Conveying the Unimaginable


While Adorno declared that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz, nevertheless survivors and witnesses turned to art in many forms to try to process the events of the Holocaust. This unit centers on H. G. Adler\’s \”The Journey\” to consider the role that art plays in processing, expressing, and containing the unimaginable. Adler survived Auschwitz and the \”show camp\” Theresienstadt and produced works of poetry, fiction, sociology and essays in response to the experience.


Far from being a lone event, the Holocaust stands as one among many horrific events of recent history. Far from being a luxury, art is essential to the way we make sense of the world–how we find order, make meaning, offer warnings, memorialize and come to terms with that which initially seems unconveyable. Through research and reading students will explore the central role that art in all its forms plays in establishing and asserting our humanity in the face of the dehumanizing.


Theresienstadt was a show camp with arts programs (among other things) intended to persuade visitors of the enlightened and beneficial environment. Many materials exist–music and children\’s artworks in particular–from the camp whose dual role we\’ll consider. Adler\’s novel is itself distinctly Modernist in form and content–we\’ll draw on examples of Modernist music, writing and art to contextualize it and consider how his form suits his material.

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Adlers\’s novel, originally written in German in 1951, was only translated into English in 2008. The particulars of his experience and the work he produced offer a fascinating look at the role art plays in processing the cataclysmic, though there are few support materials available yet. The chance to consider how art (and Modernism particularly) was tested by and proved valuable in processing the experiences of the Holocaust is valuable in understanding the past and our present–like 9/11

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