My best lesson - How was the Holocaust allowed to happen?

13th September 2013 at 01:00

Students often struggle to understand why no one stopped the Nazis from killing approximately 6 million Jews and why the Jews themselves did not take more action to prevent the Holocaust.

So I planned a series of lessons with the objective of explaining the growing persecution of the Jews in Germany between 1933 and 1939, and the ways in which their lives were made miserable. The lessons were for 13- to 14-year-olds who had already covered the causes of the Second World War and the key conflicts in Europe and the Pacific. I wanted to show students how discrimination and hatred or belittlement of any kind can have a horrific effect.

The first lesson begins with the end - showing the class images of the ghettos, concentration camps and gas chambers, and statistics about the death toll. The next lesson introduces the concept of anti-Semitism and the background of the Jewish race, then explores how anti-Semitic propaganda and laws began to permeate German society. I focus particularly on school-based propaganda to keep the message relevant. We draw comparisons with students who are bullied and believe that they are worthless if they are told so enough times. Working on this assumption, it begins to make sense that only a few people felt able to stand up to the Nazis.

In the final lesson, the students read the Nuremberg Laws and have to work out what the legislation aimed to achieve and how it made Jewish people feel. The students then create a short timeline of the period when the laws were introduced. Next, working in groups of three, students look at a source from a collection of school-based propaganda. They work out what the message is, how it was created and whether it is effective. Each group feeds back their findings to the class.

Students leave with a better understanding of how and why the Nazis were able to persecute the Jews so successfully. They then have more confidence when it comes to later lessons on concentration camps, the ghettos and Einsatzgruppen (death squads). They also pick up the useful pastoral message that they should be nice to one another.

Suzanne Milivojevic is head of history and St Andrew's House at Lingfield Notre Dame School in Surrey, England.

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