Surviving the Yazidi Genocide: A story of trauma, loss, and the fight for justice

9781524760434.jpegNadia dreamed of either becoming a history teacher or opening a hair salon in Kocho, Iraq – a small village of farmers and shepherds in southern Sinjar. In her book, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State (2017), Nadia talks about growing up with her many brothers and sisters amidst a tight-knit Yazidi community. Central to Yazidi identity is the history of the seventy-three past firmans (to mean genocide) committed against the community by outside forces. Nadia, along with others Yazidis, learned about this history but never thought she herself would soon survive a genocide against her own religious community. Nadia writes, “…these stories of persecution were so intertwined with who we were that they might as well have been holy stories. I knew that the religion lived in the men and women who had been born to preserve it, and that I was one of them.” To Nadia, however, the previous genocides belonged to a distant past. The ongoing violence in Iraq and neighboring Syria also did not feel like part of the contemporary plight of Yazidis – until one day ISIS began to surround Kocho and the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces fled, leaving them unprotected.

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Remembrance as Legitimation Problem: A Review of Jeffrey Olick’s The Sins of the Fathers: Germany, Memory, Method

9780226386492.jpgThere is no state that has been and continues to be as haunted by the specters of a criminal past as is Germany. What happens when State leaders cannot tell a positive story about the nation’s past? A damaged national identity is, of course, not unique to Germany. For German leaders, however, the task at hand was, and continues to be, the mastering of a past that has become the symbol of ultimate evil. Jeffrey Olick’s The sins of the fathers: Germany, memory, method examines, with an impressive wealth of documentation and meticulous attention to detail, the process by which the Federal Republic of Germany (1949–1990) confronted the burden of the Nazi crimes and dealt with its political costs.

Germany’s ‘legitimation profiles’

Jeffrey Olick argues that ‘much of the state-sponsored memory in the Federal Republic of Germany has been organized as an effort to deny collective guilt’ (p. 29). The book is structured around the presentation of three succeeding ‘legitimation profiles’ – each confronting the problem of collective guilt in singular ways.

The first one, the ‘reliable nation’, which was centered on institutional reform, rather than symbolic gesture, aimed to prove that the newfound German state was a trustworthy and responsible member of the international community. During this time, the country’ s leaders draw a clear line separating the criminal Nazi leadership from the general German population. The Nazis had committed crimes ‘in the name of the German people’, as chancellor Adenauer put it in the1950s.

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Adolf Eichmann: An Obsession

This month, Jodi Elowitz shares three selections that explore the obsession with Adolf Eichmann in film.

MV5BMjMwNDI5MTM2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTc0ODcyNDE@._V1_.jpgAs we watch neo-Nazis and white supremacists on our TV’s and in our news feeds it might be a good time to reacquaint ourselves with the original Nazis and just what happens when we remain silent. On Netflix, we can watch The Eichmann Show (2015), which portrays the decisions made towards filming the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, head of Jewish Affairs, who was responsible for deporting the Jews of Europe to their deaths. In the aftermath of liberation, Eichmann fled Europe and went into hiding in Argentina, until he was kidnapped by Mossad agents and brought to trial in Israel. The Eichmann Show, produced by BBC, stars Martin Freeman as producer, Milton Fruchtman, and Anthony LaPaglia as director, Leo Hurwitz. Both excellent actors have little acting to do since they take a lesser role to the integrated footage from the actual trial. The screen alternates from black and white to color as we move from the actual footage to the representational courtroom. Mainly focused on the arguments between Hurwitz and Fruchtman on the purpose of the filming, we are shown the obsessive nature of both men on a mission. Hurwitz is determined that the camera and the magic of film will compel Eichmann to show us his soul and that we will see a moment of recognition and regret for his crimes. Fruchtman is less concerned with finding Eichmann’s humanity as he is televising the “trial of the century.” He is more focused on the emotional impact of the recounting of the horrors of the Holocaust by the survivors. The trial was important for both playing a role in our understanding of the Holocaust, and because it was the first televised world news event, which would lead to other televised “trials of the century.” The trial is important because it helped us understand that those who died did not go like sheep to the slaughter, and it helped lift the stigma attached to survivors (especially in Israel), as the Nazi crimes were explained in full detail by those who experienced it firsthand.

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The 2017 Twin Cities Arab Film Festival

The Twin Cities Arab Film Festival is finally here! This year, the festival covers a wide range of pertinent and urgent issues, especially in light of ongoing islamophobia and xenophobia targeting immigrants and refugees globally. Here, we have compiled a list of films that highlight the stories of people who grapple with, resist and remember conflicts and tragedies in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt. Below are the blurbs featured on the official festival website. The 2017 Arab Film Festival will go on from September 27th-October 1st.

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Towards a Marxist Critique of the Cambodian Genocide

Between 1975 and 1979, the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), also known as the Khmer Rouge, fundamentally transformed the social, economic, political, and natural landscape of Cambodia. During this time as many as two million Cambodians died from exposure to disease, starvation, or were executed at the hands of the state.

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The dominant interpretation of Cambodian history during this period, known as the Standard Total View (STV), presents the CPK as a totalitarian, communist, and autarkic regime seeking to reorganize Cambodian society around a primitive, agrarian political economy. Under the STV, the victims of the regime died as a result of misguided economic policies, a draconian security apparatus, and the central leadership’s fanatical belief in the creation of a utopian, communist society. In short, according to the STV, Democratic Kampuchea, as Cambodia was renamed, constituted an isolated, completely self-reliant prison state. My publication From Rice Fields to Killing Fields: Nature, Life, and Labor under the Khmer Rouge (Syracuse University Press, 2017) challenges the standard narrative and provides a documentary-based Marxist interpretation of the political economy of Democratic Kampuchea.

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Ethical Reading: Approaching Genocide Literature in Middle and High School Classrooms

9781138657236.jpgReview of Sarah Donovan’s (2016) Genocide Literature in Middle and Secondary Classrooms: Rhetoric, Witnessing, and Social Action in a Time of Standards and Accountability.

In 2016, Michigan became the newest state to enact legislation to mandate the instruction of genocides for secondary students, specifically citing the Holocaust and Armenian genocide. Michigan joined seven states that have legislative mandates to teach about the Holocaust and genocide in public middle and high schools. Currently, several projects are calling for directives to teach about the Holocaust from all 50 states (e.g. New York’s Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect and The Butterfly Project).

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Dressing the Fool: Silence as a Weapon in the Fight for History in “Denial”

A competent accomplished woman goes up against a populist outsider who has created a reputation built on lies.  Sound familiar? Maybe, but this is not about the 2016 US election: it is the plot of the film Denial (2016), based on the true story of the trial between Jewish Studies and Holocaust scholar Deborah E. Lipstadt and British Holocaust denier David Irving.

There is no denying that Denial is a film for our times. Conceived nine years ago, and filmed in 2015, the parallels between the trial and the President election is not lost on viewers. Frustratingly, we do seem to live in a time in which history is ignored, facts seem like an inconvenience and there is a prevailing ideology – that one’s opinion is more important, regardless if you can back it up with facts or not.  What happens in this scenario is that there can be no debate between anyone because those espousing opinion, cannot rationally articulate their argument against those who cite facts.

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Short Takes: New Films on the Holocaust

This month, Jodi Elowitz shares five selections that explore recent Holocaust fiction and documentaries from a variety of perspectives.

Now Streaming on Netflix

MV5BMjE2MjQ2MzA2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzAyMTI5NjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,687,1000_AL_What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy (2015) is a documentary based on the article My Father, the Good Nazi (2013) written by British Lawyer, Phillipe Sands in the Financial Times Magazine. The article discusses the relation of Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, Governor General of occupied Poland (General government) and Horst von Wächter, son of Otto von Wächter, District Governor of Krakow, Poland and later District Governor of Galicia during World War II. Both men were responsible for overseeing the extermination of Jews and charged with war crimes. Frank stood trial at Nuremberg and was found guilty on counts three and four (war crimes and crimes against humanity), sentenced to death, and executed on October 16, 1946. Wächter escaped prosecution and died while hiding in Rome in 1949.

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Bystanders, Rescuers or Perpetrators? The Neutral Countries and The Shoah

Bystanders, Rescuers or Perpetrators? The Neutral Countries and The Shoah

Edited by Corry Guttstadt, Thomas Lutz, Bernd Rother, Yessica San Román

unnamedThis volume offers a trans-national, comparative perspective on the varied reactions of the neutral countries to the Nazi persecution and murder of the European Jews. It includes a chapter by CHGS director Alejandro Baer and historian Pedro Correa entitled “The Politics of Holocaust Rescue Myths in Spain.”

The volume is based on the conference papers of the international conference of the same name which was held in November 2014 in Madrid. The conference was originally funded through IHRA’s Grant Program and co-sponsored by CHGS, among other organizations. The entire volume can be downloaded for free at this link.