. Based on extensive fieldwork in Argentina and Uruguay, Gatti analyzes these worlds in an attempt to understand how one inhabits the categories that international law has constructed to mark, judge, think about, and repair horror.

Gabriel Gatti is Professor of Sociology at the University of the Basque Country, Spain. His research and teaching focus on contemporary forms of identity, in particular those constituted in situations of social catastrophe, rupture, and fracture. He is the author of Identidades débiles, Identidades desaparecidas, Les nouveaux répères de l’identité collective en Europe, and Basque society. His latest work, Surviving Forced Disappearance in Argentina and Uruguay: Identity and Meaningwas published in august of 2014. He is also a main researcher behind the Mundo(s) de victimas (World(s) of victims) a study of four cases that deal with the construction of the “victim” category in contemporary Spain.

Professor Gatti’s visit is part of the Reframing Mass Violence Collaborative Series. Sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study, the Human Rights Program, the Department of Sociology, the Department of Political Science and the Department of Spanish & Portuguese.