The Educational Use of Holocaust Novels

  • Gill Simpson York St John University
  • Julian Stern York St John University
Keywords: Educational alternatives, progressive education, alternative education, difference, educational theory, educational philosophy


This article will look at the use of Holocaust novels in higher education. Starting from an analysis of the appropriate educational use of literature (other than in literary studies, of course), it explores the value of novels in particular as many-voiced and as descriptive of large-scale social phenomena. Those specific qualities of novels make them particularly useful in teaching the Holocaust. The Holocaust is taught in a number of ways—across a number of disciplines—in higher education, with religious, historical, political and emotional aims, amongst others. One common approach to teaching the Holocaust uses the perspectives of victims, perpetrators and bystanders, and two novels are given as possible examples to be used to teach, respectively, about victims and perpetrators. There are opportunities and challenges in the use of Holocaust novels, including the danger of misrepresenting history and misrepresenting or misusing the novels, and the various educational, emotional, political and religious challenges. However, the article presents this work as, on balance, a good opportunity to learn and, as Kafka says, for a book to be “an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.” A good opportunity, but one that is inevitably incomplete and, to an extent, a failure: we should not tackle the Holocaust expecting some straightforward redemption.


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