Like previous undergraduate student essays made available online through collaboration with the HEART team, selected 2007/8 papers cover a range of themes deriving from the first year module offered by the School of Social Science at the University of Northampton, The Holocaust and Its Histories.
But unlike recent years, the five submissions included here also cover a range of marks, from a lower 2:1 (B-) to a clear first (A, or distinction). Collectively, the essays presented here testify to the wide range of important debates and questions continuing to be raised by both scholars and students of the Holocaust.
By Oli Fordham, the first essay in this collection analyses the historiographical debate surrounding the decision to systematically murder all of Europe’s Jews, what the Third Reich termed the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’. Fordham moves from the lack of a written ‘Führer Order’ to the possibility that more than one ‘decision’ may have been taken over the critical months of Summer and Autumn 1941, and finds it was most likely issued verbally before the infamous Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942. In reaching the conclusion that two orders were most likely given by Hitler to initiate the Final Solution, Fordham brilliantly synthesizes an assessment of historians’ various arguments on the one hand with, on the other, a solid reliance on documented evidence regarding the increasing scope of the Nazis’ murder in the East over the second half of 1941.
Similarly emphasizing historical interpretations of Nazism as critical to understanding the evolution of the Holocaust, Hannah O’Dell’s essay questions whether or not there was a “Nazi conscience” operant under the Third Reich. As O’Dell makes clear at the outset, the definition of conscience does not extend to either endorsement or contemporary moral judgments, but is instead an ‘internal sense of right and wrong’ that may be said to condition the behavior of historical actors. By departing from important arguments advanced in Claudia Koonz’s The Nazi Conscience, O’Dell forcefully argues that key features of Nazi ideology – from ‘racial hygiene’ and virulent anti-Semitism to notions of ‘Aryan’ superiority and fascism’s operant political religion – comprise what may be conceived as a ‘conscience’ in the Third Reich. In doing so, O’Dell employs a theory-based approach to her essay on the Holocaust with particularly fruitful results.
The third submission for 2008 identifies three distinct yet overlapping phases of the Holocaust between 1939 and 1941: ghettoisation, mass murder (largely through shooting) and finally, the systematic gassing of Jewish victims. Joseph Bench’s essay moves from the initial period of war and brutalization following the Polish campaign in September 1939 to the rapid establishment of Jewish ghettos, progressively sealed off from the outside world by the Nazi occupation and deprived of most basic necessities – arguably through an initial intention to kill Polish Jews by overwork and starvation. Bench then considers the pivotal actions of the notorious Einsatzgruppen, shooting their way across the Soviet Union in the wake of the German Army advance Summer 1941, confident of victory. Here, his account finds that the search for a more effective and less psychologically and physically damaging solution – for the perpetrators, not the victims – led the Third Reich toward the adoption of carbon monoxide gas (and at Auschwitz-Birkenau, industrial use of Zyklon B), as increasingly systematic shooting gave way to genocide in purpose-built extermination centers, even before the infamous Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942.
The fourth essay in this year’s collection, by another current undergraduate at the University of Northampton, Spencer Worley, explores an important area in contemporary studies of Holocaust; namely, Jewish resistance. Recently the subject of a major motion picture featuring Daniel Craig, Defiance, Worley’s particular focus turns to the Bielski Partisans, demonstrating that some Jewish groups continued to actively resist Nazi occupation. By moving from a general overview of different forms and places in which Jewish resistance to the Holocaust took place – from extermination camps to the Warsaw Uprising – to a case study of one group, Worley usefully contextualizes the range of armed resistance, before effectively considering the actions of one group, ultimately comprising more than a 1,000 people, resisting Nazi occupation in Belorussia until the end of the World War Two in Europe.
Hannah Bigham's essay on Holocaust Denial rounds out this collection of essays from The Holocaust and Its Histories, in this case; by charting the postwar rise of this form of so-called ‘revisionism’, and the motivations of influential Holocaust Deniers like David Irving. The latter is given particular attention, extending to analysis of a cartoon image of the latter following his defeated libel action against Deborah Lippstadt, who successfully alleged that Irving was both an active Holocaust Denier and a ‘falsifier of history’ in 2000. By linking the landmark “Irving Case” to wider Holocaust ‘revisionism’ texts like those published by Willis Carto’s Institute for Historical Review (IHR), Bigham is able to impressively survey the (usually neo-fascist and/or anti-Semitic) motivations for Holocaust Denial in light of established historical fats regarding the Final Solution.
Dissertation 1 & 2:
1.) The last two assessments from the 2008 academic year included here are dissertations – the final piece of coursework submitted as a History undergraduates at the University of Northampton. Albeit for very different reasons, both of these 10,000 word dissertations received first class honors. The first of these, Tamsin Silver’s study, “Medical Experimentation During the Holocaust”, synthesizes a range of Anglophone sources in order to offer a nuanced perspective on the role played by Nazi vivisection of innocent victims in the wider constellation ‘racial science’ in the Third Reich.
In turn, the biomedical perversions critically contributing to Nazi eugenics, and thereby, racial policy more generally, are subjected to a comparative analysis with other dictatorial regimes during World War II, notably the Japanese and Soviet regimes. By employing both an analytical and comparative perspective in her dissertation, Silver is able to originally address a question of ever-greater importance to both historians of medicine and of the Third Reich today: was there such a thing as an idiosyncratically ‘Nazi Science’, or were the Nazis, instead, practitioners of medicine in a manner largely similar to other European and American doctors and physicians of the time?
2.) Different questions are asked by the second dissertation and final assessment forming this year’s collection of student essays, Harriet Notley’s first-class dissertation, entitled “To what extent can the British Union of Fascists be considered a political religion’? While not directly related to the wartime Holocaust in continental Europe, the BUF represented a revolutionary fascist movement in interwar Britain as well as a political religion, or secular faith, comparable to Nazism in Germany (although the BUF never took over state power like the Nazis did on 30 January 1933). As advanced by a number of groundbreaking theorists and historians of late, the concept of ‘political religion’ – essentially the idea of a man-made paradise on earth rather than a supernatural as offered by monotheistic religions – facilitated Notley’s re-reading of BUF archives and newspaper publications during the 1930s.
The sophisticated use of unpublished manuscripts by Notley, alongside a fresh reading of these primary sources in light of recent historiography, helps to highlight the relevant themes a similar interwar fascist movement can throw upon the dynamics of National Socialism. Finally, Notley’s dissertation also builds upon her previous success in analyzing themes related to the Holocaust, as evidenced by her earlier essay published on this website, which explores the role of Holocaust museums and exhibits in the commemoration of the Final Solution. Like the 7 texts from this year, previous essays and dissertations remaining on this excellent website are helpful for current students – both at Northampton and elsewhere – and the wider public alike, not least given the long and frightening shadow of the Holocaust continuing to fall across the landscape of contemporary politics and society.
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The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), and particularly the very public debate this fifteen-year old national landmark has engendered, forms the subject of Miss Harriet Notley’s First Class essay for the final year History module, The Holocaust. Political considerations for the specific housing of the museum in Washington D.C., the curatorial decisions on prominent displays and galleries, as well the dragooning of audience interaction, are all eloquently raised here. Throughout, discussion is underpinned by Notley’s acknowledgement of the significance of Holocaust remembrance in American – and latterly, ‘Western’ – postwar society, and she therefore shows a sensitivity to both the criticism of, and support for, the USHMM. Especially worthy of note here is the historical methodology used to consider a contemporary subject, one that itself represents the Holocaust in a number of specific and controversial ways. Like Hemming’s previous 2,000 word essay, Notley concisely links the pivotal context of the wartime Holocaust to its ensuing cultural representation – and in this case, memorialisation – or perhaps, by the impossibility of adequately representing such a vast series of literally unimaginable horrors. But either way, as Notley pointedly concludes, inviting the widest public possible to reflect on these complex issues rightly remains an important contribution by the USHMM.
Mr Phil Hemming’s Third Year essay on one manner of representing the horrors of the Holocaust, Art Speigelman’s graphic novel Maus II, offers a rare interdisciplinary approach to studying the genocide of European Jews during World War II. By way of linking historical events to their artistic impressions, Hemming employs a literary methodology – notable in terms of the historiography and consequent referencing used – in offering a close reading of Maus II, paying particular reference to the medium, allegorical nature, and de-anthromorphised characters in this 1987 rendering of one man’s coming to terms with an unimaginable past. Yet Maus II is itself contextualised against the very real past of the Second World War, with Hemming clearly establishing the narrative analogies to Nazi anti-Semitism and its twisted culmination at extermination centres like Auschwitz. It may well be, as Hemming concludes, that Speigleman’s innovation reaches a wider audience than a non-fictional (and often imageless) text on the Holocaust. But especially if this is the case, exploring the historical context of graphic novels and related media clearly remains an important role for historical writing, as this First Class effort clearly demonstrates.
2006 - 2007
The following First Class (or A) essay by Miss Stacey Kerslake was originally written for The Holocaust and Its Histories, and analyses the centrality of Auschwitz-Birkenau to postwar views of Nazi genocide. Driven by the sheer scale and variety of functions in the camp system, the industrial method of genocide, and mass murder of targeted groups additional to European Jewry (such as Roma and Sinti Travellers), Kerslake finds much in the history of Auschwitz rightly, when viewed after 1945, as microcosmic of the Holocaust as a whole. Yet this popular, and sometimes academic, understanding is challenged here by the various and brutal idiosyncracies found in this largest of extermination camps. These understandings are also contrasted with other features of the Final Solution far less germane to Auschwitz – such as mass shooting and Jewish ghettoisation in occupied Russia – but still part and parcel of Nazi rule, and which similarly demand study and incorporation as prominent aspects of the Holocaust as a whole. By reflecting upon both the wartime events and postwar memorialisation surrounding Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kerslake is able to make a strong case in cautioning any symbolic generalizations for so complex and far-reaching an extermination process. Note also the excellent use of bibliography and filmography, concise footnoting, and sophisticated argumentation found in this essay.
Miss Hayley Cassidy’s essay on the nature of resistance to the Holocaust, which earned a First Class (or A) mark in The Holocaust and Its Histories, focuses on variety of forms anti-Nazi activities could take. Rejecting historiography finding that only armed uprisings (such as that in the Warsaw Ghetto) constituted legitimate forms of resistance – consequently leading some to assert that wartime Jewish resistance to the Holocaust was largely “mythic” – Cassidy locates several alternatives to violence which nonetheless made resistance to the Final Solution much more of a widespread “reality”. By separating ‘active’ (or ‘overt’) from ‘passive’ resistance, a wide range of strategies by persecuted Jewry is considered here, from smuggling and underground activities to the far more contentious role of Jewish Councils and the concept of amidah, or ‘sanctification of life’. Through these, and indeed through a clear and effective writing style consistently in evidence, Cassidy is able to directly engage with relevant academic studies on the subject of resistance to the Holocaust, while simultaneously concluding that the very act of survival ultimately contributed to the thwarting of genocidal Nazi intentions; namely, the extermination of every Jewish human being in Europe.
Unlike the other essays presented here, Miss Paula Bowles’ Third Year dissertation on Criminology and the Holocaust was not initially assessed by the Dept. of History; instead, it was initially submitted to Mr. Doug Rae in the Dept. of Criminology (also in Northampton’s School of Social Sciences), where it received the highest grade of any dissertation in 2007 (Alpha First, or A+). Reasons for this mark include the unusual, interdisciplinary connection of crime and Nazi genocide – simultaneously appearing everywhere and nowhere in various accounts of criminality suffusing (the nevertheless sovereign state of) Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945 – detailed and judiciously-chosen case studies; exhaustive reading; and also, not least, the flair with which these are incorporated into existing views of the Holocaust. To be sure, the confluence of Criminology and the Holocaust is not unproblematic, and clearing the way for such a reading comprises much of Bowles’ thesis, a detour necessary given the dearth of Anglophone scholarship directly considering such a relation. Also worthy of mention are features different to the “house-style” for essays typically submitted to the Dept. of History; for example, an alternative referencing format is employed here (specifically, the Harvard rather than Cambridge system); a more individualistic writing-style is visible, as with the novel inclusion of personal reflections on a trip made to Holocaust sites in Poland forming Appendix 1. That said, this extended piece of work remains deeply historical in its methodology, source-base, and evaluation, meaning that aspects of compositional “difference” are interspersed with more “familiar” historical approaches to Nazi genocides, such as the reproduced excerpts from both perpetrators and victims comprising Appendix 2, which together contribute to the original flavour of this finalist dissertation.