Holocaust and Human Behavior | Facing History & Ourselves
Colored painting of trees.

Holocaust and Human Behavior

Explore the digital version of our core resource on the Holocaust. Find classroom-ready readings, primary sources, and short documentary films that support a study of the Holocaust through the lens of human behavior.




  • History
  • Social Studies




English — US



About This Collection

Following Facing History’s unique methodology, Holocaust and Human Behavior uses readings, primary source material, and short documentary films to examine the challenging history of the Holocaust and prompt reflection on our world today. This website is designed to let you skip around or read the book from cover to cover. You can easily browse by reading or topic, collect resources, and build your own lessons using our playlist tool, or visit the teaching toolbox to find our lessons and unit outlines. The book is also available in print and PDF.

The journey begins by examining common human behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes students can readily observe in their own lives.

  • Students then explore a historical case study, such as the Holocaust, and analyze how those patterns of human behavior may have influenced the choices individuals made in the past—to participate, stand by, or stand up—in the face of injustice and, eventually, mass murder.
  • Students then examine how the history they studied continues to influence our world today, and they consider how they might choose to participate in bringing about a more humane, just, compassionate world.

Our scope and sequence promotes students’ historical understanding, critical thinking, empathy, and social–emotional learning.

Lead your middle and high school students through a thorough examination of the history of the Holocaust. Over the course of the unit, students will learn to:

  • Craft an argumentative essay
  • Explore primary sources, videos, and readings that lead them through an in-depth study of the Holocaust
  • Recognize the societal consequences of "we" and "they" thinking
  • Understand the historical context in which the Nazi party rose to power and committed genocide

This book supports an exploration of the Holocaust through the lens of human behavior. It includes:

  • 12 chapters
  • 237 readings with connection questions
  • 32 readings available in Spanish
  • 3 image galleries
  • 86 videos

Teaching the Holocaust to Help Us Understand Ourselves and Our World

Holocaust and Human Behavior leads students through an examination of the catastrophic period in the twentieth century when Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews and millions of other civilians, in the midst of the most destructive war in human history.

Following Facing History’s unique methodology, the book also takes students on a parallel journey through an exploration of the universal themes inherent in a study of the Holocaust that raise profound and difficult questions about human behavior.

By focusing on the choices of individuals who experienced this history as victims, witnesses, collaborators, rescuers, and perpetrators, students come to recognize our shared humanity—which, according to historian Doris Bergen, helps us to see the Holocaust not just as part of European or Jewish history but as “an event in human history,” confirming the relevance of this history in our lives and our world today. 1

This approach helps students make connections between history and the consequences of our actions and beliefs today—between history and how we as individuals make distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil. As students examine the steps that led to the Holocaust, they discover that history is not inevitable; it is, rather, the result of both individual and collective decision making.

They come to realize that there are no easy answers to the complex problems of racism, antisemitism, hatred, and violence, no quick fixes for social injustices, and no simple solutions to moral dilemmas. After studying Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, one Facing History student wrote, “It has made me more aware—not only of what happened in the past but also what is happening today, now, in the world and in me.”

As theologian Eva Fleischner explains, learning about this history can change each of us: “The more we come to know about the Holocaust, how it came about, how it was carried out . . . the greater the possibility that we will become sensitized to inhumanity and suffering whenever they occur.” 2

This crucial sensitization to inhumanity and suffering can help students develop the patience and commitment that is required for meaningful change. As another Facing History student wrote: “The more we learn about why and how people behave the way they do, the more likely we are to become involved and find our own solutions.

  • 1Doris L. Bergen, War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust, 3rd ed. (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 1.
  • 2Eva Fleischner, Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era? Reflections on the Holocaust (New York: Ktav Publishing Co., 1974), 228.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.

Holocaust and Human Behavior is the flagship title in Facing History’s collection of resources about the Holocaust, and it is part of an even larger collection of resources on genocide and mass violence. It includes a wealth of material, and teachers are encouraged to curate their own selection of readings, videos, and other resources using our new playlist tool. Our Teaching Toolboxes provide unit outlines and other materials to help teachers with this process.


This resource consists of 12 chapters, sequenced to explore the history of the Holocaust through the Facing History scope and sequence. Each chapter contains an Introduction and Essential Questions, which connect the chapter’s specific focus to the big ideas and universal themes that are woven throughout the book. Each chapter ends with a series of Analysis and Reflection questions that reinforce the connections between the chapter’s specific content and universal themes.


The bulk of each chapter consists of a series of readings that either explore a theme, such as the relationship between the individual and society, or present part of the historical narrative of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Each reading is followed by a series of Connection Questions that help students comprehend the text, illuminate important themes, and find connections between this history and their lives and the world today. Many readings are also accompanied by links to streaming videos and other Facing History publications that you may use to supplement or deepen students’ learning.

Visual Essays

Three chapters (Chapters 4, 6, and 11) include visual essays that use a series of images to provide a visual entry point to a key aspect of the history of the Holocaust and how it is remembered today. Each visual essay also includes an introduction and a set of Connection Questions to help guide students’ analysis of the images.

Many teachers want their students to achieve emotional engagement with the history of the Holocaust and therefore teach this history with the goal of fostering empathy. However, Holocaust and Human Behavior, like any examination of the Holocaust, includes historical descriptions and firsthand accounts that some students may find emotionally challenging. Teachers should select components from this resource that are most appropriate for the intellectual and emotional needs of their students.

It is difficult to predict how students will respond to primary and secondary source 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 not want to talk. Some may take days to process difficult stories. For some, a particular firsthand account may be incomprehensible; for others, it may be familiar.

It is also important to note that our experience suggests that it is often problematic to use graphic images and films or to attempt to use simulations to help students understand aspects of this history. Such resources and activities can traumatize some students, desensitize others, or trivialize the history.

We urge teachers to create space for students to have a range of reactions and emotions. This might include time for silent reflection or writing in journals, as well as structured discussions to help students process content together. Some students will not want to share their reactions to emotionally challenging content in class, and teachers should respect that in class discussions. When teaching emotionally challenging content, it is crucial for educators to allow a variety of responses, or none at all, from students to authentically support their emotional growth and academic development.

We believe that a Facing History & Ourselves classroom is in many ways a microcosm of democracy—a place where explicit rules and implicit norms protect everyone’s right to speak; where different perspectives can be heard and valued; where members take responsibility for themselves, each other, and the group as a whole; and where each member has a stake and a voice in collective decisions. You may have already established rules and guidelines with your students to help bring about these characteristics in your classroom. If not, it is essential at the start of your study of Holocaust and Human Behavior to facilitate the beginning of a supportive, reflective classroom community. Once established, both you and your students will need to nurture this reflective community on an ongoing basis through the ways that you participate and respond to each other. We have found that classroom contracts and student journals are invaluable tools for creating and maintaining a reflective classroom community. We recommend considering the following ideas and strategies as you plan your unit or course.

Save this resource for easy access later.

Save resources to create collections for your class or to review later. It's fast, easy, and free!
Have a Workspace already? Log In

Inside this Collection

Additional Resources

Special Thanks

This new edition of Holocaust and Human Behavior is dedicated to Richard and Susan Smith, with special thanks to the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation.

You might also be interested in…

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

The resources I’m getting from my colleagues through Facing History have been just invaluable.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif