Ideas for Teaching about the Holocaust

The National Holocaust Museum, in Washington, DC, has published guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust. The museum offers an online workshop for teachers. The national holocaust museum advises that before the 6th grade, while students may be able to show empathy for individual accounts, the students have difficulty in placing them in a greater historical context. When teaching about the Holocaust to students the teacher must define Holocaust, should not teach the holocaust was inevitable, and should avoid simple answers to complex questions. Teachers should avoid comparisons of pain, must not romanticize history, and must be able to translate statistics into people.  One of the primary concerns of educators teaching the history of the Holocaust is how to present horrific, historical images in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner. Listed are some ideas for teaching about the Holocaust.

Have a Holocaust survivor visit your class. Contact the Holocaust Survivors Speakers Bureau and obtain a Speakers Bureau Request Form and email it to [email protected] They request a 4 week notification. The National Holocaust Museum in Washington also has a speaker’s bureau that offers lectures from survivors, book readings and book signings, and panel discussions. The museum does not charge fees for these services.

Contact a local Jewish Synagogue to find out if they offer any type of Holocaust programs. Ask the rabbi if he could come to class and discuss Jewish beliefs and traditions that were practiced during the Holocaust.

Have these movies available for students to check out and take home to view. Have students write a paper about what the movie meant to them, not about the movie itself. Suggested movies include “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, “Schindler’s List”, “The Pianist”, “Life is Beautiful”, “Sunshine”, “Defiance”, “Out of the Ashes”, “Sophie’s Choice”, and “The Diary of Anne Frank”.

Have your class prepare and conduct a memorial service commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. They can use art, music, writings, and drama. Have students plan and write the program and perform it at a school assembly. This allows art, music and drama teachers to teach about the Holocaust in conjunction with the history class.

Have students create their own fictitious passport with their own photos, fictitious names, addresses, occupations, marital status, and number of children, and then keep a Holocaust diary about what happens to them after they have to relinquish their passports to the Nazis.

As a class project, have students make a timeline and illustrate the Holocaust from beginning to end. Display the entire time line on a long wall in the hallway.

Divide the class into groups and have each group read a different Holocaust-themed book. Each member of each group has to keep an individual journal, and correspond with the other students in their group via emails that become part of each student’s journal. Suggestions are “Night” by Elie Wiesel, “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom, “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay, are but a few of the many well written Holocaust books.

Have the students debate the bioethics of eugenics. This is where students discuss and consider the ethical aspects of Nazi theories regarding race, forced sterilization, euthanasia, and prohibiting marriages for various reasons.

These are a few ideas for teaching the Holocaust to students and allowing them to see this horrific time in history through the eyes of the survivors, and through the lives and deaths of the slaughtered people who are no longer here to tell the story themselves, but have left books for all of history.