The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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HIST3327 Europe’s Descent: World War II and the Holocaust

Semester 2 (2023-2024)

Lecture TimeTuesday, 10:30 - 12:15

VenueRoom 208, Lee Shau Kee Building(LSK 208)


Lecturer Noah SHUSTERMAN (

Course Description

This course is about two intertwined histories: the Nazis’ rise to power, politically in Germany and then militarily in the rest of Europe; and their murder of six million Jewish people during the last several years of the war. The goal of this class is to get students to understand how the Holocaust was possible: what traditions of antisemitism it grew out of; what techniques the Nazis used to implement it; and how people in conquered nations assisted, or resisted, the Nazi’s project of murdering all of their nation’s Jews. To do so, we will examine the Holocaust from a number of perspectives, including those of Jews who survived, bystanders who witnessed the events, and perpetrators – both German and non-German -who killed Jews. We will end by examining the attempts after the war to bear witness to the Nazis’ crimes, and to ask what the legacy of the Holocaust can teach us, 80 years later. 

Readings from this course will include Gerhard Weinberg’s World War II: A Very Short Introduction; Doris Bergen’s War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust; selections from Jan Gross’s Neighbors, and Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men; a selection excerpts from first-person survival accounts, including those by Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi; and Art Spiegelman’s graphic history Maus.

The readings and multimedia assignments will come from a variety of sources.

I have ordered two books from the bookstore which I expect students to have access too: Doris Bergen’s War and Genocide, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. The other texts will all be available online, either as links on public websites; via the CUHK library website; or on the course blackboard page.

Most weeks, there will be an assignment from a secondary text – usually Bergen’s War and Genocide, for the Holocaust, or Gerhard Weinberg’s World War II: A Very Short Introduction, which you can read via the library website, for the war. There will also be primary sources assigned, and/or a movie to watch or a podcast to listen to. When the movies are only available via private subscription services (Netflix, etc.) we will arrange a screening for the class outside of normal class time. Students can either watch then, or on their own time. The films will be a mix of Hollywood large-budget movies (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan), documentaries (Ordinary Men: The Forgotten Holocaust); and footage from the time (Three Minutes in Poland). There will probably also be some videos included in class lectures.

There will also be several Zoom sessions over the course of the semester, where I talk with scholars who study the Holocaust or other aspects of Jewish studies. Students can join these sessions in real time and ask questions. They will also be recorded and made available on Blackboard for students who want to watch them later.

The tutorials will be focused on primary sources. The first three will be based on reports from the time; memoirs from survivors; and for the final tutorial, a graphic memoir (“graphic” as in “graphic novel”) by a son of survivors.


Students’ final grades will be determined by the following:

Tutorial, 20%

Response Papers/Discussion Board, 30%

Quizzes, 30% (3×10%)

Take-Home Final, 20%


Lecture Topics:

Introduction: Post World War I Europe

II: Jews and AntiSemitism

III: The Rise of the Nazis; Nazi Germany

IV: War: 1939-1942

V: Life (and death) in the Ghettos; The Einsatzgruppen

VI: Deportations and Death Camps; Perpetrators

VII: War: 1942-1944

VIII: Life, and Death, in the Camps

IX: Occupied Europe: Terror, Resistance, Collaboration

X: Heroes: Jewish Resistance and Rescue

XI: Bodies and Terror: Sexual Violence, “Excremental Assault”

XII: War: 1944-1945

XIII: Aftermaths: Refugees, Displacement, and the Nuremberg Trials



Assessment & Assignments

Note: Bergen’s War and Genocide, and Spiegelman’s Maus, are available at the university bookstore, as well as via all of the various booksellers. The other readings are all available online: those available via the course Blackboard site are noted; others include a hyperlink here; the rest are available via the CUHK library’s website. For the movies, we will schedule screenings for students, though students are also welcome to watch them on their own.


Week 1

Introduction, no assignments


Week 2

Readings, primary: Isaac Bashevis Singer, A Hanukkah Eve in Warsaw (Blackboard)

Readings, secondary: Doris Bergen, War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust, 1-4, 13-24

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: Three Minutes in Poland:


Week 3

Readings, primary: Lucy Dawidowicz, A Holocaust Reader, 32-33, 45-47 (Blackboard)

Readings, secondary: Bergen, 45-6, 52-61, 65-7, 69-72, 76-80, 88-97, 107-114, 119-126

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: (none)


Week 4

Readings, primary: Simcha Rotem, Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter: The Past Within Me, 6-11

Readings, secondary: Gerhard Weinberg, World War II: A Very Short Introduction, chapters 2-4

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: The Pianist (2002)


Week 5

Readings, primary:

  1. Elie Wiesel, Night, pages 3-7;

Readings, secondary: Bergen, 130-140, 145-159, 180-206

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: (none)


Week 6

Readings, primary: (none)

Readings, secondary: Yisrael Gutman: “Nothing to Lose”  from Peter Hayes, How Was it Possible? A Holocaust Reader;  Jan Gross, “Neighbors,” The New Yorker (March 12, 2001), 64-77 (Blackboard)

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: 1001 Histories interview with Omer Bartov, at or


Week 7

Readings, primary: Rotem, 32-42, 45-6, 62-4

Readings, secondary: Weinberg, Ch 6 (Skip the parts on Japan); Bergen, 207-22, 225-230

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: Ordinary Men: The Forgotten Holocaust (Netflix)


Week 8

Readings, primary: Wiesel, 21-27, 29-34, 52-54, 69; Primo Levi, “Camp Labor,” from Hayes, ed., How Was it Possible?

Readings, secondary: Bergen, 237-263

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: (none)


Week 9

Readings, primary: (None)

Readings, secondary: Nechama Tec, “The Forests,” from Defiance: Jews and Christians who Defied Nazi Terror”

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: Casablanca


Week 10

Readings, primary: Dawidowickz, 334-336,359-380; Rotem, 118-127

Readings, secondary: Bergen, 263-273

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: Schindler’s List


Week 11

Readings, primary: Art Spiegelman, Maus

Readings, secondary: Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor, pp. 53-65 (Blackboard); Helene Sinnreich, The Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust, from Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel, eds, Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc:  (none)


Week 12

Readings, primary: (none)

Readings, secondary: Weinberg, Ch 8 (skip parts on Japan); Bergen, 275-295

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc: Saving Private Ryan, first hour (available via the library website)


Week 13

Readings, primary: Primo Levi, The Reawakening, 1-7, 92-103 (Blackboard)

Readings, secondary: Bergen, 281-310

Movies/Videos/Podcasts, etc:




Tutorial Topics:

I:  Child Narration

II: Alternative History

III: Micro-storytelling

IV: Micro-storytelling II: Maus


Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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