Lesson 6 of 23
One 50-minute class period

The Roots and Impact of Antisemitism

From the Unit:

Essential Questions

Unit Essential Question: 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?

Guiding Questions

  • What is antisemitism, and how has it impacted Jews in the past and today?
  • What are the consequences when a “single story” is used to exclude a group of people from a society’s universe of obligation?

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to explain how anti-Judaism developed into antisemitism in the nineteenth century.
  • Students will consider the present-day implications of longstanding patterns of discrimination and violence against Jews.


In the previous lesson, students examined the concept of race and learned how it was created by society in order to justify unequal power and status between different groups. This lesson continues the study of “We and They” in the Facing History scope and sequence by introducing antisemitism, another historical example of how humans have created “in” groups and “out” groups. Students will explore the long history of hatred and discrimination against Jews, and they will see how anti-Judaism, a religious prejudice, was transformed in the nineteenth century into antisemitism, a form of racism. Learning about the development of antisemitism will provide students with important context for the worldview of the Nazis. It will also help students recognize and understand the impact of stereotypes and myths about Jews that persist today.

A note on terms:

  • The term anti-Judaism refers to religious prejudice against Jews before the historical emergence of the concept of race.
  • The word Semitic does not actually refer to a group of people. It is not a “race” but rather a linguistic term that refers to a group of languages traditionally spoken in the Middle East and parts of Africa, including Amharic, a language spoken in Ethiopia, as well as Hebrew and Arabic. Because there is no such thing as a Semitic race, Facing History and Ourselves uses the alternate spelling antisemitism.


Although antisemitism—a central component of the Nazi worldview—is based on the belief that Jews are members of a distinct race, the history of hatred, prejudice, and discrimination targeting Jews extends back in time more than two millennia, long before the idea of race emerged during the Enlightenment.

In the late 1800s, many European and American scientists continued to divide humankind into smaller and smaller “races.” One of these was the “Semitic race,” which they used to categorize Jews. The term antisemitism was coined by German Wilhelm Marr, who published a pamphlet in 1878 titled “The Victory of Judaism over Germandom.” Filled with lies and myths about Jews, Marr’s pamphlet argued that Jews were more than a distinct “race.” They were dangerous and alien, intent on maliciously destroying German society. Marr founded the League of Anti-Semites in Berlin in 1879 to combat the threat he imagined that Jews posed. Although his political organization did not gain much support, the racist beliefs of antisemitism spread across Europe, providing justification for discrimination and violence against Jews in the twentieth century.

Antisemitism relies on the idea that certain physical and intellectual differences exist between groups and that these differences are biological, permanent, and irreversible. Because they believed, falsely, that differences between so-called races were justified by modern science, antisemites were convinced that science also justified discrimination against Jews.

Historian Deborah Dwork explains:

The move from anti-Judaism—against the religion—to antisemitism with this notion of "race" was only possible when Europeans conceived of the idea of race. And once they had conceived of the idea of race in the 19th century, Wilhelm Marr had the notion that Jews constituted a "race." And thus, antisemitism can be seen as a form of racism.

Notes to Teacher

  1. Teaching about the History and Impact of Antisemitism
    As with the topic of race in the previous lesson, students may begin this lesson with misconceptions about Judaism. Antisemitic beliefs and stereotypes persist today. Students may encounter facts and information in this lesson that conflict with things they learned at home or in church and that they did not realize were rooted in the history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism. Therefore, it is important to be ready to respond to “single stories” about Jews that may arise in class, help students consider where such stories came from, and ground the discussion in what we know from history about the origins of antisemitic ideas.

    • If, in the course of teaching this lesson, you become concerned that your students have a limited understanding of what it means to be Jewish and are relying on stereotypes and single stories instead, consider returning to the Lesson 2 extension “Explore the Complexity of Jewish Identity.”
    • If you taught the extension about Jewish identity in Lesson 2, you might review the identity chart for “Jewish identity” that the class created in order to remind students of the variety of ways that individuals define their relationship to Jewish culture and religion and the idea that there is no single story that explains what it means to be Jewish.
  2. Previewing Vocabulary
    The following are key vocabulary terms used in this lesson:
    • Antisemitism
    • Anti-Judaism
    • Aryan
    • Marginalize

    Add these words to your Word Wall, if you are using one for this unit, and provide necessary support to help students learn these words as you teach the lesson.



  1. Reflect on the Persistence of Rumors, Lies, and Myths
    The history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism is in part a story of rumors, lies, and myths that have persisted over the course of centuries. Begin this lesson by asking students to record their observations about rumors, lies, and myths from their own experiences. Ask students to respond to the following question in their journals:

    How do rumors get started? Why might lies and myths about people persist even after they have been proven wrong? Have you ever helped to spread a rumor that you doubted or knew wasn’t true? Why?

    While students should be allowed to keep their own stories of spreading rumors private, you can ask for a volunteers to share their more general observations about why rumors and lies can be so persistent.

  2. Explore the History of Antisemitism
    • Inform students that in this lesson, they are going to learn about antisemitism. Tell them that its most basic definition is “hatred of or hostility toward Jews,” but it is also a form of racism. In this lesson, they will look at history to understand how religious prejudice against Jews evolved into racism.
    • Give students the handout Overview of Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism.
    • Instruct students to read the handout with a partner, stopping at each box to annotate the section and answer the text-based questions. Debrief the reading with students by asking them to share their answers to the questions. Take this opportunity to correct any misunderstandings regarding the history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism.
    • In the same pairs, ask students to discuss the following questions:
      • What do students notice about the history of hatred, discrimination, and violence toward Jews?
      • How is antisemitism, which emerged in the 1870s, different from the anti-Judaism that existed before the 1870s? Why is that difference significant?
      • How were “single stories” used to exclude Jews from the universe of obligation of individuals and societies? What were the consequences?
    • Ask the student pairs to share their answers to these questions in a brief class discussion.
  3. Explore the Impact of Antisemitic Myths and Attitudes Today
    • Have students work in pairs to read and respond to “We Don’t Control America” and Other Myths Part 1Part 2, or Part 3. Roughly a third of the groups should work with each of the three excerpts from the reading set.
    • Each group’s task is to read the assigned excerpt and discuss the following questions:
      • How does the myth described affect the writer? How does she respond when confronted with the fact that another person believes a false myth or stereotype about Jews?
      • How do you explain why people might believe such myths and stereotypes about Jews? What might it take to overcome these false antisemitic beliefs?
    • Finish the lesson with a brief whole-group discussion in which each group has the opportunity to share their observations.


  • Gauge students’ understanding of and response to the history and impact of antisemitism by asking them to complete a one-page writing assignment in which they list three takeaways from this lesson. You might use the following prompt:

    What did you learn in this lesson about the history and impact of antisemitism that you think everyone should know? In a one-page writing assignment, list three facts, ideas, or events you learned about in this lesson, and for each one, explain why you think it is important for others to know about it.
  • Collect the handout Overview of Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism and examine students’ responses to the embedded questions for evidence of their comprehension of the reading and the history of antisemitism.


Further Reading
For a deeper and more detailed exploration of the history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, you can substitute the resources below for the reading Overview of Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism. The readings in Holocaust and Human Behavior and videos listed below also include connection questions for additional discussion and reflection:



Get Started

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

Lesson 1 of 23

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

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

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

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.



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

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

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

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

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.



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

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

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

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

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

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.



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

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

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


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

Lesson 17 of 23

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

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.



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

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

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

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.



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

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

Choosing to Participate

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



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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