How do you teach events that defy knowledge, experiences that go beyond imagination? How do you tell children, big and small, that society could lose its mind and start murdering its own soul and its own future? How do you unveil horrors without offering at the same time some measure of hope? Hope in what? In whom? In progress, in science and literature and God?
- Elie Wiesel
These eloquent and heartrending questions by Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz and eminent author/educator/humanitarian, penetrate to the core of the difficulty facing those who attempt to teach about the Holocaust.1 It would be much easier simply to turn away and attempt to forget the horror, the savagery, the pain, and the terrible questions that arise when one is forced to confront the inhumanity and evil that humans are capable of perpetrating. Easier, yes, but not honest and hardly moral.
In this essay, we propose to delineate and discuss some key concerns regarding issues of rationale, methodology, and resources when teaching about the Holocaust. In doing so, we will provide some guidelines that experienced teachers have found to be successful in such an important and complex pedagogical undertaking.
The Importance of Clear Rationales
A decade and a half ago, in an essay titled "Toward a Methodology of Teaching About the Holocaust," Henry Friedlander (1979), a scholar and survivor of the Holocaust, expressed great concern about the sudden proliferation of courses of study and curricula about the Holocaust. Among the many vital points he made were the following:
The problem with too much being taught by too many without focus is that this poses the danger of destroying the subject matter through dilettantism. It is not enough for well-meaning teachers to feel a commitment to teach about genocide; they also must know the subject. . . . The problems of popularization and proliferation should make us careful about how we introduce the Holocaust into the curriculum; it does not mean we should stop teaching it. But we must try to define the subject of the Holocaust. Even if we do not agree about the content of the subject, we must agree on its goals and on its limitations. (520-22)
The issues raised by Friedlander are as germane to Holocaust education today as they were then. Indeed, within the last decade there has been an even greater surge in the development of curricula, teacher guides, resources, and organizational programs addressing the subject of the Holocaust. While many of the resources and programs are engaging and pedagogically sound, many are not (Totten and Parsons 1992, 27-47). That poses a real problem for teachers and students alike. It makes the need for sound rationales, goals, and objectives for teaching about the Holocaust that much more significant.
It is impossible, of course, to teach all history, so each community, school, and individual educator must make the decision in regard to which historical events and deeds will assist students to understand the past as well as the world they live in today. This means that rationale statements need to clearly identify why a particular period of history should be incorporated into the school curriculum.
Over the past twenty years, a number of thought-provoking rationales have been generated by educators in regard to the question, "Why teach about the Holocaust?" Among the more interesting and worthwhile ones are the following:
When and How to Address Issues of Rationale
Many teachers of the Holocaust who raise and/or have their students wrestle with questions of rationale often only ask such questions at the outset of a unit of study. Yet it is vital to continue to revisit such questions throughout the study. In addition to helping learners refocus, such an activity is especially important during an in-depth study because learners can lose sight of why they are studying and concentrating on the experiences of a particular group. Continually raising, discussing, and examining rationale questions can also preempt student comments such as "This is about their group [e.g., the Jews, Germans, Poles, or other Europeans]; when are we going to study my people?"
By continually revisiting and wrestling with issues of rationale, students will more likely gain a greater understanding of how and why the Holocaust is important to their own lives, their society's, and the period in which they live. As a result, this particular piece of history will probably not be viewed as simply another set of inert facts. Concomitantly, by repeatedly highlighting questions of rationale throughout a course, a signal is sent to students that this is not simply another piece of history to wade through, but that it has an important lesson for both contemporary and future generations.
Furthermore, by constantly reflecting on questions of rationale, both goals and objectives for lessons become clearer. Teachers are more apt to design lessons that address issues, concepts, and topics that are meaningful for students. Specifically, questions of fairness, justice, individual identity, peer pressure, conformity, indifference, and obedience often engage adolescents because these are issues that they confront in their daily lives (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 1993, 2).
The Uniqueness and Universality of the Holocaust
While it is certainly true that most goals and objectives in the social sciences could be achieved without studying the Holocaust, to ignore it is to distort history. In regard to this point, we are in complete agreement with Eisner's (1979) perceptive thesis:
. . . what schools do not teach may be as important as what they do teach. I argue this position because ignorance is not simply a void, it has important effects on the kinds of option[s] one is able to consider; the alternatives one can examine, and the perspectives with which one can view a situation or problem. (83)
It is worth noting that the Holocaust is probably the most thoroughly documented genocide ever recorded, and thus a large quantity of outstanding resources for teaching this history is readily available. The Holocaust also constitutes a tragedy that was unprecedented in the annals of humanity. How so? First, "the concept of the annihilation of an entire people, as distinguished from their subjugation, was unprecedented; never before in human history had genocide been an all-pervasive government policy unaffected by territorial or economic advantage and unchecked by moral or religious constraints . . ." (President's Commission on the Holocaust 1979, 1).
Second, the Holocaust was "a thoroughly modern expression of bureaucratic organization, industrial management, scientific achievement, and technological sophistication. The entire apparatus of the German bureaucracy was marshaled in the service of the extermination process" (President's Commission on the Holocaust 1979, 1). Ultimately, this Herculean effort to annihilate a people was the direct result of "the systematic dehumanization of the victims, the assembly-line process of mass murder and the bureaucratic organization on a continental scale that brought people from every corner of Europe to be killed" (Marrus 1987, 23). And thus, as the President's Commission on the Holocaust (1979) stated in its report to the President, ". . . the horror of the Holocaust is inextricably linked to the conditions of our time. By studying the Holocaust, we hope to help immunize modern man against the diseases particular to the twentieth century which led to this monstrous aberration" (1).
A good way to involve students in developing the rationale(s) for studying the Holocaust is for the teacher to ask the students to think of reasons why young people should study the Holocaust. After the students record their responses in journals or on a piece of paper, the teacher can write a variety of the responses on the board or overhead. Later, the responses can be transferred to a bulletin board where they can remain during the course of the study in order to highlight and draw attention to them. As the unit progresses and students learn more about the actual history of the Holocaust, the class can return to the initial responses. This can be done during class discussion or by having students reexamine and, if need be, revise their initial rationales.
Alternatively, a teacher could ask students to think of reasons why people study the Holocaust, and have them respond in their journals. The teacher could then present the students with a host of thought-provoking rationales that have been developed by various educators and scholars, and conduct a discussion around both the students' and the scholars' ideas. Subsequently, students could be asked to select the two or three most interesting rationales and write an explanation for their choice. These responses could be highlighted on a bulletin board. As the unit progresses, the rationale statements could be reexamined and revised.
The content to be selected for a study of the Holocaust is contingent on a number of factors: (1) the teacher's knowledge of the history of the Holocaust, (2) the particular course being taught, (3) the goals and objectives of the study, (4) the amount of time available in the course, and (5) the resources available. Because it would be impossible in the limited space here to outline the actual content that teachers might wish to consider and use, we are going to focus on concerns that should be taken into consideration when selecting content.
As previously stated, a solid study of the Holocaust can provide critical lessons for investigating human behavior and for examining the social, political, and economic factors that culminated in the Holocaust. Both the content selected for the study and the teaching strategies used in class need to lend themselves to such a focus.
The Historical Context
As with the study of all history, it is essential to place the study of the Holocaust within a historical context that will allow students to see the relationship of political, social, and economic factors that had an impact on the times and events that resulted in that history. Put another way, the content that teachers and other curriculum planners select for a study of the Holocaust should facilitate the development of this historical context. For example, depending on the emphasis in one's course, familiarizing students with the history of anti-Semitism or the impact of the German defeat in World War I or the consequences for Germany of the Great Depression will greatly influence the construction of a unit on the Holocaust. If emphasis is placed almost exclusively on the political factors leading to the rise of the Nazis, while scant attention is paid to a social phenomenon such as anti-Semitism, the ultimate organization of the unit and its historical context will be directly affected. Similarly, creating a context that primarily emphasizes the economic misery brought on by the depression as the main "cause" of the Nazis' assumption of power to the exclusion of the social and political factors that motivated large and significant segments of the German public will, likewise, have an impact on the final organization of the teaching unit. The creation of historically accurate lessons and units on the Holocaust demands that teachers and curriculum planners attempt to integrate the political, economic, and social factors associated with this history.
A major concern when selecting content to teach about the Holocaust is the need to focus on material that clearly spells out the fact that the Holocaust resulted from a cumulative progression of numerous historical events and deeds, and that it was not an event in history that was inevitable (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 1993, 3).
The Uniqueness of the Holocaust
It is also immensely important to consider the issue of the uniqueness of the Holocaust. As this history is taught or studied, some are apt to equate it to the long and tortured history of man's inhumanity to man. Yet one must recognize that while other groups throughout history have been persecuted and murdered, the complete and total physical annihilation of an entire people, the Jews, as official state policy brings a solitary character to the study of the Holocaust. As Steven T. Katz (1994) writes, "It is this unconstrained, ideologically driven imperative that every Jew be murdered that distinguishes the Sho'ah (Holocaust) from prior and to date subsequent, however inhumane, acts of collective violence, ethnocide, and mass murder"(26). And as Elie Wiesel (1979) has noted, "While not all victims [of the Nazis] were Jews, all Jews were victims, destined for annihilation solely because they were born Jewish. They were doomed not because of something they had done or proclaimed or acquired but because of who they were: sons and daughters of the Jewish people" (iii). Few statements graphically illustrate the systematic, sustained, and unprecedented nature of this genocidal act as well as the following one by Wiesel (1984):
The Nazis' aim was to make the Jewish shrink-from town to neighborhood, from neighborhood to street, from street to house, from house to room, from room to garret, from garret to cattle car, from cattle car to gas chamber. . . .
And they did the same to the individual-separated from his or her community, then from his or her family, then from his or her identity, eventually becoming a work permit, then a number, until the number itself was turned into ashes. (1)
As with all history, teachers and curriculum planners need to be aware of the unique characteristics of a particular piece of history. Indeed, one runs the risk of trivializing any history when one ignores its uniqueness.
Similarly, while various scholars have demonstrated that the Holocaust was a "phenomenologically unique" historical event (e.g., Katz 1994), it is also important to focus on the universality of that event. While it was undeniably unique within the context of human civilization, those who fell victims to the Nazi reign of terror experienced prejudice, discrimination, scapegoating, barbarous treatment, and lawless actions against them, just as did victims of other genocides.
On another note, when selecting content, every effort should be made to avoid depicting groups (Jews, Gypsies, Germans, Poles, rescuers, bystanders, etc.) as one-dimensional. The multifaceted aspects of all groups must be acknowledged. Simplistic views and stereotyping takes place when groups are viewed as monolithic in attitudes and actions. Thus, while Jews have been the target of anti-Semitism and were the central victims of the Nazi regime, students should not simply (and simplistically) view Jews as solely being victims. Jewish resistance should also be examined. Likewise, Germans should not be perceived only as Nazis or perpetrators, or Poles and Ukrainians solely as collaborators.
On a related note, to focus exclusively or almost totally on the role of the rescuers to the exclusion of the role of the bystanders is to distort the history. While the role of the rescuers is vital to address, it is also critical to acknowledge and ponder the fact that many more stood by and allowed the events to unfold that ultimately culminated in the Holocaust. Indeed, it seems that one of the most significant lessons of the Holocaust is the morally repugnant and socially irresponsible stance of the individual bystander who, particularly early on, distanced him/herself from the ever-increasing prejudicial and discriminatory acts he/she witnessed simply because he/she did not want to become involved and/or because it did not directly impinge upon him/her. Students need to learn how such a lack of individual and social responsibility plays into the hand of the perpetrators, and the personal and societal ramifications of keeping silent in today's world when prejudice is acted upon and results in ugly discriminatory acts or worse.
Avoiding Simplistic Explanations
It is also important to keep in mind that generalizations without modifying and qualifying words (e.g., sometimes, usually) tend to stereotype group behavior and historical reality (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 1993, 4). One also needs to keep in the forefront of one's mind that how groups are "labeled and portrayed in the school curriculum has an impact on how students perceive groups in their daily lives" (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 1993, 4).
When teaching any piece of history, it is imperative to avoid allowing simple or simplistic answers or notions to explain complex behavior or situations. This is even more significant when myths or misnomers abound about a subject-as they do with the Holocaust. Simply put, "common knowledge" of a historical event does not constitute accurate knowledge. To state that the Holocaust was merely the logical outcome of European racism ignores the complexities that include World War I, German nationalism, the Depression, and the charismatic nature of Hitler and the Nazis. Rather, accurate knowledge of a historical event is based on the collection of accurate data. It is this type of information and data that needs to be used in the classroom.
A major problem facing teachers is determining what information from the wealth of available resources is accurate. Teachers need to remind themselves and their students that scholars base their research on different bodies of information and therefore may arrive at different historical interpretations. Many scholars have biases in regard to how the data should be interpreted. Thus, not only do social studies teachers need to help their students read critically but they also need to teach their students not to be content with simple or single interpretations of complex historical events. As with other fields of history, students need to understand that research into the Holocaust is continually expanding, and this often results in the revision of historical interpretations.
To illustrate the aforementioned point, let us look, once again, at the rescue of Jews by non-Jews. Many teachers have a tendency to focus on the upright behavior of the rescuers. However, one needs to realize that ". . . at best, less than one-half of one percent of the total population [of non-Jews] under Nazi occupation helped to rescue Jews" (Oliner and Oliner 1991, 363).
Certainly one way to address the issue of rescue during the Holocaust years in a measured and historically sound manner would be to place the rescuers within their specific historical context. By doing so, students can begin to see that the circumstances of rescue depended on a number of factors: how tight a stranglehold the Nazis had on a country, native attitudes historically held toward Jews, and the security and availability of hiding places or asylums, to name but a few.
Similarly, teachers need to present an accurate picture of the daily acts of resistance by the Jews, the resistance efforts of certain non-Jews, the uprisings in the camps and ghettos, and the activities of non-Jewish and Jewish partisans. Again, while examining these activities, teachers and students need to guard against making generalizations about such groups and their efforts or presenting too narrow a picture of them.
All of the aforementioned points and concerns (and particularly the last one) strongly suggest that sole or overreliance on a typical social studies or government textbook during the study of the Holocaust will be woefully inadequate. The point is that teachers and students need to make a genuine effort to seek out and bring into class an eclectic array of accurate, engaging, and thought-provoking resources and materials. Only then will students have an opportunity to begin to gain a clear understanding of both the complexity and the significance of the Holocaust.
Powerful Opening and Closing Lessons
Opening and closing lessons in a study of the Holocaust are important because they set the tone and context for the entire course. For example, a strong opening can accomplish a great deal: it can dispel misinformation students may hold prior to the study of the Holocaust; set a reflective tone enabling students to appreciate the need to make careful distinctions when weighing and studying various ideas, motives, and behaviors; indicate to the students that their ideas and opinions about this history are important; tie the history to the students' lives; and establish that the history has multiple interpretations and ramifications.
An excellent method for opening a course on the Holocaust is to have the students take part, either individually or as part of a class effort, in a "clustering" exercise. Clustering is "a nonlinear brainstorming process that generates ideas, images, and feelings around a stimulus word until a pattern becomes discernible" (Rico 1986, 17). To do this, the students should be directed to place the term "Holocaust" in the center of a piece of paper (or on the board), circle it, and then draw spokes out from the circle on which they attach related terms or ideas. Each idea generated should, ideally, lead to a new clustering of ideas. Once the clustering aspect of the exercise is completed, a discussion can ensue that addresses the ideas delineated, the questions the students have about the ideas, the misinformation they may hold about the Holocaust, and where the students think they gleaned such information (e.g., school, television, movies, family members, documentaries, news programs).
A strong closing, on the other hand, can encourage students to synthesize the various aspects of their study, connect this history to the world they live in today, and encourage them to continue to examine this history. One of numerous ways to close a lesson or unit on the Holocaust is to repeat the "clustering exercise." By using the clustering exercise as both an introductory and closure activity, the teachers and the students can assess how much the students have learned as well as gauge the sophistication of their new understanding. Another useful activity for closing a lesson or unit on the Holocaust is journal writing. Asking the students to reflect on what they have studied during the lesson and put that reflection into a journal allows learners to integrate their thoughts. This integration, ideally, can lead to a greater understanding of the complexities of this piece of history.
It is common knowledge that events that took place only twenty years ago seem like "ancient history" to many adolescents. For this reason, it is imperative that teachers place the time period of the Holocaust in a context that is meaningful to them. An excellent way to situate the Holocaust in history is to place a timeline across the top of the blackboard and add to it as the study progresses. Major events from preceding centuries as well as those found in this century can be included in order to enable students to gain a better sense of the chronology.
Careful Use of Vocabulary
On a different note, teachers need to be extremely careful in their choice of words during a study of the Holocaust. For example, words such as "unimaginable" or "unbelievable" are often used, but these terms may send a message to students that the Holocaust was so "unreaquot; that it is pointless to try and learn about what happened. Students may begin to believe that the Holocaust was a one-time aberration, and that it has no message for humanity today. The simple but profound fact is that the Holocaust did happen. It was systematically planned and implemented by human beings, and thus it is not "unimaginable" or "unbelievable."
On a related note, when some refer to "resistance," they simply use it to refer to physical resistance. However, such an ostensibly simple word as "resistance" had multiple meanings during the Holocaust years. For some, resistance was a physical act; for others, it meant continuing to practice their religious traditions (spiritual resistance) or attending school (which was forbidden). For others, it meant creating art in the camps (which was not only forbidden but extremely difficult to do). In many cases, the ultimate act of resistance was maintaining the will to stay alive under such terrifying conditions. Again, the choice and use of words is absolutely critical when addressing various facets of the Holocaust in the classroom.
Appropriate Sources of Information
Many educators have observed that students and some adults often have difficulty deciphering the meaning or significance of the great flow of information available to them today. In light of that, students need continuous practice in distinguishing not only between fact, opinion, propaganda, and fiction but also between primary and secondary sources, and other types of evidence such as court testimonies, oral histories, and other written documents (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 1993, 4). They also need practice in interpreting the meaning of the information and determining the value, weight, and significance of the various types of information.
Students need to learn that, more often than not, fragments of information do not provide a person with a solid understanding of a situation; this is particularly true of a complex event such as the Holocaust. They also need to come to the realization that selected facts can be used to develop specific and often biased or one-sided interpretations. Hence, they need to learn to reserve judgment until they can gather as much information as possible in order to make an informed assessment. They also need to make a concerted effort to seek out different perspectives. To drive this point home, a teacher could obtain five sources of information (e.g., a newspaper report, a newspaper editorial, a first-person account, a historical account, and a primary document) on the same event or incident that took place during the Holocaust. The teacher could then divide the class into five different groups and assign each group one of the sources. Each group could be required to select the most salient points in each document as well as those statements that constitute facts and those that constitute opinions. The students could then be asked to delineate their findings on large sheets of paper. The class could then come back together to examine what each group discovered about the incident. While doing so, they could comment on the different points of view and types of information found in each document.
Personalizing the Holocaust
Another key concern when teaching about the Holocaust is to demonstrate that individual people are behind the staggering numbers. Millions of anything are difficult for most people to comprehend. Millions of murders and deaths are even more difficult for most people, especially young students, to comprehend. Thus, teachers need to make an effort to "move the study of the Holocaust from a welter of statistics, remote places and events, to one that is immersed in the 'personal' and the 'particular' (Totten 1987, 63).
Two excellent and effective ways of moving the study from a welter of statistics to one that is immersed in the "personaquot; are to incorporate the use of first-person accounts (letters, diaries, court testimony, memoirs, autobiographies, interviews, oral histories) and to incorporate appropriate literature (novels, short stories, plays, poetry) into the study of the Holocaust.
First-person accounts by survivors, liberators, those who perished, and others "are capable of providing a dimension to a study of the Holocaust not found elsewhere-a personal perspective that graphically and powerfully depicts what the horrors of genocide mean to the individuaquot; (Totten 1994, 160). Such accounts are found in written form, on audiotapes, and on videotapes, all of which are powerful in their own way. (For a detailed listing of first-person accounts of the Holocaust, see Samuel Totten's  First Person Accounts of Genocidal Acts Committed in the Twentieth Century: An Annotated Bibliography. For an in-depth discussion of how to incorporate first-person accounts into the classroom, see Samuel Totten's  "The Use of First-Person Accounts in Teaching About the Holocaust.")
Good literature can bring any history alive. Holocaust literature, because of its astounding insights into the motivations and actions of individuals during a unique time, can be of immense value in the social studies classroom. In addition to providing yet another perspective on a particular piece of history, Holocaust literature raises personal, ethical, and moral issues that students can readily identify with, such as heroism, respect for individual dignity and decency, and the need to make choices in a world permeated with evil and sinister intentions.
Poetry is also an outstanding resource for incorporating literature into a study of the Holocaust. This is especially true in a social studies course where teachers have a jam-packed curriculum and little time for a lengthy discussion of a novel, play, or short story. There are a great many highly-engaging, fairly easy to understand, and relatively short pieces of poetry that can be used to highlight and illustrate key themes, incidents, and events of the Holocaust. The advantage of its brevity is that a single poem (or several poems) can be read, discussed, and incorporated into an engaging activity that will span no more than a single class period. (For a more detailed examination of the incorporation of literature into such a study, see Margaret Drew's article "Incorporating Literature into the Study of the Holocaust," and Carol Dank's "Using Holocaust Short Stories and Poetry in the Social Studies Classroom" in this special issue of Social Education.)
Pitfalls to Consider and Avoid
Far too many teachers have resorted to using films and/or photographs of mounds of bodies and other atrocities to provoke student interest. Bluntly stated, this is not a pedagogically sound method for teaching about the Holocaust or any other history. There are, in fact, many important events that took place during the Holocaust years that do not focus directly on the graphic horror of mass killings. The former should form the centerpiece of any study of the Holocaust.
Students are essentially a "captive audience." Assaulting them with horrific images outside of any constructive context is antithetical to good teaching. Furthermore, it undermines the teacher's ability to provide an emotionally "safe" learning environment. The assumption that students will seek to "understand" human behavior after being exposed to horrible images is a fallacy. Some students, in fact, have become so overwhelmed by these images that they have turned away from studying the Holocaust because they expected the course to deal only with acts of brutality and mass killing. However, ignoring the horror associated with the Holocaust distorts history. When the horror is explored, it should be done in a judicious manner and only to the extent necessary to achieve the objective(s) of the lesson.
Irrelevant Techniques and Resources
As all experienced teachers know, just because students enjoy a particular activity does not necessarily mean that the activity has positive pedagogical outcomes. For example, such activities as "word scrambles" or crossword puzzles lead to the creation of a "fun and games" atmosphere rather than one of serious study. Ultimately, such gimmickry trivializes the importance of studying this history (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 1993, 7). Simply stated, "[W]hen the effects of a particular activity run counter to the rationale for studying the history, then that activity should not be used" (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 1993, 7).
In an effort to engage students' interest, some curriculum developers have incorporated such questionable pieces as Mick Jagger's "Sympathy for the Devil," Lenny Bruce's "My Name is Adolf Eichmann," or the Boomtown Rats' "I Never Loved Eva Braun" into their curricular products. Because there is a wealth of serious and appropriate resources on the Holocaust that students find extremely thought provoking and engaging, the latter should be used in place of more marginal materials. Furthermore, it is possible that these marginal readings may send a message to students that undermines and minimizes the seriousness of studying the Holocaust.
Activities that encourage students to construct models of ghettos, concentration camps, and killing centers should also be reconsidered because any construction along these lines will almost inevitably end up being simplistic and bereft of the historical accuracy that is desired. The end result is that they will not further the educational objective for studying this history, but rather retard it. The same is true of reenactments of historical situations as well as role-playing.
Simulation activities are especially problematic when studying the Holocaust. In studying complex human behavior, some teachers have a tendency to rely on simulation activities to help students "experience" unfamiliar situations. It needs to be understood that helping students in the course of a discussion or in a writing activity to explore a different perspective or to "walk in someone else's shoes" is different from involving a class in a simulation game. Conducting a simulation in order to thoroughly engage students in the study of a concept is vastly different from conducting a simulation in order to have students "experience" what it was like for a victim to be jammed into a boxcar en route to a concentration camp or killing center or to experience what it was like to live day-in and day-out under the threat of abject brutality and death. Simply put, there is absolutely no way a student can ever experience what the victims of the Holocaust lived through, and it is pedagogically unsound to even attempt a simulation for such purposes.
The complexity of an issue or situation can never be fully explicated with simulations. By their very nature, simulations are purposely toned down in order to make them easier for students to grasp. As a result, students who use simulations only end up being exposed to a watered-down version of the actual situation. When applied to a study of the Holocaust, this inevitably leads to facile oversimplification. It presents a skewed view of the history, and often serves to reinforce negative stereotypes. Indeed, in more cases than not, such simulations lead to a trivialization of the Holocaust. Such simulations can also degenerate into a time of "play" that is bereft of real thinking. In the end, students often remember the excitement of the game to the exclusion of the intended meaning of the exercises or its relationship to the history under examination.
As mentioned at the outset of this essay, over the past several years, there has been a rapid proliferation of resources on the Holocaust. As with all curricular developments, there are both positive and negative aspects to this growth. On the positive side, teachers no longer have to struggle to locate adequate resources to teach about this history. Working in conjunction with one another, scholars and educators have developed high-quality, accurate, and engaging resources for use in the classroom.
With the proliferation of resources, however, come potential problems for teachers and curriculum planners. Some of the curricula and adjunct resources are not of a very high quality (e.g., some are inaccurate, while others involve learning activities that trivialize the seriousness and significance of the Holocaust) (Totten and Parsons 1992). This can result in teachers using materials that may propagate myths and misconceptions about the history as well as the people involved in the Holocaust.
Because it is virtually impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of the hundreds of Holocaust-related resources available for use in the classroom, we will focus on two issues: (1) criteria for selecting resources and (2) locations where high-quality materials can be located.
There are basically three key criteria teachers should consider when selecting resources for use in the study of the Holocaust: (1) the accuracy of the history portrayed in the resources; (2) whether or not the resource is developmentally appropriate for one's students-readability, language usage (appropriate level of difficulty and appropriate language for the grade level), and the appropriate level of sophistication of the concepts discussed; and (3) interest level. All three of these criteria must be taken into consideration when selecting any resource for use. Not doing so will result in a study that is fundamentally flawed and bereft of the desired educative value of such a pedagogical effort.
There are numerous places where teachers can locate resources and/or reviews of resources. Herein we will highlight some of the most noted organizations and journals we have used in our own search for outstanding materials. An excellent place to begin one's search is the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, DC 20024-2150. For more information, contact the Museum's Resource Center for Educators: 202-488-2661; Fax: 202-488-6137; Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org). A wide array of outstanding educational resources has been co-developed for the Museum by Holocaust scholars and educators, and all these resources are historically accurate and of a high quality. They include an Artifact Poster Set and Teacher Guide based on the Museum's collection, Guidelines for Teaching About the Holocaust, and various types of lesson plans for different grade levels.
Other organizations where educators will find solid resources are Facing History and Ourselves, 16 Hurd Road, Brookline, Massachusetts 02146-6919; the Simon Wiesenthal Center, 9760 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90035; and the Anti-Defamation League's Braun Center for Holocaust Studies, 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, New York 10017. There are, of course, scores of Holocaust memorial centers across the United States; they, too, hold a variety of useful teaching resources on the Holocaust. (For a list of Holocaust centers located in the United States, contact the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.)
Educators will find useful reviews of valuable Holocaust-related resources that can be used in the classroom in the following journals and newsletters: Dimensions: A Journal of Holocaust Studies (The Anti-Defamation League's Braun Center for Holocaust Studies, 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, New York 10017); Holocaust and Genocide Studies: An International Journal (Oxford University Press, Journal Fulfillment Department, 2001 Evans Road, Cary, North Carolina 27513); The British Journal of Holocaust Education (Frank Cass & Co., Ltd., Gainsborough House, 11 Gainsborough Road, London E11 IRS, U.K.); and Facing History and Ourselves News (16 Hurd Road, Brookline, Massachusetts 02146-6919).
In an essay titled "Educating About the Holocaust," Jan Darsa (1991) wrote:
We need to teach about the Holocaust because it happened. It happened in the heart of twentieth century Europe. It was perpetrated, in part, by educated people, some with Ph.D.s, while individuals and nations who knew about the mass murders of millions did little or nothing to stop the killing. On the whole, the murderers were not psychopaths and criminals, but "decent" family people, businessmen, bureaucrats, doctors, and lawyers.
The death camps were not on another planet, but here on earth and they were built by trained engineers and architects as factories of death. Thus, the Holocaust cannot be removed from our legacy or our realm of responsibility. If there is any hope for the prevention of other catastrophic events of this nature, it lies in the study of what took place and in the knowledge that it was not inevitable. We are less powerless if we choose to know and to act. (177)
We couldn't have said it better.
1In this essay, we are using the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's definition of the Holocaust: "The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Germany by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims-six million were murdered; Gypsies, the handicapped, and Poles were also targeted for destruction for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny."ReferencesDarsa, Jan. "Educating About the Holocaust." In Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review, Vol. 2, edited by Israel Charny, 175-93. London: Mansell Publishing Limited, 1991. Eisner, Elliot. The Educational Imagination: On the Design and Evaluation of School Programs. New York: Macmillan, 1979. Friedlander, Henry. "Toward a Methodology of Teaching About the Holocaust." Teachers College Record 80 (1979): 519-42. Katz, Stephen. The Holocaust in Historical Context. Vol. 1, The Holocaust and Mass Death Before the Modern Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.Langer, Lawrence L. Admitting the Holocaust: Collected Essays. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Marrus, Michael R. The Holocaust in History. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1987. Oliner, Pearl M., and Samuel P. Oliner. "Righteous People in the Holocaust." In Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review, edited by Israel Charny. London and New York: Mansell Publishing and Facts on File, respectively, 1991. President's Commission on the Holocaust. Report to the President. Washington, DC, 1979. [One page handout.] Rico, Gabriele Lusser. "Clustering: A Prewriting Process." In Practical Ideas for Teaching Writing as a Process, edited by Carole Booth Olson, 17-20. Sacramento: California State Department of Education, 1986. Strom, Margot Stern, and William S. Parsons. Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior. Watertown, Massachusetts: Intentional Educations, Inc., 1982. Totten, Samuel. "The Use of First-Person Accounts in Teaching About the Holocaust." The British Journal of Holocaust Education 3 (1994): 53-76.-----. First-Person Accounts of Genocidal Acts Committed in the Twentieth Century: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1991.-----. "The Personal Face of Genocide: Words of Witnesses in the Classroom." Social Science Record: The Journal of the New York State Council for the Social Studies 24 (1987): 63-67.Totten, Samuel, and William S. Parsons. "State Developed Teacher Guides and Curricula on Genocide and/or the Holocaust: A Review and Critique." Inquiry in Social Studies: Curriculum, Research, and Instruction 28 (1992): 27-47. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Guidelines for Teaching About the Holocaust. Washington, DC, 1993. Wiesel, Elie. "All Was Lost, Yet Something Was Preserved," Review of The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941-1944. New York Times Book Review (1984): 1, 23.---. "Preface." Report to the President. Washington, DC: President's Commission on the Holocaust, 1979. ---. "Then and Now: The Experiences of a Teacher." Social Education 42 (1978): 266-71.
Samuel Totten is an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He is a member of the Council of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, Israel, and an educational consultant to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. His most recent book, coedited with William S. Parsons and Israel W. Charny, is Genocide in the Twentieth Century: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts (New York: Garland Publishers, 1995).
Stephen Feinberg is social studies curriculum leader at Wayland Middle School in Wayland, Massachusetts. A former peace corps volunteer, he is an education consultant to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.