Holocaust Lesson Plans - Survival to Service

Holocaust lessons can help learners understand the effect of those who resisted the Nazis.

By Daniella Garran


holocaust lesson plans

Ordinary people throughout Europe faced "choice-less choices" during the Holocaust. Some of the questions that ordinary people had to grapple with included whether one life was more precious or valuable than another, and how far they were willing to go to save the life of someone else.

It Wasn't a Matter of Simple Choices

When studying the Holocaust, it is important to consider the different roles people played. Not only should a full examination of the victims and perpetrators take place, but also the role of bystanders. Perhaps most salient, however, is to take the time for a thorough exploration of some of the people who made a conscious choice to risk their own lives in an effort to save the lives of others. It is also important to note that the people they saved were often strangers.

Explore the Psychology behind the Nazi Resistors

The psychology of those who chose to resist the Nazis’ efforts, in order to rescue others is a fascinating topic to explore with students. Most were just ordinary people who felt compelled to act out of a moral obligation to their fellow man. There were people, such as Miep Gies, who hid Anne Frank and her family. Others were members of the clergy, like Father Marie Benoit.  In keeping with his religious training, he demonstrated compassion for others despite their ethnicity or religion. Towns like Le Chambon, France, and nations like Denmark united in the face of imminent danger and threats from the Nazis because they vehemently disagreed with the Nazis’ ideology and actions. Regardless of one’s background or religion, those who resisted the Nazis, and rescued one or one thousand victims chose to do so mostly because they felt it was simply the right thing to do.

Resistance Took Many Forms

It's important that your class understands that many peoples' acts of resistance were not only extreme, such as hiding a family or falsifying papers, but there were also many subtle forms of resistance. For example, Jews imprisoned in concentration camps resisted the Nazis by saying prayers in their barracks whenever possible. As they read biographies and autobiographies of concentration camp survivors, have your pupils keep a list of the various forms of subtle resistance. 

Regardless of students’ ages, it is essential that they learn about the efforts of those who resisted the Nazis, and rescued those being victimized. It sets an important example for youngsters who live in a world where persecution continues, and in which they have the ability to make a difference in the lives of others.

Ideas for Introducing This Topic to Your Class

There are many ways educators can introduce a discussion about people who resisted the Nazi's during the Holocaust. One way is to read first hand accounts. Many students are required to read The Diary of Anne Frank  in high school. This book provides a great description of how a normal person tried to help a Jewish family during a politically difficult time period. An outstanding fictional account of rescue and resistance is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. While many students may read this book outside of school, educators should be aware that there is disturbing imagery and references to violence. Nevertheless, the novel could be an excellent teaching tool. Here are some more lesson plans that can make this topic accessible to your learners.

Holocaust and Resistance Lesson Plans: 

Survival to Service

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has excellent suggestions for how to teach young learners about the Holocaust. It also outlines ideas for how to observe Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). The lesson focuses on the life of Abraham Foxman, a hidden child, and emphasizes the importance of making moral decisions in the face of obvious prejudice and discrimination. The lesson contains excellent handouts, and important links to guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust.

Bystanders in the Holocaust

This is an important lesson about the role played by bystanders during the Holocaust. This lesson focuses on the choices made by individuals, as well as by governments and heads of state during the Holocaust. Many connections can be made to pupils' daily lives when considering the role that bystanders play in terms of being complacent.

Hidden Children and the Holocaust:

This lesson considers the experience of children who were hidden during the Holocaust and survived, as well as those people who hid the children. The lesson offers a more personal approach by introducing pupils to individuals who took risks, and who were saved by the risks that others took. They will also learn about the qualities shared by all those who made a choice to resist the Nazis' efforts.