Guidelines for Teaching
2. Contextualize the history you are teaching
a. “... you want to go over the chronology ... how does a society get to this point ... you must study the history of antisemitism.”
b. “... thinking about context within the twelve years of the Holocaust itself ...”
c. “The first question you should ask should be 'When are you talking about?'”
Events of the Holocaust and, particularly, how individuals and organizations behaved at that time, should be placed in historical context. The occurrence of the Holocaust must be studied in the context of European history as a whole to give students a perspective on the precedents and circumstances that may have contributed to it.
Similarly, study of the Holocaust should be viewed within a contemporaneous context, so students can begin to comprehend the circumstances that encouraged or discouraged particular actions or events. Frame your approach to specific events and acts of complicity or defiance by considering when and where an act took place; the immediate consequences to oneself and one’s family of one’s actions; the impact of contemporaneous events; the degree of control the Nazis had on a country or local population; the cultural attitudes of particular native populations historically toward different victim groups; and the availability, effectiveness, and risk of potential hiding places.
Students should be reminded that individuals and groups do not always fit neatly into categories of behavior. The very same people did not always act consistently as “bystanders,” “collaborators,” “perpetrators,” or “rescuers.” Individuals and groups often behaved differently depending upon changing events and circumstances. The same person who in 1933 might have stood by and remained uninvolved while witnessing social discrimination of Jews might later have joined up with the SA and become a collaborator or have been moved to dissent vocally or act in defense of Jewish friends and neighbors.
Encourage your students not to categorize groups of people only on the basis of their experiences during the Holocaust: contextualization is critical so that victims are not perceived only as victims. The fact that Jews were the central victims of the Nazi regime should not obscure the vibrant culture and long history of Jews in Europe prior to the Nazi era. By exposing students to some of the cultural contributions and achievements of 2,000 years of European Jewish life, you help them to balance their perception of Jews as victims and to better appreciate the traumatic disruption in Jewish history caused by the Holocaust.
Similarly, students may know very little about Gypsies (Roma and Sinti) except for the negative images and derogatory descriptions promulgated by the Nazis. Students would benefit from a broader viewpoint, learning something about Gypsy history and culture as well as understanding the diverse ways of life among different Gypsy groups.
- Welcome and Introduction
- Before you start teaching
- 1. Define the term ‘Holocaust’
- 2. Contextualize the history you are teaching
- 3. Translate statistics into people
- 4. Strive for precision of language
- 5. Avoid simple answers to complex history
- 6. Just because it happened does not mean it was inevitable
- 7. Try to avoid stereotypical descriptions
- 8. Strive for balance in establishing whose perspective informs your study of the Holocaust
- 9. Make careful distinctions about sources of information
- 10. Do not romanticize history to engage students’ interest
- 11. Be sensitive to appropriate written and audiovisual content
- 12. Select appropriate learning activities
- 13. Reinforce the objectives of your lesson plan
- 14. Avoid comparisons of pain
- Topics to Teach
- Sample Lessons
- Guest Lecture: Dr. William Meinecke Jr. discusses the topic "Nazi Ideology and Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution."