Poland - Witnessing Auschwitz

CENS 303D | 3 Credits

About the program

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.

Eligibility requirements

General Global Seminar requirements

  • You must have at least a 70% average in your most recent Winter Session of full-time studies prior to application
  • You need to be a UBC student in good standing (e.g. not be under academic or non-academic discipline) to participate in a Global Seminar
  • You should have full-time student status (as defined by your faculty) in the year prior to your Global Seminar
  • You must maintain 70% average prior to your Global Seminar departure
  • You must have completed or intend to complete the necessary (or equivalent) pre-requisite courses prior to Global Seminar start date
  • Unclassified students will be considered on a case-by-case basis
  • You will need to be accepted by the Program Director leading the Global Seminar

Program-specific requirements

The course has no specific prerequisites. Open to students from all faculties.

General timelines

Students will be in Poland for 20 days (May 5-23) and will meet in Vancouver from June 10-17.

Program dates May 5 to June 17, 2021. 

May 5-8 Warsaw – 4 days (introduction to the history of Jews in Poland and Eastern Europe, Warsaw Ghetto and Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Treblinka Death Camp)

May 9-21 Auschwitz – days (lectures, workshops, guided tours, individual and group research activities)

May 21-22Cracow – 2 days (Krakow Jewish Quarter and Plaszow Concentration Camp, onsite lectures, research activities)

May 23, Warsaw – 1 day (final discussions)

Meetings in Vancouver:
June 10 – 17

  • Meetings with the instructor and survivors in Musqueam Cultural Center;
  • Seminar and on-site lecture in MOA
  • Seminar and discussion at UBC’s Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (RSHDC)
  • Individual research meetings
  • Closing seminar and discussion.

Application deadline

January 18, 2021

How to apply

  • Log in to the Gateway online application program
  • Select “Search Experiences” and type "GSP" to explore Global Seminars programs
  • Upload the application form for your selected Global Seminar – see Application documents below

Please note that you can apply for up to a maximum of 2 Global Seminars.

Students are encouraged to meet with the Program Director at an orientation session or one-on-one to learn more about the program.

Program fees and costs

Approximately $2300-2600 + tuition, flight and meals*

The program fee includes accommodation, program-related travel, and excursions (once in Poland), and the Go Global fee.  Participants are responsible for tuition, flights, visas, meals, and Incidentals. 

Students do not pay the Go Global fee when applying to a Global Seminar. The Go Global fee is built into the Program Fee and is payable after acceptance into the program.  Students will not be charged any fees until programs have been confirmed.

All qualifying students will receive a $1000 Go Global Award.

UBC understands the value and impact, that international programs can have on a students’ academic experience. The university also acknowledges the unpredictable nature of planning international programs during a global pandemic.  To learn more about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Go Global Programs, please visit the Go Global student FAQ during COVID-19


If you are considering applying for a Go Global program and identify with having a disability or pre-existing health condition (mental or physical) which could impact your participation, or if you require academic accommodations, you can contact the following offices and meet with an Accessibility Advisor before the start of the program:

Pre-departure policy

Safety abroad

UBC is committed to preparing students for safe and successful international experiences. In order to achieve this, any student participating in a Go Global Program must complete the following:

  • All UBC Student Safety Abroad requirements
  • Go Global Program-specific pre-departure requirements (includes both online and in-person components)

Failure to successfully complete these and any other requirements may result in withdrawal from the Go Global Program.


Go Global Vancouver

Go Global's campus office is closed until further notice. At this time, you can contact Go Global by email, phone or virtually through Zoom.

If you need to book an advising appointment, please complete the online request form. Appointments will be held through Zoom or by phone.

Advising hours

Monday: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Tuesday: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Thursday: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm