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Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies

Q&A and Coursework

The MA Program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at YU relies on the resources and faculty in one of the world’s premier Jewish institutions for higher education. This program offers a unique investigation of the Holocaust of European Jewry through an interdisciplinary exploration. By encompassing a broad range of disciplines, this program presents a new lens through which the Holocaust of European Jewry would be viewed as an event impacting all aspects of the human experience; an unprecedented and unique event, fully deserving of investigation that cuts across a myriad of academic disciplines.

Uniquely, the program focuses on the Shoah — the murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators and offers an exploration of this watershed event in the history of humankind. 

The program offers a study of the Shoah both as a stand-alone subject, and also places it in the context of other genocides that have occurred since the early 20th century and up to today.

For all these dark chapters in the history of humankind this program offers a broad survey and a profound analysis of their antecedents, root causes and evolution to help analyze their social, political, philosophical and theological ramifications. Concomitantly, as we look at the aftermath of the Holocaust and each of these genocides, students will investigate their impact and the role they each play in public memory as well as their artistic and literary representations. 

The program is an online based program. Students do not need to be in the New York area to successfully complete the degree.

Graduates with an MA in Holocaust and Genocide Studies may expand their opportunities for working in a field that has emerged and grown over the last two decades. With education in Holocaust and Genocide Studies they may be able to seek a career in research, human rights advocacy, museology and education. They may find employment at a Holocaust museum or Holocaust Education Center, Jewish community centers, universities, human rights and genocide prevention organizations and more.

Coursework — complete in as little as 1.5 years

Each class is three credits.

The Destruction of European Jewry, 1933–1945 Dr. Joshua Zimmerman
This course examines the fate of European Jewry between 1933 and 1945. We shall cover the rise and fall of the democratic Weimar Republic in the 1920s, the Nazi seizure of power, anti-Jewish policy and legislation in Nazi Germany, ghettoization in Nazi Europe, and the conception and implementation of the Final Solution during the Second World War. Additional topics will include the problem of the Judenrat, Jewish resistance, life in the ghettos and camps, the Jewish Question and public opinion in Nazi-occupied Europe, and the reactions of the Allies, the Church, and world Jewry to the Holocaust.

Choose one of the following two courses:

  • The Holocaust: An Interdisciplinary Exploration
    Dr. Shay Pilnik

    The Holocaust of European Jewry or the Shoah is a dark chapter in the history of mankind whose impact, long-term and far-reaching ramifications cannot be exaggerated. References to the Holocaust as a watershed, as a universe guided by its own laws and rules are many. They all seem to call for an understanding of the Holocaust as a wide-ranging phenomenon, whose effect and implications reach far beyond the interest of historians. The interdisciplinary exploration offered in this course, with guest speakers from a variety of fields – Film, Literature, Memory Studies, Fine-Arts, Sociology, Theology, Education and more -- constitutes a new way to understand this new and growing academic discipline and grasp its magnitude.
  • Genocide in the Modern Age: From Armenia to Darfur
    This course is a comparison of several key incidents of mass murder committed during the 20th century and early 21st century. It offers a thought-provoking investigation of these mass murders and their underlying causes and conditions. As we look at these tragedies through a comparative lens, it will be easier to understand the uniqueness of each of these mass killings and the chief characteristics that they all share in common. Through an analysis of their distinct traits and commonalities, students will gain a better understanding of the historical background as well as political, ideological, socio-economic and cultural conditions that lead to genocide.

Each class is three credits. The following is a sampling of electives we offer:

The Holocaust: Special Issues Relating to Rescue
Dr. Mordecai Paldiel

This course offers a study of rescue operations during the Holocaust, explored in the historical and geographical context of different European countries, either allied with the Nazis or under Nazi occupation. The course offers an analysis of the different responses to the Holocaust: of Jewish leaders and ordinary Jews, or Christian clergy across Europe, of governments, organizations and individuals. It also explores the realization of potentially larger rescue possibilities during the Holocaust, as based on other similar efforts actually undertaken.

Germany and the Holocaust: Roots, Perpetration and Aftermath
Dr. Jess Olson

This course will investigate the place of the Holocaust in modern German history. We will explore the roots of German-Jewish interaction in modernity and the evolution of anti-Semitism in Germany; the specific factors that shaped the rise of radical and violent antisemitic politics under the Nazi regime; and the process of the war and Holocaust. Finally, we will consider the role that the Holocaust has played in post-war Germany, from post-war reorientation of German politics to the resurgence of radical political movements in Germany today.

Teaching Literature of the Holocaust
Dr. Karen Shawn

This course is an academic examination of the role and responsibilities of literature to help us enter “the kingdom of fire and ashes,” as Elie Wiesel called the Holocaust. Through essays by contemporary scholars of the genre, you will study the purpose and power of literature written in the midst of, or about, carnage and its aftermath. To illustrate the themes of these essays, we will read and analyze illustrative narratives, including short stories, poems, testimonies, and autobiographical novels, foundational writings that undergird all study of this watershed.

Teaching About the Holocaust through Narrative, Film, Art, and Artifact
Dr. Karen Shawn

This course will explore the power of Holocaust literature, testimony, poetry, historical documents, film, artifacts, and art to engage middle and high school students in an age-appropriate, chronological study of the Holocaust. As we examine text and visual media, we will analyze methodologies and materials designed to help our students understand this watershed through the thoughts, words, actions, and reactions of those who were there and of those who live in its shadow. This is not a history class; your basic knowledge of the Holocaust is necessary for us to examine the most effective materials and methodologies to teach it well and with accuracy.

Remembering Communal Catastrophe: The Destruction of the Temples through the Holocaust
Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter

To examine the Jewish attempts to commemorate the communal catastrophes they experienced from the destructions of both Temples in ancient times through the twentieth century. We will examine the specific particularity of the response to each of the historical events we will study – the destructions of the Temples (586BCE and 70CE), the Crusades (1096), the massacre at Blois (1171), other medieval Jewish persecutions, the Chmielnicki massacres (1648-49) and its aftermath, and the Holocaust – while attempting to discover the overarching paradigms, trans-temporal patterns, and fundamental archetypes that these responses had in common with one another.

Vilna: A Jewish Cultural Metropolis
Dr. Josh Karlip

East European Jews referred to Vilna as “the Jerusalem of Lithuania.” This course will explore the history of Vilna Jewry from the middle of the eighteenth century through the Holocaust. The following will serve as the course’s principle themes: traditional rabbinic culture, the battle between Hasidim and Mitnagdim, the Mussar Movement, the Haskalah, popular culture and social history, Zionism, Jewish socialism, Orthodoxy, the rise of modern Yiddish culture, and cultural life in the Vilna Ghetto during the Holocaust.

After The Holocaust: Healing from Historical Trauma
Mordecai Katz

The events of 1933-1945 in Europe cast a shadow over its generation and their progeny in untold ways. Regarding this history, our course asks a twofold question: (1)how has the Holocaust impacted social work as a profession and (2) what can the profession learn from the Holocaust which might improve our ability, consistent with our “primary mission” as articulated by the NASW Code of Ethics, to both (a) heal its own victims’ psychological and spiritual injuries as well as those of others who have been victim to historical trauma; and (b)reduce the ongoing occurrence of intersubjective dehumanization and its harms. The course will also explore the notion of moral injury as it relates to both victims and perpetrators of atrocities and as a general hermeneutic through which the Holocaust might be understood within the bio-psycho-social-spiritual model regularly deployed in social work.

History of the Jews in Eastern Europe Since 1914
Dr. Josh Zimmerman

Survey of the political, social, and economic history of East European Jewry from the outbreak of the First World War to the end of Communist rule in 1989. Topics include the character of the Soviet Jewish experiment; the evolution of Jewish life in interwar Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Lithuania; the impact of Nazi genocidal policies on the Jewish communities of the area, and the attempts to reestablish Jewish communal life after the Holocaust.

Survey of Modern and Contemporary Philosophy: Evil and Suffering
Dr. Daniel Rynhold

An introduction to modern and contemporary Jewish philosophy focusing on the problem of evil and suffering in pre and post-holocaust Jewish philosophy. Thinkers to be studied will include Baruch Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Abraham Isaac Kook, Joseph Soloveitchik, Eliezer Berkovits, Emil Fackenheim, and Emmanuel Levinas. Emphasis will be placed on philosophical analysis of the responses studied and their bearing on questions concerning the nature of modern Jewish philosophy.

The course aims to furnish you with the ability to 1) identify the main ideas and arguments presented in the primary texts and situate them in the correct historical and conceptual contexts; 2) assess the conceptual content of the central ideas and arguments; and 3) engage critically with the secondary literature.

Once students in the M.A. complete their coursework (24 credits), they will conclude their studies with level 7000 coursework. Each course is 3 credits.

The Roundtable: Seminar in Readings from the Field
Dr. Karen Shawn

The course will give participants the opportunity to read and engage in structured discussion, using shared inquiry discussion guidelines, both online and in class, of the four most recent important books in the field. Readings may include history, memoir, diaries, investigative reporting, reflections from the Second Generation, poetry, and other subjects, all chosen because they are current; widely praised for their accuracy and fine writing; important for scholars, educators, and lay readers and good reads. 

Exit Unit
Supervised by advisor

  1. Final Thesis: a 40-60 pp. long research paper dedicated to a particular subject in the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Students will work together with their academic advisor and the Fish Center director in order to identify the discipline, in which they would like to concentrate and a particular theme of the thesis. An advisory committee of three faculty, including a thesis adviser will guide the students from the composition of the thesis prospectus through the final submission and defense.
  2. Capstone Unit: Student who do not wish to select the thesis stream may be able to select a local museum, Holocaust education center, a human rights or genocide prevention institute around the world and harness their talent, knowledge and skills in order to make a significant contribution to the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. All Capstone projects will be approved by the center director. Through this volunteer work students will help build museum exhibits related to Holocaust and genocide, create curricula, educational technology resources and more. They will be welcome to identify the partnering institution of their choice, or rely on the Fish Center’s wide network of partnering institutions around the globe.
  3. Comprehensive Exam: The examination is based on coursework and a reading list, to be worked out with a faculty adviser and/or the Fish Center director. This unit will summarize and synthesize the knowledge the student has gained throughout their coursework.
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