Office: 453 gcb telephone: 882-9453

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German 3440: After the Fact: The Holocaust in Contemporary History, Art and Literature
Professor Brad Prager
Office: 453 GCB
Telephone: 882-9453

Meets T/ Th

Course Description

This course explores responses to the Holocaust from numerous disciplinary perspectives. It will consider how the Holocaust is remembered, memorialized, and debated in a variety of national contexts. We will discuss why the questions that are raised in connection with this event are still revisited today in Europe, the Americas and beyond. Our discussions will touch on historical, philosophical and aesthetic points of view with the intention of thinking through an interdisciplinary lens, and encouraging academic exploration beyond the boundaries of any one field of study.

As it is not presumed that everyone is already familiar with the details of the Holocaust, the course begins with a historical overview. It will then introduce some of the numerous questions faced by historians who study this period, starting with the long history of anti-Semitism and proceeding through the War itself, with a particular eye towards the motivations of the perpetrators. For this purpose, we will turn to recent debates by leading historians and specifically the questions raised by Daniel Goldhagen in his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners. In this historical unit we will also address the specifics of life in the death camps. We will discuss the functioning of the camps as described by the sociologist Wolfgang Sofsky and then the moral lessons that survivors have drawn from this experience as explored by Primo Levi and Tzvetan Todorov.

The next unit of the course will discuss the problem of how the "sublime horror" of the Holocaust could be represented in art, with specific emphasis on photographs and paintings. The works studied will include Shimon Attie’s installations and the much-documented work of the French artist Christian Boltanski. We will then turn to the construction of public memorials to the Holocaust, beginning with the question of how Germany constructed its own past and struggled (or did not struggle) to preserve the camps as memorial sites. We will also consider the question of how Israel has memorialized the event, specifically exploring the tree-planting project and the function of the Yad Vashem historical institute. Finally, we will examine questions of Holocaust commemoration in the U.S. such as those surrounding the building of the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., and the debates surrounding the recent construction of the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

For the final unit, we then turn to literature. We will study Holocaust "novels" such as Wartime Lies by the Polish-American author Louis Begley and Binjamin Wilkomirski’s famous fictional hoax Fragments. We will ultimately explore the writings of "second generation" authors from Germany, the U.S. and elsewhere, who describe the impact that this event had on their lives and on their relationships with their parents. This unit will include a look at comics, touching on the work of the U.S. comic-book artist Art Spiegelman, and his Pulitzer Prize winning work, Maus. We will explore how Spiegelman’s American identity shaped his response to his father’s testimony about being a prisoner and survivor of a death camp.

Texts (available at the bookstore)

Louis Begley, Wartime Lies
Wolfgang Benz, The Holocaust
Tim Cole, Selling the Holocaust
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners
Art Spiegelman, Maus II
James Young, At Memory’s Edge
Barbie Zelizer, Visual Culture and the Holocaust

(a) Texts that are followed by an asterisk are included in the course packet.

(b) All Films mentioned will be screened (in abridged forms) during our class meetings. There are no special screening times. If students wish to view the films in their entirety, special arrangements can be made.


Week 1: Introduction and Background

  1. Introduction to the issues raised in the course

  2. Wolfgang Benz, The Holocaust

Week 2: Background, continued

  1. Benz, The Holocaust (cont.), Film: Excerpts from Holocaust (Sontag)

  2. Omer Bartov, "Antisemitism, the Holocaust and Reinterpretations of National Socialism" (from Murder in Our Midst, ch. 3, pages 53-70*) and Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, ch. 1, pages 5-26*.

Week 3: The Question of "Perpetrator Motivation"

  1. Hilberg (cont.) and Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "Introduction" and Chapter 1, pages 3-48.

  2. Goldhagen, Chapters 2 and 3, pages 49-130.

Week 4: Perpetrator Motivation, continued

  1. Goldhagen, Chapters 6-9, pages 181-282.

  2. Goldhagen (cont.) and Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men, Chapters 7 and 8, pages 55-77*.

Week 5: Perpetrator Motivation, continued

  1. Browning, Chapter 18 and "Afterword," pages 159-224 and "The ‘Willing Executioners’/ ‘Ordinary Men’ Debate: Selections from the Symposium" (1996)*.

  2. Bartov, "Reception and Perception: Goldhagen’s Holocaust and the World" in The "Goldhagen Effect": History, Memory, Nazism — Facing the German Past, pages 33-88*.

Week 6: Life in the Camps and Afterwards

  1. Wolfgang Sofsky, The Order of Terror, pages 1-44, 197-222, and 241-81*. Film: Excerpts from Night and Fog (1955)

  2. Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, pages 77-100*.

Week 7: Life in the Camps and Afterwards, continued

  1. Primo Levi, The Drowned and The Saved, pages 36-87* and Cynthia Ozick, "Primo Levi’s Suicide Note" Metaphor & Memory (New York, 1989), pages 34-48*.

  2. Tzvetan Todorov, Facing the Extreme, pages 254-84*.

Week 8: Perpetrator Testimony and Prosecution

  1. Eichmann Interrogated, edited by Jochen von Lang, pages 256-93* and Tim Cole, Chapter 2, pages 47-72.

  2. Jeffrey Shandler, "The Man in the Glass Box: Watching the Eichmann Trial on American Television" in Barbie Zelizer, pages 91-110. Films: Excerpts from The Trial of Adolf Eichmann (1997) and Force of Evil (1989).

Week 9: Testimony, Film and Photography

  1. Lawrence L. Langer, Holocaust Testimonies, pages 39-76*. Film: Excerpts from Witness: Voices from the Holocaust (1999).

  2. Zelizer, "Gender and Atrocity: Women in Holocaust Photographs," pages 247-274 and Sybil Milton, "The Camera as Weapon: Documentary Photography and the Holocaust," Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual, pages 45-68*.

Week 10: The Holocaust and Visual Art

  1. Ernst van Alphen, "Deadly Historians: Boltanski’s Intervention in Holocaust Historiography," in Zelizer, pages 45-73, and James Young, At Memory’s Edge, Chapter 3, pages 62-89.

  2. Young, Chapter 2, pages 42-61 and selections from Mirroring Evil, pages 42-89*.

Week 11: German Holocaust Memorials and The Jewish Museum in Berlin

  1. Young, Chapters 4 and 5, pages 90-151 and Bill Niven, Facing the Nazi Past, Chapter 1, pages 10-40* and Klaus Neumann, "The Lakes and Locks of Fürstenberg" from Shifting Memories: The Nazi Past in the New Germany, pages 199-218*.

  2. Young, Chapter 6, pages 152-83.

Week 12: Holocaust Museums in the U.S. and Israel

  1. Andrea Liss, Tresspassing Through Shadows, Chapter 2, 13-38* and Cole, Chapter 6, pages 146-71 and Edward T. Linenthal, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum, pages 255-72*.

  2. Tamar Katriel "‘From Shore to Shore’: The Holocaust, Clandestine Immigration, and Israeli Heritage Museums" in Zelizer, pages 198-214 and Cole, Chapter 5, pages 121-45.

Week 13: Writing about the Holocaust: Fiction and Non-Fiction

  1. Sara R. Horowitz, Voicing the Void: Muteness and Memory in Holocaust Fiction, pages 1-32* and Louis Begley, Wartime Lies.

  2. Begley (cont.)

Week 14: Writing about the Holocaust, continued

  1. Philip Gourevitch, "The Memory Thief," New Yorker 14 June, 1999, pages 48-68* and brief excerpts from Binjamin Wilkomirski’s Fragments, Trans. Carol Brown Janeway, 1996*.

  2. Art Spiegelman, Maus II

Week 15: Writing about the Holocaust: The Second Generation

  1. Maus II (cont.) and Young, chapter 1, pages 12-41 and Liss, chapter 3, 39-68*.

  2. Melvin Jules Bukiet, Nothing Makes You Free: Writings by Descendants of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, Introduction and stories by Ruth Setton, Esther Dischereit and Lea Aini, pages 11-24, 94-109, 263-73 and 294-304*. Film: Excerpts from Angst (1993).


  1. Participation in the discussion. To this end, regular attendance is mandatory. This part counts for 15% of your final grade. You are expected to alert me in advance if you cannot attend class so that we can prepare accordingly.

  2. Two papers: The first one on the historical unit is due on the Friday following Week number 6 and the second one on art, memorials and photography is due on the Friday following Week 13. They are each worth 20% of the final grade. Your papers should be between 1250 and 1500 words. Everyone is encouraged to choose their own topic within the thematic boundaries of the respective units (the material from weeks 2-5 in the case of paper #1 and weeks 9-12 in the case of paper #2). I will also be happy to make suggestions if you cannot come up with a topic. You are encouraged to use other sources besides those that have been ordered for the class, although I discourage you from relying on websites as that material tends to come and go. Please note that every paper must have a thesis. You are encouraged to discuss your thesis with me either during office hours or by e-mail. I will be available to help you refine your thesis and/ or discuss the use of secondary materials.

  3. Two take-home exams, the first one is due on the Friday following Week 9 and the second is due at the scheduled final exam time. They are worth 20 and 25 % of the final grade, respectively.

Note on Academic Honesty
Academic Honesty is the building block of a university. In all research one is expected to properly cite their sources. Additionally, any effort to achieve an advantage that is unavailable to your fellow students considered to be academically dishonest. Such dishonesty is treated seriously by the university, and the consequences can include either probation or expulsion.

As Regards Disabilities:

If you have special needs as addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and need assistance, please notify the Office of Disability Services, A048 Brady Commons, 882-4696. Reasonable efforts will be made to accommodate your special needs.

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