20 June 2018

Three Subject-Based Approaches to Holocaust Studies

Intro Copy

This is the second in a series of posts on how to mindfully approach Holocaust education in the classroom. You can read our first post here: Ten Considerations for Teaching About the Holocaust.

“We must remember, we must remember the times of cruelty and suffering when in the darkest of all places, in man's world, day after day, hour after hour, the killers killed, the victims perished.”—Elie Wiesel: Days of Remembrance Excerpt

Holocaust Knowledge Gaps

Recently, NPR aired a story about a survey conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (also known as the Claims Conference) that showed that 22% of millennials in America had never heard of the Holocaust. The survey also revealed critical gaps in Americans’ basic knowledge of the Holocaust, including the existence of the Auschwitz death camp and the fact that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. As the Holocaust is one of the most significant events of the last century, these findings by the Claims Conference underscore the importance of Holocaust education in schools. In this post, we continue to examine Michael Gray’s book Teaching the Holocaust: Practical Approaches for ages 11-18. Gray’s book, which was published by Routledge in 2015, provides advice on how to take a mindful approach when teaching such a complex and emotional topic. In Chapter 3, Gray examines how to teach the Holocaust in three subjects: History, Religious Studies and English. Below, we provide key highlights from the chapter.

Teaching the Holocaust in a History Class

One of the disciplines in which the Holocaust is most commonly taught is history. Gray notes that one of the biggest challenges when teaching the Holocaust as part of a history curricula is the sheer volume of content. The key, according to Gray, is for teachers to fully understand their learning objectives. Gray encourages teachers to develop a broad curriculum within the context of the Second World War. He suggests themes and subtopics that teachers might want to include in their curriculum, such as Jewish identity, religion and contributions to European social and cultural life. Further topics also include the political climate that led to the rise of Nazism, Kristallnacht, Anti-Semitic legislation, concentration camps and ghettos, the systematic murder of Jews in Eastern Europe, and resistance efforts. A comprehensive Holocaust history curriculum should also address how the Holocaust ended, including the Nazis’ attempts to hide the evidence of their war crimes and how they forced inmates on death marches. Students should also learn about the liberation of concentration camps by Allied Forces, survivors’ experiences, and the Nuremberg and other post-war trials.

Teaching the Holocaust in a Religious Studies Class

The Holocaust is also taught in religious studies classes. Gray again notes the importance of providing historical context, warning that a failure to do so can lead to trivializing the Holocaust. Teachers should develop a curriculum that addresses the moral and ethical issues raised by the Holocaust--forgiveness, reconciliation and justice--without oversimplifying them. Students should gain an understanding of the vibrant history of Jews and Jewish identity that existed before the Holocaust as well as important religious practices and teachings post-Holocaust. Teachers also need to ensure that students do not use the Holocaust to define their knowledge of Judaism. In examining the role of God in the Holocaust, Gray calls for sensitivity and the importance of not undermining any students’ pre-existing religious beliefs. He stresses the value in providing students with answers from Jewish thinkers.

Teaching the Holocaust in English Language and Literature Classes

The Holocaust can be incorporated into English and language arts courses, demonstrating the multidisciplinary nature of the subject. It is important for teachers to consider students' knowledge of the Holocaust. If they haven’t studied the Holocaust in a history class, it is likely necessary to present a detailed historical background on the Holocaust in combination with literary texts. Teachers need to make students aware that Jews endured a range of experiences during the Holocaust. Encourage students to analyze the historical accuracy for both fiction and nonfiction works and understand that post-war testimonies and diary accounts can be subject to issues such as an author’s fallibility of memory. Gray mentions common works teachers use in the classroom, including Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Night by Elie Wiesel and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Students can examine Nazis’ use and control of language, including the terms they used to dehumanize their victims and disguise their crimes. As examples, Gray provides two euphemistic terms employed by the Nazis to hide their crimes--Final Solution and resettlement.

Holocaust Books & Related Resources:

We have compiled lesson plans and other resources for educators, including some from a few of our ProQuest products.

Selected ProQuest Resources:

-- Future posts in this Holocaust education series will address other considerations, including how to use technology when teaching about the Holocaust and dealing with the issues of antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the modern world. -- Subscribe via email to Share This and never miss a post. Teaching the Holocaust: Practical Approaches for ages 11-18 is available on ProQuest Ebook Central or wherever books are sold. ProQuest Guided Research products have more resources to help teach about the Holocaust. Free trials are available.