How to Use this Guide

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How To Use This Guide

Prepared by Linda Hurwitz, Director
The Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh

This Holocaust Resource Guide is designed so that the teacher does not have to pursue original source material in order to feel comfortable with the complexity and diversity of Holocaust history and the range of the subject matter. This includes understanding the history or anti-Semitism and the history of the Jewish people as well as the events occurring in Europe which led to the rise of Nazism and the machinery of technology and bureaucracy which the Nazis implemented in order to fulfill its second front, which was a “War Against the Jews” (which is the title of one compelling text on the Holocaust by Lucy Dawidowicz).

Teachers should read through the entire guide and then consider in what manner parts of it can be used through various subjects in a school environment.

The first responsibility of the teacher is to teach the event. The actual history must be the foundation for any critical understanding and pursuit of the issues related to the Holocaust.

This can be accomplished through world cultures, through world history, European history, and also through U.S. history. The role of the perpetrators, the Nazis, requires that the students have some background in late 19th century Nationalism, the events leading up to, during, and after World War 1, and the state of events in Germany in the 1930s. However, an understanding of this can also be accomplished by comparing the U.S. Constitution and our foundation of democracy with the laws and legal structure of the Weimar Republic. In this way, students can develop an understanding of the weakness in a German system and the strengths which must be protected in the American system, to assure that all minorities have equal rights here in America.

Understanding the bystanders requires an understanding of the principles of isolationism and separatism that were part of U.S. foreign policy during this period in history. However, the question of moral responsibilities of one country to enter into war against another country to save the lives of innocent victims leads to the study of the value of warfare and the conditions incumbent upon countries to engage in such activities.

Comparisons of earlier wars fought strictly between enlisted soldiers to World War II which involved civilian victimization, would allow students to understand the Holocaust as a unique experience. Some universal messages, however, deal with the psychology and sociology of human nature. Studying the victims, the liberators, and the Righteous Gentiles and how they responded to conditions around them what choices they had and made, how those who survived managed to do so provides a fascinating arena of human behavior under extraordinary circumstances.

In the realm of human nature, it would be quite helpful to include literature as a complement to studying the events in history. By reading literary works, diaries, letters, and memoirs, students can learn about the feelings and struggles of those who survived and those who left only their words Literature personalizes the struggle which involved making difficult decisions during immoral times requiring unheard of strength and heroism and courage of ordinary individuals. Many people helped one another and struggled for dignity even under the oppressive rule of the Nazi regime.

The urge to create even by individuals caught in the vortex of the Holocaust who wrote music, poetry and art as an expression of themselves, who tried to reach the outside world, can be most inspiring. Through art and through music, students can have an opportunity to express their feelings about the subject matter.

In science class, aspects of the Holocaust can be explored. The question of scientific responsibility arises when one studies the technology and bureaucracy of the German machinery which worked with great corporations such as I. G. Farben to make gas chambers, crematoria, and poison gases to kill as many people as quickly as possible at the cheapest cost with the greatest efficiency. The discussion of how scientists and doctors were used by the Nazis and who turned their skills into abuse towards civilian populations raises many questions in terms of capitulation to political pressure versus personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is a very important theme in studying the Holocaust and can certainly be confronted through many different subject areas.

Each chapter of the Guide contains the following:

1. A synopsis

2. A list of instructional objectives

3. An overview of topics and issues, which, when supplemented by materials described in the bibliography/resource section, are useful as a primary teaching tool

4. A list of vocabulary

5. A list of suggested classroom activities

6. A list of suggested classroom discussion questions

7. An evaluation section

8. A list of suggested teacher strategies, where appropriate.

While following the entire Guide is recommended for a thorough examination of the Holocaust, the Guide’s format is flexible enough to permit teachers to adapt individual sections for their own lesson plans. The Guide, supplemented by materials selected from the accompanying bibliography / resource section, permits a variety of classroom applications. These materials are an important supplement to the Guide, which does not purport to provide a totality of the information necessary to teach the history and lessons of the Holocaust. Holocaust survivors and liberators are often willing to bear witness to student groups about their experiences. Films, oral histories from survivors, photographs, artwork, and music provide additional resources which, when used with the Guide, provide a powerful teaching tool.

Studying the Holocaust exposes students to the tragedy of genocide, the loss of Jewish cultural and religious life in Europe, the importance of courage in the face of injustice, the value of individual actions of heroism, and the need for high societal standards of human behavior. Approaching the subject in a careful, creative, and comprehensive fashion poses a challenge to the teacher and to the student. The objective of this Guide is to make that important task more manageable.

1990 Gary M. Grobman

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