In the woods of northern Minnesota, tucked along the shores of Turtle River Lake, is a small German village called
In the woods of northern Minnesota, tucked along the shores of Turtle River Lake, is a small German village called
Teaching about Genocide (Volume I), the first of a two-volume series edited by well-known Holocaust and genocide education scholar Samuel Totten, provides cogent, practical advice for those wishing to bring this difficult topic into their classrooms. The book builds on Totten’s previous work but is unique in its specific focus on combining insights from both secondary and post-secondary educators in each volume. Roughly half of the chapters were written by secondary educators, with the remaining composed by post-secondary professors and instructors. This combination helps to bridge the persistent gap between academic genocide studies research and secondary classroom teaching about genocide. Indeed, as a high school teacher of a semester-long comparative genocide studies course, I have often struggled to find ways to approach various aspects of genocide with my students. This volume both reaffirms the importance of genocide education while providing practical support for classroom teachers.
The necessity for such a work at this moment is clear. While the Holocaust, especially since the mid-1990s, has become a mainstay of American K-12 school curriculum, teaching about so-called “other” genocides or “genocides other than the Holocaust,” has become increasingly common across the country. Though, despite this trend, few resources exist for educators, who, are often left to teach such difficult topics with little content or pedagogical support.
Last week, two students from Minnetonka High School in suburban Minneapolis posted a photo of themselves giving a Nazi hand salute accompanied by an antisemitic sign. This incident is just the latest of a number of similar instances, with photos surfacing from Indiana and Wisconsin showing students giving the Nazi salute. Understandably, each case has sparked calls for more and better Holocaust education in schools. This latest photo prompts the question: what do students in Minnesota’s public schools learn about the Holocaust?
Gauging the state of Holocaust education in the United States is no easy task. The decentralized nature of American public schooling means that state departments of education, local districts, and individual classroom teachers decide what to teach and how it is taught. No comprehensive survey of the state of American Holocaust education exists, and such an assessment would be nearly impossible to conduct. The New York Times recently reported on an unsettling survey, which found that while the majority of Americans believe Holocaust education is important, many people, especially millennials, lack even a basic awareness of the history of the Holocaust. In 2013, Rhonda Fink-Whitman’s viral YouTube video showing American college student’s lack of knowledge of the Holocaust renewed a push for Holocaust education legislation in Pennsylvania and across the country. Indeed, Pennsylvania joined a growing list of states that have passed Holocaust education legislative mandates.
One hundred years ago this month, facing defeat and pressure from the Allied powers than won WW I, the Ottomans began attributing blame for the massacre of its Armenian and Greek citizens. Putting the Three Pashas (Talat, Enver & Djemal) on trial with other leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress, the Turkish Military Tribunals found the defendants guilty and sentenced to death. However, , the Pashas were able to flee Turkey and escape punishment (for some time, at least). The allies, frustrated by the perceived ineffectualness of the Turkish courts, in turn established the Malta Court to prosecute war criminals. By 1922, though, the Turkish defendants were repatriated to Turkey, largely due to the absence of a legal framework for prosecution. The lack of justice from the international community would spur a young Raphael Lemkin toward a lifelong goal of pursuing legal safeguards to prevent massacres like those of the Armenians from reoccurring.
In October, the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies welcomed Hasan Hasanovic to campus to discuss his experience as a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide. Mr. Hasanovic was 18 when Bosnian Serbs systematically murdered more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in July 1995. Since then, Mr. Hasanovic has written an account of his story, Surviving Srebrenica (The Lumphanen Press, 2016), and spoken around the world on the topic of Srebrenica and genocide more broadly. For the last decade, he has served as a curator at the Srebrenica Memorial.
Joe Eggers: I’ve watched several of your interviews on television and especially your presentations at schools. What’s one message you hope they take away after you speak?
Hasan Hasanovic: It’s interesting. After the Holocaust, the whole world said “never again.” And very similar things were [still] happening afterwards—in Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia. It’s happening here and now with Rohingya Muslims. Now we have this situation in China with Muslims—one million are being held in labor camps. Somehow we don’t have a mechanism to prevent these atrocities. We talk about them after ten, twenty years, and we feel sorry for victims and we try to say something about it and try to educate people, and that’s it. But what is lacking is that global mechanism, which should be the United Nations. Sadly, world powers have different interests and those interests are standing the way of global intervention and prevention of mass atrocities. I’m trying in a way to make a point that we need to talk about it and to make sure we keep that memory alive and to educate people, but at the same time remember that it’s still happening. And my hope is that when I talk to these audiences—that some of them will become politicians, some of them will pursue other professions—they will use this story and other stories of other atrocities in their lives, as a lesson, and they will become better individuals, better politicians, more humane politicians. And if they get a chance…to decide something that they will make an appropriate decision, thinking from a humane perspective, rather than the perspective of the interests of their political party or the interests of that power.
Since the 1990s there has been a virtual academic consensus that a genocide was perpetuated by Germany during the Herero and Nama War. But the question of responsibility and continuity are still being debated.
In the last two decades, the Herero and the Nama have sought justice, recognition and reparations from the German government for the genocide they endured at the beginning of the 20th century. Recently, they have taken their struggle to an American court, which started hearing their case a few weeks ago. The German government officially referred to the 1904-1907 events as a “genocide” only recently (in 2016) and still refrains from dealing with who was responsibility and rejects calls for reparation. Instead, Germany has attempted reconciliation through other channels, such as providing aid to the Namibian government and returning victim remains that were stored in Germany after the genocide.
The historiography of German colonialism and Namibian history has witnessed fierce debate regarding the events that took place in Southwest African between 1904-1907. Still today, some historical questions remain. This short essay will try to identify the main debated issues of this genocide and will highlight the most important ideas of the historians who have researched this subject.
The Enemy arises as an immemorial figure of our imaginations. The Enemy, also named the Adversary, relating to the biblical figure of Satan, is located at the heart of the European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern pre-modern worlds and cultures, playing a very central role in the three monotheisms: Judaism, Christianism and Islam. Satan is a prototypical figure of temptation, setting doubt and disorder. Also known under the name of Lucifer, “the bringer of dawn” or “the morning star”, he is the former purveyor of light who became a fallen angel. His rebellion and ban have been exemplary sung and narrated by the British poet John Milton in Paradise Lost (1667). He has been celebrated two centuries later as the “Prince of Exile” by the French poet Charles Baudelaire with “Les Litanies de Satan” in Les Fleurs du Mal [The Flowers of Evil] (1857). This figure can overtake different forms, faces, or genders. Lilith, the female demon, who has the capacity to take the shape of diverse nocturnal animals, is already present in different Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian traditions (see for instances Myths of Babylonia and Assyria by Mackenzie, 1915). This adversary, previously known as a light bringer, eventually condemned by divine justice to an unending exile both physical in spiritual, could be an impeccable metaphor reflecting the uses and misuses of ideologies and identities and the very important function that affects and emotions are playing out within the realm of reason, which, like our worldviews and understandings, is incredibly limited. As Gershom Scholem reminds us in the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition, Satan, or evil, is the product of a crisis ascending through the severity of divine judgment. Its advent occurs during the development of that great fire of anger that burns in God, which is normally tempered by his mercy. But when the latter is no longer sufficient to appease this pruritus, an imbalance operates, an energy exhales and breaks away from the divine, finding its own autonomy, that is “evil” (Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 563). This dialectic between evil and freedom has been highlighted by the German philosopher Rüdiger Safranski in his 1999 essay Das Böse, oder Das Drama der Freiheit [Evil, or the Tragedy of Freedom]. Freedom, free will and the issue of establishment of norms and laws are inseparable from political action, something that essentially defines power as Michel Foucault states. In his “Critique of Violence” essay written in 1921 during the first years of existence of the Weimar Republic in defeated Germany, Walter Benjamin questions the relationships between divine violence, justice, and power in a secular society: “Law-making is power-making, and, to that extent, an immediate manifestation of violence. Justice is the principle of all divine end-making, the power of the principle of all mythical law-making.”
We are saddened beyond words and grieve for the lives lost by the attack on the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) Synagogue in Pittsburgh last Saturday. We are not surprised, however. You only need to glance at the vast literature on genocide and political violence to understand that in an environment of institutionally backed hate speech, the accumulation of hate crimes and smaller acts of bigotry, a major attack usually follows.
Earlier this year the Anti-Defamation League reported nearly 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents occurred , an increase of almost 60% from the year before and the highest rates in the United States in decades. In 2017, all 50 states reported anti-Semitic hate crimes, the first time since 2010. From Holocaust deniers running for Congress to the dramatic increase in white supremacist language on American campuses, anti-Semitism is becoming normalized. As the ADL Director Johnathan Greenblatt said on last Sunday’s ‘This Week’: “We are seeing an environment in which antisemitism has moved from the margins to the mainstream as political candidates and people in public life literally repeat the rhetoric of white supremacists.” Tragically, this hatred manifested itself again on Saturday in Pittsburgh, resulting in the deadliest act of violence committed against Jews in American history.
Professor Philip Spencer once remarked that genocide robs humanity of diversity. This phrase has stuck with me for several years mainly due to its elegant simplicity. At its core, it suggests that we should care about genocide because denies us a chance to be diverse in the various forms and depths the word entails. Thus, a genocide against the Yazidis or the Rohingya means we lose cultures, religious practices, languages, bright futures etc. This simplicity masks the intense depth that it brings with it as well since it places the impetus on us and challenges us to consider how important a loss of diversity is to us. It is even more memorable because it does not seek to compare genocide and other atrocity events such as war crimes and crimes against humanity for it to sound profound. I am reminded of this conversation because it seems like that time of the year again, when various atrocities in Africa are trotted about and debates about whether they are genocides or not dominate the media discourse. To what extent is then the term genocide, and discussions whether the events fit the UN convention’s definition, inhibiting rather than enabling prevention and response?
The Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies recently organized a museum visit through its Human Rights, Genocide & Mass Violence (HGMV) Graduate Group to view and discuss works related to genocide currently on exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. In advance of the meet-up, CHGS did an interview with local artist, Rowan Pope.
Rowan Pope is a lifelong artist from Minnesota. He and his twin brother, Bly, employ photorealistic techniques as a method of storytelling. Rowan addresses dark subject matter through his work, including portrayals of Franz Kafka’s novels and depictions of the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide. He seeks to explore broad-ranging human emotions and to commemorate the lives of victims and survivors of violence through his art. “The Liberation of Buchenwald,” among other pieces by both Rowan and Bly, will be on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art through October 28th, 2018.
You can learn more about the event here.