Guidelines for Teaching the Holocaust Sally N. Levine Teacher Fellow Regional Educator United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Recommendations are based on the publication Teaching About the Holocaust: A Resource Book forEducators, USHMM, Washington, D.C., March 2001
1. Define the word “Holocaust” • A specific event in 20th century history • Definition: “The State-sponsored systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945” • Victims: • Jews were primary victims • Roma and Sinti • the handicapped • Poles • Homosexuals • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Soviet prisoners of war • political dissidents Glass bridge at the USHMM listing the names of victims of the Holocaust
2. Avoid comparisons of pain. • Highlight policies carried out by Nazi regime against various groups. • Do not compare suffering between groups. • Do not compare to victims of other genocides. • Avoid generalizations which suggest exclusivity. A chart of prisoner markings used in German concentration camps.
3. Avoid simple answers to complex history. • Examine differences in human behavior. • Do not over simpifiy. • Emphasize multiple causation for the Holocaust. • Assess fundamental causes: • Racism • Antisemitism • Nationalism • The Depression SA members preparing for the boycott against Jewish businesses in Germany, ca. 4/1/33
4.Just because it happened does not mean that it was inevitable. • Remind students that the Holocaust took place because individuals made the decision to act, or not to act. • Help students develop insight into human nature. • Nurture students to become critical thinkers. Danish rescuers ferry Jewish refugees from Denmark to Sweden, 1943
5. Strive for precision of language. • Do not overgeneralize. • Refrain from using absolutes – all or none. • Introduce students to euphemisms. • Evaluate all facets of terms such as resistance. • Compare and contrast terms such as bystanders and collaborators, guilt and responsibility, etc. Members of the French resistance parade a collaborator through the streets –armed resistance Ringlebloom Oneg Shabbat archive which contained secret archives of the Warsaw ghetto – spiritual resistance: bearing witness
6. Make careful distinctions about sources of information. • Distinguish between fact, opinion and fiction, primary and secondary sources and types of evidence. • Analyze all interpretations of information. • Identify sources that distort or deny historical fact for personal or political gain. Primary source Secondary source Questionable source
7. Try to avoid stereotypical descriptions. • Although all Jews were targeted for extermination, not all Jews had similar experiences. • Avoid generalizations and stereotypes. • Do not reduce any nationality or religious or racial group to a one dimensional description. A German Jewish doctor and his wife in Mannheim, Germany 1930-1937. Many German Jews were assimilated into German life. A group of Jewish children cross a street in Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Krakow, before 1939. Some Polish Jews lived separately from their Christian Polish neighbors.
8. Do not romanticize history to engage students’ interest. • Rescuers are role models for students, however, only a small minority of non-Jews helped to rescue Jews. • Overemphasis on rescuers can give the wrong impression. • Overemphasizing the horrors of the Holocaust can create a lack of balance. • Accuracy and balance are critical in teaching the Holocaust. Garden Of The Righteous Among The Nations at Yad Vashem
Contextualize the history you are teaching • Remind students that people did not act consistently; they often reacted to changing events and circumstances. • Jews should not just be viewed as victims; life before the Holocaust and the cultural contributions and achievements of European Jewish life should help them balance their perceptions. • Students would also benefit from learning about the Roma and Sinti. Albert Einstein, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, 1921, German Jew
9. Contextualize the history you are teaching. • Place events of the Holocaust in historical context. • Review events in the contexts of American and European history. • Frame your approach based on: • where and when certain acts took place • the consequences of one’s actions • the degree of control the Nazi’s had on a particular population • cultural attitudes • the potential for hiding and rescue. A young Adolf Hitler and members of his National Socialist German Workers Party – Nazis.
10. Translate statistics into people. • The number of victims defies imagination. • Speak about individuals and families. • First person accounts and memoirs help to individualize the victims. • Note that individual experiences are not the experiences of all victims. Tower of Faces at the USHMM
11. Be sensitive to appropriate written and audiovisual content. • Use graphic material sparingly, if needed to achieve the goal of the lesson. • Create a “safe” learning environment. • Limit the use of graphic images: • they can engage students for the wrong reasons • they may shut down their ability to learn about the Holocaust in depth. • Choose images which take into account the sensitivity of students. • Choose images which are respectful of the subjects in them. Detail of the scale model of crematorium II at Auschwitz-Birkenau on display in the permanent exhibition of the USHMM
12. Strive for balance in establishing whose perspective informs your teaching of the Holocaust. • Portray all individuals, victims, perpetrators and bystanders, as people capable of moral judgment and independent decision making. • Avoid glorifying Nazi power; students should learn how power can be used positively and negatively in society. • Clarify that victims of the Holocaust did not do anything to justify the actions against them. Picture postcard of saluting Germans superimposed on images of Hitler and a Nazi stormtrooper
13. Select appropriate learning activites. • Avoid activities which do not require higher thinking skills – crosswords, word scrambles. • Creating models or drawings does not motivate students to critical thinking. • Be wary of simulation exercises; it is almost impossible to recreate the Holocaust experience appropriately. • Simulations can trivialize the subject of the Holocaust. • Journaling, reflective writing assignments and class discussions can create empathy. Reflective writing and journaling as well as discussion groups can help students to deal with the emotions evoked by the study of the Holocaust.
14. Reinforce the objectives of your lesson plan. • Opening and closing lessons are critical to the success of the unit. • Opening lessons should: • dispel misinformation • set a reflective tone • invite student ideas and opinions • establish that the study of the Holocaust is significant to them as individuals and as citizens of a democratic society. • Closing lessons should: • encourage additional study • encourage synthesis and application to the world today. Students being introduced to the poster set from the USHMM. These posters can trigger questions and discussions
Incorporating the Study of the Holocaust into Existing Courses • United States History • World History • World Cultures • Government • Contemporary World Problems • Literature • Art and Art History
United States History • Examine: • dilemmas resulting from foreign policy based solely on national interest • the need for citizens of democracies to be well informed and involved • the actions of the United States in regard to the Holocaust • the roles and reactions of American liberators • the role of the United States in the war crimes trials
United States History • The Great Depression • European economy • Versailles Treaty • Rise of Nazi Party • World War II • American foreign policy • Response of U.S. government • War crimes trials • The Cold War • U.S. and Soviet response to former Nazis • Responses of European allies to former Nazis The Nuremberg Trials The Great Depression
World History • Review history of: • European antisemitism • race science • German nationalism • German defeat in WWI • failure of Weimar Republic. • Explore how Nazi policies were carried out. • Reflect on the systematic planning of a government policy of genocide. • Evaluate the use of technology, roles of collaborators and bystanders. Science of race exhibit, USHMM
World History • Aftermath of World War I • Versailles Treaty • redrawing of Europe after World War I • Rise of Dictators • factors leading to rise of dictators between the wars • exploitation of long standing European antisemitism • World War II • Effect of Holocaust on military decisions • Committing genocide during war • Consequences of War • Connection of the Holocaust to the establishment of the modern State of Israel • International law and the Nuremberg Trials • Effect of cold war on former Nazis Mussolini and Hitler Stalin
World Cultures • Examine tensions between minorities and society in 1933-1945 Europe. • Learn how governments can manipulate concepts of race, nationality, ethnicity to justify their acts. • Analyze how cultures survive in situations of extraordinary adversity. • Apply lessons to understanding of other genocides. German propaganda slide, ca. 1936, showing the Jewish spider with Europe in its web.
Government • Compare and contrast types of governments. • Learn how Germany evolved from a parliamentary democracy to a totalitarian state. • Study how public policy and the silence of the citizens can lead to genocide. • Examine the systems created to implement Nazi policy. • Evaluate the roles of supporters, bystanders and resisters. • Examine the creation of the United Nations as a legacy of the Holocaust. The Reichstag, 7/04 First U.N. Security Council Meeting, London, 1/17/46
Contemporary World Problems • Examine government policies, then and now, which create the potential for ethnic cleansing or genocide. • Compare government responses to mass killings then and now. • Examine what roles people can play in response to these killings.
Literature • Studying literary responses to the Holocaust helps students: • develop respect for basic human decency and the need to confront evil • recognize that there were heroes in the ghettos and camps • understand the concept of spiritual resistance and maintenance of dignity through writing • examine how individuals took on or were made to take on roles of victim, bystander, perpetrator and rescuer • examine choices or absence of choices • analyze the use of euphemisms used by the Nazis "Written in fear and darkness by Jewish children and adolescents, while waiting for death by SS executioners and their accomplices, these extraordinary diaries will resonate in the reader's broken heart for many days and many nights." -- Elie Wiesel.
Art and Art History • Analyze the implications of censorship of the arts to reinforce Nazi values and beliefs. • Study how art was used as a form of resistance. • Examine how art was used to document individual experiences of the Holocaust. • Evaluate how art is used as an interpretation of the Holocaust in memorials. Art of the ghettos and camps Holocaust memorial, Miami, Florida Nazi approved art