- Teaching the Representation of the Holocaust, and: Voices and Views: A History of the Holocaust
A teacher of Holocaust history, whether in a history course or an interdisciplinary one, now has an almost dizzying selection of texts from which to choose. Michael Berenbaum's The World Must Know,1 available for over a decade, has been very well received by students in my classes: it is readable, has color illustrations and maps, images of artifacts, and period photographs; it highlights the American involvement in World War II and the discovery of the camps. More recently, I have used Doris Bergen's admirable War and Genocide,2 which situates the Holocaust within the larger context of European history and is the first such history to give attention, in both text and photographs, to gender issues. When I have needed a short text to introduce the basic history of the Holocaust in a literature class, I have turned to Peter Neville's The Holocaust,3 which is well-illustrated and a scant 91 pages, but, regrettably, gives no attention to gender. The ever-expanding number of texts for and about teaching the Holocaust is at once heartening and overwhelming.
Two recent works add to this literature. Marianne Hirsch and Irene Kacandes' Teaching the Representation of the Holocaust offers teachers of Holocaust studies new pedagogical paradigms and possibilities, while Debórah Dwork's Voices and Views: A History of the Holocaust provides a possible new history text. Teaching the Representation of the Holocaust could be broadly used by instructors of the Shoah, as it presents ideas for teaching survivor memoirs, which are an almost universal part of Holocaust classes. The specialized focus of Voices and Views makes its application somewhat narrower. [End Page 134]
Hirsch, who teaches at Columbia University, and Kacandes, who teaches at Dartmouth College, have created a remarkably useful volume both for faculty new to teaching the Shoah and for those seeking new approaches. The book is part of an extensive series of "how to teach" books published by the Modern Language Association, with topics ranging from film theory to Shakespeare to children's literature. Thirty-six Holocaust studies scholars—most of whom teach in America; three in Israel and two in Canada—have contributed thoughtful, engaging essays to the anthology. These faculty come from a wide variety of disciplines—languages, history, film, literature, Jewish studies, philosophy, and classics—which greatly enriches the collection. Contributors include a number of well-recognized Holocaust scholars, as well as both new and younger scholars making important contributions to the field.
As its title indicates, this volume focuses on teaching representations of the Holocaust and thus differs from existing books on Holocaust pedagogy, such as Stephen Haynes' Holocaust Education and the Church-Related College: Restoring Ruptured Traditions4 and Simon Sibelman's collection Teaching the Shoah in the Twenty-First Century.5 Hirsch and Kacandes open their anthology with a thirty-three page introduction that confronts the challenges and controversies of teaching the Shoah. "Can the story be told?" they ask, quoting Jorge Semprun (p. 1). Noting that "for teachers and students in the humanities, the Holocaust has become a limit case, a prime site for testing aesthetic and ethical theories about mediation and representability" (p. 3), they argue that "the study of the Holocaust has the potential for bringing into sharper relief a number of the current preoccupations in the humanities" (p. 5). The editors discuss the problems of terminology—Holocaust, Shoah, hurban, genocide, Endlösung, Porrajmos—as well as the question of who has the right to speak about the Holocaust. Hirsch and Kacandes write candidly about their own "subject positions"—i.e. their personal relationships (or lack thereof) with the Holocaust and/or survivors—in this regard. They also address one of the most persistent quandaries teachers face: achieving a...