Holocaust and Human Behavior Unit Plan for Jewish Day Schools


This course is designed with middle and high school students in mind. The unit outline can and should be adapted to suit the needs of your class. The extent to which you cover the suggested lessons will depend on the grade that you are teaching as well as the number of classes that you have allocated for teaching the Facing History and Ourselves Scope and Sequence.

Please note that all Jewish Texts referenced in this document can be found in English or Hebrew and Aramaic by downloading the following PDF files.

Introduction and Rationale:

Below is a sample unit plan for teaching the Facing History curriculum in a Jewish day school, integrating many of the resources we offer. Educators in day school settings have the unique opportunity to teach a Facing History course incorporating several different curricular areas. This unit plan integrates Jewish texts, literature, history, social studies, and art into a study of the Holocaust.

Please note that there are additional sections to the scope and sequence above. The following guide should help you find what you are looking for.

Heading Content
Identity Identity, Jewish Identity
Membership We and They, Life Before the War
History Germany in the 1920's, Rise of the Nazis, Life in the Ghetto, The Holocaust, Bystanders, Rescuers and Resisters
Judgment, Memory, and Legacy Judgment, Memory and Legacy
Choosing to Participate Choosing to Participate

If you would like more information, please contact Shira Deener [email protected] at (617) 735-1608, or Leora Schaefer [email protected] at (416) 901-3831.

Essential Questions and Key Themes

How does identity influence the way we see ourselves in relation to others? What does it mean to be a Jew in the Diaspora?

This opening section of the unit begins with questions of the individual and society, particularly the social and personal variables that lead to the formation of identity. It raises the complex question about what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora - both the challenges and the opportunities available.

How is our identity formed? Is being Jewish an important part of this identity?
How do our attitudes and beliefs influence our thinking? How does our thinking affect our actions? 
When do you find being Jewish the most challenging? When do you find it the most rewarding?

Readings and Resources


Suggested Activities

  • "You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." Mahatma Gandhi
  • "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."Abraham Lincoln
  • "It is human nature to think wisely and act foolishly." Anatole France
  • "Train a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 12:6
  • "The tendency of man's nature to good is like the tendency of water to flow downward." Meng-Tse
  • "It is silly to go on pretending that under the skin we are brothers. The truth is more likely that under the skin we are all cannibals, assassins, traitors, liars and hypocrites." Henry Miller
  • "A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape." Mark Twain
  • "The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one." Hilter in Mein Kampf
  • "Know that although in the eternal scheme of things you are small, you are also unique and irreplaceable, as are all your fellow humans everywhere in the world." Margaret Lawrence 
1. Place several quotes posted in large letters around the room, without attribution, describing various views of human nature from a variety of different sources.

Quotes can range from sources from Jewish tradition to Eastern philosophy to beliefs about Social Darwinism. You can choose from the quotes listed below or choose others. Have students stand in front of the quote that expresses their view. Have the students develop an explanation as to why the quote that they chose expresses their view of humanity and human behavior. What does it mean about people in general? About themselves in particular? 

2. Have students construct an identity chart for themselves. How do they see themselves? What words would they use to describe themselves? Then have them read The Bear that Wasn't (p.3-7 of Holocaust and Human Behavior, or class sets of the book can be requested from the resource library) and/or selected identity readings from Chapter 1 of The Jews of Poland (you may want to break the students into groups, and have each group read one reading). Have the students create identity charts for the people described in the readings. What do they wrestle with in terms of their identity? For an additional lesson plan on the subject of identity, click here

3. A lesson connecting issues of inclusion and exclusion to traditional Jewish texts.

4. Have students complete the sentence, "Being Jewish means..." How was their Jewish identity formed? What is the essence of being Jewish? Show either the last five minutes of "A Jew is Not One Thing" in which four people from various backgrounds describe their own understanding of the essence and meaning of being Jewish (ranging from the religious view of Rabbi Levi Weimann-Kelman to the completely secular view of Israeli author David Grossman); or show the first few minutes of "The Jews of Boston" in which different people from the Boston area explain what being Jewish means to them. 

5. Artist Glenn Ligon has created a painting consisting of a repetition of the phrase, "I feel most colored when thrown against a sharp white background." Click here to see a copy of the painting. Discuss with your students both what this quote means and what the artwork depicts. Then ask your students to complete the phrase, "I feel most Jewish when...". Do they feel most Jewish when doing explicitly Jewish things, or when they are the only Jew person in the midst of a group of non-Jews? Conclude by showing the first ten minutes of "Yidl in the Middle". What is the filmmaker's tension in struggling to define her Jewish identity?


We and They: 

Essential Questions and Key Themes

  • We and They: How does a group or nation define its identity? Historically, how have Jews "fit in" in Europe and America?
  • This section of the unit moves to questions of the "universe of obligation" - to whom do we feel responsible? In it we ask the historical question of how "the other" is defined within different contexts.
  • What are the implications of creating an "us" and a "them"? What makes minorities vulnerable?

Readings and Resources

Suggested Videos:

Other Resources:

Suggested Activities

1. Have students explore the term "universe of obligation." For a related lesson, view Defining Community: The Universe of Obligation.

2. Have your class read Harrison Bergeron aloud as a class. The connections section for this reading in Holocaust and Human Behavior provides helpful discussion topics. The following Midrashic text can be studied to help ground the discussion in Jewish tradition. You may choose to have the class study this text in Chevruta (paired learning) and then invite each group to share with the class their interpretation of the text and its relation to the reading.

"God also created the one over against the other." [Ecc. 7:14] The Holy One created the world in pairs, one an opposite to the other, and the other an opposite of the one, so that it might be known that each and every thing has a mate and has an opposite, and but for the one, the other would not be. But for death, there would be no life, and but for life, there would be no death. But for peace, there would be no evil, and but for evil, there would be no peace. If all human beings were fools, they would not be regarded as fools, and if all human beings were sages, they would not be recognized as sages. But for poor people, the rich would not be recognized, and but for rich people, the poor would not be recognized. God created grace and created ugliness, males and females, fire and water, iron and wood, light and darkness, heat and cold, eating and hunger, drinking and thirst, sea and dry land, work and idleness, anxiety and ease of mind, laughter and weeping, healing and sickness. If there is no cleanness, there is no uncleanness, and if there is no uncleanness, there is no cleanness. If there is no righteous man, there is no wicked man; and if no wicked man, no righteous man. [All the aforegoing] to make known the might of the Holy One, who created everything in pairs and to be mated. For all things there is an opposite, except for the Holy One, who is One and has no second. (Midrash Tehillim 2)

3. Show either The Eye of the Storm or the prison sequence from A Class Divided (each is approximately 20 minutes). How is it possible for Jane Elliot, the teacher, to create division in such a short amount of time? What role do the "superior" students play? What effect does an "us" and "them" mentality have on how the students feel about themselves and others?

The following Jewish texts relate to the themes of this lesson. As a focus question, ask the class to think about how the piece of text that they read relates to the issues of "We and They", and Jane Elliot's class. 

NOTE: You do not need to use all of these quotes. You may chose one quote for the whole class to study either in small groups or in Chevruta, paired learning, or you may want each group to have a different quote.

  • Why is ‘that it was good' not written in connection with the second day?... R. Hanina said: Because in it schism was created, [as it is written,] ‘And let it divide the waters' [Gen. 1:7]. R. Tabyomi said: If because of a division made for the greater stability and orderliness of the world, ‘for it was good' is not written in connection with that day, then how much the more should this apply to a division which leads to its confusion! (Bereshit Rabbah 4:6)
  • "You...are alive every one of you this day." [Deut 4:4] When are you described as "alive"? As [on this day], when "every one of you" is join together in one cluster. "When God's cluster is one, God will establish it upon the land" [Amos 9:6]] In the way of the world, when a person picks up a cluster of reeds, can it be broken all at one time? But if a person picks up the reeds one by one, even a child can break them. Thus you find that Israel cannot be redeemed until they are one cluster: "In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the House of Israel, and they shall come together in a cluster out of the land of the north." [Jer. 3:18] (Tanhuma B, Nitzavim 4)
  • The First Temple was destroyed by [reason of] three things: idolatry, immorality and murder. But in the time of the Second Temple people were devoted to Torah, mitzvot and deeds of loving-kindness. What then destroyed it? Causeless hatred. This teaches us that the offense of causeless hatred is the equivalent of the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and murder. (Yoma 9b)

4. Facing History and Ourselves is developing a new resource book, Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: The Genocide of the Armenians. Related to the topic of "We and They" is the question of how neighbor can turn against neighbor? Studying the Armenian Genocide also raises issues of how wartime makes minority populations vulnerable. View The Range of Choices for a lesson incorporating some of the new resources on the Armenian Genocide.

Life Before the War Essential Questions and Key Themes

  • What were the varieties of Jewish life that existed in Poland before World War II?
  • Life Before the War: What was Jewish life like in Poland before World War II?
  • This section of the unit focuses on the complex and variegated Jewish community in Poland that existed prior to World War II. It aims to give students a sense of the immense culture that was lost in the Holocaust, and to show that there was no "formula" for survival when Hitler came to power. This is an excellent section in which to utilize art, music and literature in the classroom.

Readings and Resources

  • The Jews of Poland
    • Chapter 2: Outsiders in Eastern Europe: "The Pull of Hasidism", "The Lure of the Modern World", "Choices in a Modern World", "Separated", "Hatred"
    • Chapter 3: At the Crossroads: "Winds of Change", "A Yearning to Belong"
  • "If Not Higher" (I. L. Peretz)
  • "Two Anti-Semites" and "The Yom Kippur Scandal" (Sholom Aleichem)
  • Under the Shade of the Chestnut Tree (Benjamin Tene)
  • In My Father's Court (Isaac Bashevis Singer)
  • The Jews of Poland


  • "The Five Cities" (particularly the piece on Warsaw), Image Before My Eyes
  • Short stories available from the Jewish Education Office of Facing History:

Suggested Activities 
Read a two-day lesson plan on Life before the War.

1. Have students compare and contrast the rural and urban life in Jewish Poland. This can be an appropriate place for involving the English teacher. The works of Yiddish writers and pictures found in Roman Vishniac'sThe Vanished World can be very helpful in the this activity. Some of the pictures contained in the book can be seen at http://www.wabash.edu/depart/CandT/Vish-Slides/Slides.htm.

2. After the students read "The Pull of Hasidism" in The Jews of Poland, have them read the short story "If Not Higher". How did Hasidism's opponents view it? What were some of the points of argument between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim?

3. Have students read "Choices in a Modern World" in The Jews of Poland. This reading is an excerpt from the autobiography of Pauline Wengeroff, who was born in the 1830s in Bobruysk in the Pale of Settlement. Her biography tells the story of The Enlightenment through the eyes of a woman. Wengeroff, eloquently tells of the tension between modernity and maintaining ties to Jewish law and traditions. After reading Wengeroff's story discuss some of the issues from the connections section following the reading.


Germany in the 1920s

Essential Questions and Key Themes

  • In what way did the economic, social and political crises after World War I threaten democracy in Germany?
  • What prompts people to look for scapegoats during periods of crises?
  • What was the impact of antisemitism and racism on Germany during the 1920s?
  • Germany in the 1920s: What influenced the choices people made in Weimar Germany. How did these choices impact the rise of the Nazis?
  • This section of the unit focuses on how the social, political and economic crises of the 1920s threatened democracy in Germany. It examines the human tendency to search for scapegoats in times of crisis, and how such a response relates to issues of identity and group membership. Finally, this section examines how the Nazis used antisemitism and racism in their rise to power.

Readings and Resources

  • Chapter 3 "Anger and Humiliation," "Voices in the Dark," "Inflation Batters the Weimar Republic," "A Revolt in a Beer Hall," and "Creating the Enemy." 
  • The Weimar Republic: The Fragility of Democracy - The history of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) illuminates one of the most creative and crucial periods of the twentieth century and serves as a significant case study of the critical issues of our own time. This module features extensive collections of primary source documents and images from the Weimar Republic, and allows Facing History teachers the opportunity to create a unique "path" through the site for use by their students.
  • Timeline, 1918-1933 (created by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida)
  • The Versailles Treaty, June 28, 1919, (web-based version created by the Avalon Project at Yale University
  • Holocaust and Human Behavior
  • Video: Hitler: Anatomy of a Dictatorship

Suggested Activities

1. A two-day jigsaw activity, examining the impact of World War I on German society is an effective method for helping students to understand how democracy in the country was threatened by the economic, social and political reality in the region. Students break into five groups, representing one of the 'Big Four' powers as well as Germany at the Treaty of Versailles. Each group generates a list of its country's interests and goals in regard to various issues (i.e. responsibility for the war, war damages, future world security, etc.). Students then 'jigsaw' to form new groups, each consisting of one representative from each of the original five countries. Their goal is to make a treaty. However, the German delegate cannot speak until the other four delegates have reached an agreement.

At the end of the activity, which usually becomes quite boisterous as students argue over the terms of the treaty, the students representing Germany discuss how they felt as they silently watched the treaty take shape without their input. As a debriefing activity, students read the actual treaty. (The Versailles Treaty, June 28, 1919) Have students speculate how the German people would have reacted to this document.

2. Studying the art of George Grosz provides additional context for understanding the complexities of this time period. View a detailed lesson plan on the Art of George Grosz.

3. As a class or in Chevruta, discuss the following text from Pirkei Avot;

"Shemaya and Avtalyon received [the tradition] from them. Shemaya said, ‘Love labor, hate abuse of power, and don't try to become the familiar friend of the government.

Ask the class; out of what experiences might this text have been written? Have the class think about the time period in which the "players" of the Mishnah lived. Do they agree with the quote? Disagree? Why? Is it true of some governments? Of all governments?

Rise of the Nazis

Essential Questions and Key Themes

  • How did the Nazis dismantle democracy in the 1930's?
  • The Nazis in Power: How did the Nazis use fear and propaganda to consolidate their power? Why did so many Germans obey?
  • This section of the unit focuses on the small steps that led to the dismantling of democracy and the creation of a totalitarian state. It also helps to build an understanding of the consequences of the choices that people made in the 1930s. In addition students will examine how the Nazi regime used propaganda and education to build a racial state by dehumanizing the "other".

Readings and Resources



Suggested Activities

1. Ask students to define the word totalitarianism. Then brainstorm the various aspects of life that a totalitarian regime could control (i.e. religion, laws, courts, education, marriage, press, etc.) Then divide students into small groups, choose an aspect of life and spend one to two class periods investigating how the Nazis took control over that area of life, using Holocaust and Human Behavior and other references. The task of each expert group is to teach the rest of the class about the small yet profound steps the Nazis took to achieve total control. 

2. As a class, have the students read, Targeting the Jews, "Legalizing Racism," "Defining a Jew," The Night of the Pogrom, and The Narrowing Circle. Have students sit in pairs and record the major laws the Nazis passed between 1933 and 1939 in the shape of ever decreasing circles. The picture that will be created is that of concentric circles: students will draw a large circle and record on it the first new law the Nazis passed after seizing power in 1933. Next, they will draw a smaller circle within this one to record the next law. They will continue this exercise until all major laws are noted on their paper. The smallest and last circle in the middle should be entitled "The World of German Jews, 1939." This last circle will eventually become the literal encirclement of a ghetto, connecting to the next section of the scope and sequence.

3. To explore the role that propaganda played in the Nazi party, have the class watch an excerpt from the film Triumph of the Will (first ten minutes). Have students divide a piece of paper down the middle. As students are watching the Nazi propaganda film have them record on one side of the paper the images that they saw in the movie and on the second half have them explain the symbolic meaning of the images.

4. Lesson on the Hitler Youth using the video, "Heil Hitler: Confessions of a Hitler Youth"

5. Detailed lesson plan on using the Milgram obedience experiment in conjunction with Jewish texts. For students in older grades you may choose to connect the study of obedience with the story of the Akeda, the story of the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). Invite students to think about the similarities and differences between the concepts of obedience and faith.

Life in the Ghetto

Essential Questions and Key Themes

  • Stripped of their freedom, how did Jews respond to the situations they were forced into?
  • What were some of the difficult and tragic choices that the Jewish leadership was forced to make in the ghettoes?
  • Life in the Ghetto: What was life like in the Jewish Ghettos during World War II?
  • This section of the unit outline emphasizes the tremendous difficulties Jews had while living in the ghettoes. Its aim is to show how Jews attempted to maintain a sense of normalcy, and to examine the excruciating choices facing the Jewish leadership in the ghettoes.

Readings and Resources

  • The Jews of Poland
    • Chapter 5: The Warsaw Ghetto, No ExitHungerIn the Heart of EuropeThe Rush for Papers 


NOTE: Other resources: Documents surrounding the dilemmas of Chaim Rumkowski and Adam Czerniakow, available through the Facing History resource center.

Suggested Activities

1. Chaim Rumkowski and Adam Czerniakow were the heads of the Jewish ghettoes in Lodz and Warsaw, respectively. Rumkowski wanted Lodz to be as productive a ghetto as possible, in the hopes that the Nazis would not liquidate it, and in fact, Lodz was the last ghetto to meet that fate. But Rumkowski's plan involved "cutting off the limbs to save the body" - i.e., turning the children over to the Nazis. In contrast to Rumkowski, Czerniakow could do nothing to stop the deportation of the Warsaw Jews, and on July 23, 1942, the day after the Jews were deported, he committed suicide. Facing History has copies of both Rumkowski's speech asking parents in the Lodz ghetto to turn over their children, and Czerniakow's last diary entry on the day of the deportation. Have the students examine both sources, and then discuss the "choiceless choices" both men faced. Under what conditions did they make their choices? How do you view their actions? In those circumstances, what did "morality" mean?

2. If students have viewed "A Day in Warsaw" (see Section III: Life Before the War), compare the images from that film with images in either "A Birthday Trip in Hell" or "The Warsaw Ghetto". What changes, both subtle and drastic do you see in the span of about three years?

The Holocaust

Essential Questions and Key Themes

The Holocaust: How was it possible for genocide to occur in the heart of 20th century Europe?

This section of the unit deals with the Holocaust itself. The readings and activities here are intended to help students place the Holocaust into the larger context of Jewish history. An examination of the death camps should reveal the role that they had as the final dehumanization of the Jews as "the other". Within this context, the Holocaust should be viewed as industrialized murder.

Readings and Resources


Suggested Activities

1. Arrange to have a Holocaust survivor speak to your class. Make sure you budget time not only for the speaker, but also for a briefing and debriefing of the speaker and students' questions. Explain to the students that they will be meeting a witness to this history, and have them formulate questions that only a witness might be able to answer. In addition, there may be a variety of reactions to the speaker.

2. After viewing a difficult video or listening to a speaker, Graffiti Board can be an effective tool for additional debriefing. Students begin responding in writing on a blackboard or large piece of paper. For students to be fully reflective, it is important the class be silent.

3. View the lesson Interpreting the Works of Samuel Bak: Interruption for a lesson integrating the paintings of Samuel Bak. Samuel Bak's artwork can be helpful in helping students understand the emotional journeys experienced by Holocaust survivors.

Bystanders, Rescuers, and Resisters

Essential Questions and Key Themes

  • What forms did resistance take?
  • Why did some people save others at the risk of their own lives?
  • This section of the unit outline examines the complexity of Jewish resistance, both physical and spiritual. The question of what it means to have the 'courage to care' will also be examined as part of an attempt to understand the nature of rescuers. Finally, students should be ready to examine the consequences of becoming an accomplice to a crime, either by silence or inaction.

Readings and Resources

  • Holocaust and Human Behavior
    • Chapter 5: "The Warsaw Ghetto," "For Those I Loved"
    • Chapter 6: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, "Finding Common Ground," "Building a Movement," "In Search of Weapons," "On the Eve of Passover," "The Ghetto in Flames"
  • The Jews of Poland
    • Chapter 4: "The Nazis Take Power," "The Hangman"
    • Chapter 5: "Let the World Know!"
    • Chapter 6: "The World is Silent"


Suggested Activities

  • And the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?' And he said, ‘I know not; Am I my brother's keeper?' And He said, ‘What have you done? the voice of your brother's bloods cry to me from the ground.' (Gen. 4:9-10)
  • And if a soul sins, and hears the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of it; if he does not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity. (Lev. 5:1)
  • Whoever can prevent members of his household from committing a sin, but does not, is punished for the sin of his household. If he can prevent his fellow citizens from committing sins, but does not, he is punished for the sins of his fellow citizens. If he can prevent the whole world from committing sins, but does not, he is punished for the sins of the whole world. Even as R. Hanina said, Why is it written, The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders of his people, and the princes thereof: if the Princes sinned, how did the elders sin? But say, [He will bring punishment] upon the elders because they do not forbid the princes. (Shabbat 54b-55a)
  • 1. Have students define the word "resistance". What are some examples of resistance movements throughout history? What were the motivations? How was resistance in the Holocaust similar or different? These questions are designed to help students dispel the notion that people had limitless choices during the Holocaust. Resistance in occupied Europe most often meant death - when resistance occurred, it was often a matter of a person choosing how s/he would die. Once students understand this, show the film "Resistance" or the clip of Helen K. from "Challenge of Memory".

    3. Show the class the video of "The Hangman." You may want students to have the written poem in front of them so that they can follow along with the video. (Holocaust and Human Behavior, p. 204). Have students write their reactions to "The Hangman" in their Journals. Invite the class to think about the words, phrases and images that were the most striking to them. In a class discussion share reaction to the film and poem, discuss the details. Hand out the following Jewish text, have students discuss in pairs how their text relates to the poem.

    4. Have students think of a time when they stood up to fight an injustice. What were the circumstances? What motivated them to say something? How did they feel afterwards? What were the consequences? Then show a film about rescue, such as "Courage to Care", "So Many Miracles" or "Weapons of the Spirit". What motivated these people to rescue others? What are some of the characteristics that lead people to take such action? Where does courage come from?
Judgment, Memory and Legacy: 


Essential Questions and Key Themes

  • What is the purpose of creating a judgment about the actions of people involved in the Holocaust - the perpetrators, the bystanders, the victims, the rescuers and the resistors?
  • Are some actions unforgivable? What are the purposes of forgiveness?
  • Judgment and forgiveness: How do we move from an opinion to informed judgment about difficult historical events? How can we create a judgment without being judgmental?
  • This segment should focus on the factors characterizing those who rescued victims of the Holocaust. The question of what it means to have the 'courage to care' can be examined as part of an attempt to understand the nature of altruism. Finally, students should be ready to examine the consequences of becoming an accomplice to a crime, either by silence or inaction.

Readings and Resources

Chapter 9, Judgment, "Overview," "The Rules of War," "Humanity's Aspirations to Do Justice," "We Were Not Supposed To Think." Holocaust and Human Behavior

Suggested Activities

  • 1.

Click Here

  • for a lesson connecting Simon Wiesenthal's book,

The Sunflower

  • , to the questions of judgment and forgiveness in Jewish texts.

2. Using the Assessing and Defining Responsibility worksheet (see PDF File below) ask students to rate each person on the list according to their level of responsibility for what happened in the world between 1933 and 1945. After students complete the activity ask the following questions; why did they assign the numbers they did to the various people? Was this exercise of judgment difficult to do? Why? What is the purpose of doing this exercise in the first place?

3. Click Here for a lesson on guilt, responsibility and the Nuremberg Trials.

4. Click Here for a lesson that examines the critical connection between the Nuremberg Trials and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Essential Questions and Key Themes

This segment of the unit begins with the questions of how we remember a painful piece of Jewish history, and ends with a discussion of how we can turn this memory into an impetus for active, every day participation in combating hatred. It aims to remind us that a human being is not in what he or she is, but in what he or she is able to become.

  • Legacy: What is the legacy of the Holocaust?
  • What moral choices can we make to prevent events such as this from ever happening again?
  • Has faith been affected by the events of the Holocaust? If so, how?
  • How does the legacy of the Holocaust influence the ways we lead our lives today?

Readings and Resources

  • Chapter 7: Legacies, "And YouMonuments and Memorials,""The Importance of Not Coming Too Late,"Education and the Future" The Jews of Poland
  • "Shtetl"
  • "A Jew is Not One Thing" (clip beginning "And I Am Asking Myself...")
  • The Quarell- Clip available from Facing History and Ourselves

Suggested Activities

  • 1.

Click Here

  • to visit the online module,

Memory, History and Memorials.

2. After the students read "And You?" ask students to pick an object that they feel would represent their legacy at this point in their lives? Why?

3. When studying this history, students often ask the question of where God was during the Holocaust? How could God let such a thing happen? You can explain to students that this is a question that theologians have, and continue to struggle with. Steven T. Katz, in Post Holocaust Dialogues (p. 143-145) lists what he views as the nine most common theological responses to the Holocaust. You may want to post these responses around the room and have students choose the theological stance that most closely matches their own. You may want to include a space in the room for students who have their own position that is not represented. Once students have chosen their position in the room, it is important to allow students the time to explain why they chose the response that they did, as well as to articulate their own position if it differs from the ones that were posted.

In addition, Holocaust: Religious and Philosophical Implications, edited by Michael Berenbaum and John Roth is a helpful resource as it includes writings from prominent theologians with helpful introductions to each reading written by one of the editors. While the articles can be abstract and not accessible for some students, the introductions provide helpful synopses of each reading. Choose several of the introductions written by the editors (or the articles, depending on your students). Give small groups of students one of the readings and explain to them that they will be responsible for teaching the theological stance of the article that they read to other groups of students. Once each group has learned their reading, re-shuffle the class into new groups so that each new grouping includes at least one representative from each of the readings that you chose. In these new small groups have each student present the position of the theologian that s/he studied in his/her original group.

4. Have students interview survivors of the Holocaust, and ask specifically about their lives after the war, and the rebuilding process. You can also adapt this lesson for students to interview children of survivors. A booklet of these memories can be compiled as a class project.

Choosing to Participate: 

Essential Questions and Key Themes

Within a Jewish context, Choosing to Participate is very much Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). This section of the unit outline is intended to provide students with tools and resources to help them create change in the world around them. As it says in Pirkei Avot 2:16 "It is not your duty to complete the job, but you should not stop from working on it anyway"

How can we apply the lessons of history to the world today?
How can we effect change in our society?

Readings and Resources

  • Holocaust and Human Behavior Chapter 11: Choosing to Participate, "Pride and Prejudice," "Students Organize" and "Taking a Stand"
  • Choosing to Participate study guide


Suggested Activities

1. After watching the film Not in Our Town, invite students to consider how the community came together to create change. What tools and resources did they use? In small groups ask the class to choose an issue that is important to them. Have the groups create plans of action to create change in this important issue. Students should consider the tools and resources that they have available. Depending on the time available, the class can then develop community service projects based on these plans of action.

Leora Schaefer, Jewish Education Program, Facing History and Ourselves

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Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.