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Teaching about the Holocaust

This online workshop includes video segments from a workshop presented in Baltimore, Maryland. The guidelines and methodological suggestions in these video segments are at the core of every teacher workshop and conference presented by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They are offered here for teachers who are unable to attend a professional development program presented by the Museum. In addition to video of the actual workshop session, segments include historical and artifact photographs, text, and links to related sites within the Museum’s website.

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Sample Lessons


The lessons presented in the workshop have been chosen for several reasons. First, they illustrate effective ways to teach about the Holocaust keeping the previously mentioned guidelines in mind. Second, each lesson models a different pedagogical approach through use of documents, class discussion, etc. Finally, these lessons were chosen to address questions that frequently arise with students during the study of the Holocaust.

“How did Hitler kill millions of people?”

Students often ask a question like this. The simple answer is: he did not kill millions of people. Hitler had a tremendous amount of responsibility, but he and his colleagues had a tremendous amount of help. This lesson, as explained in the video clips, encourages students to consider the levels of responsibility of various individuals and groups during this period and also to consider a “wider web” of knowledge and involvement involving many more people in and out of Germany.

"How did Hitler kill millions of people?"

View and download lesson: Assessing and Defining Responsibility (PDF)
Consider how you and your students might fill in the blanks. Think about how you might use this in your classroom. Then view the video comments below.

Assessing and Defining Responsibility lesson

“Why didn't they all leave?”

When a student asks this question, frequently they are wondering about German Jews before the start of 1939. After this is clarified, discuss what is involved in leaving one's homeland as well as what sacrifices must be made. Remind students that German Jews were in most cases patriotic citizens. Over 10,000 died fighting for Germany in World War I, and countless others were wounded and received medals for their valor and service. Jews, whether in the lower, middle, or upper classes, had lived in Germany for centuries and were well assimilated in the early twentieth century. It is important to share with students that the oppressive measures targeting Jews in the pre-war period were passed and enforced gradually. Also, these types of pre-war measures and laws had been experienced throughout the history of the Jewish people in earlier periods and in other countries as well. No one at the time could have foreseen or predicted killing squads and killing centers. Student may assume that German Jews knew what was coming and therefore should have fled immediately. It is also helpful to pose a question to the students, considering the gradual nature of the process and the unknown events ahead. “What event or action (without the '20-20 hindsight' that we have) should have convinced the Jews to flee?” Once the difficult decision was made to try to leave the country, prospective emigrants had to find a country willing to admit them and their family. This was very difficult, considering world immigration policies, as demonstrated by the results of the Evian Conference of 1938. If a safe haven could be found, what was needed to get there? Please open the two documents and consider how to illustrate this difficult dilemma (trying to leave Germany). The answer to this seemingly simple question becomes very complicated!

Documentation Required for Immigration Visas to Enter the United States.
Documentation Required for Emigration from Germany.

“Why didn't they fight back?”

The impression that Jews did not fight back against the Nazis is a myth. Jews carried out acts of resistance in every country of Europe that the Germans occupied, as well as in satellite states. They even resisted in ghettos, concentration camps and killing centers, under the most harrowing of circumstances. Why is it then that the myth endures? Period photographs and contemporary feature films may serve to perpetuate it because they often depict large numbers of Jews boarding trains under the watchful eyes of a few lightly armed guards. Not seen in these images, yet key to understanding Jewish response to Nazi terror, are the obstacles to resistance. This lesson aims to deepen students' understanding of both what is needed to resist an oppressive regime and the factors that deter resistance. A more complex and nuanced view of what it meant to resist sheds light on the surprising variety and extent of resistance that did take place against the Nazis and their collaborators. This lesson focuses on the many obstacles to resistance. Please view the video clips and read the text in sequence.

"You have decided to actively resist and fight back ... What do you need?"

Draw out from students a list of what would be needed to resist an oppressive regime, such as the Nazi occupation. Though incomplete, the following list (generated by the teachers in this workshop) includes many factors that often come up in such a discussion.

Plan B
Hideout, haven, and headquarters
Goal (and consensus about the goal)
Followers (committed, loyal, healthy, trained)
Knowledge (of the enemy’s resources, plans, etc.)
Help (inside and out)

“What are some things, conditions, beliefs, realities that would delay people from fighting back?”

Factors that would deter active resistance:

Lack of information
German Policy of Collective responsibility

“The question isn't why wasn't there more resistance, the question is, how could there have been so much?”

Read more about Resistance during the Holocaust (PDF)
Read Holocaust Encyclopedia article about Jewish Resistance