“Harvesting Tattoos”: A Thesis from Buchenwald

Thesis Wagner.jpegThe Spanish daily El País published a shocking story last week about a rare and controversial document from the Buchenwald Nazi Concentration Camp. A PhD Thesis done by a Nazi camp doctor, Erich Wagner, titled On the Subject of Tattoos, that analyzes the tattoos of the camp’s earliest prisoners, many of whom were Jews arrested during Kristallnacht.

Wagner “meticulously catalogued the race, nationality, criminal past and education” of those sent to Buchenwald in an attempt to connect tattoos with criminal tendencies – an approach, needless to say, with no scientific merit.

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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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Making Mute Art Speak for the Victims. Reflections on the UMN Course “Holocaust Art: History and Commemoration”

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.

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Jennifer Hammer, Yehudit Shendar, and Alejandro Baer

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“Left-Wing Antisemitism is Dangerous Because it Denies its Own Existence”: Interview with Historian Philip Spencer

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Philip Spencer

Philip Spencer gave a keynote introductory address at CHGS’ International Symposium on April, 2017 entitled Comparative Genocide Studies and the Holocaust: Conflict and Convergence. Following the symposium, he and Bruno Chaouat (UMN, French and Italian) gave a book talk (recorded in full here), where Spencer introduced the book he co-authored with sociologist Robert Fine, Antisemitism and the Left. On the return of the Jewish question. After his talk, Spencer sat with Wahutu Siguru (UMN PhD Candidate, Sociology), Alexandra Tiger (UMN undergrad in Sociology), and Demetrios Vital (CHGS Outreach Coordinator), and offered thoughtful, warm, and inspiring answers to a range of questions on topics in his book and talks. What follows are three of those questions and answers.

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Holocaust Memory in Europe: An Interview with Professor Timothy Snyder

On April 6-8, 2017, CHGS held a symposium in celebration of its 20th anniversary titled, “Comparative Genocide Studies and the Holocaust: Conflict and Convergence”. Timothy Snyder, a professor of History at Yale University gave the keynote on “The Politics of Mass Killing: Past and Present”. Joe Eggers was able to sit down and talk with him.

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Dr. Timothy Snyder

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In Memory of Simone Veil (1927-2017)

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.

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Simone Veil

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[Re]Telling: Holocaust Art and Contemporary Response

When I first saw Fritz Hirschberger’s paintings in art storage, I was struck with cognitive dissonance. In the time that I’ve worked for CHGS, I looked at Hirschberger’s paintings and read about the artist quite a bit, but only in print or online in CHGS’ digital collection.

This was my first encounter with a Hirschberger painting in its physicality. Five feet tall, painted in translucent layers of bright oils, there, before me, stretched a saturated orange and purple canvas filled with the a war horseman brandishing deadly weapons. Hirschberger chose the Fifth Horseman precisely because it could not be discerned through physical senses,* yet here in my first encounter seeing this piece in person, it was arresting precisely because of its physical nature.

Weeks later, the paintings were installed and ready as part of [Re]Telling, an exhibition of Holocaust art, narrative, and contemporary response, held in the Tychman Shapiro Gallery at the Sabes JCC. Yehudit Shendar, retired Deputy Director and Senior Art Curator of Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, gave remarks at the opening reception of [Re]Telling featuring seven paintings by survivor Fritz Hirschberger selected from the CHGS permanent collection.

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“[Re]Telling” participating artists and artwork by Robert O. Fisch
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Inheriting a Parent’s Story of Surviving the Holocaust

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.

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Recovering Memories: Holocaust Survivors in Latin America

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.

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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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