“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
Like many of us, I have been heartbroken to see the news, images and footage coming out of Ukraine over the past week. Despite the foreboding news over the past weeks, I didn’t believe it would come to this; now that it has, it’s hard to imagine how we (Ukraine, Russia, the world) move forward from this. My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine and to the people of Russia, millions of whom are now stuck in the midst of a conflict that they did not want and certainly did not vote for. Families on both sides of the border will lose loved ones because of a conflict that no one, save for a very small group of people surrounding Putin, wanted. While I am very cognizant of my privilege of being able to write this from the comfort of my safe home in Duluth, Minnesota, the violence in Ukraine is particularly painful for me because of my personal connections to this country.
“Our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought Nazism together. Starting a war to satisfy the geopolitical ambitions of the leaders of the Russian Federation, driven by fanciful and dubious historical considerations, is nothing but betraying their memory.”
— Appeal By Russian Researchers And Scientists
A month ago, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, our colleague Catherine Guisan published on the CHGS blog a far-sighted article titled Why the Shutting Down of Russia’s Memorials Should Matter to Us. Prof. Guisan condemns the banning of two Russian NGOs in December 2021 that documented human rights abuses during the Soviet era, advocated for reparations to survivors, and defended human right victims in conflict zones, in and around modern Russia.
“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.
On January 27th, Professor Jelena Subotić delivered the Center’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day Lecture, titled “Yellow Star, Red Star: The Appropriation of Holocaust Memory in Post-Communist Eastern Europe.” Watch a recording of the lecture here. I had the opportunity to interview Professor Subotić on her 2019 book on this same topic, how it fits into broader remembrance contexts and debates, and her upcoming book project.
Tibisay is a PhD candidate in the History Department. She was born and raised in the city of Barcelona, Spain, and obtained her BA in History from the University of Barcelona (UB). During her bachelor’s degree she had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Mannheim, Germany, where after noticing how differently modern history was taught in Germany as opposed to Spain, she started to become interested in the ways in which past events of mass violence are remembered and taught in different countries.
On January 17, 2022, the book The Betrayal of Anne Frank by Rosemary Sullivan was published in a worldwide media campaign. In it, a self-proclaimed “Cold Case Team” identifies a new prime suspect in the alleged betrayal of Anne Frank and her seven housemates of the Secret Annex. Very soon after initial news reports faithfully reported on the team’s findings, a strong backlash arose from historians and others criticizing the study and its firm conclusion, based on empirical, epistemological, and moral grounds. To understand both the book’s findings and the criticism of them, it is necessary to outline the unique circumstances of this book and its research.
Before I visited Laos, I knew little about the country and its history. My sister had recommended I go for its natural beauty and laid-back tourist atmosphere. While visiting the capital city, Vientiane, I passed by a few humble buildings, tucked away from the roadside: the COPE Center. Intrigued, I paid a visit.
For anyone caring about ending mass violence, memorialization, reparations, and the role of civil society in democratization, the closing down of Russia’s Memorial International and its sister organization the Memorial Human Rights Center by the Russian Supreme Court in late December 2021 is cause for mourning. These are concerns, which the University of Minnesota’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center has promoted unstintingly.
Since 1989, the two Russian NGOs have accumulated impressive archives documenting human rights abuses during the Soviet era, advocated for reparations to survivors, and defended human right svictims in conflict zones, in and around modern Russia, as well as the rights of minorities such as LGBTQ Russians. Having played a major part in the ongoing efforts to democratize Russia, they have vowed to fight the closing down of their activities in court and to pursue their work. So far, their homepages are being updated regularly and accept gifts from overseas. The US media covered the news; and petitions of protest are circulating. But rumors of a pending Russian invasion of Ukraine soon distracted minds.
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.