What makes someone an effective leader? Arguably, one vital component is being a capable and willing protector of one’s people. Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counselor of Myanmar and also a Nobel Laureate, is currently failing in this role. She continually chooses to “protect” only the Buddhist majority of Myanmar by supporting the government of Myanmar’s stance that the Rohingya, long time inhabitants of the Rakhine region of Myanmar, are not citizens. Their lack of legal citizenship has been used as justification by the state to perpetrate atrocities against the Rohingya, who are denied civil rights. These atrocities escalated this August when Rohingya militants attacked Burmese security forces. In retaliation, the Burmese military launched a violent crackdown against the Rohingya, killing over 400 people, and forcing over 140,000 to flee into Bangladesh. There is little doubt left that Myanmar has begun a state sanctioned ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, using the violence perpetrated by a few Rohingya militants to justify the mass slaughter of an ethnic population.
My official title during my Spring 2017 teaching appointment at the Global Studies program – Visiting Professor – was in some ways misleading. The University of MN campus was not in any form new to me. I trod its paths as a graduate student back in the seventies, and later as a faculty member in the Classical and Near Eastern Department in the nineties. I was glad to be invited to revisit a familiar turf, not as a momentary visitor, but as a staff member. Embraced by Chair of CHGS, Professor Alejandro Baer, and ever-accommodating Program Coordinator, Jennifer Hammer, I plunged into the University’s old and new teaching routines with a little side splash. Challenges were encountered on unexpected fronts such as the likes of decoding the mechanics of discourse between computers whose compatibility was unnatural – a “Hebrew Speaking” PC and the campus’ Apple lingo. Or the ever-astonishing fact of a May 1st snow storm. Even as a veteran of a dozen winters I was caught by surprise. Perhaps the twenty warm years since I left the campus, and the Israeli scorching sun must have affected my brain’s memory cells. I was also surprised by the sign over the entrance door to Classroom 1-111 on the first floor of Hanson Hall, which read: The Dairy Queen Class. Quite ironic, I thought to myself, for a course on the history of the Holocaust. Evidently no prank, just one coincidence of what life is made of.
Twenty-three years have passed since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the decades since have shaped Rwanda into a nearly unrecognizable country. The genocide seems, at first glance, to be a distant and painful memory. The capital of Kigali has transformed into a vibrant urban hub, complete with five star hotels and immaculate streets. Educational initiatives and a skyrocketing tourism industry are reshaping the nation. For many, especially those living outside of Rwanda, the genocide seems to be a historical event, locked firmly in the past. But while decades have passed since the 100 days during which at least 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed, the past doesn’t seem so far away to many Rwandans. The personal tolls, be they loss of family members or lasting emotional scars, still remain.
Dear Simone Veil,
Your passing on June 30, 2017 barely made a ripple in the American news media; and yet even far away, there is so much we can celebrate and learn from you. Your many gifts and accomplishments do not inspire envy or a competitive spirit. You are one of the most beloved public figures in France. You never made me say in the usual resigned manner: of course, she is just a politician.
What follows is a statement given by CHGS Outreach Coordinator, Demetrios Vital at the 2017 Twin Cities Jewish Community Yom HaShoah Commemoration, coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council, and hosted at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park.
Demetrios spoke as a son of a survivor on the process of transferring memory across generations. Following his statements, he read the text of his father’s testimony as published in the 25th anniversary edition of Witnesses to the Holocaust, a book containing the testimony of Minnesota Holocaust survivors and liberators produced by the JCRC. That text is included below.
I am deeply honored to be here with you all tonight. Thank you for having me and my father here.
I am the youngest son of Victor Vital. I am one of three children along with Rachel Vital Davis and Joseph Vital, and stand generationally between Victor and three grandchildren.
Victor Vital survived the Holocaust.
I’m one of many here who are children of survivors, or have family who survived, or who didn’t, and indeed even if we’re not directly related to those who experienced the Holocaust, we might all find access to stories and truly feel the impact of this history.
In March 2006, performance artist Santiago Serra constructed a homemade gas chamber inside a former synagogue in the Cologne area and invited Germans to be symbolically gassed. Exhaust pipes from six cars were hooked to the building, which was then filled with deadly carbon monoxide and visitors entered the space wearing protective masks. What was the artist’s intention? Serra said his aim was to give people a sense of the Holocaust. The Jewish community was furious. It was considered a provocation at the expense of Holocaust victims, an insult to survivors and the whole community. “What’s artistic about attaching poisonous car exhaust into a former synagogue?” said writer and Holocaust survivor Ralph Giordano (1923-2014), “and who gave permission for this?”
The following is an open letter to the organizers of an African Trade Forum event, who have announced that Maowia Osman Khalid, Ambassador of Sudan to the US, will be on campus for a panel co-hosted by the Carlson School of Management.
USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research has decided to endorse the initiative of a group of seven scholars from different Latin American countries to study Holocaust Survivors in Latin America as part of its Interdisciplinary Research Week. Not an alien in the context of terrorscapes and transitional justice, Latin America has been a space of contested narratives regarding mass violence.
In countries like Colombia, realities of forced displacement, illegal prosecution, and war narratives have been ongoing historically, which has been widely documented and studied. However, there is still much to be discovered, especially as these narratives coexist with narratives of survival from the Holocaust. In this regard, Latin America has been related to the Holocaust mostly as an important space for refuge after WWII.
One of the many key moments that led me to love the United States and its people happened in 1986. I was at a gathering of international students in Palo Alto, most of them with a European background just like me. The mood was very much anti-American, not the least because Reagan had just tried to kill Gaddafi by bombing Tripoli. He had missed the target but managed to create a lot of angst that WW III was about to break out. Everybody in the room was lamenting the ignorance of the Americans and political naïveté of their leaders in the harshest terms. I felt bad for the only American student in the group who got an ear full of unabashed Eurocentrism. After all, he was representing the host country and we didn’t really behave like guests, or, for that matter, like visitors from countries that had benefited from US protection as long as anybody in the room could remember. After everybody had unloaded, he just said, “You are probably right, the US is a big country, a lot of Americans don’t travel and don’t really know what’s going on outside the country, and sometimes we mess up.” He was the only one in the room who talked calmly, without drama and with a healthy shot of self-confidence. Back then, most Americans I talked to shared my fellow student’s relaxed and self-reflective form of patriotism. Possibly, because the lessons of the Vietnam War were still on everybody’s mind and the Cold War had not been won yet.
This year at the Sociological Research Institute, hosted by the Sociology Department at the University of Minnesota, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies took home a few awards. Congratulations!
The Genocide Education Outreach (GEO) program was awarded the Public Sociology Award, an annual award to acknowledge the work of individuals reaching beyond their research to make change outside the university. CHGS’s GEO program pairs graduate students based on area of expertise with community organizations in need of genocide education support in that area.