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Teaching Materials on Americans and the Holocaust

Lesson Plans


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Challenges of Escape, 1938–1941 

Students will understand the complex factors that led German Jews to seek to emigrate from Nazi Germany and the complex factors that impeded their immigration to the United States in the 1930s and 1940s.

Exhibition Tour and Viewing Guide 

In this 39-minute tour, Dr. Daniel Greene, US Holocaust Memorial Museum historian and exhibition curator, walks through the Americans and the Holocaust exhibition and provides an overview of the history, themes, and artifacts presented throughout. The viewing guide includes reflection questions to consider while watching the tour and concluding writing prompts.

Exploring the Online Exhibition 

By exploring the Americans and the Holocaust online exhibition, students will examine the motives, pressures, and fears that shaped American attitudes and responses to the threats of Nazism and the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s. Students will learn about actions taken at all levels of society—by the government, the media, other organizations, and individual citizens—and how opportunities for action changed over time. This lesson promotes reflection and critical thinking about various factors that shaped attitudes and actions during that time and the factors that influence us today.

Holocaust Encyclopedia Articles

The following related articles contain critical learning questions that can be used when discussing article content with students.

Black Americans and the Nazi Olympics 

Although different in many ways, antisemitism in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and anti-Black racism in Jim Crow-era America deeply affected communities in these countries. While individual experiences and context are unique and it is important to avoid comparisons of suffering, looking at these two places in the same historical period raises critical questions about the impact of antisemitism and racism in the past and present.

History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust 

Students investigate what information about the Holocaust was available in their communities by doing original research using historic newspapers found online or in a local library. Through an analysis of their discoveries, they better understand American responses to the Holocaust within the socio-economic and political context of the United States during the 1930s and 1940s.

Interpreting News of World Events 1933–1938 

By examining news coverage around three key events related to the early warning signs of the Holocaust, students will learn that information about the Nazi persecution of European Jews was available to the public. They will also consider the question of what other issues or events were competing for Americans’ attention and concern at the same time. Despite the many issues that were on their minds during the period 1933–1938, some Americans took actions to help persecuted Jews abroad, with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Immigration and Refugees: A Case Study on the Wagner-Rogers Bill 

By examining the Wagner-Rogers Bill of 1939, students learn how Americans debated the country’s role as a haven for refugees, identifying economic, social, and geopolitical factors that influenced Americans’ attitudes about the United States’ role in the world during the critical years 1938–1941. Using primary-source documents, students identify and evaluate arguments that Americans made for and against the acceptance of child refugees in 1939. The lesson concludes with reflection on questions that this history raises about America’s role in the world today.

Isolation or Intervention? A Case Study on the Lend-Lease Act 

In this lesson, students will identify multiple economic, social, and geopolitical factors that influenced Americans’ attitudes about the United States’ role in the world from 1939–1941, when people in the United States were deeply divided about what actions, if any, America should take in defense of countries threatened by German military conquest. Through an examination of primary source documents, students will identify and evaluate arguments that different Americans made for the provision of military materiel to Britain in 1940. Ultimately, students will reflect on questions that this lesson raises about America’s role in the world today.

Americans and the Holocaust Reader

Americans and the Holocaust Reader

Americans and the Holocaust contains more than 100 primary sources that reveal how Americans responded to Nazism. Sources help readers understand how Americans’ responses were shaped by the challenging circumstances in the United States during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. 

Americans and the Holocaust is a valuable resource for college-level courses, advanced secondary students, and historians.

Learn More

The Refugee Crisis 

Produced in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves, this unit shifts students’ study of World War II and Nazism to the other side of the Atlantic. The three-lesson unit deeply explores the motives, pressures, and fears that shaped Americans’ responses to Nazism and the humanitarian refugee crisis it provoked during the 1930s and 1940s. By examining primary sources that range from public opinion polls to personal narratives to radio plays, students will explore why widespread American sympathy for the plight of Jewish refugees never translated into widespread support for prioritizing their rescue. The unit also highlights the stories of individual Americans who did take tremendous risks to rescue Jews, as well as the questions this history raises for taking action in the context of contemporary refugee crises. The .zip file for each lesson includes both the teacher materials and the student handouts, as well as any other media required.

History Unfolded: Youth Responses 

Through a case study of American news coverage of the Nazi persecution of Jews in the 1930s and 1940s, students will learn what information some college and university newspapers at the time reported about the Nazi persecution of Jews, as well as some ways students responded to news of the Holocaust.

History Unfolded: Spanish Language Newspapers Coverage of the Holocaust 

By focusing on how Spanish language newspapers in Texas, California, and Puerto Rico reported on the voyage of the ​St. Louis​, students will connect Holocaust history to American history and develop primary and secondary source reading and analysis skills in Spanish. Students will also develop media literacy skills that will prepare them to analyze and respond to news today. Lesson plan and materials are available in both English and Spanish.

History Unfolded: Black Press Newspaper Coverage of the Holocaust

By completing this lesson, students will gain a better understanding of the Black Press and the conditions in the United States that shaped opinion and reporting in the Black press related to Americans' responses to the Holocaust. Students will analyze primary sources and identify concerns Black Americans had in the 1930s and 1940s.

Behind Every Name, Stories from the Holocaust

By examining true personal stories, told through short animations, students learn about unique individual experiences within the historical context of the Holocaust. This activity contains an extension to examine the role of artifacts in understanding history.