CENS 303A (3cr): Representations of the Holocaust


Please note:

CENS 303A addresses issues related to phase one of the Holocaust – the ghettos
CENS 303B addresses issues related to phase two of the Holocaust – the camp (Auschwitz)

Course Description

In this course, we will guide you through a carefully arranged selection of material and assignments that will help you learn about the Nazi Holocaust and related aspects of Nazi Germany by focusing on the ghettos that were established all over occupied Poland.

Although the ghettos were not as explicitly built as sites of extermination as camps such as Treblinka, Bełżec, Sobibór, Chełmno, Majdanek and Auschwitz, they were nonetheless places of violence, hunger, forced labor, killing and death. They were a distinct part of the Nazis’ extermination efforts, and the cause of tremendous suffering for the Jewish population of the occupied territories.

The history, the layout and character of the numerous ghettos established all over Poland varied greatly. From open ghettos, to huge walled-in ghettos, from ghettos in the outskirts of a town to those in its very center, from small town ghettos to those imprisoning one third of the population of a large city, the local policies, social processes and experiences were widely different. We will focus on the examples of Łódź, Białystok and Warsaw, to examine the various facets of these extreme spaces; giving insight into their development, the Nazi policies surrounding them, the social, cultural and economic order that emerged inside of them, the organization and experiences of everyday life, resistance, and finally the deportations and liquidations.

Course Objectives

In this course, you will learn to

  • assess the historical background of the Holocaust and link it to the specific – and frequently internally divisive – policies of Nazi Germany
  • describe elements of cultural and historical context that informed the texts discussed in class
  • understand actions and responses of perpetrators, victims and bystanders, including the so-called “grey zone”
  • assess the role of the ghettos in the Nazis’ extermination efforts
  • analyzes the social, economic, political and spatial implications of the ghettos’ establishment
  • discern the memory agendas at play in the commemoration of the Holocaust
  • analyze the impact of trauma on collective memory
  • analyze critically debates about the responsibilities of Western Powers, Nazi Anti-Semitism, as well as the impact of the Holocaust on contemporary policies toward minorities and the understanding of rights and responsibilities of citizenship in democratic societies
  • develop critical thinking and writing skills on an academic level in relation to course themes/objectives

Structure of the Course

  • Introduction and Prewar Life
  • Module 1 – Nazi Policies
  • Module 2 – Establishment of the Ghetto
  • Module 3 – The Gray Zone
  • Module 4 – The History of the Ghettos in Testimonies
  • Module 5 – Economy and Living Conditions
  • Module 6 – Resistance, Aftermath and Story Without a Witness

Required Course Textbooks

  • Berg, Mary. Diary of Mary Berg: Growing up in the Warsaw Ghetto. Oneworld Publications, 2018. ISBN: 9781786073402
  • Birenbaum, Halina. Hope is the last to Die: A coming of Age Under Nazi Terror: A Classical Holocaust Literature. Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. ISBN: 9788377041437
  • Modan, Rutu; Cohen, Jessica. The Property. Drawn and Quarterly, 2013. ISBN: 9781770461156

CENS 303A Textbook Order Form (updated Dec 9, 2020)

Assessment and grading strategy

Students are not graded on the basis of a single work but rather on their performance and involvement over the period of the entire course.

Preparation and active participation (including group work and discussion entries) are required. Grades for group works will be included in the participation and preparation mark.

Short individual group work quizzes


Group and pair work worth


Summative assessments

Designed to measure progress and judge whether the submitted work meets the expectations outlined in learning objectives. It includes mid-term examination, web essay and quizzes.

For multiple choice quizzes, please remember that we are not simply looking for the correct answer, but for the best answer. In some cases more than one is correct and you are supposed to choose the best. In exceptional cases, there might be an oral re-examination after a quiz.

Module 2 quiz


Module 4 quiz


Module 5 quiz


Reading Reflection


Students will post on the course web page a short (250-400 words) reading reflection.

Final quiz


Self evaluation


Students will be asked to submit a self evaluation of their course related works. This should include comments on their learning process (what they learned in this class), and self evaluation of participation.

Disclaimer: Percentages for assessment are still tentative.