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How to Make Your Students Cry: Lessons in Atrocity, Pedagogy, and Heightened Emotion

Abstract: As the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, I have witnessed how the memory of atrocity haunts her everyday life. As a teacher of Holocaust literature, I discovered that atrocity as part of the daily activity of the classroom was a challenge with surprising results. Students cried in my class, and their tears became a productive pedagogical tool. They began to understand the incomprehensible horror of the Holocaust. In this essay, which is a hybrid of personal reflection and scholarly analysis, I explore my teaching experience and juxtapose it with my personal experience as a member of what is being called the “Third Generation.” I draw upon pedagogical methodologies, theories of rhetoric and psychoanalytic and literary interpretations of survivor testimony in my discussion of the intersection of the enormity of the Holocaust with the mundanity of teaching.

Part I: The Teacher

My grandmother is a Holocaust [1] survivor. She is a very active octogenarian: she maintains her own apartment, does all of her chores, bakes countless cookies, and avidly discusses politics. Each activity is structured as defense against memory — she combats the specter of atrocity every day. She has an arsenal of weapons to keep her memories at bay — daily rounds of laundry, cleaning, reading the paper — but sometimes even these are not enough to stave off the invasion of images that crowd into her head. So she talks.

Weekends, when I was younger, I would sit at her table, gorging myself on her delicious Hungarian pastry, and listen in horrified silence to her descriptions of Auschwitz, Grossrosen, Bergen-Belsen. Once she would begin her narrative, I became powerless to tell her, “Stop, you already told me this story,” or “You know, Bubbie, I am in no mood to hear your morbid tales today.” I am a captive audience, an unwilling student in a private seminar on pain and memory.

Sitting in her studio apartment, I never thought I would be in the role of the teacher myself; then, in the fall of 2001, shortly before the catastrophe of 9/11, which was another kind of holocaust, I became a teacher of Holocaust literature. I taught a two-semester literature and writing seminar for first-year students at Boston University titled, “Bearing Witness: Literature of the Holocaust.” The title was something of a misnomer; while the works we read in class were, for the most part, written by Holocaust survivors, the idea of “bearing witness” was not the focus of the course. I was not myself “bearing witness,” and the texts themselves are more or less effective in achieving that noble goal. In fact, the phrase “bearing witness” has become one of the most frequently used phrases connected with the Holocaust, and yet in its overuse, has been rendered inadequate at best, meaningless at worst. It is meant to summarize the supposed desires of the myriad Holocaust writers out there, desires that are, in real life, infinitely more complex than wanting to recount details of Holocaust atrocity. The texts and movies that claim to “bear witness” actually do more than that; they encapsulate individual histories and losses, and are laden with emotional, ethical, and philosophical questions, most of which remain unanswered. Primo Levi, in his brilliant work The Drowned and the Saved, questions the very efficacy of the idea of “bearing witness,” something his text purportedly does simply by existing. He undermines the impulse of readers to assume that every Holocaust narrative must “bear witness” by claiming that the true witnesses are the dead:

I must repeat: we, the survivors, are not the true witnesses…We survivors are not only an exiguous but also an anomalous minority: we are those who by their prevarications or abilities or good luck did not touch bottom. Those who did so, those who saw the Gorgon, have not returned to tell about it…They are the rule, we are the exception. (83-84)

If the Holocaust survivors like my grandmother are not the “true witnesses” in Levi’s eyes, and are therefore inadequate to the task of “bearing witness,” then their texts are also equally deficient. How, then, could I presume to teach the class I had designed? I realized, as I began teaching, that my class was not, and could not ever be, about witnessing atrocity or reading historical reports on it; rather, my class would have to be devised as a means of dealing with atrocity — of analyzing it, exploring its implications and reverberations, but not necessarily finding a way to reconcile it within myself or within my students. My concern was not to figure out what events led up to or caused the Holocaust, and it was also obviously not to describe what happened there. I was, and am, more concerned with what Geoffrey Hartman calls “the aftermath” (2). As a member of what is now being called “the Third Generation,” I am interested in exploring how the Holocaust haunts us today. My goal was to “convert [the facts of the Holocaust] into a potent and thoughtful rather than simply an emotional and burdening part of education” (Hartman, 2).

The problem was that my own education in the Holocaust had been something of an emotional burden. If trauma is heritable, perhaps I suffer from a trace of my grandmother’s trauma. Cynthia Ozick would support this theory of heritability, since she has written that no Jew is “untouched by this knowledge, this memory, this sorrowful heritage of victimization, however attenuated in our constitutionally wise and pleasant land” (277). Specifically, I have inherited a certain attitude toward the Holocaust: it was not, as some deem it, a moment in time when the world was out of joint. I, like my grandmother, do not believe that it was Fate, or God, that controlled the destiny or actions of so many. My grandmother prefers to see the Holocaust as a direct result of human action — or, in some cases, inaction — and her own survival is, therefore, the outcome of many thousands of small steps she took to preserve herself. Growing up with her, learning at her tea-table, means that the Holocaust has become divested of any romantic notions for me. I do not see any “spots of goodness in the cruelty” (Ozick, 278). The trend in popular discourse about the Holocaust has been to focus on finding goodness, a mending or healing, an “urgency, in the direction of redemption” (Ozick, 278). This search for closure can often be found in the Holocaust memoirs themselves; many Holocaust narratives, such as Elie Wiesel’s Night or Olga Lengyel’s Five Chimneys, end with liberation, as if with liberation came a sense of a redemptive ending to human terror. Lengyel’s work in particular suggests that a healing of self and of the world is possible after World War II; like Anne Frank, she believes in the inherent goodness of mankind. Readers of Anne Frank’s diary continue to hold on to the hopeful ideal of goodness triumphing over evil; but for scholars, particularly Jewish scholars like Ozick, Hartman, and Irving Howe, there is little optimism to be found in Holocaust literature. Howe writes:

In the years after the Holocaust, there was a certain amount of speculation that human consciousness could no longer be what it had previously been (a consoling thought — but for the likelihood that it is not true)…For good or bad, we remain the commonplace human stock, and whatever it is that we may do about the Holocaust we shall have to do with the work historical consciousness received from mankind’s past (198).

Despite the yearning for a happy ending to the Holocaust story, Howe suggests that the reality of human consciousness is that it does not change. I agree with Howe, as would my grandmother; for us, the Holocaust has ceased to be what it is for most people– an occasion to indulge in sentimental and self-righteous blather. What happened was terrible. How could the world let it happen? Humanity lost its humanity back then. We must never forget. Those kinds of thoughts are far too easy to summon up; they rise almost unbidden to people’s lips, like cursory responses such as “I’m fine, thanks, how are you?” I, like my grandmother, live with a low-level outrage at such reactions. We have a sense of anger that almost equals, in its strength, our sense of loss. Such sadness, such anger: these emotions are not easily neutralized. Momentary indulgences in facile, moralizing attitudes that make other people feel good are empty and unsatisfying signifiers.

In a classroom setting, however, I knew I would have to harness my outrage and try to be as neutral a listener and transmitter as possible, while also combating the impulse toward sentimentalization. My goal as a teacher was not to work out my own psychological knots, but to help my students think beyond the platitudes surrounding the Holocaust. I wanted to get them to see the moral complexities of atrocity, and to recognize the varied ways those thorny subjects have been represented in literature, to see the “links between representational techniques and ethical concerns” (Hartman, 2). While Hartman is opposed to burdening students with a purely emotional pedagogy (10), I discovered that the most powerful tool is the stimulation of emotional response — not one that is divorced from intellectual inquiry, but one that is encouraged by the pursuit of rigorous classroom discourse. I want to explore in this article the ways in which the emotional responses to the works we read in class worked as a productive pedagogical tool. I often felt as if the teaching of violent and powerful Holocaust prose and poetry was an act of violence in itself, and that I was inflicting pain on my students; yet the pain led, in many cases, to the students’ production of more thoughtful prose. My students’ emotions enabled better discussions of formal elements in literature, which led to better written expression in their own papers, and finally, to a deeper understanding of Holocaust narrative.

Getting students to study and write about the Holocaust without relying on clich√© proved to be a Herculean task. First, I met with the ordinary obstacles of daily classroom activity. Discussing atrocity and violence became absurd in the class setting; the memoirs and stories of the Holocaust rested cheek-by-jowl with common realities such as taking attendance, learning grammar, and discussing papers. A conversation about Primo Levi’s suicide or Jean Amery’s torture might be followed up, for example, with the business of handing out a homework assignment. While such activity wasn’t exactly trivializing, it was strange and bewildering to me and the students; we were constantly shifting gears between the univers concentrationnaire [2] and our world at Boston University.

Furthermore, I was teaching a course that combined literature with the teaching of composition, a required course for first-year students. The students were asked, in effect, to take an emotionally difficult subject and write analytical essays about it. Anyone who has taught college composition, or any writing course, will know the challenges that multiply by simply asking people to write. Chaos and resistance can ensue in any writing class, but this class in particular was fraught with panic. Students dreaded writing about a difficult subject, and the teacher dreaded reading anemic student prose that would reduce the Holocaust to its simplest form. I wanted to minimize that fear about writing, and I wanted them to get beyond the usual “neutral exposition” that I.A. Richards describes in The Philosophy of Rhetoric. [3]

In class, we bandied about the terms so often applied to the Holocaust: atrocity, horror, violence, murder, death. I doubted, however, the power of these words, which were vague approximations of the realities behind them, and I wondered how I could get my students to use other, stronger words. As Richards writes, the word “means the missing part of its contexts and is a substitute for them, so the…intention may be the substitute for the kick, — the missing part of its context” (40). I wanted my students to feel the “kick” of the prose they were writing. I often suspected that they were writing words and phrases that they thought I wanted to see, a common symptom of the writing style imposed on students by so many writing classes. My students in other composition classes had mastered the art of performing, but not really writing, by using a universalized public voice, one that masked whether or not they truly understood what they were reading (Miller, 93). [4] I wanted my Holocaust literature students to give me their honest and creative expression, without the performance.

Finally, I came up against the obstacle of my own position as teacher. Northrop Frye writes of the teacher’s role:

The teacher, as has been recognized at least since Plato’s Meno, is not primarily someone who knows instructing someone who does not know. He is rather someone who attempts to re-create the subject in the student’s mind, and his strategy in doing this is first of all to get the student to recognize what he already potentially knows, which includes breaking up the powers of repression in his mind that keep him from knowing what he knows. (xv) [5] .

The teacher’s goal — to recreate the subject — is met by devising methods or wielding pedagogical tools in the classroom on a daily basis. These tools give the teacher his or her alleged position of power. The method Frye suggests — that of “breaking up” the powers of repression — works best when the teacher himself or herself has already succeeded in breaking through the walls of his or her own repression. But what happens when the teacher is still “repressing” something within herself? The kind of knowledge taught to me by my grandmother was almost too terrible to share with students. I often find myself wishing I did not know what I know, or I want to ignore it, make it disappear. Could I really think of myself as invested with pedagogical power if I was unwilling to face the inherited pain and trauma I associated with the Holocaust? How could I, with my insider/outside perspective, make my students comprehend the tip of the proverbial iceberg? Any reader of Holocaust narrative knows that to begin to explain the inexplicable, one must suspend what he or she recognizes as “normal” or “real.” If the categories of “real” or “true” are questionable (as any good post-structuralist can tell us), then how was I, a teacher, supposed to “recreate” the Holocaust, with all of its atrocity, in a student’s mind? And why would anyone want to?

I thought about my grandmother’s lessons in Holocaust history, and what I could borrow from her pedagogy. What made my grandmother’s afternoon seminars so powerful was not her own outrage, but the emotion she was able to provoke in me through her words. I discovered, through teaching, that not only did I want to “recreate” the subject of the Holocaust in my students’ minds, but that I wanted to wield my outrage as a pedagogical tool. I wanted to transmit some of that anger and emotion to them. I wanted what Shoshanna Felman has called a “class in crisis” (47).

Felman describes a graduate seminar she taught at Yale that focused on literature of trauma; in addition to reading poetry and prose, the class also viewed videotapes of Holocaust testimony. Felman says that she was “taken by surprise” by the reaction of her students to the tapes: after the initial viewing, the students not only cried, but suddenly wanted to talk endlessly about the subject matter (48). As Felman writes, the desire to talk led the students to “break down the very framework of the class,” which constituted a trauma of its own (48-52). Having experienced the class as a trauma, the students were able to work through it and, as Felman states, submit written work at the end of the course that was articulate and reflective (52).

I knew that most of my undergraduates were not equipped with the same sophisticated analytic apparatuses as graduate students, and were perhaps incapable of breaking down the framework of the class in the same productive ways as Felman’s students. I was also, unlike Felman, a still inexperienced and young professor, and I was uncertain how to create a classroom atmosphere that would be conducive to an emotional analysis of the texts. After several weeks, however, my class, like Felman’s, was able to break down the framework of the class in small ways, and the outrage I was trying to stir up was beginning to destroy the repressive faculties in my students’ minds. The interesting phenomenon of such rupture was not entirely stimulated by me, however: the initial emotive response came from the students. Three times a week, for an entire semester (or two, for those dedicated students who suffered through an entire year of Holocaust readings), the students and I read and discussed memoirs, poetry, fiction and film. Students’ faces gradually changed from impassive, late-adolescent masks of boredom to mirrors of inner reflection. And then, they began to cry.

Part II: The Readings, the Students, and Their Essays

My students’ tears, instead of signifying a sentimentalized digestion of the Holocaust, proved to be a breakthrough in their comprehension of the texts we read. I was initially surprised and perplexed by their tears. In the college classroom, such discussion of affect seems distracting; in fact, any display of heightened emotion is seen as out of place. Even Felman’s graduate students, who cried during the viewing of the videotaped testimonies, did so in the private realm of someone’s apartment, and so were not subject to public scrutiny (Felman, 47). But when tears are shed in the company of other students, how does a teacher react? I responded, initially, by not responding; if a student cried, I would let a moment of silence go by, and then I would continue with the lesson as planned. I worried over this lack of responsiveness to the students’ tears; was I being cold? Neglectful? Insensitive? I later came to view them as an effective means of stimulating intellectual discussion. Education experts have been talking for years about “affective education.” [6] Researchers claim that a classroom in which teachers are aware of their students’ feelings, and openly discuss the subject of emotions, leads to a facilitation in students’ “personal integration.” [7] In such situations, the teacher becomes a kind of moral transmitter, teaching students what may not be taught to them in the home: how to make daily decisions about human action (John Miller, 27).

Throughout the literature of “affective education” runs a common theme: the teacher is meant to be a nurturant, a moral stimulator, and overall, a warm, compassionate, and supportive presence (John Miller, 26, 44). Since I am not trained as an affective educator, I had few strategies to rely on for responding to or using students’ tears effectively. Instead of becoming a more nurturing, supportive, affective educator, however, I did not discuss the emotional impact these texts might have on them. The ways that affective learning eventually crept into my classroom was that students confessed to being emotionally affected by what they were experiencing in the class, and the public voicing of their inner reactions forced me to deal with affect in the classroom.

The first instance of heightened emotion in the class came early in the fall semester. After the first few readings, which included Elie Wiesel’s famous and brief memoir, Night, my students would come to office hours to discuss their papers. Many reported that they were having nightmares. Some had been unable to finish Night, because they kept “bursting into tears.” These confessions only took place in the relatively private space of my office; no one dared to express strong emotion in class. Then, shortly after that, one student went to hear Elie Wiesel speak. While describing the lecture, she mentioned that she was struck by his very presence, even more than by what he said. She reported that while she watched him, she could only think about what he went through, and that this knowledge made his living, breathing form on the podium seem miraculous. “I’m choking up again thinking about it!” were her closing words, her eyes filled with tears and she had to stop talking.

I reacted with silence; I then turned to the students and asked them if they had anything to say. Surprisingly, the student’s tears stimulated a spirited discussion of Wiesel’s memoir, in which students began to publicly confess to having had difficulty reading Night. I was struck by how the text alone had not managed to elicit empathy from my students, but rather, the visual connection between author and text resulted in a display of public, collective empathy. It was not until this one young woman’s outburst that students began to visualize Wiesel and his narrative as “real,” and therefore as potentially moving. Reading a testimony like Night is a private, but detached, event. Students encountering Holocaust literature and history for the first time often do not know what to picture when reading; but viewing a film, for example, or hearing a survivor speak about his experience, suddenly and shockingly teaches the student an important lesson: what you were imagining was tame, insufficient. Students (and all readers of Holocaust testimony who are not survivors themselves) do not have the visual vocabulary to match the words they read, so that the word “crematorium” might not bring to mind the exact ovens at Auschwitz. It takes a documentary film, or a survivor’s lecture, to paint a vivid picture of such realities in the students’ minds. By proxy, it seemed, they were able to react to the text, and thereby, push the boundaries of typical classroom behavior.

Oral accounts, or visual artifacts are powerful because they offer the shock of the “real.” They lack the familiar, comforting structure of literature, which creates a buffer between reader and event. But oral narratives — like the ones Felman showed her graduate students, or live lectures like Elie Wiesel’s, or my grandmother’s stories — are sometimes less effective means of communication because of the limitations of spoken language. Speeches and interviews also have little in common with regular oral discourse, and often fail to make the encounter between text and audience a comfortable one (Langer, 20). In fact, the result of hearing an oral testimony is usually the opposite of reading one:

Normal oral discourse — the speech, the lecture, the political address — assumes that the audience is no mystery and that competent presentation…will rouse and hold an audience’s interest…But the first effect of many of these [Holocaust] testimonies is just the opposite, no matter how vivid the presentation: they induce fear, confusion, shame, horror, skepticism, even disbelief…Unlike the writer, the witness here lacks inclination and strategies to establish and maintain a viable bond between the participants and the encounter. (20)

Lawrence Langer suggests that written testimonies might be more effective ways of “holding” an audience’s “interest” than an oral narrative. Written narratives are, as he says, shaped by various literary devices which might appeal more to a reader’s sensibilities, while oral narratives are stripped of such writerly accoutrements. Their bareness, their unmitigated energy, their lack of metaphor, is their strength, but also their weakness. Written accounts, as Langer explains, “prod the imagination in ways that speech cannot, striving for analogies to initiate readers into the particularities of their grim world” (18). Writers of Holocaust memoirs use various literary strategies, such as style, chronology, imagery, dialogue, to narrow the gap between author and reader, thereby “easing us” into an unfamiliar world (Langer 19). Even though the written narrative might prove to be, as Langer describes it, “an unsettling challenge” (17), the form of the narrative is familiar and therefore reassuring (17). This familiarity is, perhaps, what often leads readers to mistake the emotional and intellectual challenges presented by Holocaust narratives for pure sentiment.

That my students needed the author-text connection between Wiesel and Night in order to cry was not surprising; what surprised and pleased me more was when they began to respond publicly to works that were more difficult, and less familiar. I noticed that certain kinds of literature were more effective in evoking rage or sadness in students. Some students responded more strongly to poetry, others to prose; some reacted to fiction, others to memoirs. In an effort to increase the level of emotional response, I paid closer attention to the types of texts my students were crying about. Most students, particularly women, admitted to being especially moved by the writings of Charlotte Delbo. We read from her deceptively simple collections, Auschwitz and After and Days and Memory. After reading a section of Days and Memory, one girl raised her hand in class and confessed, “I haven’t been as moved by anything we read in class so far. I’m getting teary right now thinking about it.” This time, I was ready for her tears; I followed up her confession with a question: why did Delbo’s prose affect her more than, for example, Wiesel’s?

My student responded to Delbo’s works because they seemed much closer to fiction or poetry than to historical memoir, but they were as naked and unmitigated as a visual image. All the students in the class believed, upon first readings, that her vignettes and prose sculptures must be fiction; this initial belief intrigued them and made the text seem more appealing. When I informed them that her pieces are based on her real-life experiences, the students were visibly impressed with her ability to turn oral history into poetry. While they had been moved by Wiesel’s testimonies, they were not awed by his narrative honesty; they were seduced by Delbo’s literary experimentalism. It was precisely this challenge to the students’ idea of testimony that began our class discussions of Delbo. The student who admitted to being incredibly moved by Delbo, one of my most sophisticated students, said she liked reading Delbo better than Wiesel because Delbo’s prose was uncluttered by narrative details, and focused more on the emotional, inner world of the author than did even Wiesel’s confessions.

Not only Delbo’s quality of prose, but her gender, seemed to play an important role in students’ appreciation of Delbo. The majority of my students were women, and they empathized with Delbo; just as Delbo inhabited various invented voices in her text, so did my students. Young women who had been touched, but not moved to tears, by Wiesel’s account were suddenly crying over Delbo, particularly the poems where Delbo describes the ache of longing for her mother or husband. One student admitted that she was moved to tears by one of Delbo’s “mother” poems precisely because she began thinking about her own relationship to her mother. Another student was affected by the poem “Kalavrita of the Thousand Antigones,” a paean to the women of Greece who lost all the male members of their families one night during the German invasion. This student said that when she read the poem, she identified with it by imagining what would happen if “someone came at night to take away all the male members of [her] family.” Clearly, Delbo’s experience as a woman in the univers concentrationnaire led her to make connections between her pain and that of other women who suffered losses as a result of war. Her ability to translate her experience across borders, both physical and imagined, caught the attention of my women students, who then transferred some of Delbo’s vision onto their own lives.

The students’ personalized reactions enabled us to enter into a discussion about formal elements of Holocaust literature, as well as formal elements of a hypothetical essay that would analyze such literature. The students were quick to see the complexities of a writer like Delbo, and could also apply what we said about her flexible genres to other Holocaust narratives. We discussed her powerful use of the first-person voice, and how it blurred the lines between fiction and non-fiction. In examining the use of Delbo’s narratorial “I,” students raised the question of introducing the first-person into their own texts, the essays they were producing for class. They felt that Delbo’s unconventional writing served her well; it was, they said, like reading someone’s journal, and this kind of private/public writing was something they, too, wanted to experiment with in more unconventional academic essays. They were searching for a way to channel their emotional responses into their otherwise guarded and careful writing. In a final move to further personalize and humanize the classroom, they sought to break down the framework of the typical college essay, and I welcomed their eagerness to do so.

The resulting papers were of a much higher quality than I had expected. The introduction of the personal into an otherwise scholarly paper was not disruptive or antithetical to the paper’s goals, but became integrated into the theme and structure of the essay. Some of the students began writing about their grandparents, who were also survivors; others wrote about the experience of reading Holocaust literature. Once the students saw that they could write using the first-person voice, they felt released to use more interesting language. Gone was the stultifying “neutral” tone of print culture; the students’ papers were clear, precise, and often lyrical. Most importantly, they were interesting to read, and therefore easier to grade. Universities often balk at the teaching of personal or familiar essays in expository writing classes, claiming that students then fail to learn how to write papers in their own discipline; my experience with integrating the personal into the classroom proved to be a successful, though unintentional, experiment.

Part III: The Teacher, Revisited

The vital goal — to get the students to understand the Holocaust as something that cannot or should not be sentimentalized — is a harder one to measure than the success of those final papers. It seems to me that, in becoming more well-informed readers and more experimental writers of texts, my students were able to face the ugliness and enormity of the Holocaust, and that some of them ceased to trivialize it by using the language of cliche when referring to it. The ability to put themselves into their essays, I hope, forced them to place themselves in the shoes of survivors, or survivors’ children and grandchildren — in writing what it was like to read about the Holocaust, many of them suffered a kind of “trauma” that is almost like the terrible, inherited knowledge that I possess. I wanted them to go through that trauma, to become elective witnesses, rather than legatees by birth. [8] I wish I could say that I successfully managed to use the tears of my students to turn each and every one of them into first-class essayists, as well as fine interpreters of Holocaust testimony. I have no real way of measuring to what extent these goals were achieved; while many of my students attained a level of skill that surpassed my expectations, many of them, I’m sure, still make grammatical errors, as well as the usual inane remarks about the atrocity of the Holocaust.

I also wish I could say that my anger, sadness, and other turbulent emotions regarding the Holocaust have diminished as a result of teaching. It would be a happy ending to my tale, a neat way to wrap things up: a teacher allows tears to dictate a new pedagogy in her classroom and — abracadabra! — her own inner demons are exorcised! I wish it were that simple, but the emotional damage sustained by my grandmother exerts its pressures on me even as I write this sentence. I also feel the weight of another kind of urgency; as a teacher who has been touched by the Holocaust, I have been cast in the sometimes ineluctable and undesirable goal of near-eyewitness. If the true witnesses are dead, and the secondary witnesses begin to die out, the memory of the Holocaust’s atrocity threatens to wither. I am not afraid that it will be entirely replaced by denial, but rather, that it will shrink in power and be substituted by what Hartman calls “anti-memory – something that displays the colors of memory…but drifts toward the closure of forgetful ritualization” (10). A student’s tears brought on by poetry might turn out to be the means of combating anti-memory; if that is the case, I am ready with the Kleenex.


[1] My use of the word “Holocaust” here is very specific — I use it to refer to the terrorizing, destruction and murder of European Jewry, and other minorities and political prisoners, at the hands of the Nazis during the period of 1933-1945.

[2] These words, meaning “concentrationary universe,” is an inclusive term that refers to the system of concentration camps, ghettoes, and other prison-like or otherwise oppressive structures within the Nazi belt of authority; I borrow this term from Delbo, who uses it in almost all her works, including Auschwitz and After and Days and Memory.

[3] In discussing print culture and the ways in which it has changed the nature of rhetoric, Richards writes: “But neutral exposition is a very special limited use of language, comparatively a late development to which we have not yet (outside some parts of the sciences) adapted.” See I.A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (London: Oxford UP, 1936), 40.

[4] Susan Miller discusses the bifurcation of student writing as a split between expression of inner perceptions and abstract argument using a “universalized, public expert voice” (93). This split limits the range of appropriate student discourse (93).

[5] See Northrop Frye, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. New York: Harvest Harcourt Brace & Co., 1982.

[6] The terms “affective education” and “humanistic education” or “psychological education” are used by education theorists interchangeably to signify a set of specific teaching approaches devised by various educators and psychologists to increase the level of emotional discourse in the classroom setting (John Miller, 5-8). These approaches range from discussing how the students feel about a particular problem in the world, to talking about tensions that exist within the classroom.

[7] John Miller describes personal integration as an individual’s commitment to his or her own growth and development; the individual who seeks to become integrated must understand that such personal grwoth is processual and happens over time (5). Miller suggests that such personal integration can occur as a direct result of affective education, as long as the teacher and student work in earnest to achieve this together (5-8).

[8] I borrow the idea of the elective witnesses from Hartman, who calls them “witnesses by adoption” or “those people who have adopted themselves into the family of victims” (8). I expand on Hartman’s meaning a bit; I believe there are those who seek to identify themselves not only with the victims, but with the storytellers and scholars as well, those who feel a moral or ethical imperative to learn about the Holocaust and pass on that information. This group of people includes students as well as teachers, non-Jews as well as Jews.

Works Cited

Delbo, Charlotte. Auschwitz and After. Trans. Rosette Lamont. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. Trans of Auscshwitz et Apres: 1965, 1970.

—————-. Days and Memory. Trans. Rosette Lamont. Evanston: Marlboro Press, 2001. Trans of La memoire et les jours: 1985.

Felman, Shoshanna and Dori Laub. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Frye, Northrop. The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. New York: Harvest Harcourt Brace & Co., 1982.

Hartmann, Geoffrey. The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

Howe, Irving. “Writing and the Holocaust.” Writing and the Holocaust. Ed. Berel Lang. New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, Inc., 1988.

Langer, Lawrence. Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

———————. “Introduction.” Auschwitz and After. Charlotte Delbo. Trans. Rosette Lamont. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Levi, Primo. The Drowned and the Saved. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal. New York: Vintage International, 1988. Trans of Sommersi e i salvati: 1986.

Miller, John P. Humanizing the Classroom. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1976.

Miller, Susan. Assuming the Positions: Cultural Pedagogy and the Politics of Commonplace Writing. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.

Ozick, Cynthia. Address. Writing and the Holocaust. Ed. Berel Lang. New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, Inc., 1988.

Richards, I.A. The Philosophy of Rhetoric. London: Oxford University Press, 1936.

Author: Natalie Friedman is Assistant Professor of English, and the Director of Composition and the Writing Center at Marymount College, the women’s college of Fordham University. She received her Ph.D. from New York University in 2001. Her scholarship focuses on twentieth-century American literature, with a subspecialty in Holocaust Studies. She is currently working on a critical analysis of assimilation in immigrant novels, and editing a collection of essays about the Holocaust.

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