Steve Cerf

George Lincoln Skolfield Jr., Professor of German Emeritus

Emeritus faculty

He came to Bowdoin in 1971, and was promoted to the George Lincoln Skolfield Jr. Professorship of German in 1990.

Cerf shared freely his personal and family history in the classroom, always in the service of helping students and the Bowdoin community understand German language, culture, and the indelible legacy of the Holocaust — and more generally to understand the power of literature, music and art to express and reveal truths about humanity.

Cerf’s passion for current events, popular culture, the arts — and particularly, for opera — is well known in the Bowdoin community.

For years he escorted large groups of Bowdoin alumni to the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York to learn about opera and experience it firsthand.

In 2008, he proudly became the first faculty member at the College to enter into a same-sex marriage, and with his husband Ben, became a friend and mentor to Bowdoin’s increasingly diverse campus culture.

Cerf’s memory has been described as “famously encyclopedic,” not only for its wealth of facts and scholarship, but for the details about the many students and colleagues whose lives he has touched over more than four decades.


  • Ph.D, Yale University, 1975
  • M. Ph. , Yale University, 1971
  • B.A., Queens College, CUNY, 1966


Six Essays (Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Quarry, Richard Glazar, Trap with a Green Fence: Survival in Treblinka, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, and Tynset, in Reference Guide to Holocaust Literature, St. James Press, 2002

Thomas Mann und die Englische Literatur, in Thomas-Mann Handbuch, revised third edition, Kröner Verlag series, 2001

Four Genres and One Question: Why? in Shedding Light on the Darkness: A Guide to Teaching the Holocaust, Berghahn Books, 2000

 Revolutionary Rescue, Playbill, Lincoln Center, 2000 Commedia Tonight, Stagebill, Lincoln Center, 2000 (Article co-written with Benjamin Folkman)

England's Saving Grace, Stagebill, Lincoln Center, 2000
(Article co-written with Benjamin Folkman)

Breakthrough to Freedom, Stagebill, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2000

Tchaikovsky's Hero, Stagebill, Lincoln Center, 2000

Enchantress for the Ages,Stagebill, Houston Ballet, 2000
(Reprinted in Stagebill,Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre)

Satanic Voices, Playbill, Lincoln Center, 1999

Love Story, Stagebill, Houston Grand Opera, 1999

Mozart's Turkomania, Stagebill,Lincoln Center, 1999
(Article co-written with Benjamin Folkman)

The Politics of Art, Stagebill, Lincoln Center, 1998

Massenet and Manon, Stagebill, Lincoln Center, 1997
(Article co-written with Benjamin Folkman)

Turkish Turnabout, Stagebill, Lincoln Center, 1997
(Article co-written with Benjamin Folkman)

"The Urfaust and Gounod: French Opera and Goethe," Stagebill, Lincoln Center, 1997

"Enacting Rheingold: The First Performances of Wagner's Tetralogy," (co-authored article with Benjamin Folkman), Opera News, 1997

"Too Grimm for Words: Bechstein's Adaptation of Hänsel und Gretel," Opera News, 1996

"The Absence of Closure: The Different Finales in Cosi fan Tutte," Opera News, 1996

"The East German Bach Tradition: Masur Conducts Bach in New York,"  Stagebill, Lincoln Center, 1995

"Thomas Mann und die englische Literatur," in Das Thomas-Mann Handbuch, revised 2nd edition, Kröner-Verlag Series, 1995

"Wagner's Parsifal and the New-Bayreuth Style," Opera News, 1995

"The Floral Prison: Exoticism in Lakmé," (co-authored article with Benjamin Folkman), Stagebill, Lincoln Center, 1994

"Musical Marriages: Susanna's Duets in Le Nozze di Figaro" (co-authored article with Benjamin Folkman), Opera News, 1994 

"The Artist as an Old Man: Benjamin Britten's Aschenbach," Stagebill, 1994

"Ideologizing Beethoven: Cold War Performances of Fidelio," Opera News,  1993

"Ariadne auf Naxos: Dualities Infinitely Redividing," Opera Cues, 1993 (article co-written with Benjamin Folkman) Der Freischütz, New York Philharmonic Booklet, Co-translation, 1993 Co-Translations from Goethe's Egmont, Sony CD, 1993

"The Renaissance in Nuremberg: A False Dawn," Opera News, 1993

"Thomas Mann and Wagner, with Notes on the Teaching of Tristan," in Approaches to Teaching: Thomas Mann, MLA, 1992

"Freedom's Ring: The Role of Posa in Schiller's Drama and Verdi's Opera," Opera News, 1992

"Richard Strauss Lieder" New York Philharmonic Program Co- Translation, 1992

"The Magic Flute--Part II,"  Opera News, 1991 (reprinted 1993 in The New Jersey Opera Association Program Booklet)

"Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna--Comedic Time in Der Rosenkavalier,"  Opera News, 1991 (reprinted 1995 in the Pittsburgh Opera Association Program Booklet)

"Pioneering American Opera on Morningside Heights," Opera News, 1991

"Vier letze Lieder," New York Philharmonic Program Co-Translation, 1991

"Thomas Mann und die englische Literatur," in Das Thomas-Mann-Handbuch, Kröner-Verlag Series, 1990

"Thomas Mann and Richard Wagner: Wresting the Ring from the Nazis," Opera News, 1990

"The Other Frau ohne Schatten: Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Fairy Tale in Prose,"  Opera News, 1989

"Thomas Mann's Leo Naphta: Echoes of Brandesian Intellectual History and Biography," in Seminar, 1989

"Sieben frühe Lieder," Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Program Booklet, Co-Translation, 1988

"Zum 40. Jahrestag der Beendigung des Krieges in Europa und der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft," collaboratively edited for students, American Association of Teachers of German, 1987

"The Faust Theme in Twentieth-Century Opera: Lyric Modernism," in Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik, 1987

"Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice: Operatic Stream of Consciousness," in Bucknell Review, 1987

"Kindertotenlieder,"  New York Philharmonic Program Booklet, Co- Translation, 1986

"The Shakespearean Element in Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus-Montage," in Revue de Littérature Comparée, 1985

"Schubert Lieder-Orchestrations": Texts by Goethe, Heine, etc., New York Philharmonic Program Booklet, Co-Translation, 1985

"Altenberg-Lieder," New York Philharmonic Program Booklet, Co- Translation, 1985

"Gurrelieder," New York Philharmonic Program Booklet, Co-Translation, 1985

"Digressive Narrative Modes and the Role of the Reader in Joseph der Ernährer: Thomas Mann's Affinity for Laurence Sterne," in Comparative Literature, 1982

"Georg Brandes' View of Novalis: A Current within Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg," in Colloquia Germanica, 1981

"Stefan Zweig's Sole Librettistic Attempt, Die schweigsame Frau: A Modernistic Opera Buffa," in Modern Austrian Literature, 1981

"Notes on Interdisciplinary Team-Teaching: A Case in Point," in Association of Departments of Foreign Languages Bulletin, 1981

"Love in Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus as an Imitatio Shakespeare," in Comparative Literature Studies, 1981

"Miss Sara Sampson and Clarissa: The Use of Epistolary Devices in Lessing's Drama," in Theatrum Mundi, Houston German Studies, 1980

"Diverse Screenings: Coordinating Film and Text in German," in Die Unterrichtspraxis, 1979

"Lyric Symphony" (Zemlinsky), New York Philharmonic Program Booklet. Translation for the American Premiere.  Text after poems by Tagore, 1979

"Revising the Foreign Language Curriculum at a Small College," in Association of Departments of Foreign Languages Bulletin, 1977


Interiority Revealed: Korngold's Die tote Stadt, Lincoln Center, 2001

Liminality and Serenity: Mahler's Rückert Lieder, Lincoln Center, 2001

Three Poets and One Cycle: Schubert's Schwanengesang, Lincoln Center, 2001

Schumann and Wolf, Lincoln Center, 2000

Exile as Theme in Schubert and Eisler, Lincoln Center, 2000

Journey Beyond Death, Lincoln Center, 1999

A Child's Death: the Anguish of a Parent, Lincoln Center, 1999

Nietzche in Turn-of-the-Century Vienna: Mahler's Third, Lincoln Center, 1998

"Anne Frank's Short Stories: A Mirror of the Diarist's Inner Self,"  Bates College, 1997

"Wilhelm Müller and Franz Schubert: The Role of the Seasons in the  Cycles," Lincoln Center, 1997

"Gustav Mahler's Lifelong Obsession with Des Knaben Wunderhorn," Lincoln Center, 1996

"Peter Härtling's Franz Schubert Biography: An Interview and an Interpretation," Lincoln Center, 1995

"Hugo Wolf and Eduard Mörike: Epic Miniaturists," Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, 1994

"Impressionen--Auf dem Abschiedsempfang der Stadt Nürnberg," 1991

"The Three Anne Frank Films: Strategies in Teaching the Holocaust," Bates College, 1988  

"Teaching the Holocaust through Cinema."  Workshop given for high school teachers in the Greater Portland Area, 1987

"Aesthetics of Reception: Prose Treatments of Don Giovanni."  Paper presented at the 200th anniversary of the première of Mozart's Don Giovanni at Bates College, 1987

"Plague as a Theme in Literature: Then and Now."  Workshop presented on the theme of AIDS in imaginative writing, Augusta, 1987

"The Nürnberg Trials and the 'Weizsäcker Rede.'"  Paper presented at the University of Maine in Augusta, 1986

"Carl Maria von Weber's Tonkünstlers Leben: The Role of the Novel within the Composer's Operatic Oeuvre."  Paper presented at a Symposium on Romanticism at McMaster University, 1983

"Death in Venice: Operatic Stream-of-Consciousness."  Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, 1983

"Opera as Literature."  Paper presented at University of Connecticut,1982

"Don Carlos and Don Carlo: A Comparison."  Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, 1981

"The Role of George Brandes in the Zauberberg."  Paper presented at  annual meeting of the American Association of Teachers of German  meeting, Atlanta, 1979

"Agnes Meyer and the Genesis of Joseph der Ernä hrer."  Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association, 1978

"Film and the Classroom: Modes of Instruction."  Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, 1977

"Die Frau ohne Schatten as Modernistic Fairy Tale."  Paper presented at a Symposium on Literature and the Other Arts at the University of Pennsylvania, 1977

Pedological & Scholarly Activities

Evaluator of Translation and Critical Essay for an edition of Elsa Bernstein, MLA, 2003 Seminar Leader, Imaginative Writing as Forum: Bridging Cultural Gaps in an ever-shrinking World, Maine Humanities Council, 2003

Seminar Leader, Diachronic and Synchronic Styles in Twentieth-Century Imaginative Writing, Maine Humanities Council, 2002

Seminar Leader,Exile and Displacement in Twentieth-Century Modernist and Post-Modernist Imaginative Writing, Maine Humanities Council, 2001

Outside Reader, MA Thesis, Dartmouth College, 2001

Seminar Leader, Reading as Empowerment, Maine Humanities Council,2000

Seminar Leader, Creating Change: The Novel as Forum for Reform, Maine Humanities Council 1998

Outside curricular evaluator, Department of German, Colgate University, 1997 and Colorado College, 1998

Outside curricular evaluator, Department of German, Colby College, 1995 and Dartmouth College, 1995

Chief Faculty Consultant, German AP, 1994-1997

Seminar Leader, "The Role of the Survivor and Survival in Western Literature," Maine Humanities Council, 1997

Seminar Leader, "Utopias and Dystopias in Western Literature," Maine Humanities Council, 1996

Seminar Leader, "Illness and its Metaphors," Maine Humanities Council, 1995

Presenter, "AP-German Workshop," University of Texas, Austin, 1994

Reader and evaluator of submitted manuscripts for Seminar, A Journal of German Studies, 1981-, Modern Austrian Literature, 1982-, The University of Toronto Press, 1986-, The German Quarterly, 1988-, and Colloquia Germanica, 1989-

Seminar Leader, "The Role of Gender in Modernist Literature", Maine Humanities Council, 1994

Chief Reader Designate, AP German, 1993-1994

Outside Evaluator for Promotion with Tenure: Dartmouth College, Swarthmore College, Grinnell College, Hamilton College, and Boston College

Seminar Leader, "The Role of the City in Modernist Literature," Maine Humanities Council, 1993

Seminar Leader, "Autobiography as Literature," Maine Humanities Council, 1991

Seminar Leader, "Writing Wrong: Imaginative Writing and Social Issues,"Maine Humanities Council, 1990

Seminar Leader, "The Anti-Hero as Other in Modern Literature," Maine Humanities Council, 1989

Seminar Leader, "The Anti-Hero in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Literature, Maine Humanities Council, 1988

Seminar Leader, "The Prison Symbol in Literature," Maine Humanities Council, 1987

Seminar Leader, "Law and Literature in the Twentieth Century, " Maine Council for the Humanities, 1986

Seminar Leader, "Literature and the Holocaust: Teaching the Holocaust in Maine Schools," Maine Humanities Council, 1984

Curricular Evaluator of the Modern Language Department, Whitman College, 1984

Seminar Leader, "Imaginative Writing and the Law," Maine Humanities Council, 1983

Outside examiner and evaluator of major honors examnations, Dept. ofGerman, Bates College, 1993, and, Dept. of German, Swarthmore College, 1980, 1983 and 1995

Reader and Scorer, ETS, AP German, 1980-1993

Chairman of Section, New Source Material on Thomas Mann, annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, 1978

Member, National Advisory Council of Junior Year Study in Munich/Freiburg, 1976-

Community Service

"Teaching the Holocaust through Imaginative Writing," Talk given at the  Bowdoin Friends Meeting, Brunswick, 1996

"Teaching the Holocaust:Racism in Germany Today," Talk given at the  Bowdoin Alumni Club of Lewiston, 1992

Member of the Advisory Committee on the Code of Professional Responsibility for the Maine State Bar Association, 1988-1992

"Weimar Cinema," Elderhostel course, Bowdoin College, 1986

"The Literary Imagination and the Holocaust," a recertification course  for high school teachers, Bowdoin College, 1984

"Literary Imagination and the Holocaust," workshop and lectures  presented at Bates College, as part of "The Holocaust Remembered," 1982

Consulting Scholar, Maine Humanities Council, 1981-

Forty reviews on music, theater, and the other performing arts, Maine Times, 1975-82

Guide for the Hannoverian youth Orchestra, 1980

The Opera Buff, radio program, WDCS-FM, Portland, Maine 1977-78 and 1980-81


Interdisciplinary Courses Taught

  • The Emergence of the European Encyclopedic Novel, 1992
  • The Faust Myth Through the Ages, 1987, 1995
  • The Holocaust and the Literary Imagination, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000
  • Turn-of-the-Century Vienna, 1982, 1998
  • Scandinavian Thought and Culture, 1979, 1981

Team-Taught Courses

  • Nineteenth-Century German Opera, 1989
  • The Operas of Verdi, 1981, 1987
  • The Music Dramas of Wagner, 1978, 1986
  • Mozart's Operas, 1984
  • The Age of the Enlightenment, 1981
  • Twentieth-Century Opera, 1980