The activities below will help students understand how the events of World War II and the Holocaust influenced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Students will also use a timeline to learn about key moments that influenced the development of human rights.
This lesson is part of Facing History and Ourselves Universal Decleration of Human Rights collection and part of a series of lessons about the declaration. Use this lesson to engage students in a conversation about the context in which the UDHR was passed.
A. Examining the Immediate Historical Context:
Brainstorm about the context in which the UDHR was negotiated. What had just happened in the world? What specific words, images, people, and ideas were a part of this experience? Review the timeline for more information.
Beyond the devastation of war, Eleanor Roosevelt explained that:
You can measure the extent of physical damage done to cities but how to gauge what has happened to human beings-that is incalculable.
She later added:
...if the atomic bomb did nothing more, it scared people to the point where they realized that they either must do something about preventing war or there is a chance that there might be a morning when we would not wake up.
Before the end of World War II, diplomats and political leaders began thinking about what they might do to prevent such violations of human rights and mass violence from being repeated. Think creatively about what would need to happen to prevent these horrible abuses. Who would need to be involved? What role might art, education, and the law play? What role, if any, could a concerned individual play?
 Roosevelt, My Day, February 18, 1946.
B. Investigating Long-Term Historical Context in a Timeline
Review the timeline. First, look at it generally and make observations and inquiries: What can be observed in the timeline? What are the different approaches that people have used to articulate human rights? Use the timeline included on this poster to identify key moments in the development of human rights. Which of these events seem most significant to you? Why? Which violations of human rights were included here? How might these violations have shaped the history leading up to the UDHR? What questions about human rights does this timeline raise?