The Holocaust

Sophomore and above—Spring

The Holocaust raises fundamental questions about the nature of our civilization. How was it that a policy of genocide could be initiated and carried out in one of the most advanced and sophisticated countries of Europe? To what extent did residents of the countries in which mass murder occurred, especially in Eastern Europe, facilitate or obstruct this ghastly project? And finally, what were the various reactions of the various victims of this lethal assault by one of the great powers of Europe? In this course, we will attempt to explain how these events unfolded, beginning with the evolution of anti-Semitic ideology and violence. At the same time, we will attempt to go beyond the “mind of the Nazi” and confront the perspectives of victims and bystanders. How victims chose to live out their last years and respond to the impending catastrophe (through diary writing, poetry, mysticism, violence, hiding, etc.) is reflected in memoirs, literature, and sermons. The crucial but neglected phenomenon of bystanders—non-Jews who stood by while their neighbors were methodically annihilated—has been the subject of several important recent studies. We shall inevitably be compelled to make moral judgments, but these will be of value only if they are informed by a fuller understanding of the perspectives of various actors in this dark chapter of European history.