Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A helpful resource

When searching for Holocaust resources to use in classroom setting, the number of memoirs can be overwhelming. If you then looking just for segments of a memoir to use in class, this task can be even more daunting.

A few years back I had the pleasure of hearing Sir Martin Gilbert speak. He signed my copy of Kristallnacht – Prelude to Destruction and while I was talking to him I told him I was a high school teacher. He gave me a copy of a book by his wife Holocaust Memoir Digest: Volume 2.
The Holocaust Memoir Digest has proven to be a very valuable resource. It takes a memoir, for example All But My Life by Gerda Weissman Klein, and makes it very user friendly for teachers. It breaks down the memoir and literally tells you, by page number, what topics are covered. Klein’s book, for example, includes topics like:
  • Pre-war Jewish and community life
  • Pre-war antisemitism
  • The coming of the war
  • Daily life in the ghetto
  • Deportation
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau
  • Personal reflection
Also included are timelines linked to the memoir and maps to makes the geography understandable.
Volume 2, the volume I have, covers the following memoirs:
  • Gerda Weissmann Klein (All But My Life)
  • Saul Friedlander (When Memory Comes)
  • Art Spiegelman (Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Part I and II)
  • Fanya Gottesfeld Heller (Strange ad Unexpected Love, a Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs)
  • Erika Kounio Amariglio (From Thessaloniki to Auschwitz ad Back, Memoires of Survivor from Thessaloniki)
  • Solomon Gisser (The Cantor’s Voice)
  • Samuel Bak (Painted in Words – A Memoir)
The Memoir Digest also includes a very helpful section called Using the Digest. It takes various questions about the Holocaust and tells you which memoirs could be used to help answer these questions. For example a question like: In the pre-war years, how was Jewish religious life observed? The Digest tells you which of these memoirs to examine to help answer this question. There are over 10 pages of these kinds of questions.

There are three volumes in this Digest Series by Ester Goldberg. All three volumes are available in the MCHE Resource Center

For more information visit: http://www.holocaustmemoirdigest.org/.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Relating the Holocaust to Other Genocides: A Seminar Series for Educators


Conference Room C
Jewish Community Campus
5801 W. 115th Street
Overland Park, Kansas

These sessions examine Holocaust history as it relates to other modern genocides. Participants will explore the history of the Holocaust and its connections to genocides in Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. Analysis of primary source documents, discussions of the stages of genocide and hands on practice with these resources will equip teachers with tools to engage their students in discussions of the relevance of Holocaust history as well as discussions of genocide prevention and awareness. Sessions will feature hands-on work with lesson plans appropriate for 7-12 th grade classrooms with an emphasis on cross-curricular approaches. All sessions will be led by members of the Isak Federman Holocaust Teaching Cadre with oversight by MCHE's Jessica Rockhold.

Schedule of Sessions:
All sessions meet from 4:30-7:30. Educators may sign up for individual sessions or the entire series.

January 12, 2011 - Defining Genocide / Case Study: The Armenian Genocide

These lessons will analyze the definition of genocide and the eight stages of genocide as well as explore resources for teaching the Armenian genocide and its relationship to the Holocaust

 February 9, 2011– Genocide and the Power of the Written Word: Diaries, Memoirs and Propaganda
These lessons will feature resources and methods that draw connections among genocide experiences, using primary sources including diaries and survivor memoirs and a detailed unit exploring propaganda in the Holocaust and Rwanda.

 March 2, 2011—Choosing to Act: Resisters, Bystanders, Perpetrators
These lessons will explore the responses of various groups to the Holocaust and other genocides, specifically decisions made by bystanders as well as a document-based question on resistance.

 April 13, 2011—Memory and Memorialization: Visual Representations of Genocide Experiences
These lessons will explore art from the Holocaust and other genocides as well as memorialization of these events.
A registration fee of $15 per session covers a light meal and materials. Registration must be received at least 1 week prior to the session for individual sessions or by January 1, 2011 for the entire series. Optional graduate credit (1 hour) through Baker University will be available for an additional $50 fee (payable to Baker).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


One of the struggles I face centers around how to best incorporate the Holocaust into the units I teach. My focus is not to provide an overview but to highlight certain aspects. The dilemma is should I clump these aspects together in a Holocaust mini-unit within the larger unit framework or spread them out across the unit. Clumping a few aspects while studying the rise and rule of Hitler has not been an issue. But recently students have commented that taking up to 8 days to cover the remaining aspects during the World II unit has made the teaching of the war disjointed. Generally I have taught the causes of the war, the war itself, then the Holocaust, and finally finish by teaching the effects of the war.

This year my plan is to spread the Holocaust across the World War II unit. The other benefit to not clumping might be that the Holocaust will be put into context better. I’m still working out the specifics of where to teach the different aspects because I don’t spend a lot of time teaching the war itself. Some aspects I cover, such as the Einsatzgruppen, naturally fit while teaching Operation Barbarossa and the aftermath fits with teaching the effects of the war. But others such as bystanders, resistance, and Auschwitz (done through a mapping activity and a discussion of memoirs students read) don’t seem to have as natural a fit.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Teaching antisemitism

The topic of antisemitism is always a tricky one in the classroom. When approaching the topic, I always wrestle with what is the best way to approach this subject matter and how much emphasis to put on the topic. We teach to different demographics which might need different approaches. My students are suburban and there are very few Jewish students in our high school. Because of this, I struggle with the fact that I might be introducing prejudices and stereotypes to them in which they weren’t previously exposed. At the same time, intolerance seems to breed in areas that lack diversity. But after teaching Holocaust history to my students for fifteen years, it is apparent that they need the historical context. Many students come to my class thinking that Hitler introduced antisemitism to Germany. In studying the history, they quickly realize that antisemitism existed WELL before his time and was only manipulated for the Nazi agenda.

My Holocaust unit (2 weeks total for a World History class) always starts off with the topic of antisemitism. The goal or objective is that using the information and resources provided, students analyze the progression of antisemitism and how it was manipulated for Nazi policy. I lecture over European antisemitism, covering the three stages- religious, secular, and racial. This allows students to see that there is a long legacy of antisemitism in Europe.

After the background knowledge is established, I show a video clip from the movie “Europa, Europa” which illustrates the racial antisemitism that had developed by the Nazi era and was seen as “scientific”. (Chapter 13 - time code 1 hour, 5 minutes, 48 seconds) This scene takes place in a Hitler Youth boarding school class and the teacher is “educating” the students about how to spot a Jew. The main character is a Jewish teen hiding out in this Hitler Youth boarding school. This is a powerful clip and takes no more than five minutes and proves the bogus nature of the Nazi pseudoscience.

Once the history of antisemitism is learned, it is important for student so see how the Nazis took these ideals and developed an increasingly persecutory society while implementing their policies. Students first read through a packet of events, with a small group. Without the dates provided, they try to determine the progression of events using their critical thinking skills- how one event might lead to the next. After they have this complete, we go through the correct timeline and discuss as a class the correct timeline and how one event led to the next.

Addressing this complex history allows me to address one of the important USHMM guidelines for teaching Holocaust history- “Avoid simple answers to complex questions”. If given more time to teach this extensive history, I would provide more examples but with a tight schedule these activities and topics engage the students and provide a context for the events of the Holocaust.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The power of a picture...or two

During the summer of 2006, I traveled to Warsaw, Poland. I was there to study the Holocaust with the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teacher's Program. On our first day there, when I was trying to overcome jetlag, we hit the ground running visiting many Holocaust related sites. In a stupor, I was going through the motions; not really taking it all in. I was standing in from of the Umschlagplatz [the deportation area in the Warsaw Ghetto] and found myself staring down the main street in a daze.

Our tour guide pulled out a book and asked if I wanted to see a picture. It was a picture of the very street I was standing on dating back to WWII. In this photo I could see what appeared to be Jews sitting along the sides of the street and Nazis preparing them for deportation.

In that moment my senses kicked in. A couple of the buildings were still dotting the thoroughfare. Knowing what had happened in the very place I was standing started to hit me. I walked down the street listening, observing, and breathing.

The cheesy historian in me believes that place holds memory. For me these two photos hold memory also. Comparing time and place opens up a door and brings meaning and understanding with it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Justifying Holocaust lessons in US History class

Here is my situation. I am very passionate about Holocaust education and believe that all students need to study it in order to understand the complexity of human behavior and its consequences in history and today. But here is the catch. I teach U.S. History. And no where in our state standards for U.S. History does it mention teaching the Holocaust.

Understandably, the focus is on the US and its role in World War II, but this leaves a teacher like me in a bit of a pinch. I really feel the Holocaust is an important subject for students to engage in but technically I shouldn’t cover it in any detail because it will not be tested on our end of course exam. So what is a teacher to do? The last thing I want to do is a quick one-hour overview of the Holocaust because, to me, the significance of Holocaust education is helping students understand the complexity of it and in simplifying it and turning it into a neatly packaged presentation my students don’t engage in the material they just “learn it” for a unit test.

So for the last few years I’ve been trying hard to find ways to integrate Holocaust education into a class that does not have it as a standard, and to integrate it in ways that make students engage in the material but at the same time do not become so time-consuming that I get too far behind the “instructional alignment guide" (basically that is our calendar for what we should be teaching and when.) Well the best solution I’ve found are some great lesson plans/resources that connect American history with 20th century German history and Holocaust education.

The first resource that I’ve found that is very useful in connecting things happening in America with those in Germany is Race and Membership in US History: The Eugenics Movement. It is a book published by Facing History and Ourselves and it deals with the US eugenics movement and its connection to Germany. The book has excellent readings that will engage students in the bigger issue of what constitutes “progress.” This book actually ties in nicely as well with the Deadly Medicine exhibit created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had the luxury of taking my students last year to the actual exhibit because it traveled through our city, but there is an on-line version that has great resources! It also examines both the U.S. eugenics movement and its importance in 20th century Germany as well.

Anther resource can both be found on the MCHE website. It is a lesson plan that compares and contrasts Jim Crow laws with early Nazi laws including the Nuremberg Laws. My students find this lesson especially engaging as it is really looking at the bigger issue of law. For example, as a class we will discuss the purposes of law and then examine these laws in context of those purposes.

The other lesson I use was created by USHMM. It examines the plight of Jewish refugees attempting to flee Germany and enter the United States on the St. Louis. This lesson is great because it helps address one of those frequently asked questions by students which is, “Why didn’t the Jews just leave?” This lesson is also great because it addresses the United States and its response to immigration during the Great Depression.

So there you have it---if you are like me and stuck in a bit of a bind in terms of how to teach the Holocaust in a class where it is not emphasized as a state standard---try these lessons and let me know how they work!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Kristallnacht Commemoration

November 9, 2010
7:30 p.m.

Lewis and Shirley White Theatre
Jewish Community Campus
5801 West 115th Street
Overland Park, Kansas

The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, in partnership with the University of Missouri-Kansas City conservatory of Music presents Different Trains, a multi-media concert to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Different Trains is a Grammy award winning musical composition created by noted minimalist composer Steve Reich and performed by an ensemble from the conservatory. It is a deeply personal work, evoking the contrast between the trains of the composer’s childhood in 1940s America and the very “different trains” that carried European Jews to the death camps during the same period.
A "conductor's talk" about the genesis and creation of the musical piece as well as readings from first-person accounts focusing on the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany (1933-1939) will precede the performance.

The event is free and open to the public.Contact Fran Sternberg at 913-327-8194 or program@mchekc.org for your complimentary tickets.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The White Rose and introducing the contest

Several years ago, when I first presented the White Rose Student Essay Contest to my 8th grade language arts class, the students began their research with different motivations. Some began earnestly devoted to the topic, while others focused on the competition aspect or grade. The next year, I decided to change my approach. I offered the White Rose Essay Contest as an option for a research project, as opposed to a requirement. This way, I hoped that the students choosing to work on the project did so because they were interested in the topic. Honestly, I was still not satisfied with this approach.

Suddenly, I decided that perhaps students needed to understand more about the people this contest commemorates. The next year, I presented students with the following quote, "An end in terror is preferable to terror without end." – Sophie Scholl.
We discussed the quote and I took the time introducing information about The White Rose, who they were and what they represented, as well as their fate. Obviously, the students were shocked by the extreme response to freedom of speech. Many of the students expressed a more genuine interest in the purpose of this essay contest.

I no longer teach language arts, however, at one time I had thought about having a parent-student evening. I considered showing the movie, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. (It is important to note that this is not a documentary, but rather a haunting dramatization of the final six days of Scholl’s life, from arrest to trial and sentence. This video is available from the MCHE Resource Center.) I felt this might be a good opportunity for students to have dialogue with their parents, as well as recruit parent support for their project.

Overall, I think the White Rose Essay contest provides a wonderful opportunity for students and I feel it gives them the opportunity to reflect on their own responsibilities as young people.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Join MCHE at Teacher Appreciation Day

The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education is pleased to take part in the first annual Museum Educators Roundtable Teacher Appreciation Day.

Sunday, August 8, 2010
12:00-4:00 p.m.

National World War I Museum
100 W. 26th Street  Kansas City, Missouri

  • Pick up information about the 2010-2011 White Rose Student Essay Contest
  • Learn about the Witnesses to the Holocaust Archive featuring local survivor testimonies
  • Learn about 10 Misconceptions about the Holocaust
  • Learn about MCHE's free lending library
  • Meet representatives from other area educational centers and museums
  • FREE WWI museum admission for teachers with ID!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Myth of Never Again

The following is an editorial written by former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski in response to Kofi Annan's concern about the focus of Holocaust education:
In an article on June 18, Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, wrote that the teaching of the Holocaust should focus more on preventing ethnic conflict and genocide. 
Before questioning the value of Holocaust education,one should first address its goals:

What, exactly, are we trying to achieve in teaching about the Holocaust? Is it realistic to expect that the study of the Holocaust will diminish human rights abuses and racism, and instead nurture democracy and tolerance? Will mixing the narrative of the Holocaust with other types of atrocities really encourage better human behavior?

Accumulated experience from the field has proven that there are no short cuts. A trip to Auschwitz does not suddenly turn visitors into noble humanitarians. An hour’s lesson on the Holocaust will certainly not prevent the next Rwanda or Darfur.



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What to cover? A case for studying the Einsatzgruppen

When teaching about the Holocaust most teachers face the difficult task of deciding what topics to cover. Whether students have any previous knowledge adds to the difficulty of deciding. Also whether the topic and materials are age appropriate must be considered. If the students have no background or very little then you probably will focus on giving a broader overview of the Holocaust. But if the students have enough of the basic information then the focus can shift to more specific topics. All of this must be considered within the time available to teach the Holocaust. For most of us that can be measured in days not weeks.

I am lucky to teach seniors in International Baccalaureate History. This means they come into the class with some previous knowledge and they are academically motivated students. It also means age appropriateness of topics and materials is not a limitation. The topics covered, within the 8 days I make available to teach the Holocaust, can vary from year to year based on resources available and personal/student interests. This year I added a new topic, the Einsatzgruppen.

The Einsatzgruppen were mobile killing squads who followed the German army into the Soviet Union during the Nazi invasion in June 1941 (Operation Barbarossa). Their purpose was to murder anyone behind the German lines who was considered racially impure (primarily Jews but also Roma) and politically threatening (Soviet officials). The Einsatzgruppen often used willing collaborators from among the local civilian population to aid in their task. Jews were identified and then ordered to assemble in an area before being transported or marched to an execution site. At these sites people of all ages and gender were shot so as to fall into a prepared trench and then buried. Between 1-1.5 million Jews were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen.

So why teach about the Einsatzgruppen? The fact that over one million Jews died as the result of being shot locally not shipped to some distant camp is probably something few students know. The image in most people’s minds when thinking about the systematic murder of Jews during the Holocaust is the death camps. In studying the Einsatzgruppen students can learn that there were other ways the Nazis murdered Jews in large numbers even before the death camps. The issue of collaboration can be brought in as the murders were done locally and in some cases with the assistance of the local population. The question of resistance can be discussed. Why didn’t the Jews fight back? The story of survival can be explored as some victims managed to escape death. The reality is the details may not be suitable for younger students but even if its not possible to spend a day or two on the topic the Einsatzgruppen should be mentioned to make students aware.

If you’re looking for information on the Einsatzgruppen there are a couple of excellent videos available, an A&E documentary entitled Nazi Secret Killing Squads (1999 and available in the MCHE Resource Center) and a National Geographic Channel documentary entitled Hitler’s Hidden Holocaust (2009). In addition the book Masters of Death (2002) by Richard Rhodes gives a good overview of the people who carried out these murders and how they were committed. Finally the book Holocaust by Bullets (2009) by Father Patrick Desbois discusses his attempt to identify and examine all the execution sites in the Ukraine.

Recommended Resources:

The Einsatzgruppen: Mobile Killing Units
Liepaja - The Holocaust
Testimony by Rivka Yosselevska

Testimonies from Babi Yar


One Day in Jozefow - From Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Creating a movie clip DVD

The problem all teachers face is finding time to get the information to our students. The resources are out there, and sometimes can be overwhelming. The number of documentaries, movies, and presentations available on DVD and on the internet allow teachers a wide variety of resources. While teaching an abbreviated lesson on the Holocaust, in an already constrained schedule, it will behoove teachers to preselect portions of media sources. Knowing the time for a segment to begin on DVD will help a teacher forward to the important part, but will still cost time as discs are traded in and out of the player, and the obligatory warnings play out. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all of the clips from each DVD in a central location, ready to just hit play? Wouldn’t be nice to move straight from “Schindler’s List” to “Escape from Sobibor”? Or how about contrasting the depictions of Hotel Milles Collins in “Hotel Rwanda” to those in “Sometimes in April”? To switch DVDs, teachers will lose time and students attention. So, how do we solve this problem?

Here is one solution: Cut the segments you want from DVD, and put them together on a separate data DVD, or play them from your computer in a media player. It is not as difficult as it may initially sound, nor as expensive. This is one solution to the problem, and it works if you have the time. The programs are designed as format converters, and enable ripping DVDs from a DVD drive to your hard drive.

1. You will need to download Magic Ripper. I use Magic Ripper on a regular basis. The cost is $35 for the program, and really comes in handy. This is a download from the site, and you will receive the registration code when you pay. Load it up, and you are ready to go.

2. Windows Movie Maker, which is a program available as a free download (if it isn’t already in your program list under the Start Menu).

3. A DVD drive. The drive must be able to read/play DVDs (can you watch movies on your computer? It should say DVD on the face of the drive, also). It is even better if you have a DVD burner, but is not required.

Ok. Now you are ready to begin:

a. Pop a DVD in the drive. Usually, Windows asks you what you want to do with this disc. Either choose to open Magic Ripper. If it doesn’t open automatically, start the program from the Start Menu, and it will read whatever disc is in the drive. From here, my expertise is in Magic Ripper, so let me drop a few hints: Make sure to save it somewhere you can find it (c:desktop, etc.), choose if you want subtitles on or not, and be sure to get the main set of chapters. If you have a disc with two to three segments (PBS mini- series will load several on one disc), be sure to choose the proper option. Look closely at this, as the extras will be offered up, also. Magic Ripper will tell you how many chapters are included, and that may be your only indication. Choose your output format (WMV, Ipod, AppleTV, AVI). WMV is Windows Media Video, and plays very well with Movie Maker. Click start. It will take between two and ten hours to convert.

b. Now that the movie is transferred over to the new format, open up Windows Movie Maker. Import the video into Movie Maker. Once it is imported, drag the file down to the bottom panel, and you can move to the section you want.

c. Find the exact point that you want to start with, and you can trim everything before that segment. Repeat by finding the end of the clip, and you can trim the extra.

d. Go to the File menu, and choose to “Publish Movie”. It is recommended that you publish the movie as a “DV-AVI”. From here, the media can be played back on the computer, burned to a DVD, or saved to a jump drive.

Windows offers software to burn the program onto a DVD if you have a burner and the time. This can be a time consuming process, but in the end, it can be worthwhile in that you build a collection of videos in a central location, ready to use, rather than searching, swapping, and losing the class.

List of movie clips recommended by MCHE:

· The Eternal Jew (9:00-22:01) to illustrate the Nazi racial attitude toward Jews

· Lodz Ghetto (6:40-12:03 and 23:30-28:23) to illustrate deteriorating conditions in the ghetto

· Shoah (Disc 1 1:54:56-2:09:44) to illustrate the killing method and the continual adjustments made by the Nazis

· Partisans of Vilna (20:40-36:17) to illustrate the decision making process for Jews thinking about armed resistance

· Shoah (Disc 1 44:17-1:03:10) to illustrate the attitudes of bystanders and collaborators

· Escape from Sobibor (First 18 minutes through the selection on the ramp) to illustrate the process

· Escape from Sobibor (46:44-54:05) to illustrate concept of collective responsibility

· The Last Days (21:07-43:50) to illustrate arrival, processing and living at Birkenau - if you have time in the class do (13:08-17:09 and 21:07-43:50) to include deportation and ghettoization

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Student tours of Deadly Medicine - a teacher's perspective

My colleague and I, took our students to the Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race exhibit. The field trip occurred prior to our coverage of World War II and the Holocaust so we included a pre-trip introduction to help our students glean as much as possible from our visit. We have been talking about the exhibit since we planned the trip in the fall so students were very aware of the upcoming experience. Since our students were well prepared, it was a worthwhile opportunity to help students further understand the complexities surrounding the Holocaust.

Pre-trip preparation:
We first talked with our students about prior knowledge of the Holocaust. Then, the term of eugenics was introduced. The provisions of the Treaty of Versailles were reviewed to set the political and economic stage of post WWI Europe.

As a class, we then watched the Curator’s overview from the USHMM website as well as read & discussed The Doctors Trial: The Medical Case of the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings. This helped to introduce students to the concept that politicians and doctors played a critical role in the implementation of the Final Solution.

When my colleague and I attended the Educator preview of the Deadly Medicine exhibit, we created an exhibit assignment that anchored the students throughout the actual exhibit. Click here for the assignment and teacher guide - the assignment is the first link on this page. We provided the assignment ahead of time so students knew our expectations upon arrival.

Field trip:
NARA rotated us through various stations. When a group entered the Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race they began Side 1 of the assignment which asked them to jot down two details for major themes throughout the exhibit on a graphic organizer. Side 2 provided an opportunity for students to select an option (video segment, photograph or propaganda poster) to help further reflect on the trip as well as choose a quote they found most significant.

Post-trip processing:
The next day back in class to process the trip, the following quote was displayed to begin class discussion.

“The question is whether we will ever be able to learn from history.”
Dr. Alexander Mitscherlich, German physician who
Served as an official observer at the Nuremberg Doctors Trial (1946-47)

Students shared their selected quote and what option they expanded upon for reflection. We placed the exhibit in context to its overall importance to our upcoming study of the Holocaust.

Students did a thorough job given a limited time frame. I was thoroughly impressed with their interest during the tour of the exhibit, thoughtful questions for our docents and then the obvious insights gained as we processed the trip.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Student tours of Deadly Medicine - a docent's perspective

I enjoy my interactions with students, teachers, other docents, and NARA & MCHE staff as a docent for Deadly Medicine. To docent the exhibit requires careful advance preparation in order to provide an effective and positive learning experience for both students and teachers.

For Deadly Medicine, MCHE, the USHMM, and the National Archives provided training about the content, the historical background, and the facility (National Archives) itself. While this training provided a brief overview, every docent with whom I’ve spoken felt the need to learn and research more—beginning with the exhibit materials and additional suggested resources.

I viewed the online exhibit at USHMM and the pertinent resources to Deadly Medicine on the museum site as well as sites recommended by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education as I wanted to have site recommendations for students and teachers that I knew would provide accurate information to questions that needed more in-depth responses than I could provide. I also attended a session of the trainings given for teachers so I would have an idea of the background/materials they would have available.

Since most of the school groups would be spending between 30-45 minutes in the exhibit, I created an abbreviated tour guide. Using the brief introductions and summaries for the three sections of the exhibit from the guidebook provided in training, I created a framework for the tours I would lead. The exhibit provides a very intense experience for even those with in-depth knowledge of the Holocaust. Most students come to the exhibit with a minimal background in Holocaust study. To fully view and experience each section of the exhibit would require hours. I did not want students and teachers to feel overwhelmed before we even started.

At the beginning of the tour, I give a brief, general overview of what the group will be seeing and how the information will be presented. I check the students’ understanding of primary sources and describe some of the types used in the exhibit. We also discuss the term “eugenics” and their understanding of it—this gives me an idea of how much preparation they have received for the tour. Each of the three sections will include:

1) overview of the section pre-viewing

2) description of one or two specific exhibits to be sure to view carefully.

I give them about ten minutes to walk through each section, read the accompanying information, and ask questions as they go. At the end of the section, I summarize what they just saw and ask them to respond to one or two questions to check for their understanding and clarify any misconceptions about that section.

The key concepts I cover in the tour are as follows:

Section 1 –
eugenics in the U.S. & Europe, in Germany

why “race science” needed/used by the Nazis

how policies were instigated

  1. through propaganda
  2. through laws
  3. through education

Section 2 –
application of Nazi eugenics policies/racial ideology - strong versus weak

emphasis on family, women, “pure Germans”

sterilization/marriage laws

Nuremberg Laws


Section 3 –
T-4 program

killing squads to death camps

Final Solution

involvement of medical professionals, scientists, etc./accountability

Again—this a lot of information presented in a very short time frame. But I believe it’s important for students to hear the terminology and see it in the context of the exhibit.

It is sometimes necessary to adjust the amount of time spent in a given section as students become particularly engaged in a certain display/video. At the end of the exhibit, we discuss again why/how the Nazis used eugenics, how they delivered their message, and how the Final Solution was the end result of Nazi policies. Oftentimes, students want/need additional resources to answer specific questions they have. I encourage them to use the MCHE and USHMM websites for accurate information.

As a docent, I see firsthand the effects of the exhibit on students and their teachers. High school students are obviously far removed from this period in history. Unfortunately most students do not study the Holocaust for more than a few days, if that. This exhibit helps show students a piece of that history. The exhibit engages students using learning styles and presentation styles that are most appealing to the students—posters, videos, photos, artifacts, and accompanying written descriptions that are brief and easy to follow. Due to state standards and testing, students do cover propaganda techniques. This is an effective concept to use as a connection to various aspects of the exhibit.

I have led diverse student groups through the exhibit. Some came very well prepared with an activity to complete while in the exhibit (available on the MCHE website). Some came with minimal preparation (prior to their study of the Holocaust). But all of the students became engaged in the exhibit at some point, and many asked questions about what they saw. One memorable moment was when a young lady realized that she would have been labeled an undesirable, “life unworthy of life,” because of her race/ethnicity. The exhibit took on a whole new level of meaning for her.

I am sure that most students (most adults as well) continue to process what they see and learn from Deadly Medicine well after they have completed the brief tour. As a former teacher, I know that these experiences provide wonderful springboards of learning opportunities—for the class and for individuals. I end the tour by encouraging the students to return to the exhibit with a friend or parent(s) and to visit the online exhibit.