CENS 303B (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

This course will examine the Nazi Holocaust and related aspects of the Nazi Germany by focusing on Auschwitz. Auschwitz was a place in which several frequently conflicting agendas of the Third Reich intersected: it was an industrial compound, a concentration camp, a medical research site and an extermination facility; it served to imprison, terrorize, enslave, and kill. Its operation as well as the so-called “twisted road” that led to it provide a horrific and revealing example of the strange ways in which the Third Reich ruled by a strange mixture of chaos and consent. More importantly, Auschwitz is a site of conflicted memories that raise the question how, and if at all, it can remembered and commemorated in ways that resist both sentimentalization and the recourse to conventional literary or cinematographic imagery. The course will explore issues by analysing a set of diverse texts including first-hand accounts (by both victims and perpetrators), interviews, documentaries, feature films and literary fictionalization.



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“
  • 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
  • Module 1: History of Auschwitz
  • Module 2: Prisoner Testimony
  • Module 3: Important Concepts
  • Module 4: Medical Crimes
  • Module 5: After the Camp

Required readings

  • Birenbaum, Halina. Hope is the last to die. Oświęcim: The Auschwitz Birkenau Museum, 1994. ISBN: 9788838504716; available as ebook in the UBC library
  • Borowski, Tadeusz. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman. London: Penguin Books, 1976. ISBN: 9780140186246
  • Szmaglewska, Seweryna. Smoke over Birkenau. Oświęcim: The Auschwitz–Birkenau Museum, 2008. ISBN: 9788360210574; ebook available
  • The More I know the Less I understand (B.Karwowska and A.Nowak, eds).Oświęcim: Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum, 2017. ISBN: 98788377042021
  • Strzelecka, Irena, ed. Voices of Memory 2: Medical Crimes. The Experiments in Auschwitz. Oświęcim: Auschwitz–Birkenau Museum, 2011. ISBN: 9788377040249

CENS 303B Textbook Order form (for July 2020 offering; PDF)

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. Summative assessment is designed to measure progress and judge whether the submitted work meets the expectations outlined in the learning objectives. 

Participation – 15%

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

Short Quizzes – 15%

Short quizzes test your knowledge of the recent topic. They help you not to fall behind and help us to know if there are any areas that require additional explanations.

Module Quizzes (4, 6) – 20%

Module quizzes test the knowledge and understanding you should acquire during the course.

Summative Assessment is designed to measure progress and judge whether the submitted work meets the expectations outlined in learning objectives. It includes reading reflection, final quiz and self-evaluation.

Reading Reflection – 15%

Final Quiz – 15%

Self-evaluation – 20%

Students will be asked to submit a self-evaluation of their course-related work. This may include a brief evaluation of their midterm reading reflection, comments on their learning process (what they learned in this class), and self-evaluation of participation in discussions.

Disclaimer: Percentages for assessment are still tentative.