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Update: Holocaust Study Tour in Austria

June 30, 2013

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It has been a long time since I’ve posted on The Curious Historian, but I wanted to write a few posts about my trip to Austria in May.  I went to Austria for two reasons: one, to see the half of my family that lives there (1.5, to eat that lovely Austrian cuisine!), and two, to visit more sites relevant to the Holocaust.  I was very fortunate to start my Master’s of Holocaust & Genocide Studies program in summer 2012 with a trip to Germany and Poland (those blog posts can be found under the section “Holocaust Study Tour”).

This summer, I saw four more points of interest:

  1. Mauthausen Concentration Camp (KZ): a large camp in Northern Austria that has been preserved to this day
  2. The Gusen Memorial: a small memorial dedicated to victims of the Gusen KZ which no longer exists
  3. Schloss Hartheim: one of the centers where the T4 Euthenasia Programme was carried out
  4. An exhibit that premiered at the Leopold Museum in Vienna, called “Zeichnen gegen das Vergessen,” or “Drawing Against Oblivion.”  The exhibit featured charcoal-on-jute portraits of children who were murdered by the Nazis.  The portraits are realistic, drawn in the image of the photographs taken of the children.  The artist behind the exhibition is my uncle, Manfred Bockelmann.

So in the future I’ll write three posts– one will cover KZ-Mauthausen and KZ-Gusen, the second will cover Schloss Hartheim, and the third will be about the art exhibit.

Stay tuned, these posts will be coming out within the next day!

Review: “Not Even My Name: From a Death March in Turkey to a New Home in America, A Young Girl’s True Story of Genocide and Survival”

May 1, 2013

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This semester I took an intro Master’s course called “History of Genocide.”  One of the best aspects of the class was being able to supplement our academic reading with memoirs of individuals who were subjected to genocide.  Since my research this semester was based primarily on the [Pontic] Greek Genocide that occurred around 1913-1923, I chose the following book.  Our assignment was brief– write a review no longer than 750 words.  So here is my extremely impassioned review (haha).

Halo, Thea. Not Even my Name: From a Death March in Turkey to a New Home in America, A Young Girl’s True Story of Genocide and Survival. New York: Picador, 2000.

It is hard to imagine that genocide can be forgotten, ignored, or simply unknown.  Case in point: A young girl in the 1910s enjoys the simplicity of life in a close-knit village in the mountains of Turkey.  However, Themía (Sano) Halo’s world is turned upside-down when hostile soldiers evacuate the town and send her people to a new destination.  To history, her account of the death march is illustrative of the Pontic Genocide, a systematic plan of extermination brought about by a changing Ottoman government.  To the world, her story is simply a story of horror in an event almost entirely unheard of.  Not Even My Name: From a Death March in Turkey to a New Home in America is intensely lyrical, hauntingly profound, and gives thought to the tragedies of life and how we must cope with it.

The memoir is composed of five parts, with the first and last parts written by Themía’s daughter, Thea Halo.  The first part begins with the story of a promise made by Thea to her mother as an adolescent.  Thea told her mother that one day she would take her on a trip to Turkey to rediscover her lost village.  As the two fly to Turkey and come close to her mother’s village of Iondone, the memoir travels back in time to Themía’s earliest days, and the events that brought her to where she was today.

Not Even My Name is a bold title suggestive of the successive “taking away” in her life.  It began with her sense of security, gradually stolen by the shadowy men in the forests watching daily life in a town which they eventually seize.  Next, Ottoman soldiers ordering evacuation and resettlement take her home away.  As Themía’s family and other Pontic Greeks embark on a seven-month trek through the barren Anatolian landscape, childhood, happiness, and innocence are vanquished.  One by one, members of her family drop like flies from disease and starvation, and Themía is left with a Kurdish woman who treats her like a slave.  Here we make sense of the title, as Themía is forced to accept the name Sano, because her knew “caretaker” cannot pronounce her Greek name.  Sano is deprived of everything she knew, and is now deprived of her own identity.

Sano’s story is a necessary contribution to both popular literature and historical scholarship because her story puts a face to a genocide rarely spoken about.  In so doing, it challenges our perspective of a period in time known almost exclusively as an epoch of suffering Armenians; this memoir proves that there was more than just an Armenian Genocide.  Because the Pontic Genocide occurred nearly a century ago, her witness to the systematic atrocities committed by the reformed Ottoman government is critical to securing the genocide status not only for the crimes against the Armenians, but the Assyrians and Pontic Greeks as well.

Not Even My Name promises to deliver an unforgettable read, whether for educational or personal purposes.  The memoir provided me with a new perspective on the approach to genocide studies—in the Masters of Holocaust & Genocide Studies program, it appears to me that focus is heavily (and understandably) placed on the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Bosnian crisis, and the Cambodian genocide.  While all obviously important, I wonder about the genocides not [to my knowledge] covered in our program.  How can we incorporate the study of lesser-known genocides (regardless of genocide status!) so that we treat every case with the respect and attention it deserves so we can fulfill the objective to “never forget”?  Not Even My Name made me realize that I want to commit myself to studying genocides not covered in class because most genocides will never be labeled as such.  This opinion comes in in part because it is quite evident that the United Nations Convention on the Prevention & Punishment of Genocide is more a symbolic legislation than a framework for which we can designate genocide.[1]

It angers me that governments tiptoe around the word genocide.  If the world cannot come to prosecute systematic acts of murder against any group, then I do not want to restrict myself to studying a set of terms no one treats seriously.  I am a historian by a nature, and I will take it upon myself to never forget, whether it agrees with four categories or not.

[1] My opinion is reinforced from reading Samantha Power’s A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

Brief Genocide Survey

April 6, 2013


I’m doing a research paper for my History of Genocide class and I could use some help from the public.  Could you please fill out this anonymous survey?  I am looking to see who has heard of two genocides– whether you agree with it being a genocide or not is not the issue– I simply want to know if you have heard of them at all.

The link to the survey is here:

At the end of the semester I plan to talk about my research because it’s on a topic that is not well known to most people.  Thank you!

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2012

Greetings!  Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and best wishes for a new year!

This is a quick post for anyone who reads this blog and is religious.  There are two religious organizations that I support and would like to spread the word about them here.

In 2010 I interned for The InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, the first interfaith organization in the United States that brought together different religions in an attempt to foster dialogue and respect for others.  The people who work tirelessly to promote interfaith advocacy are wonderful and do an amazing job each and every day.  This year, in an effort to fundraise, they have created a 2013 interfaith calender, filled with beautiful photographs from each of the eleven faiths that are members of the IFCMW.  For $113, you can receive this calender, or you can make any donation you would like.  For more information, click the image below or click here.










For Roman Catholics or those who support the call of monks to vocation, there is a little space in Wyoming called the New Mount Carmel Foundation for Carmelite monks.  They are working on a beautiful monastery and hermitages for the monks to live and pray in.  They are raising money for their beautiful plans and also take prayer requests (they sell coffee and other handmade gifts as well!).  If you are interested in learning more about the cloistered life or want to support them in their journey, please click here.


Blessings to you all!

Updating the Blog

December 22, 2012

Hallo folks!

After finishing up my first semester in grad school I am back on the page to give it a facelift (wish I was getting a facelift… no just kidding).  I have added a new page called “Curious Online” which has a few random interviews, articles, videos, etc. online that I participated in (some academic, some not).  Go ahead and check it out if you so please.

I will also write a post or two in the coming days about impressions of my first semester and what I’ve learned (not specifically, but on a more abstract level).

Stay tuned, mes amis!

Thoughts on Upcoming Libyan Election

July 6, 2012

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The Wall Street Journal article in the July 6 edition “Post-Gadhafi Libya Girds for Vote” (A8) highlighted the election fervor among the nation’s population as well as the confusion over whom to elect.  While reading the article I drew a few parallels from the situation in Iraq that I did not necessarily want to “see”.

The article mentioned the transition from the current ruling party (last year’s anti-Qaddafi rebels) to the new General National Congress.  The problem though, is that there are no campaigns fielding national attention.  This is stemmed by two additional problems: one is that the new government will aim to address local concerns rather national ones; and the second problem is that local constituents appear to be campaigning… well, locally.

What I am concerned about is that a possible sectarian divide could emerge.  I am going off of what I read in the article, but the people interviewed indicated they wanted to vote for who they knew or who came from their area.  Because some of these people are connected to various political parties, I wonder about the affiliation some of these people may attract.  For instance, in the Benghazi Garden District one woman was campaigning recently for party, which happened to be representative of the Muslim Brotherhood.  In other areas, more liberal parties are campaigning for their ideas as well.

How does this sound any different than what happened in Egypt?  Well, I guess why I am worried is because of the more local attention Libya wants.  In Iraq circa 2005, everyone remembers the election for the new Iraqi Parliament after the Coalition Provisional Authority turned it over (I won’t even get started on this).  Before and after that election though there was a lot of sectarian violence.  Granted some of it was derived from ethnic sectarian violence, but for this post I’m thinking more about the ideological and religious sectarian violence (think Muqtada al-Sadr, the most reported sectarian leader in American media).  I just have to wonder about what would happen if people were unhappy that the candidate they endorsed was not elected.  If attention is drawn to solving issues locally, and certain people get elected and promise to help certain districts, what could potentially happen to those without a local leader?  And as for the religious issue, there is already a tension between wanting Islam in politics or not.  Since we know this is a hotly contested issue on the political stage in just about every Middle Eastern country, who knows what will happen between those affiliated with Islamist parties and those backed by a more secular platform?  It could very well be that we witness different political bodies imposing secular or Islamist ideas on districts without their ideal representation.  I just hope at this point people are more gung-ho to see a new government than to start touting the “it’s not fair my district’s politician didn’t get elected”.

Libyans will vote Saturday, July 7.

To read the article in today’s Wall Street Journal, click here.

A New Idea for Detroit

July 6, 2012

Originally my blog’s objective was to express my take on world news. This past week there has been a lot of news worth commenting on and maybe I can start writing some amateur commentary.

I’m an avid Wall Street Journal reader and prefer it to the other nationally circuited newspapers (pardon my French but there seems to be less crap in the WSJ and less melodrama). One particular article of the July 6th edition, “New Detroit Farm Plan Taking Root” (A3), was intriguing. I’m not statistics expert but over the past few years WSJ has done several articles about Detroit’s population decline and the financial problems that have ensued. In the past decade Detroit has seen a 25% population decline. With empty districts abound, the city has become a sort of ghost town.

John Hantz has a solution to the problem. He proposes (if successful), the world’s largest urban farm. That means condemned homes would be leveled and swaths of trees or crops could be planted in its wake (he seems to want this to be a tree farm).

Again, I’m no expert on these matters, but the idea sounds pretty good. Maybe that’s because it’s one of the first viable solutions I’ve heard of. Since so much of Detroit is vacant (and for that matter, dangerous left un-renovated), perhaps the city could use some greenery. While the article mentions that few jobs would be created, perhaps along the way an initiative can be made to bring volunteers in (urban gardens bring in a lot of volunteers and testimony about its effects seem positive on inner-city youth) to cultivate saplings or plant new crops- depending on the ultimate size of the farm. For now, Hantz has 200 acres. He aims to redesign an entire district.

If you’re interested in keeping up with his plans, his website can be found here and his Facebook page here.

The original article from the Wall Street Journal can also be read online.


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