I am a NYC born, LA raised person, with US, Israeli and Lithuanian citizenship.
I love serving as Director of Undergraduate Studies for Romance Languages at the University of Oregon.
I am a scholar of European antifascism. I trained in Spanish Literature and Culture, which grounds my recent work in Holocaust Studies, Leftist Studies and Oral History. These fields and methods inform my investigation of the writing, testimony and films of internment and survival under the Franco dictatorship and antifascist movements in Europe, from the 1930s to the 1970s. The heart of my mature scholarly agenda explores how everyday people risked their freedom and their lives in order to participate in anti-authoritarian movements. The newest phase of this agenda involves people active on the French-Spanish borderlands in the 1940s. As I will discuss below, my work in the last 15 years demonstrates how powerful institutions of confinement and control shape the cultural and social identity of both political actors and racialized victims of history. Of all the landscapes of punitive detention I have investigated, the French concentration camps—built in the late 1930s to contain Spanish exiles and eventually used to transit Jews en route to Auschwitz, as well other migrant groups over the span of decades—speak perhaps most poignantly and persistently to the problem of the modern internment of refugees, political enemies, or “undesirables.” This is subject of my latest project: “Rivesaltes: French Concentration Camps and the Laboratory of 20th Century Internment.” Rivesaltes both expands on my scholarly corpus and adds an exciting, long-overdue, and novel focus: that of the relationships between white European prisoners and Black African troops who shared the same geographies of internment during World War II.
“Rivesaltes” grows out of my decades-long interest in the representations of political crises on the left, particularly in relation to regimes of castigation including the prison and the concentration camp. The study of Spanish communism—both Stalinist and dissident Marxist—has taken me from the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) to the history and literature of the Holocaust and the deportation to the Nazi Lager. In the last few years I have embarked on a Holocaust education for myself, receiving fellowships from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Holocaust Education Foundation at Northwestern, providing me with new disciplinary expertise that has enhanced my research and teaching. The result of this phase of my explorations was Written in Red: The Communist Memoir in Spain (U Illinois, 2010). It explored how well-known Spanish communists grappled with their commitments to the Stalinist project during the Spanish Civil War and through the years of the Franco dictatorship. One underlying assumption of the book is that left-wing subjects do not become who they are by keeping the political and personal spheres of their lives apart, or simply by opposing tyranny. In line with Michel Foucault’s and Judith Butler’s work on power and subjection, I argue that people constitute themselves through a process of internalization of power, one that is so determinant to identity that even those who eventually break with authoritarian communism retain their revolutionary ideological and psychological ways of being. In the case of the communist and other antifascist cultures, voluntary and self-mandated self-reflection, akin to conversion narratives, lay at the core of identity formation and shaped often inflexible and itinerant insurgent personalities. This book’s insights into leftist subjectivity has informed all my writing since and has inspired other scholars (for example in the recent book the 2017, Cruzar la línea roja: hacia una arqueología del imaginario comunista ibérico (1930-2017) [Crossing the Red Line: Toward an Archeology of the Iberian Communist Imaginary].
My work to humanize, contextualize, and better theorize Spanish-French anti-fascism next turned to the exemplary figure of Jorge Semprún (1923-2011). In an edited volume, 15 scholars explored the life and work of this unique Stalinist dissident, Spanish-French intellectual, resistance fighter, and concentration camp survivor. My introduction to A Critical Companion to Jorge Semprún: Buchenwald, before and after (Palgrave 2014), offers readers the most thorough examination of the biographical, cultural, aesthetic spheres of Semprún’s activism, philosophical inquiries and prolific literary production. Because Semprún had fled 1930s Spain, participated in the French Resistance, survived the Nazi camps, and then went on to head up the Resistance against the dictator Franco in post-WWII Spain, he embodies all the junctures of antifascist militancy that inform my research agenda. Semprún epitomizes the pinnacle of Communist Party theoretical erudition, while in other publications I have emphasized that working class Spanish communist women represent the Party’s underclass. My next project sought to understand the full class and gender spectrum of people who devoted their lives to the communist ideal and defied Europe’s dictators, especially women.
The result of that effort is a completed book manuscript The Longest Resistance: Anti-Fascist Women between Franco and Hitler, which was many years in the making, and required further interdisciplinary training. Seeking greater competency in both testimonial research and gender studies, I trained as an Oral Historian at the Columbia University Center for Oral History Research (2001-2002), after which I set out to collect dozens of oral histories with leftist Spanish women. This fieldwork has been funded by various small grants awarded between 2002-present from the Oregon Humanities Center (2015, 2020), the Oregon Center for the Study of Women in Society (2017), University of Oregon Presidential Fellowships (2020) and Faculty Research Awards (2017, 2020), as well as from the Program for Cultural Cooperation between Spain’s Ministry of Culture and US Universities. My research on the Nazi camps and women resisters garnered a fellowship at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum that permitted me to further refine my knowledge of women in wartime Europe. The 2012 Silberman faculty seminar on “The Gendered Experience of the Holocaust,” developed my expertise on women captives during WWII. Especially useful to my thinking about leftist women prisoners of Franco and Hitler is what historian François Furet called the “ideology as sentiment,” because it reveals how working-class women often articulate political values and knowledge through affect and communal narratives as opposed to theoretical party-speak more associated with men. I therefore argue that the fight against Europe’s wartime dictators must be explored through stories “from below,” specifically those of rank and file women whose contributions to resistance movements proved essential but whose memories have too often been ignored in historiography. I began to generate new interpretations that show how women’s internalization of antifascist values moved them to manipulate gender-coded behaviors and use domestic spaces to defy occupation and repression. Ultimately, The Longest Resistance argues that the most enduring and yet the most neglected antifascist resistance in Europe was that carried out by Spanish communist women who resisted the dictator Franco from the 1930s through to the transition to democracy in Spain in the late 1970s. While their male comrades languished in Franco’s prisons, the women persisted advocating for liberation and democracy.
The Longest Resistance, supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2017-18), revisits my theory about political identity from the vantage point of gender identity. By rereading women’s narratives, testimony, and fiction through the optic of communist subjectivity, I show how the construction of female selves responded to the dictates of communist beliefs, how it endured the terror of torture and imprisonment under fascist systems, and how women navigated the domestic, sexist pressures of the middle decades of the European 20th century. This study demonstrates how generations of women activists crafted a durable political self, shaped by resistance work and incarceration (in Franco’s prisons but also in the Nazi camps). The Longest Resistance argues that by collecting and analyzing previously unknown personal narratives of the crucial labors of women (as armed combatants, liaisons, printers, saboteurs), we gain a more nuanced picture of how resistance movements operated on the ground, day in-day out, and what they meant to the women and men who drove them. I dialogue with current critical approaches of scholars from Latin American (Hillary Hiner, Mariana Joffily, Ximena Bunster-Burotto) and Holocaust Studies (Zoe Waxman, Sonja Maria Hedgepeth, Rochelle Saidel) about female political activism, the struggle to communicate sexual torments and torture, and the articulations of female communist and ethnic identities within highly masculinist political and social environments. This book employs interpretative models from studies about Soviet identities as well as research about torture in the Southern Cone, and recent publications about sexualized violence of captives under Nazi rule. The text is under review with a European university press.
The insights I garnered from my scholarship on Spanish and French antifascists enabled me to address one of the largest gaps in European WWII studies: the complicated and often misunderstood roles Spain played during the Second World War and the Holocaust. During an extensive Holocaust training fellowship at the Holocaust Education Foundation at Northwestern University (2015), I joined forces with another expert—Sara Brenneis (Amherst College)—on the Spanish deportation to Nazi camps. Together we edited, contributed chapters, and composed a lengthy introduction to Spain, World War Two, and the Holocaust: History and Representation (U Toronto Press, 2020). This tome is the first comprehensive historical and cultural account of Spain’s unique relationship to World War II and the genocide of Jews. The volume features contributions from leading scholars–many of whom are considered the principal international authorities in a variety of disciplines. We provide a long-overdue, multi-faceted analysis of a significant piece of Holocaust history that still remains outside the various disciplines that engage with European fascism. Brenneis, our contributors, and I engage critically with the interdisciplinary implications of the two key paradoxes that mark our understandings of Spain during World War II and the Holocaust. Spain declared itself neutral, yet was an important diplomatic and economic player in World War II. Spain has long promulgated the myth of the dictator Franco as savior of Jews, when in fact Spain also hastened the destruction of European Jewry. These contradictions inspired us to examine in a single volume the situation of Spain during World War II from multiple angles, bringing the historical antecedents and consequences together with the representational legacy of the era. My own chapter contribution to the volume deals with Spanish women transported to the French concentration camps of the Vichy regime and eventually to the Nazi camp of Ravensbrück. This collection has generated excitement internationally. Contributors and the editors (Herrmann and Brenneis) alike have organized conference panels, symposia and have been invited as keynote speakers. The book has been the subject of two panel presentations at Lessons and Legacies (the most important international Holocaust Studies meeting), round tables at the American History Association and the Modern Language Association, a symposium on Jews and Spain at the University of Tel Aviv, and twice at the meetings of the Association of Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies. Covid-19 interrupted further presentations scheduled for Jerusalem, Madrid, and Barcelona.
Over the years of studying Spanish Stalinism, I became fascinated with the figure of Ramón Mercader, the Catalan assassin of Leon Trotsky. Once again, I explore, as I did in Written in Red, what motivates the extremes of devotion to a political ideal. A number of my most recent publications analyze how the novelistic and filmic imagination has dealt with his captivating story of murder and political fanaticism. Such was Mercader’s stalwart loyalty to Stalin that despite years of torture and incarceration, he never revealed his true identity to his captors.“Trotsky in the Heart,” will be a new monograph about the cultural representations of Trotsky’s murder in Mexico in 1940. I have published four articles about the assassination which will eventually be expanded for the monograph: 1) “Transatlantic Trotsky” appears in the Transatlantic Studies Reader. Eds. Cecilia Enjuto-Rangel, Pedro García-Caro and Sebastiaan Faber (2020 Liverpool University Press); 2) “Ramón Mercader y las seducciones siniestras del estalinismo” in the volume Cruzar la línea roja. Acercamientos al imaginario comunista ibérico (1930-2016), Eds. Antonio López Gómez Quiñones and Ulrich Winter. Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2018; and 3) “Stalin’s Spanish Spies,” (in French) will be published in 2021 in 42th issue of the journal Slavica Occitania in an issue on Spanish-Soviet relations. A fourth piece on Trotsky and Mercader, “Padura, Losey and Trotsky, Left Noir,” is forthcoming in the digital journal Periphērica. My investigations on Trotsky and his assassin represent another vantage point from which to interrogate the history of revolutionary actors in the era of 20th century authoritarianisms. If we understand the motivations of radical political actors in the past, perhaps we can gain more steady purchase on what fuels today’s protagonists of our highly polarized political landscapes.
All these related studies I have published demonstrated to me how powerful institutions of confinement and control shape the cultural and social identity of political actors and racialized victims of history alike. “Rivesaltes: French Concentration Camps and the Laboratory of 20th Century Internment” represents the next step in my career exploration of the interface between fascist regimes of punishment and its victims.
The rise of right-wing nationalisms has made my research agenda more pressing as a focus of my institutional and public humanities pedagogical initiatives. At my university I teach courses on state terror, genocide, and the literature and history of activism and imprisonment in response to repressive governments in Latin America and Europe. Of particular importance to me in this area is my appointment as Vice-Chair of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive (ALBA). ALBA is an educational non-profit dedicated to teaching young people about fascist and anti-authoritarian movements as well as to promoting social activism and the defense of human rights. ALBA’s work is inspired by the American volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought against Spanish, German and Italian fascists in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Among our most important public projects are teaching institutes and professional development workshops where high school teachers learn to use ALBA archival materials in their social studies, literature and Spanish language classes. Together with Professor Tony Geist of the University of Washington, I direct an on-going bi-annual institute for Spanish public-school teachers in the Seattle area. My volunteer engagement with ALBA, going on eighteen years, also involves selecting the recipient of the ALBA/Puffin Human Rights Project, which provides an annual award for Human Rights Activism in the amount of $100,000, and strives to establish an informal international network of allied organizations for human rights and historical memory.
B.A. 1990, Cornell M.A., 1993, Columbia Ph.D., 1998, Cornell
Oral History Certificate, Columbia University Center for Oral History, 2000
Spain, World War II and the Holocaust: History and Representation. Eds. Gina Herrman and Sara Brenneis. 2020, University of Toronto Press.
The Longest Resistance: Anti-Fascist Women between Franco and Hitler. In Progress. Granted NEH for 2017-18.
A Critical Companion to Jorge Semprun: Buchenwald, Before and After. Eds. Gina Herrmann and Ofelia Ferran. Palgrave 2014.
Written in Red: The Communist Memoir in Spain. U Illinois Press, 2010.
Peripherica: special issue on Hispanic Cinema, edited with Isabel Jaen.
Recent publications include works on Spanish women in the French Resistance, Female Slave Labor and sabotage in Nazi camps, Spanish Soviet Spies, Ramón Mercader and Africa de las Heras.
Earlier articles include subjects such as Franco's mass graves, Spanish and Catalan documentary, Holocaust photography rescued by Catalan communist survivors of Mauthausen, Gendered Experiences of the Holocaust in the Romance World, representations of torture, prison testimonies.
Honors and Awards
Norman H. Brown Faculty Fellow, 2019-2021
Holocaust Education Foundation, Fellow, 2016
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Siblerman Seminar, 2015
National Endowment for the Humanities, 2017-18
University of Oregon Outstanding Graduate Faculty Mentor, 2017
University of Oregon Presidential Fellowship for Humanities, 2020