The University of Southampton

HIST1091 Responses to the Holocaust

Module Overview

In this module we will explore contemporary responses to and post-war representations of the genocide, through media such as testimonies, literature, film, and music

Module Co-ordinator: Dr Shirli Gilbert

Aims and Objectives


The aims of this module are:

  • to introduce you to some of the critical questions surrounding the study of the Holocaust, through a detailed engagement with primary sources such as diaries, songs, literature, and film
  • to help you develop a broader understanding of Holocaust history, and the ways in which it continues to feature in today's world


 More than 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust-the systematic mass murder of six million European Jews, as well as homosexuals, communists, Roma, and other victims during the Second World War-the subject still generates extensive discussion and controversy, in intellectual circles as well as in the wider political world.

In this module we will explore the history of the Holocaust on two levels: the responses of those targeted for genocide, and post-war memory of these events among survivors, the populations of Europe, and beyond. We will use a range of sources, from diaries, songs, and testimonies to artworks, literature, and film. Through these sources we will tackle some of the questions that still challenge our understanding of the Holocaust today, such as: Did the victims do enough to resist? Did the Allied governments do enough to help them? Are there limits to how such catastrophic events can be represented? What are the politics of memory and commemoration?

In the first part of the module we will explore victims' responses. How did individuals live in conditions of persecution and systematic mass murder? We will focus on victims' experiences of everyday life in Nazi Germany and in the ghettos and camps, including cultural and religious life, efforts to document what they were witnessing, and resistance.

In the second part of the module we will look at some external responses to the genocide, beginning with an examination of the actions of the Allied governments and Churches during the war. We will then shift our focus to explore the challenges of coming to terms with this traumatic past in the post-war decades. How has popular culture helped to shape the public's understanding of the Holocaust and what do museums and memorials in Europe, Israel, and the United States tell us about how those countries have chosen to remember the events?

Learning and Teaching

Study time allocation

Contact hours:2
Private study hours:10
Total study time: 12 hours

Teaching and learning methods

The module will be taught through lectures and seminars, with tutor-led contributions introducing key topics. Students will prepare for seminars through independent reading from lists provided by the tutor and will be expected to participate in discussions.

Resources and reading list

 Doris L. Bergen, War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003)

The Holocaust: Critical Historical Approaches, ed. Donald Bloxham and Tony Kushner (Manchester UP, 2005)

Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness

Marion A Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany

Nicholas Stargardt, "Children's Art of the Holocaust," Past and Present 161 (1998)

Primo Levi, If This is a Man

Omer Bartov, Murder in our Midst: The Holocaust, Industrial Killing, and Representation, Oxford University Press

Shirli Gilbert, Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps (Oxford, 2005).

Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor's Tale (I: My Father Bleeds History & II: And Here My Troubles Began)

James Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning


Assessment methods

1 written essay (1000 words) 20%
1 written essay (2000 words) 40%
Examination (1 hour) 40%

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