Thursday, 10 December 2009

Holocaust Theology (#fridayflash)

Everyday I teach the holocaust to bored, sleepy undergraduates. During a weekly seminar, postgraduates dispassionately debate the theological and psychological implications of the Shoah in the life and faith of the Jewish people.

In my early years of teaching I'd walk away from each class bitter. Bitter that the trauma and horror of it never penetrated.

Yet later, when trauma entered my office, I told her she deserved to fail.

She arrived unannounced, her eyes moist and red, rubbed raw at the edges. A newly-bought book under her arm.   She placed it on my desk. Elie Wiesel's Night, a paperback copy, Oprah's Book Club edition.

"I can't read it. I just can't," she said, sobbing.

I handed her the box of Kleenex from my desk drawer.

She explained. "It's too much, too invasive. Horrific."

"Holocaust Theology is one of the most popular freshman courses on campus," I said. "Hundreds of students who apply are turned away. You're lucky to be here."

She was listening. I was getting through.

"In eleven years of this course running, you're the first to complain. The book report is fifty per cent of your grade.  If you don't read it, I'll have to fail you."

She nodded softly, submissive.


She stood, leaving the book on my desk, and left the office.


  1. I was once failed for refusing to dissect a frog. A long way from Holocaust Theology.

  2. Still thinking on it. I'm slow today and I think my coffee has been spiked with Ny-Quil...Still the terms and language is spot on, except for the bizarre sentence fragment "The day after she'd bought the book." Still, style is everything. Hey, glad to meet you. Thanks for the micro-fic!

  3. I love that you're writing on theology, something that interests me. I'd suggest giving us a little more here, about her, about the class and it's aim. Her defiance seems linked to Wiesel's in the narrator's mind, but I'm not sure. I'd like to find out, even in an allusion. I really like the description of her eyes.

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

  4. Lucky, defiant, but deserving to fail - interesting piece.

  5. Submissive and yet defiant, I like that.
    I'll side with the lecturer though, the horrificness is needed to get the point across

  6. Perhaps it reveals something bad about me, but my favorite feature was that the same paragraph that introduced her in tears revealed the offending object was the Oprah's Book Club Edition. It's a sprinkle of the trivial in with the heavy.

  7. I live in DC and have visited the Holocaust Museum here; it was a very difficult afternoon, it WAS too much.

    Yes, I can understand that she must fail the course. And, yes, I applaud her defiance!

  8. I'll echo mazzz's comment all the way!

  9. this one has me thinking.

    I want more, but I'm not sure if I want more revealed from what's in between the lines, or another chapter from the student's POV before she walked into the instructor's office. There's something else going on here, and I'm not sure what it is.

    Which all means, you wrote a compelling read if I'm walking away thinking about it.

  10. Thank you all, for the kind comments. With watchful eyes, you may have noticed this piecing changing in response to feedback - for I changed example the fragment sentence Carrie pointed out, and I revamped the opening to show the uniqueness of the student's position, in response to Kim's comment.

    I'm glad to have set readers thinking, and for the range of responses - both in sympathy with the professor and the student.

    John: I'm aware that all my writing on #fridayflash thus far has been quite heavy, so if I can find it within myself, I'm hoping to bring out something lighter soon.

    pegjet: Thank you for the suggestion of another chapter - I'll keep it in mind, because there is more to this story that I'd like to convey somehow.

  11. I like your reference to the student as trauma -- it hints at much more going on than we may be aware of. Is Holocaust Theology really one of the most popular freshman classes?

  12. I also liked the reference to the student as trauma - it really captured my attention - then the change to submissive & defiant. I like this idea instead of names.

    I would also like to hear more about these characters - very interesting!

  13. Thank you for posting your story. Like the other comments, I'm walking away thinking about your piece. I took the Oprah reference as sarcasm and enjoyed it thoroughly; the student walking away knowing she failed was great.

  14. Perhaps you should stop to consider my fellow learned mind, that what she needed was guidence on how to handle the raw emotion that is inspired by such a book. Sometimes we forget as teachers that the greatest way to make an impact and to get through the barrier of the sedintary mind is to make an emotional impact. In order to do that, we have to be able to connect with others on that level. THAT is where the magic happens. My opinion kind sir is that yoou should have asked this young lady about the parts of the book that are most difficult for her, and then use your wisdom of age and being learned to reframe it into its appropriate context. I am sorry to say that it has become aparently obvious to me that you handled this situation entirely incorectly.