Confronting the Suffering Caused by the Nazis | Facing History & Ourselves
The Jewish population in Poland being "resettled" by German soldiers, circa 1940-41.

Confronting the Suffering Caused by the Nazis

Students use journaling and group discussion to respond to emotionally-challenging diary entries of a Jewish teenager confined in a Nazi ghetto.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • Civics & Citizenship
  • Social Studies




One 50-min class period
  • The Holocaust


About This Lesson

This lesson complements the resources from Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 of Holocaust and Human Behavior to help students process, both individually and with others, the intense and emotionally challenging stories and descriptions they will encounter as they study the Nazis’ war for “race and space” and the Holocaust. This lesson can be adapted for use with many of the readings in Chapters 8 and 9. 

It is important to note the difficulty of predicting how students will respond to emotionally challenging readings, documents, and films. One student may respond with emotion to a particular reading, while others may not find it powerful in the same way. In addition, different people demonstrate emotion in different ways. Some students will be silent. Some may laugh. Some may take days to process difficult stories. For some, it will be incomprehensible; for others, it may be familiar. This lesson is meant to model a way to give space for students to have a range of reactions and emotions. For their learning and emotional growth, it is crucial to allow for a variety of responses to emotionally challenging content, including none at all. For this purpose, we recommend that students keep journals as a safe, accessible place to record their thoughts, feelings, and uncertainties, especially as they work with resources from Chapters 8 and 9. For more detailed information about using journals in a Facing History classroom, see the Journals in a Facing History Classroom teaching strategy.

In this lesson, students will read diary entries from a Jewish teenager who was among those confined by the Nazis in ghettos. Students will choose and respond in their journals to specific passages from the teenager’s diary. They will then reflect on the experience of reading the powerful diary entries and share some of their responses in a structured class discussion. 

  • What impact did the Nazis’ plans for “race and space” have on those who were not included in their universe of obligation?
  • How do the words of those who were targeted by the Nazis affect us emotionally and intellectually as we learn about this history?
  • Students will learn that the Nazis built more than 1,100 Jewish ghettos and that, while the ghettos varied in important ways, many of those confined in them suffered as a result of forced labor, hunger, and overcrowding. Many more were sent from ghettos to death camps, where they were murdered.
  • Students will understand that the powerful words left behind by those imprisoned in ghettos can affect us emotionally and deepen our investment in learning about this history.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 2 activities 
  • 1 reading

Preparing to Teach

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Lesson Plans


Before sharing any resource with the class that might provoke a strong emotional response, tell students that they are about to encounter a challenging resource. In this case, tell them that they will be reading the powerful words of a Jewish teenager who was confined to a ghetto by the Nazis.

  • Then read aloud the reading The Jewish Ghettos: Separated from the World.
  • After reading the text aloud, give students time to respond to it in their journals. You might provide students with one or more of the following journal prompts to help guide their responses:
    • Accounts like this one are difficult to read. They prompt us to ask many questions, some of which may be unanswerable. What questions do these events raise for you about history and human behavior?
    • What can you learn from this diary excerpt about the physical, emotional, and social impact of deprivation on human beings?
    • Choose a short quotation (one to two sentences) from a diary entry in this reading to respond to. Write about why you chose that quotation, what it means to you or what it reminds you of, or why it is memorable.

After students have had the opportunity to engage deeply with the reading in their small groups, bring the class back together to discuss the experience of working with such emotionally challenging stories.

  • Use the Wraparound teaching strategy to give students the opportunity to share and acknowledge the variety of thoughts and feelings they experienced in response to this firsthand account of imprisonment in a ghetto. Each student’s contribution to the activity should complete one of the following statements:
    • Reading this diary entry made me feel . . . 
    • Reading this diary entry made me think about . . . 
  • After each student has shared a response, lead a short class discussion about the range of responses in the class, the emotional impact of this reading, and how this might affect students’ study of this history.

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