To many, Yiddish is simultaneously “alive” and “dead.” The reality is, of course, much more complicated (and arguably) dire. For one, the extremes surrounding the life and afterlives of Yiddish are hardly unique. What befell Yiddish language and culture during the Holocaust (resulting in the murder of half of the Yiddish speakers worldwide), along with the interwar and postwar legal repression in the Soviet Union and its cultural marginality in Israel and the United States, partially mirrors majority cultures’ attitudes toward minoritized languages in general.
“Why have we never learned about this before?” This question is repeatedly asked by the high school juniors and seniors in my comparative genocide studies elective course, often with a tone of disbelief and urgency. While all have studied the Holocaust, only a few have learned about the genocides in Armenia and Rwanda, and rarely are students aware of the genocides that took place in German Southwest Africa (present-day Namibia), Cambodia, Darfur, or the many other so-called “hidden” genocides that we study. However, they are shocked and often angry when we examine the genocide perpetrated against Indigenous peoples in North America, especially the Dakota and Ojibwe nations in the State of Minnesota; “we should have learned about this before,” students say. As their teacher, I couldn’t agree more.
As a queer activist and researcher from Turkey, I am interested in understanding how queer lives endure in post-genocidal Turkey. I dwell on the Armenian Genocide and how the denial of the genocidal past is adapted by the sovereign Turkish state as a form of governing strategy (Savelsberg 2021, Suciyan 2017). More specifically, I contemplate how the circulation of denial is also related to the endurance of heteronormativity in which the broader practices of sexual violence, forced religious conversion, and orphanage emerge as critical issues (Ekmekçioǧlu 2015, Maksudyan 2015).
I hope to examine how the dissolution and disruption of Armenian families are linked to the reproduction of normative gender relations and the endurance of violence. By bringing queer and Armenian communities together, I concomitantly examine post-genocide, Armenians, and queer as bounded livelihoods in which the production of gender & sexuality and ethnicity are not necessarily separate categories but vividly intersected.
No, I am not talking about the Vatican or the next Coen Brothers movie. I am talking about old men saving countries.
The man that comes to my mind can be described as follows: practicing Catholic with a pragmatic mindset that enables him to reach across the aisle; lawyer by training and politician by vocation who experiences personal tragedy — the loss of his wife — early in his career. That would be Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first chancellor after WWII, and those are not the only attributes he shares with Joe Biden.
This is my tenth year teaching a Holocaust and genocide course, and I love teaching this class. I know it sounds strange to say I love teaching about genocide, but I do. Though I teach other social studies courses each year, I spend most of my time and energy on this class; I even went back to graduate school to study how and why to teach about genocide. Over the past decade, I’ve read A LOT; traveled to many places like Armenia, Cambodia, and Rwanda; talked to many survivors (and perpetrators); and conducted research with teachers and students. Despite this, I still have many questions regarding teaching about genocide.
On October 6th, Dr. Sara Brenneis, Professor of Spanish at Amherst College in Massachusetts, was invited to the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies to give a talk on her book Spaniards in Mauthausen: the Representations of a Nazi Concentration Camp. I had the opportunity to sit with her (virtually) for a fascinating conversation, as she discussed her work on the interplay between fiction and history in 20th century Spain.
In an article exploring the relationship between social movements and genocide, Aliza Luft suggests that the discipline of genocide studies has been mainly composed of historians who have largely abandoned theoretical explanations of genocide in favor of rich, historical analyses. These historical pieces have broadened the field of genocide studies, focusing on the historical moment and context of each genocide. Luft, using the theoretical perspectives developed by social movement scholars, however, demonstrates how this sociological literature could enhance genocide studies.
I want to make clear that this blog post does not seek to equate social movements with historical or contemporary genocides. It is not my intention to say that social movements are genocides. Rather, I seek to illustrate that these two phenomena operate on a spectrum of contentious politics, and both social movement scholars and genocide scholars may learn more about their respective disciplines by looking at the commonalities and differences between them. Furthermore, I seek to suggest, that maybe genocide scholars could learn a few things by turning to this contemporary moment in the US.
On the night of November 9, 1938, the Nazis coordinated an attack on the homes, businesses, and cultural institutions of German and Austrian Jews. It had been, according to the Sturmabteilung (the SA or brownshirts), a retaliation for the killing of a German diplomat in Paris by a Jewish refugee living there. In reality, the attacks were the culmination of increasingly antagonist policies towards the Jewish population occurring since 1933. While perhaps not actively involved in the wanton destruction that became known as Kristallnacht, non-Jewish citizens watched in stunned silence, allowing thousands of businesses, synagogues, and homes to be burned and looted. Reports of the violence spread in newspapers around the world in the days that followed.
This piece was originally published in the Community Voices section of the MinnPost.
The dangers are real. Timothy Snyder spelled them out in his short book, “About Tyranny.”
Germany at the dawn of Nazism, the USA today. Similarities? Differences? Many today ask such questions, for valid reasons.
The German Führer then sought to delegitimize core democratic institutions. The American president today does the same when institutions do not serve his political goals: the courts, the electoral process, democratic opposition, even branches of the administration that do not fall in line. He calls the mainstream news media, decried as “Lügenpresse” (press of lies) in 1930s Germany, “fake news.” He scapegoats minorities and stirs up of hostile emotions against adversaries, another parallel. Further, while Hitler affiliated SA- and SS-militias with his Nazi Party, President Trump encourages self-recruiting militias (“stand by!”). Hostilities toward democratic countries supplement these parallels.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been a huge fan of both America and Americans since watching the Apollo space program as a kid on a black and white TV in my parent’s house in Germany. But it’s not the ’60s anymore; it feels more like the 1600s. And no, I am not talking about the year 1620 or its woke neighbor 1619. The high-speed time machine that the entire US sits in right now has its dial pointing to 1618 Europe — Prague to be exact.