NEH Colloquium

Internment & Resistance: Confronting Mass Detention and Dehumanization

The KHC has served as a national demonstration site for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) since 2011. This recognition showcases the KHC as a cultural center that provides programs and offerings which positively impact QCC’s humanities curriculum and shares that information on a national level. For more information, click here.

The 2020-21 KHC-NEH colloquium, Internment & Resistance: Confronting Mass Detention and Dehumanization, consists of seven events that focus on global constructions of concentration camp systems and the challenges that they present. Engaging comparative and multi-disciplinary perspectives, these events examine the processes, mechanisms, forms, and functions of mass detention without trial. They also highlight acts of personal, spiritual, psychological, and social resistance to mass detention. Organized in dialogue with contemporary issues, the series is aligned with the current KHC exhibit, The Concentration Camps: Inside the Nazi System of Incarceration and Genocide, and QCC’s 2020-21 official Common Read text, George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy, a graphic memoir about the internment of Japanese-Americans in the United States during WWII.

Spring 2021 Virtual Events

Oppression and Resistance in America’s World War II Concentration Camps
Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 12:00pm EST
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Many historians and Japanese Americans cite the loss of US citizenship rights as the biggest injustice of the camps, and many believe cooperation and not resistance was the norm. Join Dr. Gary Okihiro, Professor Emeritus of international and public affairs at Columbia University and a Visiting Professor of American studies at Yale University, as he outlines the nature of the oppression in that historical experience, and the resistance posed to those oppressive acts. Presented in partnership with the Asian American / Asian Research Institute-CUNY.

Italian Internment During World War II and the Limits of Racism in America 
Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 12:00pm EST
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Even before the United States and Italy went to war, various fascist and anti-fascist efforts impacted Italian Americans. During the war over a half a million Italian citizens living in the United States (not American citizens) had to register as enemy aliens, thousands were forced to resettle, and a small number were interned. In the same era Italian soldiers and merchant marines were imprisoned throughout the United States. Well before the war with Italy would end the United States government lifted restrictions on Italian citizens in this country and, later still, the status of many Italian POWs also changed. The differing ways Italians and Italian Americans were treated in the United States were not only influenced by political concerns but also by practices of xenophobia and racism, a point made especially clear in comparison to the experiences of Japanese Americans. And yet, better understanding the multiple realities of Italians in the United States in this era helps complicate our sense of how race and ethnicity shapes experiences in wartime and in peace. Dr. Laura Ruberto, Humanities professor at Berkeley City College, will reflect on how political pressure, cultural visibility, and an emerging position of whiteness helped build public acceptance of this immigrant community. Presented in partnership with the Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College-CUNY. 

Graphic Internment 
Wednesday, March 10, 2021 at 12:00pm EST
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Join two faculty members from Queensborough Community College’s English Department for a conversation about the internment of Japanese-Americans in the United States during WWII. John Yi, Lecturer, will discuss QCC’s 2020-21 Common Read text, George Takei’s graphic novel, They Called Us Enemy, while Dr. Aliza Atik, Associate Professor, will review Mine Okubo’s Prisoner 13660. Both books are related to the KHC’s original exhibition, The Concentration Camps: Inside the Nazi System of Incarceration and Genocide.

A Prisoner’s Voice: Poetry of Psychological Resistance
Wednesday, April 21, 2021 at 12:00pm EDT
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Farewell, Auschwitz provides a glimpse into prisoner life in one of the darkest chapters of human history, and brings to life the power of music and poetry to bring light to despair. Krystyna Zywulska was a Polish political prisoner at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland from 1943 to her escape in 1945. While imprisoned, Zywulska wrote lyrics and set them to familiar folk, classical, and popular tunes from the period, and prisoners performed the resulting songs and shared the words as a means of coping with the horrors of the camp. Before imprisonment, Zywulska had not written a single song; Nazi oppression appears to have inspired her creative blossoming.

Farewell, Auschwitz: Music by Jake Heggie; Text from poetry of Krystyna Zywulska, written at Auschwitz, 1943-1945; Jennifer Gliere, soprano, Roz Woll, mezzo-soprano, Steven Dahlke, baritone, Mirna Lekic, piano.

Fall 2020 Recorded Events

Poetry of Psychological Resistance at Auschwitz: The Words of Krystyna Zywulska 
Recorded on Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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Dr. Barbara Milewski, Associate Professor of Music at Swartmore College, presents her research on the remarkable life and resistance poetry of Krystyna Zywulska, a Polish political prisoner at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland from 1943 until her escape in 1945. While imprisoned at Auschwitz, Zywulska wrote dozens of poems and songs, which were shared among camp prisoners, and which use a multi-layered approach of satire, stark realism, and optimism to paint a vivid picture of life in Auschwitz. Zywulska’s poetry helped to provide some solace of the heart to camp prisoners, played a role in her survival, and shines a light on the complex world of oppressors, the oppressed, and artistic instruments of psychological resistance, testimony, and hope.

Creating a Concentration Camp Society: How Governments Push for Mass Detention and How People ResistRecorded on Thursday, November 12, 2020
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The development of the German concentration camp system reveals how ruling parties engineer mass detention of civilians without trial. While the horrors of Nazi extermination camps remain unique in history, the first several years of German concentration camps parallel how governments in other places and times have adopted mass detention for similar political purposes. Join Andrea Pitzer, author and journalist, for a discussion about what gives rise to camps, including why their use expanded exponentially in the last decade, and what strategies have been successful in opposing them. Presented in partnership with the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center.

Contain and Control: The American Obsession with the Black Body
Recorded on November 18, 2020
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An overview of the ways the bodies of Black Americans have been represented in the dominant (white) American culture from slavery to the current moment of mass incarceration and over-policing reveals the tension between an impulse to destroy and the desire to exploit. In American imagery and reality, Black bodies are trapped by the cruel paradox of being treated as simultaneously expendable and profitable. Dr. Agnieszka Tuszynska, Associate Professor of English at Queensborough Community College, offers examples from visual culture, literature, and legal history to illustrate how myths and stereotypes about Black people have been used to justify various forms of control and containment of Black lives. Presented in partnership with the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center.

2020-21 Faculty Fellows

The Center welcomes the 2020-21 KHC Faculty Fellows who each led past colloquia and are joining together to create a provocative series of timely and thought provoking programming.