The Holocaust and North Africa: Resistance in the Camps | Facing History & Ourselves
A group of boys gather in the Los Arenas camp. One boy stands in the middle holding a rock over his head while others look at him.

The Holocaust and North Africa: Resistance in the Camps

Students learn the importance of teaching the history of the Holocaust’s impacts on North African communities with a focus on ways in which they resisted oppression.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • History
  • Social Studies




Two 50-min class periods
  • The Holocaust
  • Genocide
  • Culture & Identity
  • Antisemitism
  • Racism


About This Lesson

In previous lessons, students explored the diversity of Jewish life in North Africa, and they learned about the ways in which antisemitic legislation, occupation, and the onset of war impacted Jewish communities across the region. This lesson further expands the study of the Holocaust and wartime North Africa.

The readings in this lesson lift up the voices of North Africans who experienced the camps, with a particular focus on ways in which they resisted oppression. From Libyan and Tunisian Jews celebrating holidays in labor camps in the Sahara, to Algerian Muslims steadfastly committed to prayer in spite of the violent threats of a camp overseer, and finally to the child of Moroccan immigrants to France who was sent to Auschwitz with her mother, these stories convey aspects of the human spirit and decision-making in times of crisis. 

As students process this challenging material, they will explore connections to the concept of human dignity and what it means to preserve or affirm dignity in the face of dehumanization.

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?

  • 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?
  • How did those targeted attempt to preserve or reclaim their dignity, and what can this teach us about power and agency?
  • Students will analyze, discuss, and explain the range of choices available to individuals, groups, and nations during the Holocaust. 
  • Students will explore the possible motivations and reasons for decision-making in this time of crisis.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes:

  • 2 videos
  • 4 readings
  • 2 handouts

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

If your school or community does not have a large Jewish population, or your students have not had exposure to Jewish faith and culture through their friends, families, or curriculum, it is important to include exploration of Jewish identity leading into this lesson. You can incorporate activities from Pre-War Jewish Life in North Africa and/or explore the lesson on the Complexity of Jewish Identity and the reading Being Jewish in the United States. These extensions are designed to help students start to recognize that identifying as Jewish implies membership in a rich and diverse set of beliefs and cultural practices.

In this lesson, students will read a range of sources that illuminate the realities of the camps in North Africa. During WWII and the Holocaust, North Africans from a wide range of backgrounds were sent to penal, labor, and internment camps across North Africa. In addition, some North African Jews were sent to concentration and death camps in Europe. For these reasons, 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 lesson. 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.

The “Found Poem” activity may take more than one class period to complete. If this is the case, students can complete the Found Poem Graphic Organizer in the activity on day 1, then compose and share their poems on day 2. If students are unfamiliar with this type of writing, teachers should provide an example of a found poem drawn from one of the readings.  

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Lesson Plans


Remind students that in the previous lessons they looked at life before the war among communities in North Africa. Explain to students that today they are going to watch a video that focuses on how North African Jews and other marginalized groups experienced the Holocaust. At the start of the lesson, distribute the Viewing Guide for “The Intersecting Histories of the Holocaust and Wartime North Africa” and preview the questions together as a class. 

Show the video, The Intersecting Histories of the Holocaust and Wartime North Africa  (~10 minutes), and have students fill in the organizer as they watch. Then, review their answers. 

Next, engage in a class discussion of the following quote from the video:

“We cannot tell a complete story of the Holocaust without understanding the pivotal role of North Africa and the way in which the entire machine of Naziism and Italian fascism percolated through North Africa in very complex ways.”

Ask students: How do you understand the significance of this quote? What does it mean to tell a “complete story”? 

Conclude this activity by having students watch the first 2 minutes of this survivor testimony of Haim Arbiv (you can find more information and context about Haim Arbiv in this article from Yad VaShem 1 ) with the following question in mind: “How does this testimony add to your understanding of camps in North Africa?” After watching the video, students can share ideas with a partner, and, if time permits, the debrief could be a continuation of the class discussion of the scholar video.

It is important to convey to students that Haim Arbiv is from Libya, which was an Italian colony, bringing focus to another aspect of the intersecting histories of wartime North Africa and the Holocaust. The speaker shares about Jadu (also spelled Giado), a concentration camp built in January 1942. By the time the camp was liberated by British forces in January 1943, over 500 Libyan Jews had died.

  • 1The Holocaust museum in Israel.

Explain to students that they will now create a Found Poem. A found poem is a poem that is created using only words, phrases, or quotations that have been selected and rearranged from another text. To create found poems, students must choose language that is particularly meaningful or interesting to them, then organize the language around a theme or message. Writing found poems is a structured way to have students review material and synthesize their learning. If students are unfamiliar with the format of a Found Poem, show them your example of a Found Poem using one of the assigned readings. 

Divide the students into two groups. 

Instruct students to work with a partner or as a group that has the same reading to complete the Found Poem Graphic Organizer for their assigned reading. 

After completing the table, students should begin to write their Found Poems. Post the following directions on a slide or on a big piece of paper to guide students in the writing process:

  • Share reflections captured in the table with each other. 
  • Identify a theme and a message. A theme is a broad concept such as “obedience” or “loyalty.” A message is a specific idea they would like to express about this theme. For example, “decision-making” is a theme. A message about decision-making expressed by humanitarian Carl Wilkens is, “Every situation is an opportunity and every opportunity demands a decision.” In this context, students can choose from the following themes:
    • Telling a complex story
    • Choices to stand up in the face of injustice and oppression
    • Dignity in the wake of injustice and oppression
  • Select additional language. Found poems only use words that have been collected from other sources. So, once students have selected a theme and a message, they may need to review their materials again to collect additional language.
  • Compose a poem. Students are now ready to arrange the language they selected to create their found poems. One approach to this task is to have students write all of the words and phrases on slips of paper, so that they can move the slips around until they are satisfied with their poem. Let students know that they cannot add their own words when creating a found poem (not even articles or prepositions), but they can repeat words or phrases as often as they like. Also, when composing found poems, students do not need to use all of the words or phrases they previously selected.

Once the students have created their found poems, break the students up into groups so that a group with a poem from each reading is paired. Ask them to share and discuss their poems using the following questions:

  • What do the poems have in common? 
  • How are they different?
  • What are the messages, and why are they important?

Then, whole class can come back together to discuss the messages and reflect on the following question:

Both readings feature imprisoned Jews celebrating holidays in the midst of inhumane living and laboring conditions. What might they have gained from such celebrations?

Consider posting the completed Found Poems around the room for students to read.


Extension Activities

Students will read two sources and engage in a Word Wall activity that creates a place in the classroom where students display the meanings of important ideas using words and pictures. As students encounter new vocabulary in a text or video, creating a word wall offers one way to help them comprehend and interpret ideas in the text. Select a place in the room for your word wall. Large sheets of poster paper or a dedicated whiteboard work well.

  • Before students begin reading the following text, assign them to work in pairs and define the term “dignity” for the class word wall. You can also require students to present an image or graphic that represents the meaning of this word. 
  • New terms can be added to the word wall as needed. Students can also update the definitions on their own word walls as they develop a deeper understanding of key terms.

There are two primary source texts that convey different aspects of the struggle for dignity. 

Instruct students to silently read “An Algerian Muslim’s Memories of Internment (1940–1943)”, underlining words or phrases that stand out to them and writing question marks next to any words or ideas they don’t understand. 

After students have completed the reading:

  • Review students’ questions, and ask them to share words or phrases that stood out to them. Then ask: what feelings came up while reading this text? 
  • Return to the word wall and ask how the text connects to their understanding of human dignity and what it means to strive to preserve or reclaim that dignity. Add any new ideas to the wall.

Before going on to read the second text, share the fact that it takes place in Europe and focuses on experiences at Auschwitz. It is important to recognize that there were North African Jews in the camps in Europe. Some of them were sent to camps from North Africa and some were living in Europe during the Holocaust and were sent to camps when they were caught by the Nazis. The latter is the case in this reading. 

After providing historical context, read the following text aloud: “A ’Total Violation of Human Dignity’ Girlhood Interrupted in Auschwitz (1944)”. Instruct students to listen and write down ideas or phrases that stand out to them.

Then, ask students: What feelings come up as you listen to this testimony?

Return to the word wall and revisit the words and images related to human dignity. Then ask students to complete the following Connect, Extend, Challenge activity as an exit card: How do the testimonies we read today connect, extend, or challenge our definition of human dignity on the word wall?

Materials and Downloads

Resources from Other Organizations

These are the resources from external sources used in this lesson.

Additional Resources

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