The Holocaust and Jewish Communities in Wartime North Africa | Facing History & Ourselves
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Mini-Unit

The Holocaust and Jewish Communities in Wartime North Africa

Explore the impact of the Holocaust and World War II on Jewish communities in North Africa in this 3-lesson mini-unit.

Published:

At a Glance

Mini-Unit

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

9–12

Duration

Three or more 50-min class periods
  • The Holocaust
  • Antisemitism
  • Human & Civil Rights
  • Racism
  • Resistance
  • Genocide

Overview

About This Mini-Lesson

The intersecting histories of the Holocaust and wartime North Africa illuminate complex ways in which colonialism and fascism impacted Jewish communities across Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia. These lessons bring in voices that are often left out of Holocaust and WWII curricula, opening an opportunity for students to gain a more complete understanding of the range of experiences, choices, and impacts associated with this period in history.

The first lesson is designed to deepen awareness and understanding of pre-war Jewish life. Photographs and other primary source documents point to the diversity of Judaism in North Africa and the relationships between Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

The second and third lessons delve into the antisemitic laws and actions perpetrated by colonial powers in North Africa and by the Nazis directly. Sources highlight a range of choices in the face of oppression at the individual and communal levels.  

In what ways do the experiences of Jews in pre-war and wartime North Africa provide a more complete story of World War II and the Holocaust? 

  • What did Jewish life in North Africa look like before the war?
  • What were the relationships between different faith communities in pre-war North Africa?
  • How might exploring the diversity within the Jewish world and the interreligious dynamics of pre-war North Africa inform our understanding of religion and identity and our choices of how to relate across differences today?
  • What are ways in which the perceptions and prejudices of others can impact one’s sense of identity and belonging?
  • What choices did people have as antisemitic racial laws were passed in North Africa? What opportunities for resistance were available?
  • Why is it important to engage with the history of the Holocaust and wartime North Africa?
  • How did the Nazis and their collaborators seek to deprive their victims of basic human dignity, and how did those targeted attempt to preserve or reclaim their dignity?
  • Students will deepen their understanding of the diversity and complexity of Jewish life in pre-war North Africa through an analysis of images, film, and readings. 
  • Students will gain insight into the ways in which “single stories” of what it means to be Jewish can be combated through an exploration of Jewish communities in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia.
  • Students will consider the implications of learning about pre-war Jewish life as it relates to the study of the Holocaust and to the world today.
  • Students will deepen their understanding of the experience of the Holocaust and wartime North Africa through an analysis of primary and secondary sources that include personal reflections of North African Jews. 
  • Students will reflect on the range of responses to discriminatory laws and actions.
  • Students will analyze, discuss, and explain the range of choices available to individuals, groups, and nations during the Holocaust and explore the possible motivations and reasons for decision-making in this time of crisis.

This unit supports a three or more class period exploration of The Holocaust and Jewish Communities in Wartime North Africa and includes:

  • 3 lessons
  • Videos, readings, and handouts used throughout lessons 
  • Unit assessment

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this mini-unit, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

In this unit, students will read a range of sources that convey experiences of antisemitism and the Holocaust. For this reason, it is crucial that students have the opportunity to process individually and together the emotions and questions this history evokes. It is especially important for you to look at students’ work and their participation in class discussions for evidence of how they are processing what they encounter. If necessary, follow up with individual students to offer support, or set aside additional class time for students to talk through and articulate their thoughts and feelings about this challenging history. We also recommend that you do the following:

  • 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, this unit, 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.
  • Briefly review the class contract with students before beginning the unit. This will help to reinforce the norms you have established and the idea of the classroom as a safe space for students to voice concerns, questions, or emotions that may arise.

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