representations of the Holocaust in literature and film
COLL 004 001 LEC TR 12-1:30
a "pilot curriculum" course, fall 2002
taught by Professors Millicent Marcus and Al Filreis
Tuesday-Thursday, noon-1:20 PM (Logan 402); screenings Mondays 4:30 PM [screenings are REQUIRED]

reading schedule

  1. Primo Levi, Survival at Auschwitz;
  2. Primo Levi, The Periodic Table;
  3. Primo Levi, The Truce (or The Reawakening)
  4. Lawrence Langer, Holocaust Testimonies
  5. Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor
  6. Thomas Keneally, Schindler's List
  7. Art Spiegelman, Maus I and Maus II


the staff


There will be a comprehensive final examination, given during the regularly scheduled time assigned to this course by the university registrar. (The date and time will be announced during the term.)


Students will be required to write six short papers (2 pages, double-spaced, approximately 500 words). Three of the papers will be Type A writing assignments, and three will be Type B.

Type A papers: During the weeks when we will be viewing films, a series of topics will be handed out immediately before Monday afternoon screening. Students will be assigned topics on the basis of which they will lead informal discussions during the Tuesday and Thursday class periods. On Thursday of that week,* a two-page paper (double spaced,
Primo Levi in later years
approximately 500 words) will be handed in based on the topic assigned. There are six weeks when Type A papers will be assigned. Again, you are to write any three of them. (* Note: except Nov 26, which happens to be a Tuesday.)

Type B papers: During most of the weeks when we will be discussing a text, students have the option of writing and handing in a Type B paper. Every student must write three such papers--in other words, choosing three of the five occasions when such papers are due. But note that the Periodic Table assignment is required of all students, so in effect you must also write 2 of the other 4 options. The topics for Type B papers are given below. Type B papers must be handed in at the beginning of class on the first day of discussion of the relevant text (mostly Tuesdays). Papers handed in after class or on Thursday of that week will not be accepted. The point of this paper is for students to write about a work before we discuss it in class. In addition to the special Type B paper required of all students (due 10/29), Type B papers can be handed in at the beginning of class on 9/17, 10/15, 11/14, and 12/3. Paper topics for Type B are as follows:

paper due at the beginning of class on 9/17: Does Levi in Survival in Auschwitz have a theory about survival (about who survives and who doesn't)? To the extent that he does have such a theory, what is it? What role, if any, does "culture" play in survival? Summarize Levi's view generally but also be sure to offer a sampling of details from the text to support your summary. Be sure to integrate into your paper a clear sense of what you think of what you take to be Levi's theory of survival? Do the details of Levi's own experience support his theory? What is your reaction to surviving Auschwitz as depicted in Survival in Auschwitz?

paper due at the beginning of class on 10/15: In your view, does Langer believe that there is therapeutic value in survivor testimony? (Be sure to find out for yourself what "therapeutic" connotes in this context. You might well ask: Therapeutic for whom?--and be sure you think about the various possibilities.) Take about half the space in your paper describing what you take to be Langer's position on this matter. Then in the second half say what you think of Langer's position - and explain your view with specific reference to Langer's book. When we ask you to describe what you think, we are not asking for general impressions or sentiments; we are asking for an interpretive position supported by an analytical point of view.

paper due at the beginning of class on 10/29: Each student will be assigned an element. Analyze the way in which the element functions as symbol or metaphor within that particular episode of Levi's life story. Keep in mind that each element is used as a distinct kind of structural device in Levi's writing. Your element will be used as a literary device uniquely (different from the way other elements are used in other chapters).

paper due at the beginning of class on 11/14: What does Des Pres mean when he writes that "all things human take time" (p. 89)? What does he mean by it specifically--in the context of the chapter in which that statement occurs? (In other words, How does that idea help him make the argument of that chapter?) Also, what does he mean by it generally? And how does this point help Des Pres make his case against the interpretation (by, for instance, psychoanalytic critics) that those in the camps, including survivors, were dehumanized?

paper due at the beginning of class on 12/3: Spiegelman's two-volume Maus is obviously about what happened in the Holocaust. It is also obviously an allegory of prejudicial human behavior. But it is also "about" the narrative problem of how to tell a survivor's story. In a way, you could say that one of its themes is the form of narration. To put it another way: Maus is about itself (about its own narrative construction). In your paper take up about half the space to describe Spiegelman's ideas about the narrative problem. Use about half the space then to evaluate this approach specifically (with regard to Maus itself and generally, comparing it to any other one text or film in the course so far). Does Maus fare relatively well in solving or at least addressing the narrative problem?

additional film showings

PVN Movie Channel 11 will show these films at the listed times. Note that Channel 22 repeats each showing a few hours later. In addition, teach film is in the regular movie rotation of 15 or so films per week, so there will be supplementary showings also not listed. Consult the PVN schedule for more information:

Schindler's List - Wed 10/16/02 - 6 PM
Schindler's List - Tue 10/29/02 - 6 PM
Life is Beautiful - Mon 10/7/02 - 6 PM
Life is Beautiful - Thu 10/24/02 - 6 PM
The Truce - Wed 11/6/02 - 6 PM
The Truce - Wed 11/20/02 - 6 PM

Periodic Table papers assignments:
A-C             Argon
D-E             Zinc
F-H             Iron
I-K             Potassium 
L-M             Phosphorus
N-O             Gold    
P-Q             Cerium  
R-T             Chromium
U-Z             Carbon