About This Lesson
The previous lesson began the ‘Judgement, Memory, and Legacy’ stage of the Facing History & Ourselves scope and sequence by helping students wrestle with dilemmas of justice after the Holocaust. This lesson continues that stage of the scope and sequence by helping students think deeply about the impact of memory and history on the present day. In particular, this lesson engages students in the processes of both responding to and creating memorials to the Holocaust. By doing so, they are forced to grapple with key questions about why history is important and how our memory of history is shaped and influenced. Students will begin by learning about several Holocaust memorials around the world and analysing the choices that artists and communities made when creating them. Then they will design, plan, and create their own memorial to represent an idea, event, or person they believe is important to remember from the history of the Holocaust.
What does learning about the choices people made during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the Holocaust teach us about the power and impact of our choices today?
- How should we remember the past? What impact do memorials and monuments have on the way we think about history?
- What parts of the history of the Holocaust are most important for us to remember today? How can we ensure that this history is not forgotten?
- Students will analyse several examples of Holocaust memorials to see how the communities and individuals that designed them sought to shape future generations’ understanding of this history.
- Students will design their own memorials and consider what aspects of a particular history are worth remembering and what parts are intentionally left out.
This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-minute class period and includes:
- 4 activities
- 6 images
- 1 handout
- 1 PowerPoint
- 2 extension activities
- 1 additional resource
As students explored in the previous lesson, judgement and justice were crucial components of the aftermath of the Holocaust. Testimony in the Nuremberg trials provided the world with clear evidence of the human devastation wrought by the Nazis and preserved this information in the historical record. In this way, these trials were a step towards another stage of the post-war process: remembrance. This process of reckoning, or coming to terms, with the history of the Holocaust is one that continues today among historians, survivors and their descendants, politicians, citizens, and students. As American author James Baldwin has said, in writing about America’s history of slavery:
History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. 1
Baldwin suggests that we won’t really understand history or ourselves unless we consider how the past is ‘present’ in our world. And the Holocaust, which historians describe as not merely a significant moment in history but a ‘collapse in human civilization’ 2 and a ‘symbol of evil’ 3 , exerts an especially powerful force. Author Eva Hoffman, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, observed:
Sixty years after the Holocaust took place, our reckoning with this defining event is far from over. Indeed, as this immense catastrophe recedes from us in time, our preoccupation with it seems only to increase. 4
There are many ways in which individuals, groups, and nations, in Germany and around the world, have confronted the memory of the Holocaust. Some countries, including Germany and France, have made Holocaust denial a crime, punishable by a fine and imprisonment. Governments have also encouraged or mandated education about the Holocaust. German schools are required to teach their students about the Nazi era and the Holocaust, and in addition to classroom learning, most German students visit either a concentration camp or a Holocaust memorial.
Scholars, journalists, survivors, and novelists have helped the public remember the Holocaust through their writing. When Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the chairman of the Nobel committee remarked, ‘Through his books, Elie Wiesel has given us not only an eyewitness account of what happened, but also an analysis of the evil powers which lay behind the events.’ 5
Another way that communities around the world have remembered the Holocaust is through building memorials and monuments. These buildings are created for many reasons: to preserve the past, to honour heroes (such as the resisters of the Warsaw ghetto uprising or the rescuers of Le Chambon), to commemorate tragedies, and to inspire action or reflection. These monuments raise questions about appropriate ways to study and remember the Holocaust. To what extent can any memorial help us truly understand the experiences of victims of the Holocaust? How can we symbolise the vast number of victims while still honouring each unique life that was lost – the schoolchild, the aunt, the tailor, the physicist, the sister? Who should decide how the Holocaust is represented and remembered – what symbols are used, what facts are presented, and whose stories are told?
As the process of reckoning and remembrance continues to unfold, one thing is certain: What happened then continues to have a profound influence on the lives of individuals to this day. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written, there is a difference between history and memory: ‘History is information. Memory, by contrast, is part of identity. ... Memory is the past as present, as it lives on in me.’ 6
Survivors, witnesses, the descendants of those who lived this history, and all those who learn about it today face the question of how to remember the past and how that memory might shape our understanding of ourselves and our present world.
- 1 J. Baldwin, ‘The White Man’s Guilt’, Ebony, August 1965, 47.
- 2‘The President’s Commission on the Holocaust: Guiding Principles’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed 1 June 2016.
- 3Y. Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), x.
- 4E. Hoffman, After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust (New York: Public Affairs, 2011), ix.
- 5E. Aarvick, ‘The Nobel Peace Prize 1986’, PBS website (accessed 23 January 2009).
- 6 J. Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s Haggadah: Hebrew and English Text with New Essays and Commentary (New York: Continuum, 2006), 29.
Preparing to Teach
A Note to Teachers
Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts.
The images in this lesson are taken from the visual essay Holocaust Memorials and Monuments in Holocaust and Human Behaviour. The introduction to the visual essay provides an in-depth discussion of the relationship of memorials to history and public memory, as well as the variety of roles memorials can serve in a community or country. We recommend that you read this introduction in preparation to teach this lesson in order to help you answer questions that may arise and guide students to a deeper level of understanding of the power of memory. You might also decide to share some of this introduction with your students.
The Stolpersteine slide refers to the specific stones in the photograph. Students should be aware that Stolpersteine can be found in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Ukraine.
The last activity provides students with the opportunity to plan their own Holocaust memorial. This is a task that will warrant more time for reflection than is available in the class period, so we have suggested you assign this activity for homework. You can hand them the Creating a Memorial handout so that they have time to develop their ideas more thoroughly.
The following are key vocabulary terms used in this lesson:
Add these words to your Word Wall, if you are using one for this unit, and provide the necessary support to help students learn these words as you teach the lesson.
How Should We Remember?
Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides.
The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales, context, and detailed activity instructions that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson.
The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.
- Begin by asking students to take a few moments to describe in their journals one or more monuments or memorials that they are familiar with. Perhaps it is one in their local neighbourhood that they pass every day, or one they have seen elsewhere in the city, country, or world that they found memorable. Ask them to describe both what it looks like and what they think its purpose is. What do they think the designer of the monument wanted people to think, remember, or feel?
- After writing, give students a few moments to share their examples with one or more classmates, and then lead a short whole-group discussion in response to the questions: Why do people build monuments and memorials? What purposes do they serve? Record students’ ideas on the board.
- Continue the whole-group discussion about memorials and monuments by reading the following paragraph to students:
Across Europe, and even around the globe, people have built memorials to commemorate the Holocaust. Each tries to preserve the collective memory of the generation that built the memorial and to shape the memories of generations to come. Memorials raise complex questions about which history we choose to remember. If a memorial cannot tell the whole story, then what part of the story, or whose story, does it tell? Whose memories, whose point of view, and whose values and perspectives will be represented?
- Ask students to write down their thoughts in their journals in response to the following question: What do you think the author means when she says that memorials ‘cannot tell the whole story’?
- Ask a few students to share their thoughts in a brief, informal whole-group discussion. You might ask students to think again about the memorial or monument they wrote about at the beginning of class. What parts of the story might it leave out?
- The class will now use the Jigsaw teaching strategy to analyse a variety of Holocaust memorials. Divide the class into six groups and assign each group one of the following images:
- Students can analyse these Holocaust memorials and monuments using the Jigsaw strategy. First, divide the class into ‘expert’ groups of three to four students; each group will analyse one handout that shows one memorial or monument. Depending on the size of your class, you may have more than one group working with a particular memorial. In their journals, have each group answer the following questions, using what they observe in the image and the information in the caption, if necessary:
- Who is the intended audience for the memorial?
- What, specifically, is the memorial representing or commemorating?
- What story or message do you think the artist was trying to convey to the intended audience? What might the memorial be leaving out?
- How does the memorial convey its intended story or message? What materials did the artist use? What might the audience’s experience be like when they visit the memorial?
- Once the ‘expert’ groups have completed their work, students will reorganise themselves into ‘teaching’ groups, with three students in each group. The members of each ‘teaching’ group should have analysed a different voice in their ‘expert’ groups. Share the tasks for the ‘teaching’ groups:
- Share their ‘expert’ group’s work (the answers to the above questions).
- Discuss the following questions with the group: What similarities and differences do you notice between the memorials/monuments? What do you think accounts for these similarities and/or differences?
- Complete the activity by asking members of each ‘teaching’ group to report to the whole class the takeaways from their discussions.
Conclude the lesson by asking students to submit a written plan for their own Holocaust memorial (see the Extensions section for an activity that involves creating a model representation). Give students the handout Creating a Memorial. Ask students to complete the questions individually and then follow the instructions at the end of the handout to create a simple sketch of their memorial, give it a title, and write an artist’s statement.
While the Creating a Memorial handout directs students to create a visual representation of the memorials they have planned, many teachers take the activity a step further by giving students the opportunity to actually build something (usually on a smaller scale than their plan may call for). This can be accomplished at school by devoting additional class time to the project and providing a selection of materials and supplies (such as lego, clay, coloured paper and cardboard) for students to work with. The intent is not to judge students’ creative skills as artists but to give them an opportunity to make their thinking visible with a tangible product. Remind students that even simple shapes, arranged thoughtfully, can communicate powerful ideas, and that the title and artist’s statement that accompany the model of their monument will help explain to classmates and teachers their intent and overall vision.
After students have completed their models, consider giving them the opportunity to share their memorials with their classmates and other audiences in the school. You can give each student a few minutes to present their memorial to the class, or students can set up an exhibition in the classroom or another public space in the school to showcase their memorials.
Consider talking to your students about the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, which is due to be located in Westminster, near the Houses of Parliament. There are numerous articles and design images available to look at.
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How Should We Remember? (UK)
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