Hana Worthen, Assistant Professor of theatre and performance studies, recently co-edited an anthology of essays, Finland's Holocaust: Silences of History, published by Palgrave Macmillan. This collection—addressing cultural history, folklore, the arts, and sports, as well as military and national history—examines how modern Finnish memory and the writing of history have engaged and evaded both the history of antisemitism in Finland and the complex ligature between Finland and the Holocaust. Hakehila, the magazine of the Helsinki Jewish community, described Finland's Holocaust—the first English-language collection on Finland's experience with antisemitism and the Holocaust—as "a book that should not only be translated into Finnish, but should also be widely read, and above all internalized."
Below, Professor Worthen responds to questions about the process of collecting and curating this body of work.
What was the impetus for your new anthology, Finland's Holocaust: Silences of History?
My first book, Playing "Nordic": The Women of Niskavuori, Agri/Culture, and Imagining Finland on the Third Reich Stage dealt with the Finnish denial of cultural collaboration between Finland and the Third Reich during their alliance 1941-44. I studied cultural and theatrical exchange to answer two questions: How was Finland represented in the aesthetics (theatre, paintings, other media) of the Third Reich, and how did the wartime politicians and cultural ideologues use this imagined Finland? There, I dealt with a taboo subject in Finnish history; in the dominant academic discourses, Finland was cast as having only a pragmatic—and not ideological—alliance with the Third Reich during World War II. During the last phases of my dissertation at the University of Helsinki, I was given copies of standard textbooks on Finnish history, suggesting that the analytical perspective of my book was not consistent with the dominant line of Finnish historical understanding. Rather than being chastened, though, I took this suggestion as the stimulus to explore the representation of "Finnishness"—and the racial/ethnic exclusions it entails—within Finnish culture, as well as in the cultural products marketed abroad. Since part of my original research controversially considered the extent to which the wartime rhetoric of race shared between Finland and the Third Reich also evoked a shared antisemitism, I was especially drawn to develop a wider, multidisciplinary investigation of this issue.
What was the process for collecting and curating this body of work?
I first contacted my co-editor, Dr. Simo Muir, after reviewing his work on the discrimination against the Finnish Jewish scholar Israel-Jakob Schur at the universities of Helsinki and Åbo in the late 1930s. It is not unknown for writers in Finland to be threatened for opening what has been silenced, which has been our experience as well. Setting out to collaborate on this project, then, we wanted to establish trust between the editors and the collection's authors, and to be conscientious about retaining the volume’s critical independence as well, given that the anthology proposes a major revision to the established national, and often nationalist, narratives of Finland's history.
Even though Finland projects a discourse of openness outside the nation, from an inside perspective, the country has been animated by a willed isolation, too. For this reason, it was important to us to counter the illusion, familiar enough in Finnish academia, that only Finnish-born, Finnish-educated, Finnish-disciplined writers can contribute to the understanding of Finland's history. Though the majority of our authors are Finnish-born, we were particularly eager to include both non-Finnish scholars and scholars working outside Finland.
For me personally, a major challenge of the editing process was how to translate and open the unique dynamics of the Finnish language in essays written in English. While editing these essays, I realized to what extent language persists in bearing the weight of conventional ways of thinking. Given the previous practices of Finnish academia, I have tried to remain particularly alert to the ways our writing may appeal to—or violate—the national norms of Finnish scholarship.
2. Among the essays included in the anthology, are there a few that stand out as the most surprising or intriguing? Any in particular that raise previously unaddressed issues or stand to advance future research?
The power of this anthology stems from its interdisciplinary approach and its critique of the role of personal-or-national-identity-politics in the production of Finnish history. It was important for us to offer essays analyzing the myth of an ideologically unified Finland unquestionably isolated from the attitudes of the Third Reich, and so a Finland unsullied by antisemitism. And it was important that these essays draw from a number of fields: Holocaust and genocide studies, political science, history, comparative religion, social sciences, cultural studies, performance studies. We also wanted the volume to resist disciplinary hierarchies, something I—as a theatre and performance scholar—encounter frequently.
The book reveals the antisemitic practices that were silenced throughout Finnish society and the ways Finnish academia participated in that silencing. Every article is important, but in a performative sense, the anthology as a whole argues that perspectives from many fields are helping to overcome the authority of conventional historical paradigms.
3. This is the first English-language collection of works on Finland's experience with antisemitism and the Holocaust. How is this significant?
Indeed, this is the first English-language collection that addresses silencing in relation to WWII and antisemitism in Finland. It is the first work accessible to international scholarship that turns its attention to the practices and constructs of Finnish academia and society that have displaced the narrative of antisemitism from Finnish history and Finnish public consciousness.
4. How has the experience of editing this anthology influenced your own research? How will it influence your teaching moving forward?
My article in the anthology, "Toward New Europe: Arvi Kivimaa, Kultur, and the Fictions of Humanism," centers on a celebrated Finnish cultural ideologue, Arvi Kivimaa (1904-1984) and the ways Finnish academia helped him erase his cultural collaboration with the Third Reich before and during WWII, and to cover the antisemitism his work disseminated. Kivimaa is not an unimportant figure in world cultural history. During the Cold War, Kivimaa served as vice president of the International Theatre Institute, an initiative of UNESCO. In the early 1960s, under the auspices of this organization, Kivimaa proposed the World Theatre Day we celebrate today on March 27. In books and articles written before and during the war, Kivimaa pursued the National Socialist vision of a "New Europe," a Europe that would have been deadly for many of today's ethnically diverse honorees and celebrants of World Theatre Day. Rather than erasing Kivimaa's engagement with the Third Reich and its cultural institutions, then, I draw original attention to the overlooked racist tropes—racialized humanism, Kultur—in Kivimaa's literary production in the 1930s and 40s.
It has become clear to me that my next project will center on a complex web of issues: how "humanism" has been repeatedly redefined from the wartime era to the present in both Eastern and Western Europe, and how this ongoing reimagining sustains the cultural politics and imagination of the European Union. European cultural production plays an important part in my research—it provides a lens on the ways Europe is, and has been, embodied and performed through the visions of humanism. I feel privileged that my proposal, under the working title of my second monograph, Theatre of Humanisms, won a fellowship at the International Research Center "Interweaving Performance Cultures" at the Free University Berlin, where I am currently appointed as a research fellow for 2013-14.
Looking ahead, I am interested in teaching an undergraduate seminar on humanism in Barnard’s comparative literature program, which might incorporate a performative syllabus exploring the post-Cold War notions of humanisms throughout Eastern and Western Europe as well as North America.