Making Germany Great Again: Hitler returns, in “Look Who’s Back”

Look_Whoa_s_Back-329719366-largeThe idea of reviving a historical figure to return from the dead to our own time period is not new.  Many novels and films have dealt with this premise before though usually they focus on the return of someone likable. In the German film Look Who’s Back (Er ist wieder da) we get Adolf Hitler in Berlin circa 2014.

Billed as a comedy, Look Who’s Back opens in the clouds, reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will. At first, Look plays like a science fiction film around the return of the deceased. It turns into a buddy-road picture, as Hitler and the recently fired, down-on-his-luck filmmaker Fabian Sawatzki (played by Fabian Busch) drive about Germany in Fabian’s mother’s floral delivery van. They film people’s reactions to Hitler in the hopes that Fabian can get the footage on the air at the TV station that fired him. (These scenes are actual reactions of unsuspecting people on the street to Hitler as played by the actor Oliver Masucci.) Is it a comedy? Yes. Is it funny? Yes. There are laugh-out-loud moments, several moments of uncomfortable laughter, as well as a few cringe-inducing scenes.

Continue reading “Making Germany Great Again: Hitler returns, in “Look Who’s Back””

Memorializing the Butcher? A Review of ‘If Only I Were That Warrior’

efef9762783e0a46f7211677ee95dda5_originalOn Saturday, February 20th the Italian Cultural Center of Minneapolis & St. Paul presented If Only I Were That Warrior as part of their annual Italian Film Festival followed by a moderated discussion. In the film, director Valerio Ciriaci examines Italy’s brutal attempts to colonize Ethiopia in 1935 through the lens of the 2012 erection of a monument dedicated to Rodolfo Graziani. The monument, located in the Italian town of Affile, reignited the tense politics surrounding Graziani’s involvement in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and its legacy today.

Continue reading “Memorializing the Butcher? A Review of ‘If Only I Were That Warrior’”

Son of Saul: A New Kind of Holocaust Film

4b07767d4cc171ce795ecfb8a1a41c3e-1.jpgSon of Saul is a film about a member of the Sonderkommando (Jewish prisoners forced to aid in the killing process and clean up) at Auschwitz.  What sets Son of Saul apart from most films that deal with the Holocaust is that it is not presented in a traditional narrative structure. Hungarian director László Nemes upon accepting his Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film said “over the years the Holocaust has become an abstract. It deserves a face.” Certainly he does this immediately as the camera never leaves Saul; we are either looking directly at his face in close-up or over his shoulder. We experience events with Saul as he goes about his work and later his self-imposed mission, the burial of a boy. The movie is a visceral experience — there is very little dialogue, and we only see and hear what Saul sees and hears.  Nemes gives us very little to go on, we know nothing about Saul’s past, who he once was, prior to landing in Auschwitz.  Saul is introduced to us as he emerges from a combination of mist, smoke and sound. We are immersed in a world that is out of focus and filled with a cacophony of sounds, some so sharp and real one turns to look for the offending speaker in the audience.  Nemes and his sound designer Tamas Zanyi, recorded over eight different languages speaking dialogue to create aural chaos, these layers of sound combined with the close-ups and long takes are intended to disorientate, forming a psychological experience with Saul. Nemes does not use any sentiment or melodramatic devices to tell his story. We never form an emotional bond with Saul as one might to other characters in other films on the Holocaust.
Continue reading “Son of Saul: A New Kind of Holocaust Film”

Minneapolis Film Society Screens Pretty Village

On Saturday, October 17th, 2015, the Minneapolis Film Society screened Pretty Village at St. Anthony Main theater, a documentary depicting the experience of Kemal Pevranic and his village during the war in Bosnia (1992-95). Pevranic, the main subject of the film, is also the producer and a human rights activist who works to raise awareness and to rebuild his community in Bosnia by working on reconciliation efforts, particularly with young people of all three ethnicities in Bosnia. The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies co-sponsored the film screening event, in which I participated as the moderator of the post-screening discussion. Continue reading “Minneapolis Film Society Screens Pretty Village”

The Spirit of the Laws: The Plunder of Wealth in the Armenian Genocide

The Spirit of the Laws: The Plunder of Wealth in the Armenian Genocide 

Taner Akçam and Umit Kurt, Translated by Aram Arkun

unnamed (1)Pertinent to contemporary demands for reparations from Turkey is the relationship between law and property in connection with the Armenian Genocide. This book examines the confiscation of Armenian properties during the genocide and subsequent attempts to retain seized Armenian wealth. Through the close analysis of laws and treaties, it reveals that decrees issued during the genocide constitute central pillars of the Turkish system of property rights, retaining their legal validity, and although Turkey has acceded through international agreements to return Armenian properties, it continues to refuse to do so. The book demonstrates that genocides do not depend on the abolition of the legal system and elimination of rights, but that, on the contrary, the perpetrators of genocide manipulate the legal system to facilitate their plans.

Taner Akçam holds the Kaloosdian and Mugar Chair of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. He is the author of many books, including: The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire (Princeton University Press, 2012), which received the Middle East Studies Association’s Hourani Book Prize and was listed by Foreign Affairs as “Best International Relations Books of 2012.”

Umit Kurt is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History Department of Clark University. He is the author of The Great, Hopeless Turkish Race: Fundamentals of Turkish Nationalism in the Turkish Homeland 1911-1916 (Iletisim Publishing House, 2012).

The Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide

The Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide

By Lou Ureneck

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The harrowing story of a Methodist Minister and a principled American naval officer who helped rescue more than 250,000 refugees during the genocide of Armenian and Greek Christians-a tale of bravery, morality, and politics, published to coincide with the genocide’s centennial.

 

Professor Ureneck (Journalism, Boston University) conducted much of his research in writing the book in the U of M Library’s extensive Kautz Family YMCA Archives, highlighting the University’s unique ability to place historic events in context, and provide primary sources for study and scholarship. 

Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur

Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur

By Joachim Salvesberg

3462cad3-349b-4b8b-aa65-829a42f667d8 How do interventions by the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court influence representations of mass violence? What images arise instead from the humanitarianism and diplomacy fields? How are these competing perspectives communicated to the public via mass media? Zooming in on the case of Darfur, Joachim J. Savelsberg analyzes more than three thousand news reports and opinion pieces and interviews leading newspaper correspondents, NGO experts, and foreign ministry officials from eight countries to show the dramatic differences in the framing of mass violence around the world and across social fields.

The book is hot off the presses and is also available in its entirety online.

Professor Joachim Savelsberg is a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, the Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian Chair, and affiliate faculty to the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Film Review: Watchers of the Sky

large_unnamedSix decades after he first coined the term genocide, Raphael Lemkin’s life has made it to the silver screen. In Watchers of the Sky director Edet Belzberg takes viewers through the efforts of Lemkin to get the crime of genocide recognized by the international community and the United Nations.

Throughout the movie, activists, scholars and experts share their reflections on the legacy of Lemkin’s tireless dedication to pursuing justice for victims of atrocities around the world. Among those interviewed is Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the UN and author of A Problem from Hell, which served as an inspiration for the documentary. Continue reading “Film Review: Watchers of the Sky”

Book of the Month: A Good Place to Hide: How One French Village Saved Thousands of Lives During World War II

A Good Place to Hide: How One French Village Saved Thousands of Lives During World War II

By Peter Grose

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A Good Place to Hide is the story of an isolated community in south-central France, Le Chambon, that conspired to save the lives of 3,500 Jews under the noses of the Germans and the soldiers of Vichy France. It is the story of a pacifist Protestant pastor who broke laws and defied orders to protect the lives of total strangers. Powerful and richly told, the book speaks to the courage of ordinary people who offered sanctuary, kindness, solidarity and hospitality to people in desperate need, knowing full well the consequences to themselves.

Book of the Month: Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia

Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia

By Michelle Caswell

0d665413-1421-4d46-9ec7-d90519ca6d88Roughly 1.7 million people died in Cambodia from untreated disease, starvation, and execution during the Khmer Rouge reign of less than four years in the late 1970s. The regime’s brutality has come to be symbolized by the multitude of black-and-white mug shots of prisoners taken at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where thousands of “enemies of the state” were tortured before being sent to the Killing Fields. In Archiving the Unspeakable, Michelle Caswell traces the social life of these photographic records through the lens of archival studies and elucidates how, paradoxically, they have become agents of silence and witnessing, human rights and injustice as they are deployed at various moments in time and space. From their creation as Khmer Rouge administrative records to their transformation beginning in 1979 into museum displays, archival collections, and databases, the mug shots are key components in an ongoing drama of unimaginable human suffering.