Skip to content

Under Glass. Museums and the Display of History.

24Jan9:00 am8:30 pmUnder Glass. Museums and the Display of History.9:00 am - 8:30 pm(GMT+00:00) MemoriaMemoria

Event Details

Museums and the Memory of Nazi-Fascism, the Holocaust and World War II: Toward a Shared European History?

Morning session: 9:00 am to 12:00 noon (faculty and students only. rsvp to specifying affiliation). Columbia Faculty House, Ivy Lounge, 64 Morningside Drive (if closed use side entrance).

Evening session: 5:00 pm. NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, 24 West 12th Street. New York, NY 10011.Free and open to the public.  For this session no reservation is required. Seating is assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

On the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Consulate General of Italy, Centro Primo Levi, NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, the Italian Academy at Columbia University, John D. Calandra Italian American Institute at CUNY, the Alliance of Columbia University and the Italian Cultural Institute present a jointly organized symposium dedicated to European museums of memory and history. In collaboration with the Consulate General of Germany and the Consulate General of France.

This program is part of Centro Primo Levi’s cooperation with the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Milan and its journal Quest, Issues in Contemporary Jewish History, whose latest issue Holocaust Intersections in 21st-Century Europe, curated by Robert Gordon and Emiliano Perraexplores memory politics and their implementations.

Participants: Guri Schwarz, University of Pisa, Aline Sierp (University of Maastricht), Jan Grabowski (University of Ottawa), Laure Neumayer, (University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne), Gabor Sonkoly, (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest), Anna Di Lellio, (The New School), Daniel Levy (Stony Brook University), Mark Weitzman (Simon Wiesenthal Center, IHRA).

Advisory committee: Ruth Ben Ghiat (New York University), Silvana Patriarca (Fordham University), Ernest Ialongo (Hostos Community College) in collaboration with Natalia Indrimi and Alessandro Cassin (Centro Primo Levi)



The program will explore a specific aspect of European efforts to foster the shaping of a shared historical landscape: museums of memory and history. Speakers will take into consideration various museums, analyzing the circumstances in which each was planned and realized, derailed, abandoned or kept in a limbo. Is there a common thread in the rush to portray history as museum display and the crisis that have affected various museums?

Can museums, traditionally meant as monuments to nationhood, tied to the history and memories of particular locations, effectively display the different lenses through which to see a shared past, divided memories, the developments of an increasingly transnational historical research?

How do they shape their narratives in relation to an unprecedented diversity of audiences; to the lingering effects of a history dominated by nationalism and conflict; to large masses of tourists? Are museums, that increasingly rely on communication technology, virtual reality, and the offer of “adventures”, shaping a new concept of “public history”?

Does the generally stated purpose to carry the “lesson of history” and be relevant to contemporary human tragedies that resonate with those of the Nazi-Fascist past, still hold its meaning in relation to the masses of migrants who do not necessarily share the culture and history nor partake in the privileges of citizenship?

As the place of the Holocaust in European memory is increasingly coming under challenge, elements of fascism are becoming politically and socially acceptable, political events signal the difficulty of democratic nation states to sustain the notion of diversity and equality they produced, the very notion of “history” is confronted on grounds as diverse as communication and the law, can the controversies over history museums provide a lens to discuss the implications and background of the political use of memory and the role of history and historical research in our society?



The 1990s and early 2000s saw a “rush of memorial museums” leading to the creation of museums and memorials dedicated the remembrance of the Nazi-Fascist era and the Shoah in many European capitals.  This wave juxtaposed to existing national remembrance sites and museums such as Dachau Memorial Site, the Museo di Via Tasso, the Jasenovac Memorial Site, the Auschwitz Museum, only to mention a few.

However, a recent wave of history/memory museum projects is encountering challenges of various kinds and nature.

Commitment from government agencies to continue working on historical museum projects within a European agenda has waned. Reasons are possibly connected with the broader political crisis of the Union, but also motivated by local debates.

Some projects, including the Museum of World War II in Gdańsk, Poland and the Holocaust Museum in Budapest, were derailed or halted over ideological controversies; some, as in the case of the Museum of Righteous Poles in Markowa, came under fire due to conflicts of memory as well as historiographical questions; the Maison de l’Histoire de France was abandoned altogether, while the Museo della Shoah in Rome, a monumental project with overarching historiographical ambitions to be built on the site of Mussolini’s residence, has been indefinitely delayed amidst academic and public disagreements. At the same time, a national museum of Italian Jewry and the Shoah is in the works in Ferrara. Parallel to this, the Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism opened in Munich in 2015, while a debate over the establishment of an official project of the Museum of Fascism in Mussolini’s hometown has divided pundits and public opinion alike.

Twenty years have passed since the establishment of January 27th in Germany as day of commemoration of the victims of Nazi-Fascism which would subsequently be adopted as first shared European commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance.

The European Union’s efforts to help weave a common historical ground have taken many directions, encouraging academic projects, facilitating student and faculty exchanges and creating a variety of systems to share national heritages digitally. The best known is Europeana, a digital platform of European archives, libraries and museums. Scholarship has began to address this history, and  its intellectual and ideological ground  bringing about a new field of study and prompting a new  wave of research on the Nazi-Fascist era and a new generation of comparative studies.

The designation of January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day occurred over time, spearheaded by the the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research and some of the countries where Nazi-Fascist totalitarianism came forth: Germany in 1996, France 1997, Italy 2000, followed by the rest of Europe. It assumed an international dimension in 2005 when the United Nations officially marked an annual commemoration establishing their Holocaust Education Programme.

In early debates on memory and the historical past, Totalitarianism, anti-Fascism and the persecution of the Jews became central to the process of definition of a shared historical landscape. This process took time and raised conflicts.

As the European Union expanded, the consensus over the definitions of totalitarianism, dissent, resistance and the Holocaust came again under question and new sets of conflicts were brought to the fore. For instance, in 2011 the Platform for European Memory and Conscience was created, mostly by Eastern European countries with the participation of the United States and Canada. In its mission statement anti-Fascism and the Holocaust do not appear while many of the elements of public discourse that developed since the establishment of January 27th and before, are included: the platform is meant to “increase public awareness about European history and the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes and to encourage a broad, European-wide discussion about the causes and consequences of totalitarian rule, as well as about common European values, with the aim of promoting human dignity and human rights”.

Within this background, museums intended to display historical events play a conspicuous role due to their unique public visibility, their physical ties to places of memory, and their traditional function as political tools.

This program is made possible through the generous support of the Cahnman Foudation and the Slovin Family Foundation.

About the speakers

Aline Sierp is Assistant Professor in European Studies at Maastricht University (NL). She holds a PhD in Comparative European Politics and History from the University of Siena (IT). Before joining the University of Maastricht, Aline Sierp worked as researcher at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site (DE) where she was responsible for human rights education in the international office. Dr Sierp’s research interests cover collective memory after experiences of human rights violations, questions of identity and European integration. She is the author of History, Memory and Transeuropean Identity: Unifying Divisions (Routledge, 2014).

Jan Grabowski is a Full Professor of history of the Holocaust at the University of Ottawa, where he is a member of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies  and in addition is the co-founder of the Polish Centre for Holocaust research at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw).  A graduate of the University of Warsaw and the Université de Montréal, his research includes the issues surrounding the extermination of the Polish Jews as well as the history of the Jewish-Polish relations during the 1939-1945 period. A prolific writer he is the author and editor of fifteen monographs, including Hunt for the Jews. Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland (Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 2013) which has been awarded the Yad Vashem International Book Prize for 2014.  Professor Grabowski is currently working on a project which seeks to shed light on the involvement of the Polish “Blue” police in the Holocaust.  A recipient of the 2014 Faculty of Arts Professor of the Year Award, he teaches survey courses and graduate and undergraduate seminars on the history of the Holocaust.

Gábor Sonkoly (CSc, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1998; Ph.D. EHESS, Paris, 2000; Dr. habil. ELTE, Budapest, 2008) is Professor of History and Chair of Historiography and Social Sciences at Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest. He is author of Les villes en Transylvanie moderne, 1715-1857 (2011), Historical Urban Landscape (2017) and published three monographs in Hungarian, edited four volumes and wrote some seventy articles and book chapters on urban history, urban heritage, critical history of cultural heritage. He has presented at more than hundred international colloquia and has been a guest professor in ten countries. He is the Knight of the French Order of Academic Palms (2011).

Laure Neumayer holds a Master’s Degree in European Studies from the College of Europe in Natolin and a PhD in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris. She is Senior Lecturer in Political Science at University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne and Researcher at CESSP laboratory (CNRS). In 2013-2018, she is the recipient of a Junior Fellowship from the Institut Universitaire de France. Her current research focuses on memory-related policies and politics in the European Union and the Council of Europe. Her most recent publications include History, memory and politics in Central and Eastern Europe (co-editor with Georges Mink, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and “Integrating the Central European Past into a Common Narrative: the mobilizations around the ‘crimes of Communism’ in the European Parliament”, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 23(3), 2015. She just completed a book manuscript on “The criminalization of Communism in the European public space since the end of the Cold War ».

Daniel Levy is Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University. He is a political sociologist with a focus on memory studies and the overall relevance of human rights. He is also interested in the development of a theoretical framework in the emerging field of cosmopolitan studies understood as a new heuristic for explaining the global age. His longstanding engagement with memory studies dates back to the mid 1990s. In 2001 he published The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age (with Natan Sznaider, at Suhrkamp and in a revised English edition with Temple University Press in 2006). In 2010 he published Memory and Human Rights (co-authored with Natan Sznaider, Penn State University Press). He is co-editor of The Collective Memory Reader (with Jeffrey Olick and Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi) which was published by Oxford University Press in 2011. In 2009 he co-founded the Columbia University Seminar on “History, Redress and Reconciliation”, which he is co-chairing with Elazar Barkan.

Guri Schwarz (Phd Scuola Normale Superiore 2002) currently teaches Modern Italian History at the University of Pisa, where he is also affiliated with the University’s Interdepartmental Center for Jewish Studies. He sits in the scientific boards of the Fondazione Fossoli (Carpi) and of the Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea (Milano). He is one of the founders, and currently the editor in chief, of the open-access journal “Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History”. He has edited four volumes and authored four books; among them After Mussolini: Jewish Life and Jewish Memories in Post-Fascist Italy, Vallentine Mitchell, London-Portland (Or), 2012; Tu mi devi seppellir. Riti funebri e culto nazionale alle origini della Repubblica, UTET, Torino 2010.

Anna Di Lellio is a sociologist, journalist and former United Nations consultant. She has written on a number of topics relating to the United Nations’ presence in Kosovo and Iraq. She graduated with a Ph.D. in Sociology from Columbia University and a Masters in Public Policy and International Affairs from New York University. Di Lellio worked for the UN World Food Program as a consultant in Kosovo and East Timor during the 1999 emergencies and later in 2003 as the political advisor to the UN Kosovo Police Corps Coordinator. From 2001 through 2003, she was the Temporary Media Commissioner of Kosovo for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OSCE). She is the editor of the book The Case for Kosova: Passage to Independence, an anthology of essays on the future of Kosovo. She investigated issues of memory and memorialization in essays including The Narrative of Genocide as Cosmopolitan Memory and its Impact on Humanitarian Intervention (Collective Memory and Collective Knowledge in a Global Age, Center for the Study of Global Governance, London 2007).

Mark Weitzman is Director of Government Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and the Chief Representative of the SWC to the United Nations in New York. Mr. Weitzman is a member of the official US delegation to the 31 nation International Holocaust Remembrance Authority (IHRA) where he chairs the Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial. He is a participant in the program on Religion and Foreign Policy of the Council on Foreign Relations and was a member of the advisory board of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy at Yale University as well as a longtime member of the official Jewish-Catholic Dialogue of New York. His books include Antisemitism, the Generic Hatred: Essays in Memory of Simon Wiesenthal, which won the 2007 National Jewish Book Award and Dismantling the Big Lie: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. His Jews and Judaism in the Political Theology of Radical Catholic Traditionalists was published in 2015 by The Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Back To Top