This new forum engages authors and artists—from very different places and writing in very different genres—in an ongoing conversation on “the uses and disadvantages of historical comparisons for life” (title stolen from Nietzsche). The idea initially arose in response to the American administration’s southern border policy of taking children away from their parents: might this not be a moment to revisit testimonies by Holocaust survivors describing parent-child separation? The result of that revisiting is a short documentary film, The Last Time I Saw Them, which serves as a point of departure. The forum’s purpose is not to polemicize the use of the word “fascism” or “concentration camps.” Its purpose is rather to provoke a discussion that could be an Aufhebung (sublation) of the ‘is Trumpism fascism?’” debate. 

Can understanding distant parts of the world inspire deeper ways of thinking about our own? Can understanding moments in the past help us to think more creatively about the present? The Nietzschean “on the uses and disadvantages” is intended to suggest that thinking across time and space is not a yes/no question, but a how question: How can intense description of what is irreducibly particular help us to extract elements that are universal? 

The Last Time I Saw Them


Marci Shore
Introduction: On the Uses and Disadvantages of Historical Comparisons for Life (Vom Nutzen und Nachteil historischer Vergleiche für das Leben)

‘The Uses and Disadvantages of Historical Comparisons for Life’: a discussion with Tyrone Chambers, Krzysztof Czyżewski, Vera Grant, Jeffrey Goldfarb, Dan Shore, Marci Shore

On the Uses and Disadvantages of Historical Comparisons for Life
A conversation between Irena Grudzińska-Gross and Dwayne Betts

Daniella Doron
Historical Analogies and Separated Families

Erica Johnson Debeljak
The Counter

Slavenka Drakulic
Boy Number 84

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
Instead of Comparing: Six thoughts about engaging with a post-historical past

Eneken Laanes
The Universal within the Particular

Rahul Pandita 
Being ahead of all Departures

Arielle Rubenstein
Creating Linkages: Witnessing the trauma of child separation

Jason Rubenstein
Memory’s Fragile Thread: Judaism’s view of – and response to – family separation as theological crisis

Radu Vancu
Child Separation

Elaine Lingyuan Wang
On the Uses of the Palm

Sebastian Ward
Empathy: The only avenue in which humans can understand tragedy

Brett Warnke
Separation: Deserts, hurricanes, and classrooms

Jeffrey Wasserstrom
We’ve Never Been Global:
How Local Meanings Mattered in 1900 and Still Matter Now

A middle school teacher in Baltimore
Universalizing Racism in Public Schools in 2020

The project is a collaboration between the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, the Democracy Seminar, and the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies (TCDS) at the New School for Social Research