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The AJL Podcast brings you the best talks on Jewish literature and the Jewish library world, with respected experts and popular authors. Please check back periodically, as new lectures will be added to the series.


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Viewing the Holocaust Through the Lens of Literature

Hamida Basmajian & Eric Sundquist


  • Early responses, before “the Holocaust.” Hersey, Uris, and others.
  • Priority of testimony and its relation to fiction. Elie Wiesel and others.
  • The problem of authenticity and hoaxes. Kosinski, Wilkomirski and others.
  • The Americanization of the Holocaust. Anne Frank’s Diary and others.
  • Second-generation approaches. Philip Roth, Thane Rosenbaum, and others.
  • Eric Sundquist discusses the evolution of Holocaust literature, particularly from the American perspective, from the immediate aftermath of the war through late-twentieth-century responses by those of the second generation, including children of survivors. Issues to consider include the priority of testimony and its relation to fiction; the problem of authenticity and hoaxes; the “Americanization” of the Holocaust; and the self-reflexive and sometimes postmodern strategies of some second-generation writers.


  • Perception of “Children’s Literature” as an academic field of study.
  • Authorial motivation to write Holocaust narratives as children’s literature.
  • Contexts and readers of Holocaust narratives for North American children and youths. The aim of testimony in the context of children’s literature.
  • Structures, Conventions, Genres—
    § The survivor journal, memoir, or autobiography as privileged form –ethos of the survivor as hero, the testimony of the survivor as victim.
    § Fictionalized autobiographies based on authorial childhood memory.
    § Fictional Holocaust narratives and acquired memory—possibilities and limitations.
  • Hamida Basmajian refers to the following narratives as examples during this session: The Diary of Anne Frank, Ruth Minsky Sender’s The Cage and The Holocaust Lady, Carol Matas’ Daniel’s Story, Gudrun Pausewang’s The Final Journey, John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Doris Orgel’s The Devil in Vienna, Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic and Briar Rose.

    Eric J. Sundquist is the UCLA Foundation Professor of Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. Professor Sundquist received his B.A. from the University of Kansas and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and Vanderbilt University and is the author or editor of twelve books, the most recent of which are King’s Dream (2009); Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America (2005), which received the Weinberg Judaic Studies Institute Book Award.

    Hamida Bosmajian, Professor Emerita of the English Department at Seattle University, is the author of Sparing the Child: Grief and the Unspeakable in Youth Literature about Nazism and the Holocaust (Routledge, 2002) and Metaphors of Evil. Contemporary German Literature and the Shadow of Nazism (U. of Iowa Press, 1979). The Children’s Literature Association honored Sparing the Child with the ChLA Book Award in 2004.

    They gave this presentation at the 7th annual Association of Jewish Libraries Western Regional Conference on Jewish Literature for Children on February 1, 2009 at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

    1 hr 18 min 57 sec

    Tags: Holocaust


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