Holocaust -- the term derives from the Greek word for "burnt offering." Coined in the late 1950's -- some say by writer/Nobel laureate winner/Congressional gold medal recipient Elie Wiesel, a   Holocaust survivor himself -- the word refers to the Nazi regime's deliberate and systematic   destruction of European Jews, beginning in 1933 when Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany and lasting till the end of the war in 1945.

It is true that many non-Jews -- Gypsies, Poles, Slavs, Russian POWs, homosexuals, political dissidents, Jehovah's witnesses, the mentally and physically disabled -- were also murdered by the Nazis. The difference between these groups and the Jews is that the other victims, while deemed inferior to Aryans, i.e., German nationals with so-called "pure" blood, used for slave labor or killed simply for getting in the way, were never seen as "viruses" or "vermin" that had to be eradicated in order to preserve the well-being of European Christians. There was no concerted government policy to eliminate every last one of them, as there was with the Jews. A major goal of Hitler's Final Solution was to make Germany "judenrein," free of Jews.

Don’t confuse the Holocaust with other acts of mass killing, such as the decimation of Native Americans in the U.S., the murder of more than a million Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge, the slaughter of more than a million Armenians by the Turks, the massacre of the Kurds by the Iraqis, the millions of Russians slain by Stalin, and, more recently, the mass murders of thousands in Rwanda and Burundi. These and other mass killings can be referred to as genocide, the systematic extermination of a national or racial group. What happened to the Jews under the Nazis was also genocide, but the term "Holocaust" is intended to be used solely for that event.  Please be aware, though, that using the term in this narrow way is in no way meant to minimize the suffering of other victims.

This course is an introductory examination of the cinematic representations of the Holocaust.  It takes an interdisciplinary approach, involving film analysis as well as historical and sociological approaches.


Most of the films will focus on the destruction of European Jewry during the 1930's and 40's. Each week, we will read texts, watch films, and discuss our responses to these cinematic portrayals,  paying particular concern to the variety of ways, and their consequences, by which these images, facts, and narratives are presented (see below). 

George Santayana -- the philosopher, poet, critic of culture and literature, and best-selling novelist -- wrote that "those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it" (Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner's, 1905, 284).  Thus, it is incumbent on both students and instructors        to continue studying the Holocaust so that it may never reoccur.  As Elie Wiesel has stated, "To    remain silent or indifferent is the greatest sin."

A major way to enlighten ourselves about the Holocaust is to see films about it.  After all, for more than 100 years, the cinema has been an educational as well as an entertainment medium.  (Consider, for example, how early silent films helped to educate the masses of recent immigrants as to the American way of life.) However, the desire to learn about and remember the Holocaust is hampered by the contradiction between the obligation to hand down and absorb knowledge of it,   and the impossibility -- some would even say obscenity -- of showing it. Compared with the horribly graphic evidence, any fictional efforts can legitimately be seen as trivial, irrelevant or even indecent.  Writer George Steiner, in his 1967 book Language and Silence, suggests that silence may be the only appropriate response to the events: "The world of Auschwitz lies outside speech as it lies out-side reason."  Thus, filmmakers delineating the Holocaust face a daunting task -- coming up with     an appropriate method of telling their stories.


Nevertheless, in the past 60-plus years, literally hundreds of films about the Holocaust have been produced.  The ones I have selected for this class represent a spectrum of what is available.  For example, we'll look at documentaries as well as feature films; pictures made shortly after the Holocaust as well as recent works; Hollywood productions vs. independent features; American vs. European movies; films with narratives which unfold primarily in the concentration camps vs. those that only hint at Nazi persecution; dramas about adults and others revolving around children; and, pictures from a Jewish perspective as well as some from a Gentile point of view. 

One of the major aspects that we'll explore is whether comedy is an appropriate medium to   delineate the Holocaust on the screen, or should the subject always be within a dramatic context.  Has the passage of time – more than years -- made a difference as to whether a comedic tone is     all right?  Also, can humor act as a mitigation of sorts, in which it acts as a contrast to the horrible, thus making the horror even more horrible? 


Another important aspect of this course involves how cinematic works transmit the events of the Holocaust.  To that end, you will be expected to accrue at least a basic knowledge of film techniques and terminology.  These will be spelled out for you in general terms in handouts, but we’ll also go over specific uses of cinematic language in films we’ll be looking at throughout the semester, whether in in-class or outside viewings (for the latter, see below).  For instance, you will have to quickly come to terms with Expressionistic devices in order to write your first graded paper.

The textbook is Annette Insdorf's Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust. You’ll also be reading the newly translated version of Wiesel’s memoir, Night.  These texts are supplemented with Internet articles, and handouts written by me, which are also accessible on line at my web site: www.homepage.villanova.edu/elana.starr
. There is also at least one reading assignment on reserve in Falvey Library, from the anthology Holocaust and the Moving Image: Representations in Film and Television Since 1933, edited by Toby Haggith and Joanna Newman.


In addition to studying films in class, you are also responsible for outside viewings.  These films will be put on reserve for you to watch in Falvey Library.  (Of course you may rent them and watch them on your own if you wish.  TLA in Bryn Mawr should have most of them.

You will write four graded papers for this class.  Parameters for each of these assignments will be given out in advance.  Make sure you adhere to directions! They are spelled out in the structure section within the guidelines for the first paper, which you can access on line as well as  from within the syllabus.  Please be aware that I am a stickler for three things:
     - HANDING IN WORK ON TIME:  For every day that a paper is handed in late, I will deduct 1/2 grade.  If, however, you let me know at least 24 hours in advance that you need an extension on an assignment, it will generally be forthcoming. 
     - PROOFREADING YOUR WORK:  Please use your computer's Spell and Grammar Check devices.  If your papers are fraught with errors, I will lower your grade on that assignment.
     - FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS:  I have received some well-written papers but given them bad grades because the students who wrote them did not follow directions.  As spelled out above, you must adhere to the guidelines.

You will also write at least two ungraded paper for this course.  One will be on Weisel’s memoir, Night.  The other will be your choice of a particular Cultural Film Series event; a one-time, on- campus screening of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah; and an experiential visit to a Holocaust center or memorial.  Hopefully, if you select the latter choice, you’ll pay this visit in person, but an on-line visit may also be acceptable.  More information about these two assignments is forthcoming.

Your grade for this course will be based on the papers you write, as well as your class participation, with each being worth 20% of your final grade. Because about one-fifth of your final grade is predicated on class participation, you must attend class.  If you miss more than three classes without producing an official explanation, such as a letter from the Dean's office or a doctor's note, then I will lower your final grade in this class. 

I realize it may take a while for students to get a firm grip on what a professor is looking for in written assignments.  Thus, I will allow students to rewrite their first two graded papers.

 I encourage you to get in touch with me if you have any problems whatsoever.  You may  call me at home -- (610) 649-3357 -- on weekdays until 10 p.m., except for Monday evenings, when I am at Villanova's Cultural Film & Lecture Series. You may also e-mail me: elana.starr@villanova.edu
, or see me before or after our class.  No matter how trivial your question, feel free to consult with me; that is why I am here.



Please note that you can access
articles simply by clicking on their underlined titles.

January 16 - Course Intro; Hollywood’s Take on the Holocaust
View in Class:
Judgment at Nuremberg
Read for next week:
Textbook. Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust, by Annette Insdorf
        Foreword by Elie Wiesel; Preface; Introduction
        Part 1, Chapter 1, "The Hollywood Version of the Holocaust"
        Part 1, Chapter 2, "Meaningful Montage"
On-Line Handouts:
  Holocaust Vocabulary
Cinematic Syntax examine differences between Realist and Expressionistic approaches 



January 23 - Hollywood’s Take on the Holocaust, cont’d
Read for next week:
Textbook: Night, by Elie Wiesel
On Reserve in Falvey:
        “Nuit and Brouillard: A Turning Point in the History and Memory of the Holocaust, by
Christian Delage, in Holocaust and the Moving Image,  p. 127-139
On-Line Articles:
         "36 Questions About the Holocaust"
from the Museum of Tolerance
"Tell Me Everything," from the Holocaust History Project
        A review of Alain Renais’s Night and Fog, by Chris Elliot, in PopMatters


January 30 - Bare-Bones Documentary
View in Class:
Night and Fog
Read for next week:
        Part 1, Chapter 3, "Styles of Tension"
On-Line Articles:
        "The German Cabaret"
Handout on German Expressionism

Write Ungraded Paper #1:  A 2-3 page essay on the poetic language within Elie Wiesel’s Night. More information on this assignment can be found on-line, here.


February 6
- An Expressionistic View of Nazi Germany
View in Class:
Hand In:
Ungraded Paper #1
Read for next week:
        Part 1, Chapter 4, "Black Humor"
On-Line Articles:
 "Chaplin, Charlie and Fascism,"  by David Gerstein      
"The Fears of a Clown," by Kevin Brownlow     
Write Paper #1:  An essay on the inherent Expressionistic devices used by film director Bob Fosse in his film Cabaret.  An on-line guide to writing this assignment is available on line here

PLEASE NOTE:  If you are planning to do your second ungraded paper on the CFS, be aware the only film is Hotel Rwanda, and the only date for this is Monday, February 12, at 7 PM in the Connelly Center Cinema.  (Admission is $3.50 for students with ID.) 

February 13 - Early Humor and the Holocaust
View in Class:
The Great Dictator
Hand In:
Paper #1
Read for next week:

On-Line Articles:
  Rev. of Divided We Fall, by Barry Paris, Pittsburgh Post Gazette 
View on Your Own: Life is Beautiful


February 20Humor and the Holocaust

View in Class: Divided We Fall
Turn in:
Ungraded Paper #2, if you’ve chosen to write about Hotel Rwanda.
Read for next week:
        Part 2, Chapter 5, "The Jew as Child"
Write Paper #2: An opinion paper on whether or not you think it’s justified to use humor in representing the Holocaust. Details on this assignment can be found here

February 27
- The Holocaust Through the Eyes of Children
View in Class: Au Revoir, Les Enfants (Goodbye, Children)

Hand In: Paper #2
Read for next week:
On-Line Articles:
        "Wannsee Conference Attracts Belated Attention in Germany,"
by Erik Kirschbaum
  "Why the Germans?," a Holocaust History Project essay



March 13 - The Banality of Evil
View in Class: The Wannsee Conference
Read for next week:
        Part III, Chapter 9, "Political Resistance"

On-Line Articles:
 "Tim Blake Nelson Enters the Grey Zone," by Jennifer M. Wood, Moviemaker Magazine
        "History Revealed: An Interview with The Grey Zone Writer/Director Tim Blake Nelson,"
by Warren Curry, CinemaSpeak
Levi’s The Grey Zone: A Holocaust Horror Story Without a Schindler,by Kristin Hohenadel, University of Pensylvania

March 20
- Who Are the Heroes?
See in Class: The Grey Zone

Read for Next Week:
        Part V, Chapter 17, "The Ironic Touch"
On-Line Article:
"Nasty Girl Still at Work,"
profile of Anna Rosmus by Sixty Minutes II


March 27 - Revisionism
See in Class: The Nasty Girl

Read for Next Week:
          Part IV, Chapter 12, "The Personal Documentary"
On-Line Articles:
"Ten Things I Would Like To Know About Righteous Conduct in Le Chambon and Elsewhere During The Holocaust", from the Chambon Foundation Home
 "The Righteous Who Helped Jews," by Sybil Milton, the Simon Wiesenthal Center  
PLEASE NOTE: If you haven't already started, begin to think about your second ungraded assignment, whether it's on Hotel Rwanda, Shoah, or a visit to a Holocaust center.  More info on this is here.


April 3 - Righteous Gentiles
View in Class: Weapons of the Spirit
Read for next week:
        Part V, Chapter 16, "Rescuers in Fiction Films"
On-Line Articles:
        "Oskar Schilder: Why Did He Do It?," by Louis Bülow (you may have to keep clicking)
"Schindlerjuden: Why Did He Do It?," Schindler’s List Teaching Guide


April 10 - Oskar Schindler
View in Class: Schindler’s List
Read for Next Week:
On-Line Articles:

        Excerpt from The Real Oskar Schindler, by Herbert Steinhouse, U. of Penn. Dept. of English
"Schindler's List: An Interview with Steven Spielberg," by Susan Royal, Inside Film Magazine

Begin to write Paper #3: An opinion paper on which film you think better represents Oskar Schindler's role in saving Jews, the documentary Schindler or Schindler's List.  Guidelines for this paper will be posted here. 

View on Your Own: Schindler (the documentary)
PLEASE NOTE: If you are planning to do your second ungraded paper on the film Shoah, be aware it will be shown only once, on Sunday, April 15, in the Connelly Center Cinema.  Details about time and admission cost, if any, are forthcoming.

April 17- Oskar Schindler, continued

View in Class: Schindler’s List
Read for Next Week:

On-Line Articles:

        “America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference,” by Martin Ostrow
        ”America and the Holocaust,” by Robert Abzug

Keep Writing: Paper #3


April 24 -  The American Response
View in Class:  America and the Holocaust

Hand In: Paper #3

Turn in: Ungraded Paper #2, if you’ve chosen to write about Shoah OR Holocaust site(s). 

Write:  Paper #4: Your final paper will be a personal assessment of the film Train of Life, on reserve in the library.  A handout with suggested topics is posted here.