HUMS 643
Memory and Science, Poetry and Genocide: Primo Levi and the Legacy of the Holocaust

Ellen Nerenberg  


All by Primo Levi:
Survival at Auschwitz
The Drowned and the Saved
Collected Poems
Moments of Reprieve
The Reawakening
If Not Now, When?
The Periodic Table
Course Reader
(available at Minuteman Press, 512 Main Street, Middletown, 860/347-5700)
Minuteman is open M-F, 9-5.


PLEASE NOTE: An electronic blackboard has been established for this course and the syllabus will be posted there. Blackboard is very user-friendly and it will be necessary to access and check it throughout the course. (log in by using your email username and password)

Course Calendar
July 5

Please read: Jorge Luis Borges, “Funes, The Memorious (Reader); Dori Laub, M.D.Bearing Witness, or the Vicissitudes of Listening” (Reader); Alexander Stille; Primo Levi and the Art of Memory” (Reader)

Freud, A Note Upon a Mystic Writing Pad” (Reader)

Screening of Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker”.

July 7

Discussion: “The Pawnbroker”

Read for discussion in class: Survival at Auschwitz

July 12

Survival at Auschwitz

In-class screening: testimony from the Fortunoff Archives

One-page (typed) paper on Survival at Auschwitz due at class time

July 14 The Reawakening
July 19

The Reawakening

In class screening: Francesco Rosi’s “The Truce”.


July 21 The Periodic Table

Paper due at class time on The Reawakening/The Truce

July 26 The Periodic Table
July 28

Selections from The Sixth Day (Reader)

Moments of Reprieve (specific selections tba)

Paper due at class time on The Periodic Table

August 2


Saul Friedlander, “A Conflict of Memories? The New German Debates about the ‘Final Solution”; Omer Bartov

If not now, when?

Paper due at class time on short stories

August 4 If not now, when?

Paper due at class time on Poems

August 9

The Drowned and the Saved

Levi on suicide, Levi’s “suicide”

Cynthia Ozick: “Primo Levi’s Suicide Note”

Jean Améry: “At the Mind’s Limits”

Requirements for the Course

Five, one- to one-and-half page papers due at times indicated on the syllabus. These papers may not exceed one-and-half pages.

2 type-written questions on the material due the first day reading is assigned. Questions should be designed to stimulate discussion. Questions are due at class time and will be handed in and evaluated.

A final 10-page paper will be due August 17 and should be emailed to the professor as an attachment with a copy sent to the GLSP (exact email address will be made precise toward the end of the course)

Honor Code Statement

Students are expected to observe the Honor Code as outlined in Wesleyayn's Blue Book .


Quality participation in class discussion: 15%

written questions on the material: 10%

short papers: 40%

final paper: 35%

Grading Practices

I will mark papers and questions on a 4.0 system. This system gives me a little more flexibility, which in turn benefits the student. The chart given below gives you an idea of the corresponding grades:

4.0       A                                 2.5            B-/C+              1.0            D

3.7       A-                                2.3            C+                   0.7            D-

3.5       A-/B+                          2.0            C                     0.5 and below: failing

3.3       B+                               1.7            C-

3.0       B                                  1.5            C-/D+

2.7       B-                                1.3            D+ 

Late papers are to be avoided! In the interest of parity among students, I will reduce the grade by 0.3 (roughly a +/-) per day the paper is late. “Skipped” papers are registered as “0.0”.  

Incompletes will not be granted.