CHGS Takes Home Some Awards!

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.

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From Left to Right: Brooke Chambers, Alejandro Baer, Wahutu Siguru, and Miray Philips

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The Guernica Bombing and its Message for Today

This past week, the Basque town of Guernica recounted the sorrow and devastation inflicted 80 years ago. On that fateful late afternoon of April 26th 1937, German and Italian aircrafts, at the urging of their ally, General Franco and his right-wing Nationalists, unleashed their bombs on unsuspecting civilians.

Just nine months before, Franco had led a coup against Spain’s Republican government dragging the country into a civil war. The Nationalists eventually triumphed and Franco ruled Spain for the next 36 years.

For a long time, the word Guernica stirred powerful emotions among Spaniards and Europeans who witnessed the destruction wreaked by Fascism. It was a crime against humanity that shocked the world, and was later immortalized by Picasso’s famous expressionist mural. However, the 80th anniversary has received rather scant attention in the US. In my classes last week, I tried to explain to my students why Guernica should remain historically relevant to citizenry across the globe.

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Le Pen on the Brink of Presidency: Nativism, Holocaust Denial, and Anti-Immigration

It seems, indeed, that the far right party in France is leading. The National Front (abbreviated “FN” for Front National in French) could possibly win the election after having lost in 2002 to Jacques Chirac. This is due to the fact that, in the last 15 years, France has become more conservative and protectionist, intensified by issues such as the migrant crisis and several terrorist attacks on French soil.

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Marine Le Pen, FN Presidential Candidate

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Capturing Every Day Life in Conflict

We have grown accustomed to seeing photographs captured during conflict dehumanizing victims and fetishizing their suffering. Our Eye on Africa column has previously discussed the disproportionate ways in which the pain of non-western victims is consumed through the media, even though it does not educate us about the context leading to the suffering. Yet, other forms of war-photography capture something else: everyday life under conflict. Instead of focusing on the pain and suffering of victims, these photographs aim to highlight the continuity of life. They focus on the possibility of a future and the necessity to maintain a sense of self. Conflict and suffering can in fact be captured in ways that do not always freeze moments of agony and death in eternity.

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Graffiti in Aleppo, Syria

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What Can Be Done? Ambassador Stephen Rapp on Justice in Syria

“Nasty, brutish, and short.”

In a recent lecture by Ambassador Stephen Rapp, hosted by the Human Rights Program, he borrowed from Thomas Hobbes’ famous line to describe life in a world without justice. His presentation kicked off a lecture series about the ongoing Syrian crisis.

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Ambassador Rapp

Saying that Ambassador Rapp has an extensive resume is an understatement: he served as Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes in the Office of Global Criminal Justice, a position which brought him around the globe to address a wide span of conflicts during his 2009-2015 term. His legal experience includes positions in the International Criminal Court and the International Tribunal for Rwanda, where he helped prosecute the first conviction for a member of the media in inciting genocide. Currently, he holds positions with the Hague Institute for Global Justice and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

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Photographing Displaced Persons: Then and Now

In our post on the photography of Maxine Rude – on display in the Eiger-Zaidenweber Holocaust Resource Center at the Sabes JCC – we touched on issues involved in exhibiting these photographs, including that a photographer’s choices on how to present a subject (framing, selecting, and excluding subjects) may influence a viewer’s perception.

A curator also makes influential choices, deciding how and what to include in an exhibit, and what to exclude. In putting pieces of art or photography together, these works may take on new and unexpected meanings in a visitor’s mind that were never intended by artist or curator, but are a result of the exhibition nonetheless. Or, a curator may intentionally be drawing comparisons that were not in the original artist’s mind.

In presenting Maxine Rude’s work, we take note of her portrayal of children and families, asking questions of the viewer about their response to seeing these victims of World War II and the Holocaust.

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White Supremacy on Campus: An Ahistorical Campaign of Racial Prejudice

Racism comes in many forms. Some strains mask themselves in institutional legitimacy and free speech. Others advance claims of victimhood, loss of religious freedom, or champion assertions that they are defenders of local custom and tradition. Regardless of its shape, however, racism is always the product of two forces: ignorance and malevolence. Racism is perpetually ignorant because it relies on ahistorical constructions of difference to advance universal assertions of racial, cultural, social, or national superiority. In this manner, racism is also always malevolent because it seeks to impose hierarchical configurations of ‘race’ in an otherwise multicultural, multiethnic world.

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Whose History? Why Not All History Needs to be Represented in Our Capitol (Part 2)

If you’ve been to St. Paul lately, you’ve likely seen that the Minnesota Capitol Building is undergoing a massive renovation. More than $300 million is being spent to make the century-plus building a host of structural and technological upgrades. Once completed in the fall, a nearly two year-long project will come to an end.

However, it is not the building itself that’s been grabbing headlines. Instead, it’s the art inside – art that’s been estimated to be worth nearly $1 billion. Many of these pieces depict key moments in the state’s history: Among them the landing of Father Hennepin and the gallantry of the 2nd Minnesota Company from the American Civil war. One piece that will not be on display when the Capitol reopens is a 1906 work by Anton Gag. It shows the attack on New Ulm by Dakota warriors during the short-lived 1862 conflict.

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“Attack on New Ulm” by Anton Gag, 1904

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The Art of Minnesota’s UnCivil War: Is the State Capitol its Proper Home? (Part 1)

The Minnesota State Capitol, not unlike other political spaces around the world, displays artwork meant to illustrate important moments in the history of the state. Of these, a number of paintings have created significant debate among politicians and community members.

Nearly a decade after the contentious Dakota War of 1862, an oil painting depicting Dakota warriors attacking white German settlers in New Ulm has, until this year, hung on the walls of the Minnesota State Capitol. The artist, Anton Gag, created “Attack on New Ulm” nearly forty years after the event. On January 26th, 1887, The New Ulm Review reported that, “Mr. Gag’s undertaking is commendable and every one interested in the history of the dark days of New Ulm should aid him.”

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“Attack on New Ulm” by Anton Gag, 1904

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Silence Surrounding the Rohingya

The lifeless body of a 16-month old Rohingya boy, Mohammed Shohayet, was found laying face down on the bank of River Naf at the Bangladesh-Burma border. Although reminiscent of the photograph of Kurdish-Syrian Alan Kurdi, neither this photograph nor the conflict in Burma have received nearly as much attention as the crisis in Syria. Of course, although coverage is important, it has not necessitated action in either conflict.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in Burma (also known as Myanmar), mainly residing in the Rakhina State. While the conflict in Burma has not yet been declared a genocide, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) compiled a report last May on the early warning signs of genocide. The Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide found evidence of a variety of key warning signs, including physical segregation of the population, restrictions on both marriages and births, constraints on movement, and physical violence. And since the release of this report, additional and increasing troubling information has continued to flow from the nation, with the most recent report by the United Nations documenting crimes against humanity. Media organizations have had limited access to the Rakhine state as the government continues its propaganda campaign, but recently leaked footage captured police officers attacking a group of Rohingya men. The government later arrested the officers and stated that the beating was an isolated incident, while claiming similar footage from the previous month was faked. As a result of the conflict, tens of thousands of Rohingya are displaced and have tried fleeing to neighboring countries on boats, only to be rejected.

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