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Vanderbilt Holocaust Lecture Series 2015

Gender and Genocide



General description of lecture series

Now in its 38th year, Vanderbilt’s annual Holocaust lecture series is the longest-running program of its kind at any university in the U.S. This year’s theme is gender and genocide. As one of our presenters this year, Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, has written:


“The gender question in genocide goes well beyond the experiences of women and girls, the perpetration of gender-based crimes (against both men and women), or even the comparative study of the experiences of men and women. Rather, it involves … considering the simultaneous operation of gender within several different layers that contribute to the perpetration of the crime. These layers include:

  • The gendered ways in which the perpetrators define both their own group and the group(s) they are targeting;
  • The gender dynamics that organize the economic, political, social, and familial spheres within perpetrator and victim societies;
  • The gendered strategies pursued in the course of group destruction; and
  • The influence of gender on conceptions of self and on experiences of conflict among perpetrators, victims, bystanders, and witnesses.”


Our series this year explores how the multifaceted entanglements of gender and genocide, as they manifested themselves during the Holocaust, provide insight into some of the most salient and challenging issues in contemporary society.


1st Event, (Tuesday Oct. 6:  Etty, a one-woman theatrical play by Susan Stein

Location: All Faith Chapel, located directly beneath the Benton Chapel (near central library)

Etty is a one-woman play based on the diaries and letters of Etty Hillesum, adapted and performed by Susan Stein and directed by Austin Pendleton.  Using only Hillesum’s words, the play brings us to 1941 when Esther “Etty” Hillesum, a young Dutch Jewish woman, is living in German-occupied Amsterdam. Upon the recommendation of her therapist, Julius Spier, she begins a diary to help her with her depression. As deportations begin, she digs deeper into her soul to understand this piece of history and root out any hatred or bitterness, believing that humaneness is the best and only solution for survival. Etty’s words, insights and beliefs bear witness to the power of faith and individual thought to sustain life in the most extreme circumstances.



2nd Event (Monday, Oct. 12): “Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields,” a lecture by Wendy Lower

Location: Wilson Hall 126

Wendy Lower is the Roth Professor of History and Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College.  As a reviewer for the New York Times noted in commenting on her path-breaking research:


“We know plenty about the lives of young men in the Nazi regime. Ms. Lower is here to fill us in further on the young women … who, swept up in a nationalistic fervor, fled dull lives by going to work for the Reich in the Nazi-occupied East, in places like Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. They were after travel, nice clothes, adventure, paychecks, romance. Once there, many connived at genocide.  Earlier books about the Holocaust have offered up poster girls of brutality and atrocity… like Ilse Koch, the so-called Bitch of Buchenwald… Ms. Lower’s …insight is to track more mundane lives, and to argue for a vastly wider complicity. She follows more than a dozen German women … who stand in for an estimated 500,000 German women who went into the occupied East and thus undeniably stood …in the killing fields.”



3rd Event (Wednesday, Oct. 21): Film: Ida (Poland, 2013)

Location: Sarratt Cinema

Winner of the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Ida is a Polish feature film directed by Paweł Pawlikowski. Set in Poland in 1962, it is about a young woman on the verge of taking vows as a Catholic nun. Orphaned as an infant during the German occupation of World War II, she must now meet her aunt, a former Communist state prosecutor and only surviving relative, who reveals to her that her parents were Jewish. The two women return to Ida’s rural birthplace to learn the wartime fate of her family.


“One of the finest European films in recent memory. It haunted me. [...] “Ida” is as compact and precise as a novella, a sequence of short, emphatic scenes that reveal the essence of the characters without simplifying them.”

– A. O. Scott, The New York Times


4th Event (Tuesday, Oct. 27): A lecture by Inge Auerbacher, a child survivor of the Holocaust

Location: Buttrick 101

Inge Auerbacher was born in Germany in 1935 and spent three years between seven and ten years of age in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.  In her lecture, she will describe her memories of life before World War II in the small village of Kippenheim where she grew up; her family’s deportation to Terezin in 1942; and the ordeal of survival in a camp where starvation, disease, and transportation to the death camps were among the salient features of everyday life.  Auerbacher has been lecturing and writing about her Holocaust experiences since 1981.  She has been awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for her work against racism and bigotry, and the Merit of Educational Distinction by the International Center for Holocaust Studies of the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League.



5th Event (Tuesday, Nov. 3): Expert Panel on Genocide and Sexual Violence

Location: Commons Multi-Purpose Room 235/237 (upstairs in Commons)

  • Sonja Hedgepeth (Middle Tennessee State U.)
  • Elisa von Joeden-Forgey (U. of Pennsylvania)
  • Jocelyn Kelly (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative)
  • Edward Kissi (U. of South Florida)
  • Moderator: Yolanda Redero (Vanderbilt)


From Nazi-occupied Europe to 1990s Bosnia, from 1970s Cambodia to Darfur and Eastern Congo in the new millennium, sexual violence has played a recurrent role in genocidal campaigns. Shame-filled and stigma-fearing silences, sexism, and the non-recognition of sexual violence as more and other than violent sex – all these factors have contributed to the marginalization of the functions of sexual violence in past genocides.  This panel is part of the international efforts to end the silence and to prevent further victimization.


Sonja Hedgepeth

Sonja Hedgepeth is Professor of German at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), where she has taught courses on the Holocaust since 1989.  She is the co-editor, with Rochelle G. Saidel, of Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust (Brandeis U. Press, 2010).  Using testimonies, Nazi documents, memoirs, and artistic representations, this anthology by an interdisciplinary and international group of scholars addresses topics such as rape, forced prostitution, assaults on childbearing, artistic representations of sexual violence, and psychological insights into survivor trauma.


Elisa von Joeden-Forgey

Elisa von Joeden-Forgey teaches on the comparative history of genocide at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her current research focuses on the ways in which perpetrators use family institutions and roles to torture their victims before killing them. These atrocities have occurred in cases of conflict that are not generally believed to constitute genocide, such as the Japanese sex slavery system in World War II and the recent war in Sierra Leone, and can help us identify genocidal aspects to conflicts that are not otherwise thought to be genocidal in nature.


Jocelyn Kelly

Jocelyn Kelly is the director of the Women in War Program for Harvard University’s Humanitarian Initiative’s (HHI), where she designs and implements projects to examine issues relating to gender, peace, and security in fragile states. She has given briefings related to gender and security to the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. State Department, USAID, the World Bank, OFDA, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and the U.S. Institute of Peace.


Edward Kissi

Edward Kissi is Associate Professor of Africana Studies at the University of South Florida (USF).  He is the author of Revolution and Genocide in Ethiopia and Cambodia (2006), and has published  a number of articles and book chapters on genocide, famine, international relief aid and US foreign policy toward Africa in the Cold War period.  In 2009, Kissi wrote “The Holocaust as a Guidepost for Genocide Detection and Prevention in Africa” for the United Nations’ Discussion Papers Journal. He has since been involved in UNESCO’s ongoing initiatives on Holocaust and Genocide Education in Africa.


Yolanda Redero (panel moderator)

Yolanda Redero is Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at Vanderbilt, and the director of Vanderbilt’s Family Law and Domestic Violence Clinic and former chair of the Provost’s Task Force Against Sexual Violence.  Before joining Vanderbilt’s law faculty, she was an Assistant State Attorney for Miami-Dade County, Florida, where she served as Assistant Chief of the Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Unit.