How do you teach about the Holocaust?

21st January 2015 at 17:00

On 27 January, Holocaust Memorial Day marks 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. There are few topics that are more difficult to teach about than genocide, but it is essential that teachers feel equipped to cover such topics in class.

Alex Maws, head of education for Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) suggests that one of biggest challenges that teachers face in teaching the Holocaust is a lack of lesson time.

“With so many timetable pressures, some teachers struggle to explore the event in all its depth and complexity,” he says.

“This pressure is often compounded by inadequate teaching resources. Textbooks are rarely developed in line with internationally recognised guidelines for Holocaust education and I’ve seen far too many resources that try to shock young people with horrific photos or trivialise the topic by using activities like wordsearches.”

Another major challenge is working out how to explain such troubling events to children. The Holocaust does not appear on the national curriculum until key stage 3, yet popular culture is increasingly exposing students to the topic before this time.

“As a result, many primary school teachers are choosing to introduce the Holocaust into their lessons,” Maws says. “Not all historical strands would be appropriate for primary schools, but topics such as anti-Jewish laws and the experience of refugees can work quite well with younger age groups.”

Although not much can be done to solve the problem of insufficient lesson time, resources are available to help teachers in other ways.

Exploring the Holocaust is a free cross-curricular scheme of work that has been developed by HET for key stage 3 teachers. It contains15 lesson plans with accompanying resources and is based on the most up-to-date historical scholarship.

For older students (ages 13 and over), HET’s latest educational project, 70 voices: Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders explores different elements of the Holocaust through the voices of those who were there. It is available as a free app, website and podcast.

Resources that are suitable for primary pupils can be downloaded from the TES Holocaust Memorial Day collection.

The Holocaust was the largest genocide ever perpetrated and 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, it still holds relevance for both teachers and students.

“The Holocaust took place in the modern world and was carried out by ordinary people,” Maws says. “We must teach about for its own sake, but also to launch wider discussions about the individual moral choices that shape our society.”

You can download Exploring the Holocaust by registering for free at the HET website.

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