Outline

Holocaust and Human Behavior

One-Month Unit Outline

Introduction

This outline guides you through a unit using readings, videos, and other resources from Holocaust and Human Behavior. The unit is organized to follow the Facing History scope and sequence.   

As you prepare for and teach this unit, it is important to refer to the book Holocaust and Human Behavior for context necessary to help guide students from lesson to lesson and to answer their questions. We also recommend you read the Get Started section for important suggestions about how to foster a reflective classroom community and how to support students as they encounter the emotionally challenging history of the Holocaust.

Each lesson below corresponds roughly to one day of instruction time. Since schedules, class-period length, and the needs of individual classes and students vary, teachers will likely need to make adjustments to this plan to best suit their needs and circumstances. The "teaching notes" accompanying each lesson often provide suggestions for making adjustments to the lesson in order to abbreviate or go deeper. 

This outline is also available for download as a PDF

Individual & Society [~3 Days]

In this first series of lessons, students begin the unit by examining the societal factors that shape how we think about our own identities and how we define others. After a broad introduction to the concept of identity, these lessons look closely at how one factor, religion, influences the way many people see themselves and others, and they explore the way that stereotypes can distort our perceptions of others.

Essential Questions
  • What factors shape our identities?  Which parts do we choose for ourselves and which are determined by others, society, or chance?

  • What dilemmas may arise when others view us differently than we view ourselves?
  Lesson 1. Charting Identity
Materials
Activity

Students create, share, and discuss identity charts for the bear in The Bear That Wasn't and for themselves. ​

Teaching Notes

See the lesson The Complexity of Identity for more detailed suggestions.

Background Information: Chapter 1 Introduction

  Lesson 2. Stereotypes and “Single Stories”
Materials
Activity

Students read The Danger of a Single Story, create an identity chart for author Chimamanda Adichie, and discuss the “single stories” they have encountered in their lives.

Teaching Notes

Excerpt the reading as necessary to make accessible for your class, or show the video from ted.com.

Connect the idea of “single stories” to the concept of stereotypes.

  Lesson 3. The Influence of Religion
Materials
Activity

Students read Religion and Identity and then make Text-to-Text, Text-to-Self, Text-to-World connections with the experiences the text describes. Focus the discussion on the question: What dilemmas may arise when others view us differently than we view ourselves?

Teaching Notes

Tell students that the connections they write about do not necessarily have to be about religion.

You can broaden the range of experiences represented in this activity by supplementing the lesson with additional readings from Chapter 1 that are relevant to your class.

We & They [~3 Days]

Students now turn their attention from individual to group identity. These lessons introduce the human tendency to create “in” groups and “out” groups, and they look at the way humans have created such groups throughout history on the basis of race and religion, among other factors.

Essential Questions
How have societies distinguished between who can be a member and who must remain an outsider, and why have those distinctions mattered?
  Lesson 4. Differences and Belonging
Materials
Activity

Students read and discuss the two readings (using Connection Questions) and then use the handout to illustrate Universe of Obligations for themselves and for a group to which they belong.

Teaching Notes

See the lesson Understanding Universe of Obligation for more detailed suggestions.

Background Information: Chapter 2 Introduction

  Lesson 5. The Concept of Race
Materials
Activity

Students read aloud Defining Race and discuss Connections Questions. Then, they watch the video and record something they found surprising, something they found interesting, and something they found troubling to discuss with a partner afterwards.

Teaching Notes

Connect the emerging understanding of race with the way it has been used to define societies’ universes of obligation.

Background Information: Chapter 2 readings 3-8, 11

  Lesson 6. Defining Antisemitism
Materials
Activity

Students learn about the history of anti-Judaism and how it evolved into antisemitism from readings and videos. Then, they discuss the Connections Questions following each reading using Think-Pair-Share.

Teaching Notes

The video The Ancient Roots of Anti-Judaism can be substituted for the reading, if desired. If you use the video, you can still follow it up with the Connections Questions for Anti-Judaism before the Enlightenment.

The Connections Questions for the reading From Religious Prejudice to Antisemitism can be used to discuss the video Antisemitism from Enlightenment to World War I.

Background Information: Chapter 2 readings: Religion, Loyalty, and Belonging, Creating the German Nation, Anti-Judaism before the Enlightenment, From Religious Prejudice to Antisemitism

Case Study: Nazi Germany and the Holocaust [~13 Days]

In this series of lessons, students dive deeply into a historical case study about the Holocaust, practicing historical thinking skills while finding links to the universal themes of human behavior they examined in the first two stages of the unit. In this case study students explore the idea of democracy and what is essential to support and sustain it. They examine how it is possible that some groups within a society could be discriminated against, dehumanized, and eventually targeted for mass murder. They are also challenged to think about the choices available to individuals in times of injustice and the factors that influence their decision-making. The dramatic and sometimes painful stories told in these resources require students to respond to history with not just their intellects but also with their hearts.

Essential Questions
  • What choices and circumstances enabled the Nazi Party to rise to power in Germany?

  • What is the Holocaust? How did the choices of individuals, groups, and entire nations help to make it possible?

  • What can we learn about human behavior from confronting this history? What can we learn about ourselves? What new questions does this history raise for us in the twenty-first century?
  Lesson 7. The End of War and the Beginning of Democracy
Materials
Activity

Students watch the video, which ends with Germany’s loss in World War I.

The class begins a concept map (or identity chart) for democracy and uses it to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution.

The class reads aloud Creating a Constitutional Government, and then students work in pairs to analyze the Weimar government, comparing it to the democracy concept map.

Optional: Students read Rumors of Betrayal and reflect on how rumors about the end of the war affected Germans’ trust in their new government.

Teaching Notes

For more teaching resources on the effects of World War I, see the lesson Analyzing the Effects of World War I.

Background Information:

  Lesson 8. Art and Culture in the Weimar Republic
Materials
Activity

Students analyze images from the visual essay using the Analyze Visual Images strategy, Big Paper-style.  In pairs, students silently write their observations, questions, and conclusions as annotations around the image. Finish with a whole-group discussion focusing on the following questions:

  • What do these images suggest about art and culture in Weimar society?

  • What reactions might individual Germans have had to these images?

  • What is the role of free expression in democracy?
Teaching Notes
Background Information: Chapter 4
  Lesson 9. Politics and Elections in the Weimar Republic
Materials
Activity

Students watch the video to provide/deepen historical context.

Students then discuss in pairs or small groups which party platforms (listed in Hard Times Return) would be most appealing to one or more of the individuals profiled in the Which Political Party? handout.

Teaching Notes

For more teaching resources on the politics in the Weimar Republic, see the lesson Choices in Weimar Republic Elections.

Background Information: Chapter 4

  Lesson 10. From Democracy to Dictatorship
Materials
Activity

The class reviews the characteristics of democracy from the concept map they created in lesson 7.

Then, small groups of students each works with one reading and analyzes how the reading adds to their understanding of how democracy was destroyed in Germany. Small groups each report out to the whole class.

Finally, the class begins a concept map (or identity chart) for Nazi dictatorship.

Teaching Notes

While it is important to illustrate the variety of ways in which the Nazis attacked democracy in Germany, the size of your class and the needs of your students may dictate that you choose not to use every suggested reading in this lesson.

Background Information: Chapter 5

  Lesson 11. Choosing between Conformity and Dissent
Materials
Activity

Students read and discuss the readings, and then hold a fishbowl discussion on the interplay between Hitler and individual Germans in creating and sustaining the new dictatorship.  The discussion focuses on the following questions:

  • To what extent did Germans choose to conform or consent to the dictatorship, and to what extent were they coerced?

  • What kinds of pledges and oaths do people take today? For what reasons? How do they affect people’s choices? How should they?

Students add to their concept maps for Nazi dictatorship.

Teaching Notes
Background Information: Chapter 5
  Lesson 12. Analyzing Nazi Propaganda
Materials
Activity

Using the visual essay's introduction, the class records a definition for propaganda.

As a whole class, they analyze The Eternal Jew poster using the Analyzing Visual Images strategy.

Then, students work in small groups to use the same strategy to analyze additional images from the visual essay. They can use the Image Analysis Procedure handout to guide analysis.

The class ends with a whole-group discussion about what students observed, what makes propaganda effective or ineffective, and how it adds to their understanding of conformity and consent in Nazi Germany. ​

Teaching Notes

Throughout these activities, help students connect what they are learning about propaganda to the influence of media today. Ask students if they can think of examples of propaganda in society today. How do they think propaganda influences the attitudes and actions of people today?

Background Information:

  Lesson 13. Youth in Nazi Germany
Materials
Activity

Students work in pairs to read and discuss one or more readings about youth in Nazi Germany.  Their discussion should focus on what evidence the readings provide to answer the following questions:

  • What role did youth play in the Nazis' attempt to build a "racially pure and harmonious national community"?
  • What difficult choices were young people faced with—at home, in school, and in their communities—during this period? How did these choices challenge the way these young people saw themselves and understood their identities?

Pairs share summaries of their readings and their conclusions in a whole-group discussion. ​

Teaching Notes
Background Information: Chapter 6 Introduction
  Lesson 14. Understanding Kristallnacht
Materials
Activity

The class watches the video for an overview of Kristallnacht and its significance.

Introduce terms to describe the roles people can play in times of crisis: perpetrator, victim, bystander, upstander.

Students then work in groups to analyze readings that describe different responses to Kristallnacht, identifying evidence they find of perpetrator, bystander, and upstander behavior.

Teaching Notes

Emphasize that perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander are roles, not identities. A single individual can slip in and out of each of these roles depending on circumstances and choices.

You will need to provide context for this lesson about the rearmament of Germany, the Anschluss, and the annexation of the Sudetenland. Consider creating a mini-lecture about events in the following Chapter 7 readings:

Background Information: Chapter 7

  Lesson 15. A War for Race and Space
Materials
Activity

Students watch the video for an introduction to the Nazi "race and space" ideology.  

Then they analyze the reading excerpts in a Big Paper discussion. In groups, students silently discuss how one of the excerpts relates to the "race and space" ideology.  

Then they rotate to other groups’ big papers to read the other silent conversations and contribute their thoughts.

Teaching Notes

You will need to provide students with context about the Nazi-Soviet alliance and the invasion of Poland. Consider creating a mini-lecture about events in the following Chapter 8 readings:

Background Information: Chapter 8 Introduction

  Lesson 16. Ghettos: Confronting the Suffering Caused by the Nazis
Materials
Activity

Students learn about the confinement of Jews in ghettos in Poland by reading The Jewish Ghettos: Separated from the World.

Then they read the diary of a teenager imprisoned in a ghetto and reflect on the emotional challenges of this history.

Students respond privately to the following prompt in their journals or notebooks: Accounts like this one are disturbing and painful to read. They prompt us to ask many questions, some of which may be unanswerable. What questions do these events raise for you about history and human behavior?

Finally, they read about the Oyneg Shabes archive in Voices from the Warsaw Ghetto and reflect on the struggle to maintain a sense of identity, dignity, faith, and culture as a form of defiance and resistance.

Teaching Notes

See the lesson Confronting the Suffering Caused by the Nazis for more detailed suggestions.

Background Information: Chapter 8

  Lesson 17. Mass Murder: The Stories of Survivors
Materials
Activity

Students watch the video for an overview of the phases of the Holocaust, and then examine a map illustrating the locations and the variety of methods Nazis used to perpetrate mass murder.

Students then learn about a variety of experiences of those targeted by the Nazis during the Holocaust by reading testimonies. They create a found poem based on one testimony.  

Finally, students respond privately to the following prompt in their journals or notebooks:

  • How did working so closely with the words of a survivor affect you?
  • What did these words make you think and feel?
Teaching Notes

See the lesson Responding to the Stories of Holocaust Survivors for more detailed suggestions.

Consider ending this lesson by having students complete Exit Cards to give you a sense of how they are responding to this emotionally challenging content.

Background Information:

  Lesson 18. Perpetrators: Choosing to Murder
Materials
Activity

Students examine a variety of factors that might have helped make it possible for individuals to participate in the mass murder of the Holocaust.  

First, they read aloud Reserve Police Battalion 101 and discuss the reading and Connection Questions using a Fishbowl or simple Think-Pair-Share format.

Students then learn about the Milgram Experiments conducted in the 1960s and watch a short clip from the film Obedience. Using the same discussion format, they discuss what they observed in the video and the factors that encouraged the “subject” of the experiment to proceed. Then they discuss what insight Milgram might provide for understanding the motivations of the members of Police Battalion 101.

Teaching Notes

You will need to provide the class a brief overview of the way the Milgram Experiments were set up. Use the reading A Matter of Obedience? to prepare the overview.

Help students understand the variety and complexity of perpetrator motivations, noting that experiments like Milgram’s can provide insight but not necessarily the whole story. Encourage students to challenge the ideas of Milgram, Browning, and Goldhagen.

Time permitting, introduce one or both of the optional readings and discuss with students how those stories extend, deepen, or complicate their discussion of perpetrator behavior.

Consider ending this lesson by having students complete Exit Cards to give you a sense of how they are responding to this emotionally challenging content

  Lesson 19. Resisters, Rescuers, and Bystanders
Materials
Activity

The class reads Choiceless Choices together and discusses Langer’s concept.  

Then, each student reads and analyzes one of the readings about the choices of those who had varying levels of agency during the Holocaust. They should think about the following questions:

  • What led each individual to make the choices he or she made?

  • How did circumstances of time, place, and opportunity play a role in the choices each person made?

Class ends with a discussion of the factors that either seemed to constrain or expand the range of choices available to individuals.

Teaching Notes

While it is important to illustrate varying levels of agency people experienced and the variety of choices they made during the Holocaust, the size of your class and the needs of your students may dictate that you choose not to use every suggested reading in this lesson.

Background Information:  Chapter 8 and Chapter 9

Judgment, Memory, and Legacy [~3 Days]

Students consider the challenges the world faced and continues to face in response to the horrors of the Holocaust. First they explore the meaning of justice and whether it was achievable after crimes committed on the scale of the Holocaust. Then they learn about some dilemmas we face today in judging the choices made by those in the past, and they reflect on the "call to conscience" the history of the Holocaust provides in our responses to injustice in the world today.

Essential Questions
  • What is justice? Can justice be achieved after mass murder on the enormous scale of the Holocaust?

  • What can individuals or nations do to repair, rebuild, and restore their societies after war, genocide, and mass violence?

  • Why is it important to remember the past?

  Lesson 20. Justice after the Holocaust
Materials
Activity

Students consider some of the dilemmas of justice after the Holocaust and World War II by completing an Anticipation Guide in the handout and having a Four Corners debate.

Time allowing, they watch the video Nuremberg Remembered, review the readings on Nuremberg, or listen to a mini-lecture about how the Allies addressed those dilemmas after the war.

Teaching Notes

You should provide a few details about the end of World War II. You might refer to the reading As the War Ended or the short video testimonies (Eyewitness to Buchenwald or The Red Army Enters Majdanek) by American and Russian soldiers who encountered camps as the war ended.

Make the debate about justice the focus of the lesson. Depending on available time, teachers might choose to share details about the Nuremberg Trials using the video or suggested readings, or by creating a mini-lecture based on information from the readings.

  Lesson 21. Dilemmas of Judgment
Materials
Activity

Students watch the video Monsters and Men and read Moral Luck and Dilemmas of Judgment, then they use the Connection Questions to reflect on the idea of "moral luck" and the role that circumstances play in influencing our choices and judgment. Students share their thoughts in small groups or a brief class discussion.

Students then respond on the statement "I am myself and my circumstances" (José Ortega y Gasset). Do they agree? Was it true of the Nazis? How do our "circumstances" influence who we are/our moral choices today?

Teaching Notes

"What would I have done?" is a difficult, if not impossible, question when learning about horrific events such as the Holocaust. In order to foster deep and thoughtful contributions from students in this lesson, avoid that question and instead focus on the factors that influence our choices today.

  Lesson 22. Contemporary Responses to the Holocaust
Materials
Activity

Half of the class begins by reading The International Criminal Court and the other half by reading Remembering the Names. After reading silently, students find one or two classmates who read the same reading. They discuss the reading’s Connection Questions, and then collaborate on an answer to the question: How does the action described in this reading offer an important response to the history of the Holocaust?

Students then meet with new partners who read and analyzed the other reading. In their new groups they share a summary of their readings, and then they discuss the following:

  • How are the responses described in the readings similar and different?  
  • How do they each offer, in their own way, and important response to the history of the Holocaust?
Teaching Notes

The International Criminal Court is one of a number of new institutions and international laws created in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust. Use background information from Chapter 11 to provide students a brief overview of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Criminal Court.  

Background Information:

Chapter 11 readings:

Choosing to Participate [~1 Day]

Students end the unit by considering their responsibilities to participate as caring, thoughtful citizens in the world around us. They analyze examples of individuals and groups who are seeking to make a difference in order to consider the strategies that they might use to help bring about a more humane, just, compassionate world and a more democratic society.​

Essential Questions
  • How does learning about history educate us about our responsibilities today?

  • What must individuals do and value in order to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate world and a more democratic society?

  Lesson 23. Choosing to Participate
Materials
Activity

Students read aloud the reading Not Just Awareness, But Action and respond to Obama’s argument about the need for strategies in order to make change.

Students then read one or more stories about people who “choose to participate” and use the Analyzing Levers of Power handout to analyze the strategies employed by the individuals described in the reading.

Teaching Notes

See the lesson Strategies for Making a Difference for more detailed suggestions.

Background Information:  Chapter 12 Introduction

Assessment

Historian Doris Bergen writes:

The Holocaust was an event in human history. Everyone involved—victims, witnesses, collaborators, rescuers, and perpetrators—was a human being with human feelings and needs. Recognizing that shared humanity does not excuse the killers or somehow soften the past. If anything it makes studying the Holocaust more painful.

What does Bergen mean by describing the Holocaust as "human history"?

What were some of the particular historical circumstances that helped make the rise of the Nazis and the Holocaust possible? What were some of the universal aspects of human behavior that contributed to the choices people made throughout this history?  

How might understanding the Holocaust as a "human history" affect how we think about trying to prevent future episodes of genocide and mass murder?