Thursday marks the start of the 37th annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, a two plus week celebration of cinema from across the globe. This year’s events feature more than 250 films spread across six theaters throughout the Twin Cities.

Here are a few selections that may pique your interest:

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Professor Carlo Tognato gave a lecture titled, “Narrating the ‘Righteous in the Colombian Armed Conflict’: A civil pedagogy of solidarity for highly polarized and deeply divided societies” at the Holocaust, Genocide and Mass Violence Interdisciplinary Graduate Group. You can watch the lecture here. After his lecture, Tognato shared more insights with Michael Soto (UMN Graduate Student, Sociology).

Carlo Tognato is Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology at the Universidad Nacional in Colombia. He is also Director of the Nicanor Restrepo Santamaría Center for Civil Reconstruction in Bogotá and Faculty Fellow at the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University. For over a decade, he worked on cultural economic sociology. Since 2014, though, his research has almost exclusively concentrated on civil reconstruction in postconflict society, thereby taking a more interventive and public turn.

 

In your presentation on “Narrating the ‘Righteous’ in the Colombian Armed Conflict,” you highlighted that post conflict narratives tend to have a binary focus on victims and perpetrators. You introduced a third category, that of the ‘Righteous.’  What does this mean and why is it important?

The big problem with the victims-perpetrators binary is that it ends up feeding into extreme polarization and deep socio-political divisions. When you are under these circumstances, and you want to solidarize with a person who belongs to another group, then the people within your own group will see the act of solidarity towards people from other groups as an act of betrayal of in-group solidarity.  

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“A Holocaust video game!” exclaimed the man sitting to my left with an alarmed look on his face. Professor Wulf Kansteiner, in a keynote address, had just suggested both the inevitability and the necessity of such a video game in his argument for expanded tolerance towards the shifting nature of Holocaust narratives in societal consciousness and education. Indeed, half the audience gathered at the three-day Holocaust education conference, “Near but Far: Holocaust Education Revisited,” in Munich, Germany seemed incensed by the idea of a video game about the Holocaust. The other half – a mix of professors, teachers, and site educators – nodded their heads, if not in approval, perhaps knowing that the future of Holocaust education, as outlined by Kansteiner, is already emerging. Indeed, such games are making a tentative foray into an industry whose revenues have surpassed those of the movie industry for more than a decade.

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On March 24, 85 year old Vel d’Hiv roundup survivor Mireille Knoll was murdered and her body partially burned in her Paris apartment by a Muslim neighbor. Pundits speculate that the neighbor may have been radicalized in jail, although we are still at the very beginning of the investigation. The neighbor knew her since age 7. During the past twenty years her humble apartment remained open to him and to neighbors of all faiths. No one could have anticipated the horrific crime, worthy of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment–the murder of an old, vulnerable woman, just because it is possible, because after the death of God, man is all powerful. In front of such barbarity, one falls speechless, aware that wording will never do justice to such evil. Language, indeed, and forgive the cliché, is inadequate.

The failure of words comes from the failure of theodicy, a word which in Greek means “divine justice.” Man-made atrocities, past a certain degree, can no longer be thought in terms of hidden providence, in terms of making sense of suffering. While Job was tested by God, it would be indecent to explain the torture of Mireille Knoll as God’s and Satan’s plan. French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, in an essay written in the wake of the totalitarianisms of the last century, used the phrase “useless suffering.” He meant that after Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Cambodia, it is no longer possible to believe that suffering has a purpose, that it is God’s plan, or that, if one does not believe in God, it is a necessary evil that will result in historical progress (think of the millions of victims of Stalinism, in the name of a better humanity and of hastening the end of history.) It is no longer possible to believe that negativity, death, and suffering have a hidden purpose.

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Film, since its inception, has played a significant role in capturing history. It has given us ways to explore events in the past while contemplating the present. Art (it would seem) is ahead of politics, especially in matters of examining the painful realities of World War II in Eastern Europe. In recent years there has been a dangerous trend in Poland and Hungary in revising history to fit a political narrative.

Both Poland and Hungary have been trying to balance Democracy and the rise of right wing political parties, who are determined to use the Holocaust to rewrite historical narratives to create nationalistic pride, directly contradicting their past and present. Poland and Hungary along with Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia, are all experiencing revisionist movements. Historian John Paul Himka believes part of the problem is how these once double occupied countries (by Germany and the Soviet Union) dealt with false historical narratives or “myths” they were told under post-war Soviet occupation, once they were free of Communism. Himka states in their hurry to join the West, they did not take the necessary time and care to explore their wartime roles, allowing for a division between memory and fact.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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