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The Holocaust has come to signify the destruction and martyrdom of the European Jews under the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. The word “holocaust” literally means “massive destruction by fire.” It is generally believed that a total of eleven million people were murdered by the Nazi regime, including political opponents, Gypsies, the mentally ill, homosexuals, and other “undesirables.”

An estimated six million were killed because they were Jews. For the first time in history, an entire people was targeted for annihilation by a government. The Nazi state systematically implemented a plan to destroy all Jews simply because they existed. The destruction of European Jewry stands as the archetype of genocide in human history.

The Holocaust, an important and relevant subject for classroom study, ultimately teaches valuable lessons about human nature and society.

It is a compelling story of humanity which demonstrates extreme courage, faith, physical and emotional strength, as well as unspeakable terror, cruelty, and indifference. By examining good and evil in human nature, students can look inward and better understand themselves and their relationships to others. The lessons learned from studying the Holocaust are universal, applying to other examples of tyranny and injustice. American history contains painful chapters, such as the treatment of the Indians, of slaves, and Japanese-Americans during various periods. Worldwide, the use of poison gas against civilian populations by Iraq, apartheid in South Africa, the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, and the Armenian genocide are glaring examples of cruelty and suffering. Tragically, these events dot the pages not only of history books but our daily newspaper front pages as well, because people have not learned what destruction the seeds of hate may sow.

For many people around the world, the terror and threat of genocide is not an anachronistic notion perpetrated by barbarians generations ago, but rather is a current reality.

This publication is a resource guide to the study of the Holocaust and its relevance to the modern world. A systematic examination of the forces that allowed the Nazis to succeed is developed ¢ the roots of anti-Semitism, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the highly-organized and efficient Nazi machine, and the indifference of the nations of the world. Included in the Guide is a chapter on stereotypes and prejudice. This Guide also includes as an appendix an outline of Pennsylvania law designed to combat prejudice and discrimination, as well as a capsule history of discrimination in Pennsylvania.

This course of study is designed to raise issues which are of contemporary interest. How could the Holocaust happen? What were its origins, and what forces made it inevitable? What could have stopped it? Who was responsible for it? Was the Holocaust caused by a few insane political leaders, or was it the result of social forces? How powerless were those who were neither the perpetrators nor the victims? What can be done to prevent its reoccurrence? What is the appropriate response to those who assert that this event never occurred at all? Was the Holocaust any less acceptable because it occurred in a technologically advanced Western culture?

This Guide was designed to be either its own course unit or incorporated with subjects already studied by high school and middle school students in their social studies, English, music, and art classes.


Students will:

1. Study the destructive nature of prejudice, focusing on the Holocaust as the extreme outcome of institutionalized prejudice. A progression will be traced from unfavorable attitudes, to denial of civil rights, to incarceration and forced labor in ghettos, prisons, and concentration camps, to mass murder. The implications of a government instituting a policy of genocide against its citizens will be explored.

2. Study the history of anti-Semitism. Students will learn about Jewish beliefs and customs, and how they were interpreted by non-Jews. Students will have a sense of the Jewish experience in Europe from ancient times through the Holocaust. They will recognize that the Holocaust was not an isolated incident, but evolved out of centuries of prejudice.

3. Study the political ideology of Nazism. Students will see that the destruction of the Jews was part of the political philosophy of Adolf Hitler. They will study the carefully-planned steps leading to the destruction of European Jewry and the government-controlled methods used to carry it out. The extent of cooperation and the meticulous attention to detail needed to enact Hitler’s policy will be explained. The resistance to this policy will be explored. Students will learn that the victims of the Holocaust were the Jews, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, Gypsies, homosexuals, political opponents, and other “undesirables.”

4. Learn about attempts to resist the Nazis, and about individuals who worked to save Jews.

5. Learn what has happened to the survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust.

6. Discuss who was responsible for the Holocaust.

7. Explore the ethical dilemmas of carrying out orders which are disagreeable, immoral, unethical, or illegal.


Students will:

1. Understand the horrible injustices that a society can impose upon its members.

2. See that Jews and other groups have been singled out for persecution and dehumanization based on prejudice, bigotry, and stereotyping.

3. Recognize the responsibility of society to preserve the basic dignity of all of its members.

4. Wonder if the Holocaust could happen today, and what could prevent a similar tragedy.

5. Recognize value problems and opposing viewpoints.

6. Take a stand on controversial issues and learn to be tolerant of opposing views.

7. Identify the effects of emotion and personal needs on political events.

8. Describe their own reactions to traumatic events (e.g., films of events in concentration camps).

9. Display empathy for suffering peoples and individual victims of genocide and other forms of persecution.

10. Make personal value judgments.


Students will be able to:

1. Read for a point of view and hidden assumptions.

2. Learn the vocabulary of the Holocaust.

3. Use charts.

4. Read maps.

5. Analyze propaganda techniques.

6. Evaluate evidence for a given viewpoint.

7. Trace causal relationships.

8. Solve hypothetical problems.

9. Recognize generalizations.

Copyright 1990 Gary M. Grobman

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