Graduation Year

Spring 2012

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Jonathan Petropoulos

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Rights Information

© 2012 Emily O. S. Gelber


This thesis discusses how certain societies (Germany, Israel, and Argentina) that have been involved in two documented cases of genocide in the 20th Century -- one that was the source for and falls within the United Nations Treaty definition of genocide (the Holocaust), and one that does not (the Dirty War in Argentina) --have dealt with these events in their recent past. In dealing with these issues, the thesis employs the analysis of genocide developed by the Argentine scholar, Daniel Feierstein, who has proposed that all genocides progress through a series of steps that first create what he calls a "negative otherness" to the victims of the genocide, that then isolates and debilitates the victim group, and that ultimately leads, as a penultimate (not final) step, to the physical annihilation of the victims of the genocide. Feierstein's most novel and provocative contribution to the study of genocide, however, is his concept that there is an additional and final step -- which he calls the threat of “symbolic realization” -- that will actually take place in society after the killing or physical annihilation has been completed and the historical order of things has been restored. In Feierstein’s view, the purpose of genocide is to use the technologies of power of the state against the victim group in order to permanently change social relations within the state by excluding and then annihilating the victims of the genocide. For this reason, Feierstein argues that, unless the post-genocide society continues to confront the causes and reality of the genocide as a present and ongoing political and social dynamic in the society, so that the memory and cultural and social presence of the victim group is preserved in an immediate way, the genocide will be realized on a symbolic level in the sense that the change of social relations that the perpetrators of the genocide intended will in fact occur. In the analysis that follows of the issues of assigning culpability, providing reparations, and constructing memorials in post-genocide societies, the thesis argues that, whether consciously articulated or not, what drives the bitter controversy and debates over these matters in post-genocide societies is an underlying fear on the part of victims and victim groups that the significance of what they have suffered and why they have suffered will be lost and forgotten (symbolically realized, in Feierstein’s terminology) in the state's efforts at reconciliation precisely through the process of assigning guilt, awarding reparations, and constructing memorials. Going a step beyond where Feierstein leaves off, the thesis suggests, however, that this sort of symbolic realization is, in fact, an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of the process of writing the history of the genocide (or any event) and the detachment, analysis, contextualization, reductiveness, and simplification that history requires.