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

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

  • Assess the historical background of the Holocaust and link it to the specific – and frequently internally divisive — policies of the Nazi Germany;
  • Understand actions and responses of perpetrators, victims and bystanders, including the so-called “grey zone”;
  • Describe elements of cultural and historical context that informed the texts discussed in class;
  • Discern the memory agendas at play in the commemoration of the Holocaust;
  • Analyze the impact of trauma on collective memory;
  • Develop and manage a group-based in-class presentation that addresses course themes/objectives.
  • 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.

Structure of the course

  • Module 1: Extermination — Phase One
  • Module 2: The History of Auschwitz
  • Module 3: Prisoners and their Testimonies
  • Module 4: The Idea of the Camp
  • Module 5: Medical Experiments
  • Module 6: Roma and Sinti
  • Module 7: The Witness and the Story

Required course textbooks

  • Birenbaum, Halina. Hope is the last to die. Oświęcim: The Auschwitz Birkenau Museum, 1994. ISBN: 9788838504716
  • Borowski, Tadeusz. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman. London: Penguin Books, 1976. ISBN: 9780140186246
  • Klüger, Ruth. Still Alive. A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered. New York: Feminist Press, 2012. ISBN: 9781558614369
  • Strzelecka, Irena, ed. Voices of Memory 2: Medical Crimes. The Experiments in Auschwitz. Oświęcim: Auschwitz Birkenau Museum, 2011. ISBN: 9788377040249
  • Szmaglewska, Seweryna. Smoke over Birkenau. Oświęcim: The Auschwitz Birkenau Museum, 2008. ISBN: 9788360210574
  • The More I know the Less I understand a publication of the ICEAH and The University of British Columbia, Auschwitz –Birkenau State Museum, ISBN: 9878837704202

CENS303B Textbook Order Form (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.

Participation and preparation 15%
Reading reflections 10%


Summative assessments

Designed to measure progress and judge whether the submitted work meets the expectations outlined in learning objectives. It includes:

Midterm exam 15%
Web essay 20%
Final quiz 15%
Self evaluation 25%