Introduction for Teachers


What does it mean to refuse to learn about the Holocaust, to reject it, to ignore it, to deny the past and look only to the present and future? The meaning of the Holocaust, of mass murder, may well rest in contemporary thought and action, but its lessons need the benefit of an informed historical consciousness. For students of world history, these events of the 20th century point to a twin legacy of the 18th century Enlightenment and the 19th century age of progress: not only was nature mastered through science and logical thinking but the prospects for the technological and scientific, indeed, the “logical” subjugation of human beings became a frightening possibility. That possibility was finally realized in the Holocaust, which demonstrates quite clearly that technological advancements, pure rationality and scientific approaches to problems have produced destructive as well as beneficial consequences. It demonstrates, too, that our religious, moral and legal heritage can and did fail miserably. Studying the historical documents to the Holocaust is not enough. Coupling them with the personal experiences of individual survivors of the Holocaust studies must incorporate not only statistics and information that overwhelm by their sheer vastness but also stories of specific children, families and individuals related in clear, informed, honest ways “to uncover the human dimension of such inhumanity.” Ignorance about the reality of the Holocaust—the involvement of bureaucracies, scientists and average citizens, as well as the disruptions of families, communities, and cultures—is appallingly widespread. The implications of such ignorance are frightening to the future of the humanities and social sciences, of education itself. The Holocaust has confronted teachers in the humanities and social sciences with severe and perplexing challenges: cherished assumptions about Western civilization, higher education, ethics, the arts and virtually every hallmark of Western culture are forever compromised. Elie Wiesel, among others, has noted that no assumptions can remain the same after Auschwitz and has implied that the Holocaust is not simply another subject, but the subject for all of civilization to examine.

Yet, Holocaust education has failed to engage these challenges. Catalogs of horrors, atrocity films and books all seem to dismiss the epoch as another example of mass murder and man’s inhumanity to man. While they may evoke various emotions—passion, compassion, anger, pity—they fail to elicit critical thinking and self-reflection.

“At Auschwitz, not only man died, but also the idea of man.” So wrote Elie Wiesel. When we try to understand that time period, examining the motivation of the perpetrators and the experiences of the victims provides a way back to the “idea of man.” Defining and discussing that “idea” has traditionally been the task of educators.

Curricular Context:

This unit of study is sponsored by the Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, The University of Michigan-Dearborn and the Holocaust Education Coalition of Metro Detroit. It is designed primarily as supplemental instructional material for teaching about the Holocaust in typical high school world history courses. It complements units normally devoted to the rise of totalitarianism and the Second World War.

The unit comprises eighteen lessons, each requiring a single class period. Optimally, students will study all the lessons. A shorter version of the unit involving selected lessons can be taught. Although teachers can use their discretion in choosing which lessons to teach in a shorter version, the authors suggest those lesson specially marked ( and ) in the index. At a minimum, lessons including video () should be taught. The other priority lessons () should then be considered. The unit could also be taught separately as a short course on the Holocaust or as part of a longer course devoted to this topic.

Teaching the Lessons:

All of the materials needed by the teacher for this unit are contained on the website. Student readings are downloadable from the website as.pdf files. Each of the eighteen lesson plans in the unit has four components arranged in a specific format:
  1. Lesson objectives
  2. A list of key glossary terms for the lesson
  3. Instructional materials
  4. A sequence of steps to follow for teaching the lesson

The unit also includes a set of learning goals for students, a glossary of key terms, a historical timeline of the Holocaust, written scripts of the video program narratives, an annotated bibliography of selected Holocaust publications, links to other online resources and a multiple choice test.

Uniquely important to this unit of study are the specially produced video segments linked to five of the lessons. The video segments contain documentary film and original testimony of Holocaust survivors. Instructions for incorporating the video segments are provided.

Today’s high school students were not alive at the time of the Holocaust. Through this unit of study, today’s youth can be alerted to the vigilance necessary to prevent the occurrence of a similar tragedy. The aim is to provide a well-organized and intellectually stimulating experience for high school students, which will have an enduring influence on the thinking.

“There are events of such overbearing magnitude that one ought not remember them all the time, but one must not forget them either. Such an event is the Holocaust.”
--Rabbi Israel Spira

Learning Goals:

This unit of instruction about the Holocaust is designed for students to achieve three types of learning goals: knowledge, skill and value. The knowledge goals pertain to facts, concepts, generalizations that will enable students to interpret the Holocaust and associate it with their experiences. The skill goals pertain to processes and abilities that will enable students to be versatile in using their knowledge effectively. The value goals will help students establish defensible criteria and standards for determining their obligations and making judgments of worth. The major learning goals are listed on the following page.

Students will:

Skill Goals:

Students will improve their ability to:

Value Goals:

Students will:

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