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 disturbing 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.
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.”
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.