Senior History
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The Holocaust and Senior History in the Curriculum

How and why we should teach the Holocaust in Senior History

The Holocaust and the Senior School

Professor Keith Barton (Curriculum Studies and Social Studies Education, Indiana University Bloomington) states: as educators we need to ask students and ourselves what should we learn about History. History questions and promotes values, which is a key component of the curriculum. The Holocaust is an opportunity for us to explore difficult but important historical concepts, and make value judgments based on those concepts.

The History curriculum states: “Teachers and students need to see the relevance of the teaching and learning programme. Teachers may choose to invite their students’ input when choosing learning contexts that have significance to New Zealanders and, most immediately, to the students in the history class.” 

Students are also encouraged to look for points of connection with histories outside of New Zealand, and their own. They are also encouraged to challenge the interpretation of History.

Therefore a clear focus in Holocaust teaching needs to be linking Holocaust history to the experience of New Zealanders.


Holocaust teaching and the Key Concepts for History

Key Concept Number 1: Significance - Historians debate the significance of the past

Lesson Ideas: Students could debate why the Holocaust happened. What relevance does it have today? Holocaust educators need to understand that the Holocaust was unprecedented in human history. However, we must not avoid comparative history, but be careful not to trivialise the people and the issues in those comparisons.

Key Concept Number 2: Continuity and Change ­- examining change over time, and continuity in times of change

Lesson Ideas: Students could develop a chronology, and put the Holocaust in the context of wider history or general anti-Semitism. Students need to be made aware that the Holocaust is generally believed to have started in 1933.

Key Concept Number 3: Cause and effect - Historians investigate the reasons for and the results of, events in history

Lesson Ideas: Students could investigate the causes and effects of the Holocaust. A higher-level study could analyse the way the Holocaust is remembered in literature, film and historiography. It also lends itself as an essential pre-cursor to the Palestine-Israel topic.

Key Concept Number 4: Perspective - There are multiple perspectives of the past, and these interpretations are contested

Lesson Ideas: Students could: study perspectives of the Holocaust, using the views of bystander, perpetrator, victim, collaborator, rescuer. Teachers should avoid putting students “in role” however – this is often too complicated and may trivialise the human story.


Holocaust teaching and the History Achievement Objectives

There are two Achievement Objectives each at Level 6, 7 and 8, for History. Incorporating the Holocaust into these Objectives could take the following forms:

Level 6

  • A.O. 1: Understand how the causes and consequences of past events that are of significance to New Zealanders shape the lives of people and society.

Students could study the causes and consequences of the Holocaust – and move on to a study of Jewish immigration to New Zealand post-WW2, and New Zealand’s involvement in the war.

  • A.O.2: Understand how people’s perspectives on past events that are of significance to New Zealanders differ

Students could describe the perspectives of those involved (eg: German bystander, Jewish prisoner, allied soldier). They could also link past perspectives to their own experiences (eg: Jewish youth and the youth of today). Lends itself particularly well to Achievement Standard 1.4.

Level 7

  • A.O. 1: Understand how historical forces and movements have influenced the causes and consequences of events of significance to New Zealanders.

Students could incorporate the language of the Holocaust into their 2.5 essays: anti-Semitism, Nazism etc as an example of a “force or movement”. The 2.6 Identity essay could also focus on the Jews as victims and the Nazi’s as perpetrators.

  • A.O. 2: Understand how people’s interpretations of events that are of significance to New Zealanders differ.

Students could focus on perspectives of those involved – then extend to later interpretations eg: disproving Holocaust denial, using survivor testimony to contextualise the Holocaust experience, study perspectives of refugees to New Zealand and our response to them

Level 8

  • A.O.1: Understand that the causes, consequences, and explanations of historical events that are of significance to New Zealanders are complex and how and why they are contested.

Students could analyse the intentionalist versus functionalist arguments of the Holocaust – did Hitler intend for the holocaust to happen from the start or was it a decision made by underlings? Students could also discuss the meaning of Holocaust and genocide – are there different “levels” of genocide? Was the Holocaust inevitable? Is it right to even compare genocides through history?

The ongoing reluctance of some ‘commentators’ to accept the reality of the Holocaust, for example, the David Irving trial.

  • A.O.2: Understand how trends over time reflect social, economic, and political forces.

The persistence of neo-Nazism in Europe, around the world and New Zealand.

These ideas provide a guideline only. The Holocaust fits very well into all strands of the curriculum in the senior school, although it may best to approach the subject analytically at a Year 12 or 13 level.

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