Using This Unit to Help Us Understand Ourselves and Our World

Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior leads students through a unit of study that examines 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 our unique methodology, students take a parallel journey through an exploration of the universal themes inherent in a study of the Holocaust that raise profound questions about human behavior.

Throughout the unit, students will pay special attention to the choices of individuals who experienced this history as victims, witnesses, collaborators, rescuers, and perpetrators. This approach to teaching about the Holocaust 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 the result of our individual and collective decisions.

This unit draws upon and adapts resources from the resource book Holocaust and Human Behavior and its related media collection, and it follows our scope and sequence. Students begin with an examination of the relationship between the individual and society, reflect on the way humans divide themselves into “in” groups and “out” groups, and dive deep into a case study of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Party’s rise to power in Germany. Students then bear witness to the human suffering of the Holocaust and examine the range of responses from individuals and nations to the genocidal mass murder perpetrated by the Nazi regime. In the unit’s later lessons, students draw connections between this history and the present day, weighing such questions as how to achieve justice and reconciliation in the aftermath of atrocities, how painful histories should be remembered, and how this history educates us about our responsibilities in the world today.

While this unit is designed to be used across a range of grade levels, in both middle and high school, we trust that teachers will adapt activities and resources to best meet the needs of their students.

Teaching Emotionally Challenging Content

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, Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior, like any examination of the Holocaust, includes historical descriptions and firsthand accounts that some students may find emotionally disturbing. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of previewing the readings and videos in this curriculum to make sure they are appropriate for the intellectual and emotional needs of your students.

It is difficult to predict how students will respond to such challenging 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.

Our experience tells us 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 disturbing content in class, and teachers should respect that in class discussions. For their learning and emotional growth, it is crucial to allow for a variety of responses, or none at all, from students to emotionally challenging content.

Activities and resources that we believe may be especially challenging for younger students can be found in the Extensions section. We expect teachers to incorporate such activities into their instruction as appropriate.

Fostering a Reflective Classroom Community

We believe that a classroom in which a Facing History and Ourselves unit is taught ought to be 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 beginning of this unit to facilitate a supportive, reflective classroom community.

Two ways in which you can create a strong foundation for a reflective classroom are through the use of classroom contracts and student journals. Even if you already incorporate both of these elements into your classroom, we recommend taking a moment to review both strategies.

Unit Essential Question

The following essential question provides a framework for exploring this unit’s main ideas and themes: What does learning about the choices people made during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the Holocaust teach us about the power and impact of our choices today?

This essential question challenges students to make important connections between history and the power of the choices and decisions they make today. We do not expect students to determine a single, “correct” answer. Essential questions are rich and open-ended; they are designed to be revisited over time, and as students explore the content in greater depth, they may find themselves emerging with new ideas, understandings, and questions.

Guiding Questions

Each lesson includes one or more guiding questions. Unlike the unit’s essential question, which is broad and open-ended, guiding questions help to direct student inquiry at the lesson level and are aligned with its specific learning objectives. Answering guiding questions requires deep thinking and textual interpretation. Unlike essential questions, guiding questions might have a clear answer, which students should be able to support with specific evidence from the lesson to demonstrate their understanding of the content.

Unit Assessment

Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior includes a unit assessment that asks students to write a response to the unit’s essential question in an argumentative essay. Six activities are interspersed throughout the unit to introduce students to the assessment and guide them as they gather evidence and develop their ideas, develop their theses, and begin to write their essays. The activities can be skipped if you opt not to use the unit assessment.

Please consult the Common Core Writing Prompts and Strategies for alternative prompts and additional writing strategies and graphic organizers.

Developing Student Vocabulary

The readings and videos in this unit introduce some vocabulary and concepts that may pose a challenge for your students, especially for struggling readers, so you may want to consider using the Word Wall strategy to keep a running list of critical vocabulary posted in your classroom that you and your students can refer to over the course of the unit. Students might have a corresponding list in a section of their journals or notebooks, and you could also challenge them to incorporate Word Wall terms into their writing and discussions to help them internalize and understand these challenging terms and concepts.

Lesson 1: Introducing The Unit

Unit

Introduction
Holocaust

Get Started

Begin here to find useful information and rationale for teaching this unit.

Lesson 1 of 23
Holocaust

Introducing The Unit

Students develop a contract establishing a reflective classroom community in preparation for their exploration of this unit's historical case study.

Lesson 2 of 23
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Exploring Identity

Students identify the social and cultural factors that help shape our identities by analyzing firsthand reflections and creating personal identity charts.

Lesson 3 of 23
Holocaust

Stereotypes and “Single Stories”

Students create working definitions of stereotype as they examine the human behavior of applying categories to people and things.

Lesson 4 of 23
Holocaust

Universe of Obligation

Students learn a new concept, universe of obligation, and use it to analyze the ways that their society designates who is deserving of respect and caring.

Assessment

Topic

Holocaust
Step 1:

Introducing the Writing Prompt

Students draft a working thesis statement for an argumentative essay about the impact of choices in history.

Lesson 5 of 23
Holocaust

The Concept of Race

Students analyze the socially constructed meaning of race and examine how it has been used to justify exclusion, inequality, and violence throughout history.

Lesson 6 of 23
Holocaust

The Roots and Impact of Antisemitism

Students explore the long history of discrimination against Jews and come to understand how anti-Judaism was transformed into antisemitism in the nineteenth century.

Lesson 7 of 23
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World War I and Its Aftermath in Germany

Students begin the unit's historical case study by exploring the brutal realities of World War I and the impact of the armistice and the Treaty of Versailles.

Lesson 8 of 23
Holocaust

The Weimar Republic

Students reflect on the idea of democracy as they analyze the politics, economics, and culture of Germany during the period of the Weimar Republic.

Assessment

Topic

Holocaust
Step 2:

Introducing Evidence Logs

Students start to gather evidence that supports or challenges their initial thinking about the writing prompt.

Lesson 9 of 23
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The Rise of the Nazi Party

Students examine how choices made by individuals and groups contributed to the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1920s and 1930s.

Lesson 10 of 23
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European Jewish Life before World War II

Students analyze images and film that convey the richness of Jewish life across Europe at the time of the Nazis’ ascension to power.

Lesson 11 of 23
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Dismantling Democracy

Students examine the steps the Nazis took to replace democracy with dictatorship and draw conclusions about the values and institutions that make democracy possible.

Lesson 12 of 23
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Do You Take the Oath?

Students consider the choices and reasoning of individual Germans who stayed quiet or spoke up during the first few years of Nazi rule.

Lesson 13 of 23
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Laws and the National Community

Students are introduced to the Nazis’ idea of a “national community” and examine how the Nazis used the Nuremberg Laws to define who belonged.

Assessment

Topic

Holocaust
Step 3:

Adding to Evidence Logs, 1 of 3

Students respond to the writing prompt in a journal reflection and begin to evaluate the quality of the evidence they are gathering.

Lesson 14 of 23
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The Power of Propaganda

Students analyze several examples of Nazi propaganda and consider how the Nazis used media to influence the thoughts, feelings, and actions of individual Germans.

Lesson 15 of 23
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Youth and the National Community

Students learn about the experiences of people in Nazi Germany through a variety of firsthand accounts and identify the range of choices that they faced.

Lesson 16 of 23
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Kristallnacht

Students learn about the violent pogroms of Kristallnacht by watching a short documentary and then reflecting on eyewitness testimonies.

Lesson 17 of 23
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Responding to a Refugee Crisis

Students think about the responsibilities of governments as they consider how countries around the world responded to the European Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany.

Lesson 18 of 23
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Race and Space

Students examine the Nazi ideology of “race and space” and the role it played in Germany’s aggression toward other nations, groups, and individuals.

Assessment

Topic

Holocaust
Step 4:

Adding to Evidence Logs, 2 of 3

Students share their ideas about the writing prompt in groups and continue to build their evidence logs.

Lesson 19 of 23
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The Holocaust: Bearing Witness

Students are introduced to the enormity of the crimes committed during the Holocaust and look closely at stories of a few individuals who were targeted by Nazi brutality.

Lesson 20 of 23
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The Holocaust: The Range of Responses

Students deepen their examination of human behavior during the Holocaust by analyzing and discussing the range of choices available to individuals, groups, and nations.

Lesson 21 of 23
Holocaust

Justice and Judgment after the Holocaust

Students grapple with the meaning of justice and the purpose of trials as they learn how the Allies responded to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Assessment

Topic

Holocaust
Step 5:

Adding to Evidence Logs, 3 of 3

Students approach the unit writing prompt in its entirety through journal reflection, evidence, gathering, and discussion.

Lesson 22 of 23
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How Should We Remember?

Students both respond to and design Holocaust memorials as they consider the impact that memorials and monuments have on the way we think about history.

Lesson 23 of 23
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Choosing to Participate

Students use the “levers of power” framework to identify ways they can bring about positive change in their communities.

Assessment

Topic

Holocaust
Step 6:

Refining the Thesis and Finalizing Evidence Logs

Students complete activities that help them think about the unit as a whole as they prepare a strong thesis statement for their essay.

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