Americans and the Holocaust: The Refugee Crisis

World History
US History

Essential Question

In times of crisis, what does it take to move from knowledge to action?


Interweaving Facing History’s innovative approach to historical inquiry with groundbreaking new sources from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s special exhibition Americans and the Holocaust, this unit shifts students’ study of World War II and Nazism to the other side of the Atlantic. The unit deeply explores the motives, pressures, and fears that shaped Americans’ responses to Nazism and the humanitarian refugee crisis it provoked during the 1930s and 1940s. By examining primary sources that range from public opinion polls to personal narratives to radio plays, students will explore why widespread American sympathy for the plight of Jewish refugees never translated into widespread support for prioritizing their rescue. The unit also highlights the stories of individual Americans who did take tremendous risks to rescue Jews, as well as the questions this history raises for taking action in the context of contemporary refugee crises.



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Lesson 1 of 3

The Refugee Crisis and 1930s America

Students are introduced to the many factors that influenced Americans’ will and ability to respond to the Jewish refugee crisis, including isolationism, racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism.

Lesson 2 of 3

The Child Refugee Debate

Students consider how the debate around the Wagner-Rogers Bill reflected competing ideas in the United States about national identity, priorities, and values.

Lesson 3 of 3

Refugees and Rescuers: The Courage to Act

Students explore the intertwined personal stories of Jewish refugees who attempted to flee to the United States and the American rescuers who intervened on their behalf.

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