Who Is Responsible When Genocide Occurs?
GRADE LEVEL: 7–12
GRADE LEVEL APPLICABILITY: 7–12
SUBJECT: World History, American History, European History, Genocide Studies, Social Justice
TIME REQUIRED: One or two class periods
This lesson was first developed by the Anti-Defamation League for the New Jersey State Curriculum in the early 1980s. The initial lesson focused on the possible responsibility of a variety of individuals during the Holocaust (1933–1945). A revised version of the lesson has been in use by the Museum since 1996.
The history of the Holocaust provides one of the most effective subjects for a pedagogical examination of basic moral issues. A structured inquiry into Holocaust history yields critical lessons for an investigation of human behavior. A study of the Holocaust also addresses one of the central tenets of education in the United States: examining what it means to be a responsible citizen of the nation and of the world community.
Through studying cases of genocide, students can come to realize that: democratic institutions and values are not automatically sustained but need to be appreciated, nurtured, and protected; silence and indifference to the suffering of others, or to the infringement of civil rights in any society, can—however unintentionally—perpetuate the problems. Genocide is not a “natural” phenomenon, but occurs because individuals, organizations, and governments make choices that not only legalize discrimination but also allow prejudice, hatred, and ultimately, mass murder to occur.
The initial lesson format has been adapted to address similar questions of responsibility regarding three cases of genocide since 1945: Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur, Sudan.