While growing up in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, being evangelisch meant above all that you were not katholisch and therefore had to wait five years longer for your Confirmation presents. This was a little annoying, but in hindsight, it may qualify as my first encounter with the inner-worldly asceticism that Max Weber describes in The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism. Delayed gratification aside, the German evangelical church at the time came across as benign, even reasonable, open to critical discussion and staffed with laid-back, progressive pastors. It was the seventies after all. Nobody would have spelled evangelical with a capital “E” back then, at least not in Europe. That Protestantism in the US could take on a very different flavor didn’t occur to me until I moved to California in the early 2000s and it was my daughter’s turn for Confirmation class. There was a lot about Satan in the curriculum and all the things you could go to hell for, like not showing up for class at Bethany Lutheran Church.
In 2019 I attended a summer workshop for teachers held by the CHGS, titled “Teaching About Genocide.” As part of the workshop, we, along with two Native American activists-teachers, toured the Minnesota State Capitol with a docent. Entering the main chamber of the capitol, our guide gestured toward several portraits of white males who colonized Minnesota. She, an employee of the state, noted they were the men “who discovered Minnesota.” Here, in the most prominent institution of Minnesota government, a guide had normalized colonialism, except the normalization was now being heard by a critical audience. The statement seemed bracingly out of step with our appreciation of multiculturalism, the celebration of ethnic and racial diversity, and acknowledgment of the centrality of indigenous peoples to the shared fabric of American history.
Max Breger, a doctoral candidate and visiting scholar from the University of Siegen, Germany, was recently hosted by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Breger has been in the United States for the past roughly two months, conducting research on torture committed by U.S. agencies, especially in connection with the larger so-called “War on Terror.” His work is part of a larger comparative research project led by Professor Dr. Katharina Inhetveen. Breger presented on the project and shared initial findings from his work with members of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies (HGMV) Interdisciplinary Graduate Group in a talk entitled: “Violent Interrogation, Psychology, and Body Knowledge: Torture in the ‘War on Terror.'” I sat down with Breger for an interview to learn more about the project.*
Huether. Heether. Heather. Hoother. Hutter. Huewther.
“Hütter, you’re German, right?”
“No, it’s Huether. Sounds like Heether.”
“Ah, American,” she answers with a slight chuckle.
With the simple change in the pronunciation of my surname, the panel chair was able to identify my nationality, and in so doing, indirectly created a border between us. She was German, and perhaps I could have passed as German as well, if only I had gone along with her pronunciation – the one I knew was the “correct” form of my surname but not my name. Regardless, her comment made me pause and think: how could such a slight pronunciation change signify so much? As soon as I was marked as an American, a corpus of assumptions and stereotypes became accessible. It’s not to say that such a corpus would not be present if I were German; it would be, but it would simply be a different corpus.
In the past two decades, we have witnessed a steady expansion of interest, beyond Jewish institutions, by the number of government officials willing to introduce and participate in some form or fashion in public observances of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Commemorations are now held in more than 35 countries on January 27th, the day on which, in 1945, Soviet troops liberated the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau.
On the morning of August 5th, 2019, 8 million residents of Kashmir awoke to severed cellphone, landline, internet, and cable television services. Days before, 40,000 Indian troops were deployed into Kashmir, in addition to the hundreds of thousands already stationed in the region. Tourists, non-resident students, and Hindu pilgrims were forced to leave. Kashmiris knew that something catastrophic lay in the near future. And something catastrophic did: on August 6th, the BJP, India’s ruling Hindu-nationalist party, revoked Article 370, stripping Kashmir of the autonomous status it had held since 1954. News outlets across the globe rushed to cover the flashpoint crisis, with Aljazeera going so far as to release a page that offered daily updates on the situation.
Two weeks ago I met with a community leader whose own community was devastated by a genocide that happened decades ago in a place halfway around the world. We talked about how his community marks the event, the pain its survivors continue to experience and the challenge of getting his new neighbors to care about something so foreign to them. One of the things he mentioned struck a chord with me: “Recognition is about completing the fabric of our wider community.” To him, recognizing genocide was not simply about recognizing the painful past of his people, but recognizing the shared humanity that ties us all together.
Two weeks ago the Armenian community finally had their story recognized. Following three weeks of White House-backed challenges, the Senate joined the House in calling the mass killings of Armenians a century ago genocide. The resolution officially calls for remembrance and to combat “denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide” and “to encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the role of the United States in humanitarian relief efforts, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.”
I acknowledge that the University of Minnesota Twin Cities stands on Miní Sóta Makhóčhe, the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary Homelands of Dakhóta Oyáte. The University occupies land that was cared for and called home by Dakota peoples from time immemorial. Ceded in the treaties of 1837 and 1851, I acknowledge that this land has always held, and continues to hold, great spiritual and personal significance for Dakota. By offering this land acknowledgment, I recognize the sovereignty of Dakota, and I acknowledge, support, and advocate for Indigenous individuals and communities who live here now, and for those forcibly removed from their Homelands. I will continue to raise awareness of Indigenous peoples, histories, and cultures in my work, especially within social studies education, and I will continue to work to hold the University of Minnesota accountable to Dakota and other Indigenous peoples and nations. It is my sincere hope that the curriculum project discussed below will serve as a catalyst for recognizing and unsettling settler colonial narratives in social studies classrooms across Minnesota, especially sixth-grade Minnesota Studies classes.
Editor’s Note: A copy of this editorial appeared on MinnPost on November 18th.
In Spain, the far-right were also-rans, effectively discredited and shunned in mainstream circles and government affairs since the end of the Francoist period in the mid-1970s. Those days are long gone.
Vox, which promotes itself as the “patriotic alternative,” burst onto the national scene late last year in the elections in the southern region of Andalucía, sending shockwaves through Spanish politics. In the wake of this political upheaval came the general election in April, where the ultranationalist party received just over 10% of votes and won 24 seats in the 350-seat Parliament. That election resulted in no clear majority and plunged the country into another round of voting. In the Nov. 10 election, Vox more than doubled its previous results. Now 52 seats strong, Vox has become the third-largest political force in the country.
Editor’s note: A copy of this editorial appeared on MinnPost on October 31st.
The Armenian genocide is an indisputable historical fact. The evidence that Ottoman officials set about on a systematic plan to annihilate its Armenian population is undeniable.
So too is the genocide of Native peoples in the United States, brought on by policies that varied from extermination to forced assimilation. The evidence of this points to “intent to destroy, in whole or in part” (U.N. Genocide Convention definition) the Native American populations in the United States.