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The Holocaust and Social Studies in the Curriculum

Teaching the Holocaust in Social Studies

The Holocaust and the Junior School

It is important as teachers to realise that this is a disturbing and emotionally charged subject area. As such, caution needs to be taken when teaching the Holocaust to junior school students. A focus on the history, the roles people played, and linking it to the students’ own experience are good places to focus. Try and avoid the most gruesome of images or descriptions – this material is not always age-appropriate and can be counter-productive (for example: images of dead bodies at Auschwitz are not necessarily appropriate. A discussion about a photo of a crematorium will generate just as much interest, a focus on human rights, and injustice, as a more violent image).

You need to think carefully as a teacher about the purpose of teaching the Holocaust. A careful reading of the “For the Teacher” guide in this web resource is recommended before you start.

Social Sciences teachers are required to incorporate the Conceptual Strands, Achievement Objectives, Key Competencies and Values into their unit planning.  The following unit and lesson ideas are designed for Level 5 of the Social Sciences curriculum. These can act as a guide to planning and designing your own effective Social Studies unit on the Holocaust: 

Fitting the Holocaust into the Conceptual Strands

1. Identity, Culture and Organisation:

Students could examine the Jewish community and culture in History; compare and contrast Judaism to other religions; learn how negative cultural interaction affects groups within society (eg, German Anti-Semitism towards the Jewish community); discuss the identity of Jews today and the case for and against Israel, as well as the Jewish community in New Zealand

2. Place and Environment:

Students could: examine the place of Jerusalem in Jewish and world history; discuss the diaspora and the lack of “place” for Jewish people; examine issues around place for Jews in the modern world, in Israel and New Zealand

3. Continuity and Change:

Students could learn about the narrative of events before, during and after the Holocaust (many historians see the “Holocaust” as beginning in 1933 with Hitler’s rise to power); the experiences of different groups involved (eg, bystander, victim, perpetrator, rescuer); discuss ways similar events could be avoided in the future

4. The Economic World:

Students could examine how excluding groups of people from certain economic activities is affecting their human rights (ie, Jews were barred from certain professions for long periods of time)


Fitting the Holocaust into the Achievement Objectives

Understand how systems of government in New Zealand operate and affect people’s lives, and how they compare with another system

Students could compare and contrast the Nazi government system and the New Zealand democratic parliamentary system. What human rights do we have here? What human rights were denied Jews and others in Nazi Germany? Why?

Understand how cultural interaction impacts on cultures and societies

Students could examine the negative cultural interaction in Nazi Germany, and its affect on Jews and others; examine the consequences of the Holocaust on the Jewish people; discuss negative cultural interaction today – is there a chance the Holocaust could happen again? Have there been other genocides that could also have been stopped?

Understand that people move between places and how this has consequences for the people and the places

Students could learn about the journey of Jewish migrants to New Zealand; examine the Nazi acquisition of Jewish homes and businesses in occupied Europe; examine the Jewish diaspora and the reasons why; examine the consequences of the establishment of Israel for both Jewish settlers and Palestinians

Understand how economic decisions impact on people, communities and nations

Students could learn about the barring of Jews from certain professions; the impact of the Nuremburg Laws and Kristallnacht on Jewish businesses in Nazi Germany

Understand how the ideas and actions of people in the past have had a significant impact on people’s lives

Students could study the narrative of the Holocaust – cause, events, consequences; look closely at the roles of those involved; include the role of New Zealand in the post-Holocaust world (Jewish refugees)

Understand how people define and seek human rights

Students could examine the human rights that were taken away from Jews and others in occupied Europe; discuss how and why Jews and others attempted to resist the subjugation of their human rights; examine the human rights of people today and ask whether people’s human rights are now more protected or still at risk, and what we can do to safeguard those rights.


Fitting the Holocaust into the Key Competencies

Managing self

Students could carry out independent research on an aspect of the Holocaust; interview or use survivor testimony; access the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand

Relating to others

Students could attempt to take on the role of people involved in the Holocaust; lead a class room debate on human rights; group work activities examining specific areas of the Holocaust to present to the class or community


Students could discuss the causes and consequences of the Holocaust; debate the ability to learn lessons from the Holocaust; examine other genocides – whilst being aware of the Holocaust’s unprecedented place in history

Using language, symbols and text

Students could define key words and phrases (eg: Holocaust, Anti-Semitism, Nazi); make a glossary as they go; interpret primary source documents; listen to speeches, audio files, survivor testimony

Participating and contributing

Students could participate in class room discussion, debate and project work; present on an aspect of the Holocaust; participate in community activity to do with the Holocaust (eg, Button Project, Holocaust remembrance day, visiting an important site, museum exhibition or the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand)


Fitting the Holocaust into the Values of the Curriculum

Holocaust teaching is an effective way of teaching young people key values, as defined by the New Zealand Curriculum. In particular the value of acknowledging diversity of culture and language through the study of the Jewish people and Judiasm. Themes of equity are relevant throughout – students will gain a strong impression of social justice by studying case studies of obvious injustice during the Holocaust. Ideas of community and participation for the common good can be drawn out with concluding discussions on the Holocaust as an example of unfair communities and exclusion of certain groups. The respect  for human rights is a common theme also, and effective teaching of the Holocaust can give students a sounding board to look at their own world and community, and identify areas of rick to people’s human rights.


Next: Teaching the Holocaust in Senior History

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