Exploring Justice after the Holocaust | Facing History & Ourselves
 On the right two benches of the accused leaders stretch away from the foreground to the centre of the painting. Behind the defendants stands a line of white-helmeted military police who guard the benches and separate them from the court beyond....

Exploring Justice after the Holocaust

Students contemplate the challenges the Allies faced when seeking justice after the Holocaust through an interactive, discussion-based activity.


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 in Chapter 10 of Holocaust and Human Behavior by helping students preview some of the dilemmas that the Allies faced when seeking justice after World War II and the Holocaust. Students will read and respond individually to a series of statements about justice after the Holocaust, and then they will participate in an active, structured discussion about each statement. 

This lesson is most effective if completed before students learn about the creation, proceedings, and outcomes of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg through the resources in Chapter 10. By thinking through some of the ideas and dilemmas introduced in this lesson, students will be better prepared to understand the Nuremberg trials and other attempts to seek justice after war and genocide.

  • Can justice be achieved after mass murder on the enormous scale of the Holocaust? How can we know whether or not justice has been achieved?
  • Who was responsible for the crimes committed during the Holocaust? Who should be held accountable, and how? 
  • Students will understand that the very definition of justice is contested, and so is the possibility of achieving justice after a crime as immense as the Holocaust.
  • Students will understand that seeking justice after war and genocide is an inherently complicated and imperfect process.

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

  • 2 activities 
  • 1 handout
  • 1 extension activity

Preparing to Teach

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Lesson Plans


Tell students that even before World War II ended, the Allies were discussing ways to hold Germany accountable for the war and the murder of millions of civilians. In those discussions, they encountered a variety of dilemmas and disagreements.

Some of the questions the Allies faced are described on the handout, Justice after the Holocaust Anticipation Guide. Distribute the handout and ask students to complete it by answering the questions and explaining their thinking.

After students have completed the anticipation guide, use the Four Corners teaching strategy to enable them to share and discuss their responses. Remember to allow students to change their positions if they are persuaded by their classmates in the course of the discussion.

Finally, debrief the activity with the class by leading a whole-group discussion based on the following questions:

  • On which statements was there the most agreement in the class?
  • On which statements was there the most disagreement?
  • How many people changed their position during the discussion? Which arguments helped to persuade you to do so, if you did?
  • What does this activity suggest about the challenges faced by the Allies in seeking justice after World War II and the Holocaust?

After the class finishes learning about the Nuremberg trials and other efforts toward justice after the Holocaust, consider asking students to review their responses to the Justice after the Holocaust Anticipation Guide. Did learning more about the Nuremberg trials and other attempts to seek justice and judgment after the Holocaust change students’ thinking about any of the statements?

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