Book Reviews

Testimony, Tensions, and  Tikkun: Teaching the Holocaust in Colleges and Universities
Myrna Goldenberg and Rochelle L. Millen, eds.

Seattle:  University of Washington Press, 2007. 328 pp. Illustrations, notes,  index. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-295-98687-6.
Reviewed for H-German by Lynn Marie Kutch, Department of Modern Language  Studies, Kutztown University

Repairing the World through Holocaust Education

Donald Felipe, a contributing scholar to the present collection of  essays, summarizes the challenges and responsibilities of Holocaust  educators: "One cannot teach about the Holocaust and remain an objective  bystander passing on knowledge and moral lessons. Teaching will  necessarily involve us--who we are and what we do!" (p. 96). Having the  general subject matter of the Holocaust in common, the articles' authors  show readers who they are and what they do with that subject through  diverse pedagogical approaches. In a well-organized format, the editors  of the book have compiled a highly readable set of essays offering  practical suggestions for educators across the disciplines. Whether  devoting an entire course to the Holocaust or incorporating its themes  into a general education seminar, instructors can refer to this book's  field-tested ideas for improving knowledge and deepening their own and  students' understanding of the Holocaust.

According to the book's introduction, the collection of essays  constitutes an "exploration of the experience of teaching the Holocaust"  (p. 4). Each contributing essay substantiates that the book as a whole  does not remain a theoretical study of the abstract possibilities of  teaching the Holocaust. Instead, the volume assembles essays in moral  courage and ethical struggles as they relate to academia. In his essay,  "Cross-Disciplinary Notes: Four Questions for Teaching the Shoah," David  R. Blumenthal cites the results of sociological studies that show  perpetrators' and altruists' willingness to "do as they are instructed"  (p. 167). Blumenthal then forcefully argues that, as instructors, we  have the obligation to instruct students to act morally. This  exceedingly worthwhile book reinforces the idea that planned,  structured, accurate, and provocative Holocaust courses can help  instructors to act morally by healing, repairing, and transforming  through their work.

The book is divided into three main sections: "Course Content," "The  Process and Nature of Student Learning," and "Progress, and Process:  Higher Education, Museums and Memorials." As the book's introduction  states, "Teaching the Holocaust invokes silence but also invites  students to break that silence" (p. 16). The remainder of the book  speaks to teachers of virtually all disciplines, and instructs them on  encouraging their students to analyze and break their own silences about  this often misunderstood or over-sensationalized subject.

With its interdisciplinary texture, part 1, "Course Content,"  demonstrates the reach of the Holocaust into nearly every academic  department. While some authors describe general applications suitable  for writing-intensive or composition courses, others present course  outlines that relate to a specialized field like visual arts or  architecture. Representative of the former group, Beth Hawkins Benedix,  in her essay "Looking for Words: Teaching the Holocaust in  Writing-Intensive Courses," explains in clear detail how she assimilates  Holocaust-related literature into both a college writing course and one  on modern continental European literature. Hawkins Benedix provides  concrete and creative ideas that will help students deconstruct  materials and rediscover the relationship between form and content.  Ultimately, she brings her students closer to an understanding that  "language was instrumental in constructing, perpetuating, and ultimately activating a fatal set of premises" (p. 66). Falling into the category  of more specialized instructors, Stephen Feinstein approaches the topic  by confronting visual arts depicting the Holocaust and its aftermath. In  an accessible style, Feinstein not only identifies difficulties of using  art but also describes his successful strategies for incorporating art  into college courses. Feinstein confidently states the following outcome  of studying artistic representations: "[The artists'] approaches ... can  also lead to interesting breakthroughs dealing with questions of  identity, theology, and modernity and may stimulate a conversation about  the most basic question: why the Holocaust happened" (p. 48). In her  essay "History, Memory, and the City: Case Study--Berlin," Rachel  Rapperport Munn builds her essay around the idea that "ethical dilemmas  cannot be separated from art, architecture and urban design" (p. 56). In  her article, she shares her methods for moving students closer to the  discovery that art and architecture directly connect to ideology.

Holocaust education finds an unlikely forum in Felipe's business ethics  course, in which he encourages a "shift from self-interested motivation  ... to a stronger attachment to care and respect for persons" (p. 92).  He shares his meticulously structured six-week course, which proceeds  from explaining historical background information to deconstructing  myths about business and moral courage. Throughout the course, and with  the use of innovative ideas like an instructor's journal that makes the  instructor into a co-learner, Felipe persists in emphasizing the  difference between "what is good and what is 'good for me' from a  business perspective" (p. 89). Clearly, Felipe designed his teaching  module for a business course, but his clarity of content and  well-formulated rationale can appeal to and inspire a wide range of  instructors as they design ethics, writing, literature, or history  courses in their respective disciplines. Whether engaging the "Ethics of  Witness History" like Tam K. Parker or taking on "Pedagogical  Peculiarities of Teaching the Holocaust," as David Patterson does, each  of the chapters in the first section places indispensable tools in the  hands of instructors. These devices will assist interested instructors  in the construction and management of a demanding and thought-provoking  Holocaust course regardless of discipline.  After the comprehensive section on course content, the volume turns to  "The Process and Nature of Student Learning," which may seem like the  more unmanageable aspect of any course. The three essayists convince  instructors, however, that they cannot only successfully elicit  individual student responses to the often emotionally charged subject  matter, but that they also can use those responses to improve learning.  In her essay "Students' Affective Responses to Studying the Holocaust: Pedagogical Issues," Amy Shapiro links analysis with emotion by joining historical knowledge with individual responses to those historical facts. Fully understanding the "potential for extensive emotional and psychological responses," Shapiro has instead "used students' affective responses to advance their learning" (p. 194). Through a carefully designed process involving peer interviews and written self-reflections of the interview experience, Shapiro explains to readers how they can enlist student emotion to further student learning. Part 3, "Progress and Process: Higher Education, Museums, and Memorials," opens with Laurinda Stryker's cautionary essay about the dangers of teaching the Holocaust without tenure. After recounting in detail her ideological and subsequent legal battle with administrators at St. Cloud State University, Stryker advises junior Holocaust scholars and non-tenured faculty to proceed carefully in the field of Holocaust studies. Offsetting Stryker's necessary yet somewhat disheartening article, Marilyn J. Harran's "An Unlikely Setting: Holocaust Education in Orange County" proclaims one program's indisputable success in a traditionally less tolerant geographical area. Myrna Goldenberg reports on her positive experiences of incorporating Holocaust education into the community college curriculum. To name one example, Goldenberg offers the inventive idea of studying Nationalist Socialist theories of eugenics or medical personnel training in the context of a current nursing ethics course. In his article "Teaching about the Holocaust in the Setting of Museums and Memorials," Stephen D. Smith relocates the discussion of how to teach the Holocaust from the classroom to historical sites or museums. Although Smith claims that "being there gives both texture and physical dimension to factual narrative," he also warns instructors to formulate clear pedagogical outcomes and an apparatus for measuring educational success (pp. 273-277). When Smith poses the question about the worthiness of museums and memorial sites to deliver what they should educationally, novice or even experienced Holocaust educators could ask themselves the same question, "Am I delivering a sound educational product?" Fortunately, the essays contained in _Testimony, Tensions, and Tikkun_ assist teachers in presenting the material in an engaging way and advises them on balancing intellectual and emotional responses through best practices. Despite the diversity of disciplines and teaching styles represented in this book, virtually all of the authors strive to reach the same goals while identifying many of the same challenges for the future of Holocaust education. The Hebrew word _tikkun_ found in the title means "to heal, repair, and transform the world"; the term fittingly  encapsulates the ultimate goals and objectives for any course involving  the Holocaust. Not only do these expert teachers encourage other  instructors to include outcomes related to ethics and morals on a class  syllabus, but they also encourage teachers and their students to use  course material as a force for change and resistance.  

Rochelle L. Millen is professor of religion at Wittenberg University, where she teaches Jewish studies and interdisciplinary courses in religion. She holds a Ph.D. in religious studies and an M.A. in philosophy from McMaster University in Canada. In addition to numerous articles and book chapters, Millen is author of Women, Birth, and Death in Jewish Law and Practice (2004) and co-editor of New Perspectives on the Holocaust: A Guide for Teachers and Scholars (1996) as well as the forthcoming Testimony, Tensions, and Tikkun: Reflections on Teaching the Holocaust in Colleges and Universities. Co-founder of the Religion, Holocaust and Genocide section of the American Academy of Religion and awarded many research grants, Millen received the Stern College Alumnae Association Belkin Award for Professional Achievement in 1995.     
Dr. Myrna Goldenberg is a professor emerita and an independent scholar.

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Reviewed by Frank Caestecker (Department of Modern and Contemporary History, University of Ghent)


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