Who is Responsible When Genocide Occurs?
The teacher should provide adequate historical context for each genocide. Briefing papers and content links are provided for each event. This lesson can be used at the end of the study of these events, the end of a Holocaust unit to make connections, or at the conclusion of a general course/unit on genocide.
Assign the students one of the handouts for homework. Ask students to assign a number (1-4) reflecting a level of responsibility for each individual listed. Students should be prepared to explain and defend their choices. Have students also note up to three instances about which they feel strongly and would like to discuss.
In class the next day, have students meet in small groups. Have them discuss their choices, focusing on items in which there is the broad disagreement. Ask students to try to persuade others who disagree with them to change their minds about a level of responsibility. Circulate around the classroom to observe, to field questions, and to assist with disagreements.
Have the whole class discuss items with the most disagreement.
Ask if anyone gave the highest level of responsibility (4) to every individual on the list. Discuss the implications of this approach. Draw out if a bystander can get a “4” in this instance. Why or why not?
Depending on time constraints, this discussion can last more than one period. Homework between the two periods could require students to focus on an item that was not discussed yet, or an individual that elicited the most discussion and disagreement.
Class, journal assignment or homework: Ask students to summarize the lesson and state any conclusions they may have. What connections do they see between this historical example and its issues of action and responsibility and their lives today as citizens of their community, country, and/or the world?
- Students to research specific historical instances as described on the handout list. Focus on specific information that may inform the person’s real life decision(s).
- Students to research the specific case of genocide and determine other individuals that could be added to the list to improve historical understanding and to improve learning about responsibility and decision-making.
- If more than one of the responsibility exercises is discussed, note if any patterns develop among types of individuals or professions. What similar themes and issues appear in both or all three discussions?
- Have students choose a local or national event (a crime, a riot, a discriminatory action or pattern, for example) Ask them to construct a list of individuals, in similar fashion to the assigned three examples, who may have some level of responsibility for the event. Be sure to have the list include not only obvious perpetrators but also individuals whose culpability might be vague, questionable, or unclear. Depending on the event chosen, the instructor may chose to have the students use or not use specific named individuals rather than more general descriptions of ethnicity, societal position, and type of employment.
- Learn about a rescuer during the Rwandan genocide. View USHMM film “Defying Genocide.” http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/analysis/details.php?
content=2007-01-05&menupage=Central+Africa. Teacher materials included.
Participation in group and class discussion
Follow-up essays or projects