GC German course examines Holocaust through the eyes of authors and filmmakers

GC German course examines Holocaust through the eyes of authors and filmmakers

GOSHEN, Ind. — The Holocaust of Nazi Germany that killed more than 11 million people is a chapter of history many Germans would like to forget. Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand, Goshen College associate professor of German, wants her German-language students to remember.

Sterling-Hellenbrand recently finished a fall semester course that examines the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of 20th century authors and filmmakers. “Speaking the Unspeakable: Imagining the Holocaust and its History in Literature and Film” explored anti-Semitism in Europe as far back as the 18th century before scrutinizing accounts of World War II-era Germany from a variety of perspectives.

“You can’t teach German while leaving out the Holocaust,” Sterling-Hellenbrand said. Her language courses include education about German culture, which often leads to questions about the Holocaust. “I was dismayed about some of the stereotypes that people cannot avoid perpetuating about the German people,” she said, including that Germans were either evil Nazi supporters or passive to the Holocaust horrors.

“What did people know or not know about the Holocaust (at the time)? What could they have known? How could they have imagined? What kind of judgments are we allowed to make (looking back) and what judgments should we refrain from?” Sterling-Hellenbrand asked. &#8220How do we know what we would have done had we been there? The situation is more complex than we’ll ever know.

“We talk as a group about these hard questions, knowing that there aren’t any answers, but that it is important to keep asking,” she continued.

Students read from authors, including Elie Wiesel, Paul Celan, Gertrud Kolmar, Nally Sachs, G.E. Lessing, Primo Levi, Cynthia Ozick, C.S. Lewis and Art Spiegelman, and watched films that included “Europa, Europa,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “Live is Beautiful,” &#8220Schindler’s List,” “The Truce” and “Night and Fog.” They also toured the Holocaust Memorial Center in Detroit, Mich.

The professor said the course, which was also listed within the peace, justice and conflict studies major, is only a starting point to examine worldwide violence, since the Holocaust not only killed Jews, but those of all races, ethnicities and faiths that were considered out of the norm.

“There are so many other genocides and holocausts that have happened, but this one was the mother of them all. It’s so unfathomable that it draws us back to try to figure out how it could have happened,” Sterling-Hellenbrand said. “We can’t figure it out, but we keep trying.”

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit www.goshen.edu.