Course Feature: Holocaust

“Understanding why and how the Holocaust occurred is not just important for students, but for all human beings—as citizens of our nation and the global community,” says Faculty Program Director for History Mary Berkery. Students of HIS 353: Holocaust study the deliberate murder of more than six million Jews and other victims by Nazi Germany during World War II. In Spring 1 2018, the course premiered in a new format, which should be an exciting opportunity for students.

Berkery explains the new version of the course consists of a lighter workload and reduced textbook costs, but it will still include the examination of “the Holocaust with a broad view that examines its multiple, complex causes, including European anti-Semitism; modern “racial science” and ethnic nationalism; the global economic, social, and political crises of the early 20th century; and the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany.” The course is also now cross-listed with the Master of Science in Liberal Studies program (MLS 553) for the concentration in Contemporary World History and Politics (graduate requirements include additional reading and writing assignments).

An important aspect of the course is that students study individuals’ roles in the Holocaust “—as victims, bystanders, and perpetrators—and consider how many ‘ordinary’ Germans and non-Germans participated in the Nazi’s plans,” says Berkery. As a historian, she believes all students should learn about the Holocaust at some point, especially “students with an interest in world, European, or World War II era history, human psychology, and international relations.” The Holocaust was a major part of our history, however, and as such, an important topic for all students—not just history majors and liberal arts majors.

Some of the topics discussed in the course may be uncomfortable for many, but Berkery insists it is important all people learn about past events such as the Holocaust. “Studying the Holocaust can tell us a tremendous amount about our modern global society and human nature, including how human beings react to atrocity as victims, bystanders, and perpetrators, and how ‘ordinary’ people can commit acts of unthinkable evil…” She goes on to say that lessons learned from this class are, unfortunately, as relevant today as they were in the 1930s-1940s.

Students agree and are glad Excelsior offers such an in-depth course. “This class brings to light many atrocities that have occurred around the world and information pertaining to each that the public was not fully informed of,” offered one student. Another mentioned, “This was the most interesting history class I have taken in my entire life. I am really glad that you guys offer this course.”

Ben Pearson, Subject Matter Expert of Course Development, adds, “I have found that very few courses on the Holocaust take a broad view, looking at the multiple complex causes that enabled this tragedy to unfold…. I recommend this course to anyone who wants to understand how such an unspeakable event was possible and how we might prevent the same kind of things from happening again.”

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Emily Young
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Emily Young is the Social Media and Communities Manager for Excelsior College.