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GERMAN 195 A: Popular Film and the Holocaust

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:00pm - 2:20pm
PAA A118
Joint Sections: 
JEW ST 175 A, GERMAN 195 B
Richard Block

Syllabus Description:

Popular Film and the Holocaust; Autumn 2019

German 195A/B, JEW ST 175A

T, Th: 1:00 pm - 2:20 pm PAA A118


Instructor: Prof. Richard Block (Email:

Office Hours: T 11:30-12:30 pm, Th 11:50 am-12:50 pm or by appt. Denny 345.


Assistants: Aaron Carpenter (Email:

Office Hours: T 10:30-11:20 am, Th 11:30 am-12:20 pm or by appt. Denny 400K (TA Loft 4th floor).


Kristina Pilz, PhD (Email:

Office Hours: M,W 11:30 am-12:30 pm or by appt. Denny 337.


Detlev Weber (Email:

Office Hours: Th 2:30 - 3:30 pm, F 12:30 - 1:30 pm or by appt. Denny 400K (TA Loft 4th floor).


Have we learned nothing? Recent events around the globe and here at home have revived frightful memories of the Holocaust and the devastating possibility that history could repeat itself. Already, we have heard talk of arm bands, national registries of people of a specific faith, and even mass deportations. The devaluation of Jewish and Roma life, in particular, that led to the slaughter of 11 million people, is repeating itself with respect to immigrants and Muslims in particular. In this course, we will ask ourselves why have we learned nothing. Given the virtual industry that has grown up around the Holocaust, the thousands of films, memoirs, novels, songs, operas etc., why has its central and most compelling message—that nothing can justify or redeem genocide-been lost? Why might we be destined to repeat the past?


To pursue an answer to this set of questions, we will look at how the Holocaust was represented in popular film from 1945 to the present. More to the point, we will consider how the challenges of representing deeds so horrific led many filmmakers to end up with a movie at cross-purposes with itself. That is, instead of bearing witness to the Holocaust, the film is sidetracked by competing concerns, especially the Cold War. Likewise, the box office rules; viewers demand a happy ending to something that has no happy ending.   Finally, we will ask ourselves just how many films are really about the Holocaust and not just a trite tale that appropriates the Holocaust to pump up the volume.

Sept. 26:  Course Introduction. Short History of Jew Hatred and Antisemitism.

Oct 1:  Background:  History of the Jews in Germany and Europe.  “The Jewish Problem.”

Oct. 3, 8:  Bleeding History: Art Spiegelman:  Maus I.

Oct. 10:  Early Documentaries and the Cold War: Memory of the Camps. (Hitchcock & Wilder)

Oct. 15: The Holocaust as Dirge: Night and Fog. (Alain Resnais)

Oct. 17 & 22: Comedy, New Technologies,  and the Holocaust: The Great Dictator. Charles Chaplain. Excerpt: The Producers; “Springtime for Hitler.”

Oct. 24 & 29: The Survivor Reborn…as Christian. The Pawnbroker. Sydney Lumet.(OCTOBER 29: MIDTERM DUE)

Oct. 31 & Nov. 5: Hollywood Conventions and their Limitations. Schindler’s List. Steven Spielberg

Nov. 7 & 12: Shoah. Claude Lanzmann (NOVEMBER 12: BERGEN EXAM DUE).

Nov. 14 & 19: An Answer to Shoah: A Film Unfinished. Yael Hersonski

Nov. 21 & 26: A Second Answer to Shoah or “The Innocent Monster”: Son of Saul.  László Nemes. Also read Didi-Huberman’s essay, „Son of Saul is a monster...“


Dec. 3: On second look... Maus 2. Art Spiegelmann.

Dec. 5: Course Conclusion; preparation for the final

Catalog Description: 
Introduces films about the Holocaust with particular emphasis on popular films. Develops the requisite tools for analyzing films, a historical perspective of the Holocaust, and the problems involved in trying to represent a historical event whose tragic dimensions exceed the limits of the imagination. Offered: jointly with JEW ST 175.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
September 25, 2019 - 4:10am