Monday, November 16, 2009

Teaching about the Nazi legal assault against the Jews

A note before we begin: I use this lesson in my sophomore Challenge U.S. History class, which for the most part includes students who are mature enough to understand the material and discuss it in an academic setting. The students in my challenge classes, for the most part, are highly motivated learners and enjoy discussions. This lesson is recommended as age appropriate for students in 9-12th grade because they possess the critical thinking skills necessary to handle the material.

One of my favorite classroom activities is a lesson that involves comparing and contrasting Jim Crow Laws with Nazi laws such as the Nuremberg Laws. I love this lesson because it gives students a chance to understand the purpose of laws and why people need to be aware of how laws shape our values and norms. For example, most people believe that laws provide safety and security for citizens. Laws tell people what they should and should not do in order to protect themselves and protect others from harm. By passing laws, a “norm” is created that says “x” is dangerous because there is a law protecting a person from it. Encouraging students to see how laws promote certain social standards and beliefs helps students better understand why people acted as they did. The key is to illustrate that laws are both positive and negative. By having students compare and contrast Jim Crow Law with Nazi laws students begin to see how laws created the social norms and values that surrounded both communities.

For many of my students it’s the first time they actually understand what Jim Crow laws were and how they shaped the identity of the South. They also see that many aspects of life in Nazi Germany were not unprecedented or unique. Often the Nazis are illustrated as being “abnormal” when in fact all countries use their laws to create social norms. So not only do students become familiar with the actual laws, but they also become familiar with the purpose of law.

One key thing to remember is that when doing this activity, the idea is to compare and contrast the policies created through laws and how those laws were implemented. Please make sure that students do not try to compare levels of suffering. (Please reference #6 in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Guidelines for Teaching the Holocaust.) This activity is not about which groups or individuals suffered worse under the laws, but about how laws are used to justify policies and actions and how those laws were implemented. As the teacher it is critical that you avoid letting your students make statements about who suffered more and control the focus of the discussion.

Sometimes a discussion concerning “race” and the treatment of minorities based on “race” can be uncomfortable. By the time my classes reach this activity we have already discussed the pseudo-science of eugenics and its impact on the social construction of race. Most kids are shocked when they read the materials. Be prepared for them to laugh out of discomfort at some of the Jim Crow laws and Nazi laws. They may also make comments about how “stupid” these laws are and how they can’t believe people actually followed the laws. Thankfully I have not had any problems with inappropriate comments or questions, and for the most part students keep the discussion on point. I think much of that comes from how I set up the lesson heavily emphasizing that this is not about comparing and contrasting suffering but looking at policy and implementation. I just make sure to be specific about the objectives from the start.

Also, sometimes students have gotten off –topic when it comes to the discussion on how the laws addressed marriage and relationships. Students will want to talk about current dating patterns and the idea of mixed marriage. While this can be relevant in terms of allowing students to connect the material to their own lives, I try to avoid letting the lesson become a discussion on current conditions. To keep this from happening I will sometimes offer students an extra credit opportunity to journal about how this links to current issues and to turn it in next class.

I think you will find that this activity engages students and brings about an intellectual discussion on the use of law. I have used this lesson for the last three years and many of my students tell me it was one of their favorite lessons. Please visit CLICK HERE to find this lesson - complete with links to all necessary materials and teacher instructions.

Jim Crow Laws By State - Click on each state for the laws

Monday, November 9, 2009


November 9, 2009 ~ 7:00 p.m.
Lewis and Shirley White Theatre
Jewish Community Campus
5801 West 115th Street
Overland Park, Kansas

Seventy-one years ago on November 9 and 10, Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”), an anti-Jewish pogrom devised by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister for propaganda and public enlightenment, was carried out by the SS and other national police agencies. Jewish businesses were vandalized and homes ransacked and burned. At least 100 Jews were murdered and 30,000 Jewish men were imprisoned in concentration camps. Kristallnacht ended the illusion that normal Jewish life in Germany and Austria was still possible.

This year’s community-wide commemoration of Kristallnacht will showcase the documentary film Kristallnacht, newly produced for MCHE’s Witnesses to the Holocaust series. The film describes the rise of Hitler and the Nazis and the emergence of increasingly brutal policies toward Germany’s Jews that culminated in the violence of November 9-10, 1938. It features excerpts from MCHE’s videotaped survivor testimonies along with archival and personal photos.

Kristallnacht Order
USHMM collection
USHMM online exhibition
Primary Source Documents
It Came From Within...71 Years Since Kristallnacht

Monday, November 2, 2009

Meeting language arts standards with Holocaust education

In this day of testing and the emphasis in meeting state and district standards, it is important to have good justification for taking the time required to teach the Holocaust. When teaching Language Arts, the standards are not based around specific materials, but rather general learning standards which can be met using many different materials. The Holocaust is not something that needs to be taught separately, alongside the state standards, but instead, standards can be taught within the Holocaust unit.

One objective in the Kansas middle school standards is to understand fact and opinion, and to recognize propaganda, bias and stereotypes. The Holocaust is a great unit to incorporate these topics. It is very important to teach students how to distinguish between fact and opinion, regarding the Holocaust. This can be done through looking at materials and judging whether or not the information is fact or opinion, and therefore credible or not credible. Websites, books, and even primary resources can be examined for credibility. Another important factor to look at when examining resources is bias. Understanding who wrote or created the piece, and then understanding their opinions, will help students better judge materials and understand the bias of the author.

One way to help students distinguish between facts and opinions and identify bias is to give them a set of criteria on which they can judge a source. There is a great example of this on the Cornell Library website. This stresses accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency and coverage when looking at resources and their validity. Using this set of standards, you can guide your students through some examples.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a great resource for articles which are valid. Using the Holocaust Encyclopedia on this site, look up a term, such as Nazi, and evaluate the resource. Then go to a website such as Wikipedia, do a search for the same topic, and compare and contrast the validity. Holocaust Controversies, another website, is a great place to show fact, opinion and bias. While this website’s intention is to debunk Holocaust deniers, it can illustrate how opinions, even those that we agree with, are still opinions.

The Holocaust is also an excellent resource for teaching stereotype. It really helps students understand the cause and effect of stereotype. Teaching the history of antisemitism can help students understand the progression of a stereotype and how and why people choose to believe what they do. One great way to do this is through pictures and photographs. Much of the Nazi rhetoric was based on the idea that a Jew could be recognized from outward appearances. I begin by showing my students photographs of Jews and non-Jewish Germans around the time of the war in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's photo archive. It is important for the students to see that there was no way of telling, based on what someone looked like, whether or not they were a Jew. They need to understand that not all Germans were Nazis, not all Jews were practicing, and that the two groups lived among each other for a long time before World War II. Then you can show them the visual propaganda that was used during the war from sources such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the German Propaganda Archive.

One excellent resource for teaching this visual stereotype is using the pictures from “Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jüd auf seinem Eid” (“Trust No Fox in the Green meadow and No Jew on his Oath”), a childrens book published in 1936 by Julius Streicher as a form of propaganda. This book depicts Jews as dirty, lazy, money hungry and untrustworthy. It depicts Germans as strong, hard working and being victimized by the Jews. You can show students the pictures and have them analyze the propaganda being used, such as name calling, glittering generalities and half truths. Putting the pictures of the Jews and the Germans side by side really shows the bias and slant in the pictures and propaganda.

While there are many important reasons for teaching the Holocaust, it is also important to be sure that what is being taught ties in with state and district standards. This is just one example of how this can be done. The Holocaust can be a tool used to integrate many areas of curriculum, allowing the students to learn on many levels and in many areas at the same time.

USHMM photo archives
USHMM encyclopedia
State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda
German Propaganda Archives
"Trust No Fox..."
"The Poisonous Mushroom"