Promote Tolerance on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Delve into the history of Auschwitz to educate this generation about the Holocaust, genocide, and tolerance.

By Cathy Neushul

barbed-wire fence

One of the most important things to do when teaching your class about the Holocaust is to make it personal. The people who lived and died during the Holocaust were mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children. While learners may think of the Holocaust as something that happened a long time ago and to someone else, they should come to understand that this is not the case. Help your pupils to realize that genocide is currently occurring throughout the world, and that it is happening to people who are a lot like them. 

You can use a discussion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day as a way to teach your class about the Holocaust, genocide, and the importance of practicing tolerance. A study of this topic can lead to interesting discussions and a variety of learning opportunities. It is fitting that International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27th, the same day that Auschwitz was liberated in 1945. 

Talk to Your Class About Auschwitz

There are many materials you can use to teach your class about the history of Auschwitz. The website for the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau has lesson plans, first-hand accounts, historical documents, and more to help your class learn about this part of history. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is also a great resource, and has a section on its website devoted to a discussion of Auschwitz. There are survivor accounts, maps, and a detailed description of the liberation of Auschwitz. 

Connecting History With the People Who Lived It

Both of the above websites have links to videos and other first-hand accounts providing an oral history of what occurred at Auschwitz. For personal accounts of what occurred in the concentration camps, you can visit this page on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum site to hear people like Leo Schneiderman, Miso Vogel, and Cecile Klein-Pollack talk about their experiences. There is even film footage of the liberation of Auschwitz that shows what people found when they entered Auschwitz.

One of the best ways to gain a glimpse of what it felt like to live through this experience is through a well-told story. Elie Wiesel in his book Night does exactly that. He describes how his world slowly turned upside down until he and his family found themselves on a train to Auschwitz. He tells how the Nazis took control of Hungary, imposed anti-Jewish laws, and placed Jewish people in a ghetto. Then, the Nazis started to deport groups of people by train. As the narrator of Night tells the story, the people at the beginning of the journey had no idea of the horrors they would experience. 

In excruciating detail, Wiesel describes each of the deprivations, humiliations and methods of torture used in the concentration camps. Even though the situation was horribly bleak, the story is riveting and stays with you long after you read it. As part of a discussion of Auschwitz, teachers can use this book as a teaching tool. They can have their class read the entire book, or read parts of Night aloud to give learners a greater understanding of this part of history.

While the atrocities at Auschwitz might seem like something that could not happen today, there are places in the world where genocides are occurring. Depending on the age and maturity level of your class, you can have them research genocide in Dafur, Rwanda, Bosnia, etc. Or, you can select some materials, stories, or case studies that cover some of these recent incidences of genocide. This lesson is also a good resource to get you started on this sensitive topic. However you choose to explore this topic with your class, you will be offering this generation a chance to learn about a bleak time in history, while also exposing them to the necessity of promoting and valuing tolerance toward all people. 

Lessons Relating to the Liberation of Auschwitz:

Conversations With the Past

This lesson has learners explore the liberation of Auschwitz by focusing on the accounts of those who experienced it. This is a great way to connect this topic to real life. Afterward, your class can discuss how they felt after hearing the accounts.

World War II: Concentration Camps and Liberation

By delving into a detailed account of the liberation of concentration camps, learners can discover what this actually entailed. People documented what they found, and it was a long and difficult process.

Genocide: Past & Present

The reason to study history is to learn from the past. This lesson does a great job of connecting the past to the present. It explores genocide during World War II and discusses how these types of horrors are occurring throughout the world today.

Seven Poems/ Seven Paintings

This is a creative way to discuss the Holocaust. Learners discuss seven poems and seven paintings relating to the Holocaust. It provides a personal way to view this part of history and to connect it to what is happening in the world today.