I have found that students’ background knowledge of the Holocaust varies greatly. Some know so much about it, while others only know of
, the movie. My first activity of the unit will be a chalk talk. This activity is great for finding out what students know about a subject. It can also be used as a review to see what the class has learned. In the middle of the board I will write “the Holocaust.” Silently, students will, one at a time, go up to the board and write a fact, a comment, a question… about the Holocaust. They can draw arrows, signs, pictures either connecting to what someone else wrote or by itself. I love this activity for many reasons. Not only do I find out what the students already know, all students can participate, even the shy ones. Students who don’t know anything about the subject can also feel success participating by asking a question. Students love this activity too, and they actually stay silent for it. Once we finish, we go over what’s on the board. We answer the questions that were asked and discuss what people know.
When this is finished, I will spend about two days lecturing on the Holocaust so students have the historical knowledge needed to understand and appreciate the literature. I don’t lecture often, but I like to include the technique in class so students get a chance to practice different note-taking skills, a skill often over-looked. By April, when I’ll teach this unit, students will be able to take notes without me having to write everything on the board. What I do in the beginning of the year, which works well with lower-level classes, is teach note-taking in stages. At first I’ll write everything I want them to write in their notebooks on the board. I’ll do this for a while, changing the style of note-taking so students can figure out what works best for them. Then I’ll only write key items down and will ask them to write details from what I say. At the end of class, I’ll hand out exactly what they should have written down so they know what information was important, what they caught and what they missed. Then I only speak and see what they take notes on by checking their notebooks. This process does take time, but the long-term benefits are incredible. Soon students take excellent notes and you don’t have to worry about that anymore.
Teaching about the Holocaust: A Resource Book for Educators
, which can be found on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website (www.ushmm.com) the Holocaust can be defined as,
…a specific genocidal event in twentieth-century history: the state sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims -- 6 million were murdered; Gypsies, the handicapped, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet Prisoners of War, and political dissidents , also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny (www.ushmm.com).
When I attended the Belfar Conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, we were told to avoid comparing the pain of the Holocaust to other painful events in history. We were also told to tell students, “just because it happened does not mean it [the Holocaust] was inevitable” (www.ushmm.com). The Museum’s website is a wonderful resource for both educators and students to learn about the history of the Holocaust, see maps, see pictures, hear testimonies…
Adolf Hitler created the “Final Solution”, the Nazis’ name for their systematic plan to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews. The Final Solution became a German State policy. The policy claimed that Jews were an inferior race and blamed Jews for the country’s depression and for losing WWI. Hitler exploited centuries of anti-Semitism, “extreme nationalism, financial insecurity, fear of communism, and so-called race science” (www.ushmm.com). He pronounced the Aryans the pure race. In 1933, a series of laws were passed that were damaging to Jews. Jews were forced out of many jobs. Germany mandated a boycott of Jewish businesses. In 1935, the Nuremberg laws were passed, claiming Jews as second-class citizens. Instead of identifying Jews by their practicing religion, people were Jewish if their grandparents were Jewish. So even if only one grandparent was Jewish, the Nazis considered that person Jewish. Once the Nuremberg laws were in place, discrimination against Jews escalated. In 1938, on a night now known as Kristallnacht, the Nazis rioted and destroyed many Jewish stores, synagogues, and homes, and many Jews were murdered. By the time war broke out many Jews who had the means to flee Germany had done so, but many more tried and were rejected by the countries where they sought refuge, including ours, or simply didn’t have the financial or personal resources to get out. Hitler’s campaign against the Jews intensified after the outbreak of war. First Jews were herded into ghettos, where Jews were forced to live in a small section of a town. One family would share one room. Lice were a huge problem. Ghettos were “liquidated” and the inhabitants sent to concentration camps. These camps varied in purpose; some were forced-labor camps, some, like Auschwitz, were almost wholly devoted to killing, through gas chambers, mass shootings and other means. There was even a “model” camp set up to appease international visitors and the Red Cross. Mostly the elderly and children inhabited the camp. Prisoners took art and music classes to show that the Nazis were treating the prisoners humanely. As Germany began to lose ground against Russia in the East, inmates were often made to march or ride in cattle cars between camps. Hundreds were forced into a cattle car and were made to ride for days without food, water, or toilets. Many died by such means as starvation and because they were trampled on. In the death marches, prisoners were often made to march from one camp to another, often in the dead of winter. Prisoners were lined up in rows and if anyone fell out of line, they would be shot. Often, prisoners had no shoes and would lose toes from frostbite. In the last stages of Germany’s retreat the Nazis tried to cover up their crimes by destroying evidence. In 1942 alone four million Jews were killed; by the end of the war in 1945, approximately six million were dead.