University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Daniel Levy "The Past: Between History and Memory" | Keynote as part of International Symposium on the 70th Anniversary of the Conclusion of WWII in Europe

Daniel Levy "The Past: Between History and Memory" | Keynote as part of International Symposium on the 70th Anniversary of the Conclusion of WWII in Europe

International Symposium:
War, what is it good for? Uses and Abuses of Second World War History

The Past: Between History and Memory
Daniel Levy 

Friday, May 8, 2015
1210 Heller Hall
University of Minnesota

In 1969 Edwin Starr famously asked "war, what is it good for?" and answered "absolutely nothing." Regardless of whether organized violence is ever a good way to achieve various political goals, war history is often usable past in the present. Second World War as the "good war" or the "great patriotic war" can be put to many uses by contemporary political actors. This event explored the actual and potential uses of second world war history 70 years after war's end in Europe.

The one-day symposium addressed the usage of war history in both, international and domestic politics. For the international sphere the main focus was on the use of the war in contemporary European politics, especially in Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, the West, and in relations between them. Is history politics just continuation of war by other means or can war history be used to build peaceful relations between former enemies? In the domestic sphere WWII history is mostly used to construct unified nations, but in the symposium participants analyzed how war history has been or could be used in emancipatory ways to empower marginalized groups within societies.

Professor Daniel Levy (Sociology, Stony Brook University and author of Memory Unbound: The Holocaust and the Formation of Cosmopolitan Memory

In his keynote, "The Past: Between History and Memory", Levy addressed the contested relationship between history and memory, changing time conceptions, the role of nation-state formation, and the human rights regime. Levy drew from his work on cosmopolitanization, noting that global norms and narratives intersect with local practices in generative ways, shaping new realities. He highlighted the example of the Holocaust as having made the transition from European to global cypher, thus becoming legible in differing contexts around the world.  

Morning session

Social Sciences 710

Welcome words: Matti Jutila, Alejandro Baer
Keynote: Daniel Levy (Sociology, Stony Brook University)
"The Past: Between History and Memory"

The connection between history and memory has a long and contentious relationship. Recent scholarship associated with the so-called third wave of memory studies is challenging some of the historiographical presuppositions of what a past consists of. This talk will address some of these trajectories and advance a number of conceptual suggestions.
Comments and discussion: Thomas Wolfe, Matti Jutila, Erma Nezirevic

Afternoon session 1: International History Politics in Europe

Heller Hall 1210

Thomas Wolfe (History, University of Minnesota): "Putin's History"
How do authoritarian regimes both need and ignore the writing of history? Putin's Russia offers on the one hand a striking example of a regime building an image of its deep historical roots in Russia's past, including aspects of the Soviet past, and particularly the Great Patriotic War. But at the same time the regime has no interest in acknowledging the past as something "unknown," or as something for which people might mobilize themselves for change. Our discussion will try to unpack this paradox.

Juhana Aunesluoma (Political History, University of Helsinki): "All Quiet on the Western Front? European Identity, Wold War II and Politics of Remembrance in Western Europe"
In the 1990s the memory of the Holocaust was introduced under the concept of European cultural heritage. Auschwitz and similar sites were added on EU-managed lists of monuments of European cultural heritage. However, there have also been calls to include places like Dresden as appropriate places of mourning and remembrance, highlighting the suffering of ordinary Germans during the war. While the forms and boundaries of the politics of remembrance in contemporary Europe have been extended to include diverse groups and also victims of Stalinist terror, it has not been easy to integrate the dark shadows of Europe's past in all their complexity into notions of European identity and a common European cultural heritage.

Afternoon session 2: Politics of New Forms of Commemoration

Heller Hall 1210

Rick McCormick (German, Scandinavian and Dutch, University of Minnesota): "From the 'Rubble Film' to the 'Heritage Film' and Beyond: Representations of WWII and the Holocaust in German Cinema"
The very first post-WWII German film, made in the Soviet zone of Berlin, attempted to deal with Nazi war crimes, but it also focused on a traumatized German soldier as a victim of the Nazis rather than telling the story of the woman in the film who helps to heal him, who is herself a former concentration camp inmate. German attempts to deal with the Nazi past in film on both sides of the Cold War served different political agendas but were mostly silent about the plight of the Jews. In the aftermath of the surprising impact in West Germany of the American miniseries Holocaust in the late 1970s, and later, after German unification, the huge success of Spielberg's film Schindler's List in the early 1990s, things changed. Since the late 1990s the plight of the Jews is almost always thematized in big-budget historical films about WWII made in Germany, but these so-called "heritage" films seem to be marketing a past that is safely sealed off from the present. One recent example is the TV miniseries Generation War (Unsere Muetter, unsere Vaeter), which includes a Jewish character, albeit a not very plausible one, among its protagonists. But this kind of "heritage" narrative is also critiqued by some younger filmmakers.

Jodi Elowitz: "Creating an Archive for a New Generation: The Holocaust Memory as Illustrated in Animated Short Films"
Have we reached our limit on the use of the traditional images of the archive in representing the Holocaust in documentary film? How will filmmakers engage the next generation of viewers to invite them to watch narratives of the Holocaust? I believe the answer lies in the use of artistic representation in the form of animated short films. In this presentation I will explore how animation is replacing the use of traditional archival footage in order to create new imagery based on the representation and memory that has been shaped by the limited photographic and film record of the Holocaust.

Coffee Break

Afternoon session 3: Empowering the Marginalized

Heller Hall 1210

Elaine May (American Studies, University of Minnesota): "Women on the Home Front"
World War II opened up many new opportunities for women to pursue work and other social, sexual, and public activities that had not been available to them prior to the war. This presentation will open up discussion on the ways in which women's lives changed during the war, and the extent to which those changes carried forward into the postwar era.

Matti Jutila (Political Science, University of Minnesota): "Diverse Country, Diverse Soldiers, Homogenic War Narrative: Diversifying Finnish WWII History Politics"
The hegemonic Finnish WWII narrative presents Finnish soldiers as white, Finnish speaking, Christian (Evangelical Lutheran), heterosexual men. Relying on this image, Finnish populist right uses war history in its nationalist, anti-immigration politics. In my presentation I will address the war experiences of Muslim, Jewish, Roma, Russian and gay soldiers in the Finnish armed forces and discuss the potential uses of this history in supporting an inclusive, multicultural society today.

Concluding remarks

Heller Hall 1210