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?
In this lesson, students build on their previous discussion about stereotypes by examining why humans form groups and what it means to belong. This examination begins the second stage of the Facing History scope and sequence, “We and They.” Students will learn a new concept, universe of obligation—the term sociologist Helen Fein coined to describe the circle of individuals and groups within a society “toward whom obligations are owed, to whom rules apply, and whose injuries call for amends.”1
Understanding the concept of universe of obligation provides important insights into the behavior of individuals, groups, and nations throughout history. It also helps students think more deeply about the benefits of being part of a society’s “in” group and the consequences of being part of an “out” group.
The activities in this lesson ask students to think about the people for whom they feel responsible. The activities also help students analyze the ways that their society designates who is worthy of respect and caring and who is not.
Supplement with Additional Readings
You might deepen the discussion of groups and belonging in this lesson by introducing additional readings from Chapter 2 of Holocaust and Human Behavior for student discussion and reflection. The reading What Do We Do with a Difference? includes a poem that raises important questions about the ways we respond to differences. In the reading Understanding Strangers, journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski discusses the ways the earliest humans likely responded to “the Other” and suggests models for how we can constructively respond to unfamiliar groups of people today. Both readings and their related connection questions can help support a larger class discussion about the human behavior of dividing ourselves into groups. You might use the following question to guide the discussion:
Why do humans so often divide themselves into “we” and “they”? When does it become a problem? What historical examples help you answer this question? What examples from the world today help you answer it?