February 23, 2012
Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt
Today I read that the Chinese city of Nanjing — better known in America as Nanking — severed its sister-city relationship with Nagoya, Japan, because the mayor of Nagoya expressed doubts that the atrocities known as the Rape of Nanking actually happened.
A few days ago, the French Senate passed a law to criminalize the denial of “officially recognized genocides,” including the mass murder of Armenians during World War I, which prompted outrage in Turkey, where the Armenian genocide is officially denied.
And I recently discovered that my review of Peter Longerich’s important new biography of Heinrich Himmler has been denounced by a revisionist website whose sympathies lay wholly with Nazi Germany.
All of these unsettling examples of historical denial were on my mind when my friend and colleague, poet and book publicist extraordinaire Kim Dower, called my attention to an upcoming event featuring Dr. Kirsten Grimstad.
Grimstad will present a multi-media lecture titled “Mourning and Memory-Work in Berlin Today” at Beth Chayim Chadashim on March 13. It’s an opportunity to hear a first-hand report on the struggle of contemporary Germans to make sense of the Holocaust, which remains the prime example of historical amnesia even if it is hardly the only one.
Grimstad is Professor and Co-Chair of the B.A. in Liberal Studies Program at Antioch University, but she is perhaps best known as a founding editor of Chrysallis: A Magazine of Women’s Culture, a ground-breaking journal that was published out of the late and lamented Los Angeles Women’s Building.
Her talk at Beth Chayim Chadashim is rooted in the six-month sabbatical that she spent in Berlin, where she studied the efforts of contemporary Germans “to accept social responsibility for the crimes of their ancestors.” She draws a direct linkage between the Holocaust and other genocides that have been minimized or denied by revisionists around the world.
“Germany’s long-overdue efforts to establish historical accountability and to reconcile the past by working through its traumatic history,” she explains, “have widespread ramifications in our world today as societies face their own legacies of atrocity and genocide — Rwanda, South Africa, Cambodia, among others.”
It’s significant that Grimstad wants to draw attention to some of the less remembered victims of Nazi terror, including gays and lesbians who were “not acknowledge as a victim group for many years and were not eligible for restitution offered to other victim groups.”
Tragically, we are still obliged to keep the memory of genocide alive — not only the Holocaust, but also the atrocities that took place in Nanking and the killing fields of Turkey — in spite of those insist on forgetting them, explaining them away, or denying them altogether. Kirsten Grimstad stands in the vanguard of the effort to do so.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.