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COURSE PROPOSAL: ENG  306: The Literature of Witness and Trauma-
Reading the Holocaust/ A Study Abroad Course




Course Description:

The German philosopher and composer Theodor Adorno once famously wrote that to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric, indicating that he believed that the Holocaust itself was so barbaric that it had annihilated all possibility for literature. And yet , despite this dictum, so much truly important literature exploring the human condition – at its worst moment – was produced by and during the Holocaust. This course will take on Adorno’s effective challenge as we will evaluate and discuss what was written in the brutal years between 1941 and 1945.


We will read Holocaust-era literature and consider this proposition as well as various authors’ messages; their literary responses to the abject horrors that were going on around them. We will strive as a class to develop our own individual and literary group response to the darkest historical hours, and evaluate how literature and writers responded and if indeed, their words capture, reflect and deliver this experience in meaningful ways.


The course will begin with pre-travel readings and discussions and one paper before departure on a Holocaust author of the student’s choice. From there, we will travel for 11 days in Europe, visiting Berlin, Warsaw and Prague and various concentration camps and other sites. (See travel itinerary, appendix a.)  Students will read important Holocaust works as we visit the places they were written and then write in response to those works in a journal format. Students will write one final summation paper of the experience. There will be a final exam.



General Objectives: 

This course is designed to allow students:

1.        To become acquainted with literary works related to and addressing the Holocaust

2.        To examine, and read closely the works of authors writing during and about the Holocaust era

3.        To develop a general understanding of literary works in the context of the times in which they were written

4.          To communicate effectively about such works and draw some basic conclusions about them, about the times and about how literature can address and respond to atrocity


Specific Objectives/ Learning Outcomes:

The course will enable students:

1.     To identify fundamental works from the Holocaust era

2.     To develop the critical vocabulary necessary to discuss such works

3.     To read critically from these works, asking key questions about whether iterature from the era helps us to understand it better and how

4.     To comprehend and parse the importance of these works and respond to them

5.     To learn about the ways authors’ addressed and wrote – at all during the Holocaust

6.     To develop an awareness and appreciation fot the literature of survival, the literature of horror, the literature of hate and to consider Theodor Adornos dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric”

7.     To reflect and respond to the particular tropes and symbols that arise in these works



Course Content

The literature of hate

The literature of survival

Adolf Hitler

Philosophy of chaos and order (from Nietzsche to Heiddeger)

Basic background history of Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia during WWII

History and Background of Auschwitz

The History of the Warsaw ghetto

History of Treblinka

History of Theresienstadt

Literature from Berlin
Literature from Warsaw

Literature from Prague


Learning Resources: 



Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf; excerpts
Döblin, Alfred. Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929

Isherwood, Christopher. Berlin Stories

Szlengel, Wladyslaw. The Deportation Diary.
Weisel, Elie. Night.

Children of Theresienstadt. I Never Saw Another Butterfly
Shepard, Jim. The Book of Aron.

Gruenbaum, Michael. Somewhere There is Still a Sun.

Schlink, Bernhard. The Reader.

Kosinski, Jerzy. The Painted Bird.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus and Maus II

Sachs, Nelly. The Seeker and Other Poems





Schlinder’s List


Documentaries tba





I will use Moodle to organize and enhance the course. You must enroll in the website course.  Go to and follow the given instructions on how to enroll and log on. Visiting the website is considered part of your class participation grade.





Class participation                                          20%

Two papers on Holocaust literary works    45%

Presentation on one writer or poet            15%

Final Reflective Essay                                     25%

Final Exam                                                          5%




Course Structure


This course will consist of weekly fifty -minute classes for six weeks before our trip during which we will discuss key historical and literary works that define the Holocaust. There will be in class writing assignments.


Once we embark on our travel, the class will involve several hours a day of discussion and journaling, tours of camps and other locales of importance to the period (Nuremburg etc.) as well as beautiful places and touristic attractions along the way, to provide emotional ballast from the topic and horrors we are studying.


There will be a final paper on the experience and a final exam.



Class Participation



 Class participation is very important (25% of the grade).  Students should attend all the trip preparation classes and should prepare themselves adequately to participate in weekly class discussions.  Proper preparation requires reading or viewing the assigned material, thinking critically about it, and making sure that you have something to contribute during class discussion.  Attendance, although important, does not by itself guarantee a good grade in class participation.  Class participation will be evaluated based on the quality of your contribution to the discussion, general preparation and attitude towards the subject material.





This class requires a significant travel component. Students must attain all proper documentation, including a valid passport, ID and any necessary visas, as well as a health assessment for travel. This is the student’s responsibility.


The class will take place in Plattsburgh, NY, with one preliminary field trip to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Montreal, followed by the following travel itinerary in Europe:


Day 1: Fly to Germany Meet your group and travel on an overnight flight to Berlin.

Day 2: Berlin Arrive in Berlin: Welcome to Berlin, capital city of Germany. Poised at the cutting edge of European culture, this German capital has been transformed since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Depending on your arrival time, you may have free time to settle in and explore on your own. Explore Berlin: Get acquainted with Berlin on a walking tour. Stroll past cafés, restaurants, and embassies along Unter den Linden, Berlin’s most elegant boulevard. Continue to the imposing Reichstag building, the historical seat of Germany’s parliament with a massive glass dome that overlooks the cityscape. Dinner: Enjoy a traditional Bavarian dinner with your group. 

Day 3: Berlin Sightseeing tour of Berlin: On your tour, visit the Brandenburg Gate, Kurfürstendamm, the remains of the Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie, named after the checkpoint station that once guarded the border between East and West Germany. Here you can see escape cars, hot air balloons, and even a submarine—all used in risky border crossings. Topography of Terror Museum: Visit the Topography of Terror Museum, built on the grounds of the Gestapo and SS headquarters. Learn about the Nazi regime during your visit to this documentation center. House of the Wannsee Conference: Visit this former meeting place for senior Nazi officials. In 1992, the House of the Wannsee Conference opened its doors to the public as a museum and archival library. 

Day 4: Berlin Old Jewish Quarter: Take an enlightening tour of the Old Jewish Quarter and see the inspirational history of this resilient community. Devastated during World War II, this center has since undergone a major cultural revitalization and is now a thriving Jewish community in Berlin. Gaze at the domes of the New Synagogue, which was built in 1860 and stands as a symbol of this area’s rebirth. Jewish Museum: Explore 2,000 years of German-Jewish history at this museum. With over 9,000 square feet, the Jewish Museum features contemporary art installations, multimedia exhibits, and displays. Panel discussion: Gain insight into life on both sides of the Iron Curtain when you participate in an illuminating panel-led discussion. 

Day 5: Berlin | Warsaw Travel to Warsaw: Journey by train to Warsaw, Poland’s capital city since 1611. With most of the city destroyed in World War II, historical photographs and paintings were used as reference to return the Old City to its original splendor after the war. Explore Warsaw: See the Gestapo headquarters, where insurgents were taken for questioning, and the Pawiak Prison, where anyone suspected of opposing the Nazis was sent. Dinner: Later, enjoy dinner with your group. 

Day 6: Warsaw Jewish Ghetto: The Jewish Ghetto was established in 1940 as a way to isolate the Jewish population from the rest of the city. An attempted uprising in 1943 wrought tremendous devastation here, ultimately leading to the closure of the ghetto. Discover how history played out here on your visit. Warsaw Ghetto Monument: Visit the monument that commemorates the heroic efforts of the Jewish resistance fighters. POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews: Learn about the culture and the heritage of the largest Jewish community in the world through a narrative exhibition. You will discover the social, religious, and political diversity of Polish Jews, highlighting dramatic events from the past to the Holocaustto today. 

Day 7: Warsaw | Krakow Travel to Krakow: Head for Krakow this morning, taking in the Polish countryside along the way. Sightseeing tour of Krakow: During World War II, Krakow was the only major Polish city to escape devastation, leaving the beautiful architecture of its Old Town intact. On your exploration of this former capital, join with an expert local guide to see Wawel Cathedral, where Polish kings were crowned and Pope John Paul II once served as archbishop. Stroll through Glowny Square, passing beautiful Sukiennice Cloth Hall and the Jagiellonian University. Dinner: Later, enjoy a traditional Polish dinner. 

Day 8: Krakow | Auschwitz | Birkenau Auschwitz and Birkenau: Take a somber visit to the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Now the site of a memorial museum, you can view a film about the horror of Auschwitz and Hitler’s Third Reich here. Before you leave, observe a moment of remembrance for the six million victims of the Holocaust.


Day 9: Krakow | Prague Travel to Prague: Make your way to Prague, former capital of the Holy

Roman Empire.


Day 10: Prague

Sightseeing tour of Prague: Encounter the legendary beauty of the City of One

Hundred Spires. Located on the Vltava River, Prague gracefully balances the

classical features of old Europe with a lively, Bohemian spirit. Make your way

down the iconic Golden Lane and step inside the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral

in the courtyard of Prague Castle. Cross the Charles Bridge and walk through

Market Square, best known for its 15th-century astronomical clock.

Jewish Quarter: Learn about the impact of Nazi occupation as you explore

Prague’s Jewish Quarter. Over 20,000 people were laid to rest in the Jewish

Cemetery’s one-block plot. Here you can visit the grave of Rabbi Loew, who

created the legend of the monster Golem to protect the city’s Jews. Also visit the

Jewish Museum, the Old-New Synagogue, and pass by the Spanish Synagogue.

Dinner: Later, enjoy Czech delicacies at a group dinner.


Day 11: Depart for home



Day 11: Prague | Nuremberg | Munich

Sightseeing tour of Nuremberg: Explore the second-largest city in Bayern, the

site of the Nazi war-crime tribunals. See architecture built up from the stone

foundations bombed by the Allies during the war.









1.     All papers must be printed, without exception.  Use standard margins (1 inch), double spacing, and a font no larger than 10 or 12.  Follow the MLA format. Paginate your paper.


2.     A student will receive a failing grade for any act of plagiarism or cheating. I refer you to the college’s official Honor Code policy: “It is expected that all students enrolled in this class support the letter and the spirit of the Academic Honesty Policy as stated in the college catalog.


3.     ”Submit all papers on due dates.  I will not accept late papers.  If you have reasonable excuse I may grant you a grace period but your grade will be lowered two grades (eg from a B to a C+).


4.     I require hard copies of all written work. If you send your work via email as an attachment, I will delete it.


5.     Make hard copies and back-ups of everything you write.  I assume no responsibility for lost papers if you do not have copies.


6.     You are responsible for seeing any film or video assigned outside of class hours.


7.     You are also responsible for reading any assigned material put on reserve on our Moodle website. Similarly, you are responsible for doing any assignment posted on Moodle.


8.     To encourage classroom discussion and focus on what we are saying to each other, I maintain an electronic device free environment. Please turn off your cell phone before entering class.  It is extremely distracting and annoying to hear phones ringing in the middle of class, no matter how cool the ringtone. Keep all electronic devices off and out of the classroom. If you have an uncontrollable urge to text or play with your phone or some other electronic device during my class please leave and do it outside. If you cannot control these urges drop the class and seek help for your electronic addiction. No laptops allowed in the classroom.  Take notes the old fashioned way: with a pen and paper.


9.     Attendance Policy:  I do not take attendance. This liberal policy should not be abused.  Be smart. If you’re essentially MIA during the semester, do not be surprised if you don’t perform well in this course.  If you’re absent from a quiz, you gambled and lost.  If I don’t know who you are because you are invisible, you will not receive a passing grade in class participation.


10.  Services for Students with Learning Disabilities:

If you have, or suspect you may have, any type of disability or learning problem that may require extra assistance or special accommodations, please speak to me privately after  class or during my office hours as soon as possible so I can help you obtain any   assistance you may need to successfully complete this course. It is the policy of the College that any student requiring accommodations of any kind to fully access this course  must be registered for accommodations with the Student Support Services office located  in the Angell College Center. If you need any accommodations for this course, please  contact Student Support Services.

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