Part I: Man’s Inhumanity to Women

Mid-semester, in our high school genocide studies course, my students and I were about to begin class by turning to the assigned readings on the Bosnian War and the question of genocide in former Yugoslavia. I had prepared slides for the day’s discussion that included numerous photographs, which, in retrospect, showed mostly Muslim boys and men behind barbed-wire fences. As students were coming into the classroom, one student, Elise (a pseudonym), began describing a performance of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues she had seen the previous weekend. One monologue in particular resonated with the week’s readings: “My Vagina was My Village.” The monologue describes the intimate, excruciating story of a woman being brutally raped during the course of the war, as well as the physical and emotional aftermath of living with the trauma. As Elise described the monologue in careful detail, the class grew increasingly quiet, students’ eyes trained on their desks. I too sat motionless not wanting to interrupt Elise but wondering if the topic of rape was too difficult, inappropriate for high schoolers. Elise ended her comments with a question that reverberated around our classroom: “Why don’t we talk about rape and the stuff that happens to women?” After a long pause, she continued: “It’s almost like…the way it’s talked about…genocide…I mean…it’s almost like it’s something that men do to other men.”


From now until March 24, the Guthrie Theater is presenting Paula Vogel’s Indecent. Surely, this is the 21st century’s greatest play about the Jewish experience in 20th century Europe and America.

It’s a play about a play—Polish (later American) author Solomon Asch’s The God of Vengeance, one of Yiddish theatre’s most famous plays (along with The Golem and The Dybbuk)—but don’t let that put you off. In the hands of Vogel, the history of this work raises many issues relevant to our current times. Plus, the lively staging by Wendy Goldberg includes a good deal of Klezmer music and Jewish dance (choreography by Yehuda Hyman), so the heartbreaking story is thoroughly entertaining.


George Dalbo was born and raised in Western New York. His first encounters with the Holocaust were as a high school Rotary exchange student in Wels, Austria. After his exchange year, George studied European history and German literature at the University of Buffalo, earning his B.A. Following his degree, George was awarded a joint research-teaching Fulbright grant to Vienna, Austria, where he divided his time studying Austrian and Eastern European history at the University of Vienna and teaching English as a foreign language in a Viennese public school. George moved to Minnesota in 2008, earning his secondary social studies license and M.Ed. from the College of St. Scholastica. George taught middle and high school social studies at several schools within the Twin Cities metro. He developed and continues to teach a comparative genocide studies course for juniors and seniors who attend one of a consortium of private schools from around the country.

Beginning a Ph.D. in Social Studies Education at the University of Minnesota in 2017, George’s research interests center around Holocaust, genocide and human rights education for K-12 students. In addition to his coursework and work supporting social studies licensure candidates through their student teaching earpieces, George works with the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies developing curriculum and educational resources. In summer 2018, George will facilitate a weeklong educators workshop, Gender and Genocide: Uncovering Absent Narrative in Mass Violence and Human Rights Education. The workshop will support middle and high school educators in developing and expanding their coverage of absent narratives related to genocide, especially those around gender and sexual orientation.

George with a monkey in Indonesia

“Zooming in” is clearly trending in the field of Holocaust research. Since the onset of the new millennium, scholars have increasingly favored a narrower perspective. The number of sound biographies and prosopographies of “ordinary” men (and women) is growing, as is that of studies on the impact of the Holocaust on local communities. Moreover, the “spatial turn” in Holocaust studies is leading to important new research projects, such as those by Tim Cole, Albert Giordano, and Anne Kelly Knowles, that explore the use of geography for Holocaust studies and further narrow down the scope of research—to a city, a ghetto, a single building block, or a concentration camp.

Many of these recently published studies of applied scale-reduction are not simply examples of traditional local history or traditional biographies. They are “microstudies,” that is, small-scale studies of a specific place, of people in that place, and of their relations and encounters in their everyday lives. More than four decades after Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg published his The Cheese and the Worms (1976, Italian; 1980, English), microhistory has clearly made its entry into the field of Holocaust studies, yet it is remarkable how few of these new microstudies are conceptualized as such. How can microhistory aid in our understanding of the Holocaust? How should we define its methods of research and its rules for data collection and interpretation? How do we deal with the issue of subjective individual experiences? To what extent do our sensibilities as researchers affect the exploration of individuals and their particular stories, rather than the general historical events? Most scholars agree that macroprocesses translate into experiences on the microlevel. There is also general agreement that studying the Holocaust from a grassroots perspective may be beneficial to our knowledge of the Holocaust. Yet reflection on microhistory as a research method or perspective is minimal, and specific questions that microhistory raises for Holocaust research are barely addressed.


Monuments, plaques, statues, names on streets or buildings have become symbolic battlegrounds of different historical interpretations and often also irreconcilable values. There are representations of the past, which help us coming to terms with the legacies of violence, while others deepen divisions further.

These fields of dispute are not restricted to the debates over removal of Confederate monuments in the US South. Minnesota recently reverted Lake Calhoun to its original Dakota name Bde Maka Ska, opting for a name that honors the first inhabitants that settled along its shores instead of the former Vice President infamous for his support of slavery. A story from last Friday’s Star Tribune highlights the important changes taking place at the Minnesota Historical Society. Once deeply rooted in telling the white colonial story, it now embraces a fuller, and thus also more unsettling, picture of the state’s history.


The academic field of genocide took a comparative turn in the 1980s, thus setting the stage for its modern disciplinary character. Contemporary genocide studies is characterized by a growing overlap between scholarly and advocacy efforts, especially seen through a modern emphasis on preventing future genocide by flagging gross violations of human rights as they happen in real-time. As another outgrowth of this comparative turn, the historical record—particularly during the twentieth century—was re-examined. This “second look” has resulted in several previously overlooked cases, including the 1930s Ukrainian Holodomor (“death by hunger”), gaining increased research visibility. Ukrainian independence in 1991 resulted in the de-classification of previously hidden governmental records of this Soviet forced-famine under Joseph Stalin, and slow-but-steady translations of this evidence continues to allow for wider international research accessibility.


No, I am not talking about Bernie Sanders’ revolution, I am talking about the one and only revolution that ever happened in American history.

But let me start by taking a step back. I always felt that the most exceptional thing about the United States was the fact that its political institutions have been virtually the same for over 220 years. This appears even more unique when you take into account that throughout this entire time period, democratic voting has been the default mechanism to put people in and out of office. There are some exceptions of course, such as the Civil War and four presidential assassinations. But still, compared with, let’s say, France, which is on its fifth republic since the French revolution and went through two Napoleonic empires and several more revolutions along the way, the United States always looked like the long-standing haven of democratic solidity, pragmatism and reliability. It looked even better from the perspective of my home country, Germany, with its mix of monstrous Reichs and numerous attempts at democracy that failed until finally the United States and its allies helped out after WWII.

There is always room for improvement – tumultuous session of delegates during the first French republic in 1794, which since then has been followed by four more.


As a middle and high school history and social studies teacher, I have taught about the Holocaust and other genocides for many years. At the beginning of my career, students in my classes would have encountered only the Holocaust, but, recently, I have broadened my curriculum to include many additional examples and aspects of genocide. Despite growing efforts to expand the field of genocide education, there is still a gulf between academic scholarship and curriculum and practice within secondary classrooms. Scholarship, often inaccessible for secondary educators, is slow to make its way into course content. Understanding Atrocities: Remembering, Representing, and Teaching Genocide (2017) is the latest among recent efforts to bridge this gap and recognize the role of educators at all levels and community organizations in conversations about genocide education. This collection expands the conversation to include many voices, especially concerning the teaching of genocides other than, or in addition to, the Holocaust.


Imagine a trial rocking a nation: accusations of collusion with a hated enemy, wealthy and influential elites taking sides, an entire country riveted by headlines. The trial would fundamentally alter the country; both changing how citizens viewed each other, the military and other national institutions.

No, this is not related to the current investigation into President Trump’s alleged ties. While the Dreyfus Affair, as it would become known, happened more than a century ago, there are more than a few passing similarities between the events of today and those from the 1890’s.

In 1894, a young army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of selling military plans to France’s mortal enemy, Germany. In a highly publicized trial, Dreyfus was convicted of treason and sentenced to life on Devil’s Island, France’s military prison island in the Caribbean. Soon after Dreyfus’ family began appealing the decision. The case split the country; conservative pro-army factions clashed openly with intellectual pro-republican leaders. In January 1898, Émile Zola published J’accuse…!, a rallying cry of support exonerating Dreyfus. Eventually cleared of his treason conviction, Dreyfus was instead sentenced to a 10 years hard labor, although that too was commuted. It wasn’t until 1906 that Dreyfus was officially cleared of his conviction.



Was Hitler a bully?   Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, shared in an essay in Slate how his 5-year-old daughter’s teacher compared the “worst criminal in history to a playground tormentor.” Perhaps an extreme example. Yet to understand this increasingly common trend to educate students about “Bully Hitler,” one must recognize two developments that are currently shaping the way teachers, curriculum writers, and educational institutions in the United States are educating young people about the Holocaust. First, there is a universalization of the Holocaust in an attempt to make its study relevant to students’ lived experiences and to provide them with overt moral and ethical lessons in the form of social-emotional and character education. Second, increasingly, many state legislatures have mandated Holocaust education, often suggesting a study in the form of character education to younger students, some as young as elementary school (5-10 years old). New Jersey’s Commission on Holocaust Education, the entity responsible for ensuring schools meet the state’s Holocaust-education mandate, reminds educators that, “the law indicates that issues of bias, prejudice and bigotry, including bullying through the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide, shall be included for all children from K-12th grade.” Thus, increasingly, students are taught to link the Holocaust with bullying and pushed to contemplate the choices they might have made during the Holocaust, as well as the choices they might make in their school’s cafeterias, hallways, and playgrounds as bullies, bystanders, or upstanders.