Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis
AS HOLOCAUST STUDIES INCREASE, PROFS DEBATE TEACHING METHODS
BY JONATHAN KAYE
Daily Pennsylvanian Staff Writer
M O N D A Y , A P R I L 1 7 , 1 9 9 5
The study of the Holocaust at the university level is increasingly becoming more than a blurb on a page of a Modern European History textbook.
But the question of how best to approach this emotional topic in more depth has sparked debate among academics.
According to a recent New York Times article, there are two primary opposing views on teaching the Holocaust: while some universities have considered endowing their own Holocaust chairs or hiring independently funded professors to teach Holocaust courses, others have moved to integrate the Holocaust into a broader European history curriculum.
A few colleges and universities have also included the study of the Holocaust in their respective Jewish Studies departments. Undergraduate English Chairperson Alan Filreis teaches a Holocaust-related course at the University.
The class, "The Literature of the Holocaust," is instructed "in such a way that the very issue of how one teaches the Holocaust is itself an important part of the course," he said. College senior Tracy Layland, who was in Filreis' class last semester, believes the Holocaust should be approached from various perspectives. "Our approach was a literary one," she said. "But I don't think that any one [approach] is better than another. [The Holocaust] needs to be taught as far and wide as possible."
As an example, Layland mentioned another student in her class, who was also enrolled in History Professor Thomas Childers' class "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." While Filreis' course approached the Holocaust from a literary perspective, Childers' class approached it historically. But regardless of the approach taken, "no class taught on the Holocaust should indoctrinate students with facts or ideas about the subject," she said, "because the Holocaust occurred partly because people became indoctrinated in the 1930s." Academics who advocate the creation of endowed chairs to teach the Holocaust feel that this is the best way to give the subject its due attention.
But proponents of integrating the Holocaust into modern European history curricula suggest that relegating the subject to its own department would further marginalize it. Many oppose its being affiliated with Jewish Studies departments in fear that the Holocaust would be presented as strictly a Jewish issue, according to the Times article. While some attribute the Holocaust-teaching impetus to the success of Stephen Spielberg's Schindler's List, Filreis disagrees. "Spielberg's Hollywoodized Holocaust bears little relation to that which is taught at universities and, let's hope, in high schools," he said. While people study the Holocaust for various reasons, Layland said people must continually ask themselves, "Why are we studying this?"
"It must be studied in the hope that it will never happen again," she said. "Although we have no way of knowing whether it will, studying it is a good start. We need more classes like [Filreis'] at Penn."
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