About the course
This course is led by UBC faculty member Bozena Karwowska
This course will examine representations of the Nazi Holocaust and related aspects of Nazi Germany by focusing on Auschwitz. Auschwitz was a place in which several frequently conflicting agendas of the Third Reich intersected: it was an industrial compound, a concentration camp, a medical research site, and an extermination facility; it served to imprison, terrorize, enslave, and kill. Its operation as well as the so-called “twisted road” that led to it provide a horrific and revealing example of the strange ways in which the Third Reich ruled by a strange mixture of chaos and consent. More importantly, Auschwitz is a site of conflicting memories that raise the question how, and if at all, it can be remembered and commemorated in ways that resist both sentimentalization and the recourse to conventional literary or cinematographic imagery.
After introducing you to the history of Jewish settlement in Poland (including development of Yiddish literature) and the so-called phase one of the extermination (Warsaw Ghetto), the course will explore issues related to Auschwitz by analysing a set of diverse texts including research-based academic studies, first-hand accounts (by both victims and perpetrators), interviews, documentaries, feature films and literary fictionalization.
While the summer section follows the general schedule of CENS 303, the course is taught on site, and video material will be in a large part replaced by study tours. Because of research opportunities on site, there will be a larger focus on research components of the course. Regular quizzes and midterm essay will be replaced by journals, and by a research or educational project.
You will be introduced to the topic prior to the trip to Poland during in class and online lessons (at least 2 weeks before the departure). You will be expected to read memoirs and literary texts before they arrive in Poland.
About the experience
A typical day might include:
- two 90 minute lectures, or a lecture and a study visit
- time for individual study, research or individual meetings with researchers and experts, and/or a group seminar (60 - 90 minutes)
A sample day in Warsaw:
All lectures are in the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute.
The Life and Extermination of the Warsaw Ghetto – lecture and discussion
Holocaust exhibitions in Polin Museum – on-site lecture (curatorial tour)
Time for individual study
Jews in Poland after the Shoah – lecture, and discussion
Jewish Cemetery on Okopowa Street – on-site lecture (study tour)
Reflection and/or study time, individual meetings with researchers
Sample day in Auschwitz-Birkenau:
All lectures are in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum
The Genocide of Sinti and Roma – lecture and workshop on the exhibition in block no.13
Medicine and medical experiments in KL Auschwitz – on site lecture (tour of Blok 10)
Individual study time, Research discussion groups meetings and activities
The archives and their contents - workshop in block 24 (Museum Archives)
Preserving for the future, on site lecture (study tour of the conservation department
Individual or group reflection time, Individual meetings with researchers, archivists and librarians
Notable environmental conditions:
The weather in Poland is very similar to Vancouver’s weather. Outside of Warsaw, in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, there is a lot of muddy, grassy or forested areas. In Warsaw and Krakow, remember about respectful clothing in Synagogues, cemeteries, and churches.
Lots of traveling by train and bus (pack lightly!) between Warsaw-Krakow-Oswiecim (Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum). 40 minutes walk from the city of Oswiecim to the Auschwitz Museum and back in the second week of the Auschwitz part of the seminar. (Full shoes, hats, bug repellent, and sunscreen are essential)
Sensitive or potentially triggering content:
Very sensitive topics of Holocaust studies are discussed in locations of the former Warsaw Ghetto and in the place (and facilities) of the former concentration camp.
While the cities (Warsaw, Krakow, and Oswiecim) offer ample venues and possibilities for social life and various lighter activities helping to prevent depressing moods, during the second week of the trip students are in a hotel outside the city, close to the entrance of the Museum. No public/social life around, not a lot of activities outside of the seminar available. This may be difficult for more sensitive or less motivated students.
In Warsaw, students will stay in the guest rooms at Dluga 29, in the former Hotel Polski. There are 3-4 people rooms with shared bathrooms at the corridor. The guest rooms are chosen because of their central location and historical value. Students will learn about the history of the Hotel Polski and its importance for Jews who survived after the Ghetto Uprising.
In Oswiecim (next to the entrance to the Museum) students will be in a 3-star hotel, Hotel Olecki. 2-3 people rooms with bathrooms. 5 minutes from the entrance to the Museum.
In the city of Oswiecim students will stay in a bed and breakfast villa (2-3 people rooms with bathrooms). It is located in the center of the city, 40 minutes walk to and from the Museum. Very close to stores, restaurants, and cafés.
In Krakow, students will stay in a dorm in the Academic City, 20 minutes from the historical city center.