Two 50-minute class periods

Exploring Obedience: Germany under the Nazis

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand the connection between the policies of the Nazi regime and the everyday choices made by German citizens during the 1930s.
  • Deepen understanding of conformity and the role it played in the transformation of a democracy into a totalitarian state.


This outline offers several ways for students to examine the critical decisions facing German youth and citizens during the 1930s. The question of whether or not one pledged an oath of allegiance to the Nazi Party presented citizens with a decision that not only affected themselves, but their families and communities. Readings from Holocaust and Human Behavior are used to explore these issues.


The activities in this lesson outline can be used to deepen an understanding of the mid 1930s, during which Hitler consolidated power within Germany. The following readings from Chapter 5 of Holocaust and Human Behavior provide the requisite historical background, and form the core readings for this activity: Pledging Allegiance, Do You Take the Oath?, and No Time to Think.

The following readings from Holocaust and Human Behavior can be used to deepen an understanding of the historical context prior to and during the 1930s. Ideally, several of these readings should be part of lessons completed earlier in the scope and sequence during an examination of Germany in the 1920s and The Weimar Republic: Negotiating PeaceWhen Money Had No ValueHard Times Return, and Targeting Jews


Teaching Strategies



  1.  Have students write a response to the following prompt in their journals:

    • Write about a time when you knew something was wrong and you did nothing to stop it.
    • What was happening? Why didn't you do anything?
    • Have students think, pair, share their stories and reflections. Finally, have a whole-group discussion in which you focus on the "whys" of the students' stories. List their reasons for inaction and keep them for use later in the activity.
  2. Have students read Pledging Allegiance aloud, rotating among different students. Next, ask students to compare and contrast the two oaths. Use these questions: 

    • What is the main difference between the two oaths? How significant is the difference?
    • What are the implications of swearing an oath to an individual leader rather than to a nation?
    • Have you ever taken an oath? Did it make you feel part of something larger than yourself?
    • How might taking an oath affect the way people behave or think?
  3. Read the first 5 paragraphs of Do You Take the Oath? aloud, stopping at "and it was I who lost it." Ask students to reflect on what this man has said so far by reacting to the following questions in their journals:

    • What do you think of his decision and his reasoning?
    • What factors complicate his choice?
  4. Continue to read the next 5 paragraphs of Do You Take the Oath? Ask students to select a line that they consider very meaningful or important. Have each student copy their quotation, and explain why they picked it in 3-4 sentences. Follow this with either a pair-share and whole group discussion, or just a whole group discussion. Be ready to ask follow-up questions that get students to analyze the speakers' views about how the oath, and other Nazi policies, affected Germans.

  5. Read No Time to Think aloud through the section called "Small Steps." Ask students to consider the reasons why did the professor cooperated with the Nazi regime. Several of the Connections questions from p. 192 appear below:

    • Why did the professor obey?
    • What factors led to his decision?
    • How did he evaluate that decision twenty years later? How do you evaluate it?
    • How did each of the small steps, emphasized by the professor, make it easier to take no action at all?
  6. Now ask students to compare the stories they've read. As a whole class, create a list of reasons why these two men did nothing. Ask students to compare and contrast this list with the one they created earlier based upon their journal entries (see steps #1-2) Make it clear to students that the goal here is not to equate their stories with events leading to the Holocaust, but to examine conformity and decision-making in difficult situations.


  7. As a conclusion, finish reading the last two sections of No Time to Think aloud. Individuals, students will then create a "Lifted Line Poem." Students should review the whole reading and select one line that is most meaningful, important, or revealing to them and mark it. When everyone has selected a line, ask them to stand and form a circle. Next, pick one student to begin and a direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise); each student should read his or her line in succession in the direction you've picked. As a follow-up, you may ask students to reflect on any patterns they noticed in the lines chosen for reading.


As a follow-up activity, Maurice Ogden's poem The Hangman raises issues of responsibility, decision-making, and conformity; it also gives students a way to explore these ideas through literature, and apply their understanding of metaphor and symbolism. First, have students read the poem aloud (depending on age and experience, you may want to talk about elements of poetry first); ask students to summarize the events of the poem. Using the connections questions, ask them to identify what they think was the turning point in the poem. Next, show the video of The Hangman.

Ask students the following questions: How do the sound and images help convey ideas from the poem? How does the poem relate to Germany in the 30s? Pick the most important line; why is it the most important in the poem?

Search Our Global Collection

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