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A Beginning Teacher's Guide to Using the World Wide Web to Teach about the Holocaust

by Carl R. Schulkin
Mandel Teacher Fellow, 1997-98


        Teaching about the Holocaust is a formidable task in and of itself. Utilizing electronic resources, while it can be helpful, can also add to the difficulty. Being acutely aware of the difficulties and in an effort to be helpful, I have tried to make this guide as brief and to the point as possible.   I would rather err on the side of brevity than overwhelm someone who has set out, with the best of intentions, on what can be a truly daunting task.

       Since the pages that are posted to the World Wide Web change quite frequently, the beginning teacher should keep in mind that this guide itself may be somewhat dated by the time you read it.  Check the date of the latest revision and, as a precaution, do an additional search of the Internet.  Use a powerful search engine to determine what recent additions in the category of "Holocaust Education" have been made.

       Please keep in mind also that this guide represents the thinking of only one experienced teacher.  Many of my suggestions may be idiosyncratic and best suited to my personal teaching style.  My suggestions are offered as personal opinions intended to be helpful.  They are only suggestions.  Even a beginning teacher should not hesitate to deviate from them or to disagree completely with some or all of my recommendations.

Detailed Teacher's Guides

        Perhaps the most important distinction one needs to make as a teacher when one begins to put together a course is that between teacher resources and materials to be placed in the hands of the students.  We shall begin this guide by critically analyzing two extensive, detailed teacher resources.  The first, entitled A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust, has recently been published on the World Wide Web by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology of the College of Education at the University of South Florida. Wide ranging and up to date, this Web site presents not only "an overview of the people and events of the Holocaust," it also includes discussions of art and literature of the Holocaust as well as containing a variety of documents and photographs.  The site is divided into five parts.  Three of the five, Timeline, People, and The Arts, provide abundant information and links to relevant on-line sources.  The fourth consists of teacher designed Student Activities.   Finally, and perhaps most valuable for the beginning teacher, comes a section devoted to Teacher Resources.

       For the teacher already well versed in Modern German History and the Holocaust, it is recommended that you begin searching for appropriate readings to assign to your students by consulting the Books section of the Teacher Resources collection.  This section of the Web site is conveniently divided into partitions listing books for Elementary School, Middle School, High School and Teacher Resources.   The listings for Middle School and High School are further subdivided into "Historical Reference," "Fiction and Memoirs" and "Art and Poetry," with each section containing brief annotations.  Listings for "Teacher Resources," however, are not annotated.

       For teachers not already well versed in Modern German History and the Holocaust, it would probably be better to begin by doing a considerable amount of background reading in written sources.  Among the best places to start are Alan Bullock's classic biography of the Fuehrer, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, lengthy and devoting little attention to the Holocaust, but easy to read and understand.   For the Holocaust itself, the best overview of the critical issues remains Michael Marrus's The Holocaust in History. It should be supplemented with one of the classic narrative accounts such as Lucy Dawidowicz's The War Against the Jews 1933-1945.   Dawidowicz's book is also available in a young reader's version suitable for assignment to middle school and high school students.   Co-authored by David Altschuler, it is entitled Hitler's War Against the Jews.

       To supplement his/her reading in printed sources, the beginning teacher of the Holocaust might wish to read through the Timeline section of A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust.  Alternatively, for a more thorough historical account for teachers, he/she might wish to turn to a different Web publication, the second of the extensive, detailed teacher's guides referred to above, The Holocaust--A Guide for Teachers written by Gary Grobman.   Although dated in some respects, Grobman's work, which he is in the process of updating, provides a much more detailed summary of the historical background than any other readily accessible resource on the Web.   It contains a detailed discussion of Hitler's Rise to Power and good coverage of the period from 1932 to 1935.   However, his treatment of the important meeting of November 5, 1937 should be supplemented by a careful reading of Bullock's account and one should turn to other sources for an account of Hitler's critical speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, the sixth anniversary of his appointment as Chancellor.

       Each chapter of The Holocaust--A Guide for Teachers contains a synopsis, list of instructional objectives, an overview of topics and issues, lists of vocabulary, suggested classroom activities, and, where deemed appropriate, suggested teacher strategies.  There are helpful instructions on "How to Use This Guide" and a series of chapters on such topics as "Stereotypes and Prejudices" and "Classical and Christian Anti-Semitism" which reflect Grobman's approach to the subject.  Finally, this guide also contains a very extensive annotated bibliography, although many of the annotations are very brief and the version currently available on the World Wide Web was last updated in July 1994.

       As one moves beyond the historical background and historical sources suitable for assigning to students, the beginning teacher should return to A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust.   The section entitled "The Arts" contains three subheadings, "Music," "Art" and "Literature."   Under each subheading there are a number of resources suitable for use with students.   The section on "Art" features drawings and paintings by Holocaust survivor David Olere, which are available for viewing, and four other works by four different "ghetto artists."  Most valuable of all, perhaps, is the extensive section on "Literature," richly annotated and serving as yet another helpful resource for deciding what might be assigned to one's students.  Conveniently divided into six subsections ("The Voices of Victims," "Survivor Testimony and Literature," "Accounts of Resistance," "Stories of Rescue and Heroism," "The German Experience," and "Aftermath: Response and Reflection"), this annotated bibliography is very selective and therefore easy to negotiate.

       In the section entitled "Teacher Resources," there are valuable sections containing primary sources ( Documents), an annotated list of films and videos ( Films) and a gallery of images ( Images) containing photographs, drawings and paintings suitable for viewing by one's students.   The list of films and videos should be supplemented by and compared with the Annotated Videography compiled by the staff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Learning Site for Students

        In a category by itself and, in my opinion, in a class by itself, is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students.  At the time of this writing, The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students is the only Web Site I am aware of that is specifically tailored to the needs of students wishing to learn more about the Holocaust.  Although still very much a work in progress, this site is one of the most promising I have encountered.  It is the only Web site that I know of that can actually be assigned to students as either an introduction to the study of the Holocaust or as a reference tool for deepening one's understanding or both.  When I assigned it as an introduction to my own students in a one-semester senior elective on the Holocaust in conjunction with Hitler's War Against the Jews, my students found it more interesting than the book and equally valuable as an introduction to a subject which most of them knew very little about.

        As the sample image displayed above indicates, the The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students has been organized topically.  While chronology is usually respected within each of the five sections, "Nazi Rule," "Jews in Germany," "The 'Final Solution'," "Nazi Camps," "Rescue and Resistance," an instructor wishing to follow a chronological approach may need to present a brief overview before sending his/her students to the Learning Site for Students.  Once they use their Web browsers to access the site, however, students will be drawn in immediately by the colorful graphics, photographs, maps and other resources presented in a way that makes the entire site very easy to navigate.  The content, while briefer than comprehensive printed accounts, has been carefully selected by Museum educators.  The only topic not covered as thoroughly as my students might have liked was the historical background to Hitler's rise to power.

        One of the great strengths of the The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students as a teaching tool is the way it personalizes what might otherwise be an abstract and distant event.  Students were intrigued by many of the photographs and personal artifacts displayed on the Web site, and they were drawn in by the personal testimony and vignettes used to supplement the historical accounts.  Survivor testimony, even on a Web site, and even when much of it is written rather than spoken, remains one of the most effective tools for bringing the Holocaust to life. Although they frequently consulted the handy glossary and timelimes, my students spent more time listening to, reading about and looking at photographs of individuals and families who experienced the Holocaust than studying any other aspect of the Learning Site for Students.

Helpful Sites for General Reference

        When students want answers to specific questions about the Holocaust or wish to explore a particular topic on their own, there are two convenient, reliable places on the World Wide Web a teacher might refer them. The first is the site maintained by The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Whereas teachers will be most interested in the section entitled Learning about the Holocaust or planning a class trip to visit the permanent collection, students will want to take advantage of the finding aids in the section headed Accessing Museum Resources.  There they will be able to query the holdings of the Museum's archives, library and repository of photographs. If they have a specific question about a specialized topic, they might even wish to submit their query via e-mail to a member of the Museum staff.

        The other very helpful general reference site, and one which maintains hypertext links with most of the other more specialized Holocaust sites on the World Wide Web is Cybrary of the Holocaust.  Frequently updated and containing a multitude of temporary exhibits, Cybrary has a permanent "Education" section which features not only the teacher's guide discussed above, but annotated bibliographies and a collection of "Holocaust Links" as well.  Important documents such as the Wannsee Protocols are also posted on this site, some temporarily, some permanently, as are photographs and diagrams of some of the major concentration camps. At the present time, there are photographs and interactive maps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Mauthausen Concentration Camps exhibited in the "Camps" section of Cybrary.

        While intended primarily as a resource for those wishing to counter claims by so-called "revisionists" or "deniers" that the Holocaust never really happened, the Nizkor Project contains materials which can be useful for other types of student projects.  Perhaps most valuable from the perspective of student research is the "Camps" section of Nizkor's "Holocaust Web Project." Here the student will find good information about a variety of major Concentration and Death Camps, especially the Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.

        Finally, if one is trying to determine whether a particular aspect of the Holocaust has become the subject of a specialized Web site or whether information about a specific topic might be available on the Web, a very good place to turn is the Web Sites subsection of the Teacher Resources section of A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust. Not only are the number of links impressive, they are broken down by subject into fourteen categories ranging from "Recommended General Sources" to "Perpetrators" to "Rescuers," "Liberators," "Arts," and "Photographs."

Specialized Web Sites of Unusual Value

         Brief mention should be made of a very few specialized sites which provide valuable resources for both the beginning teacher and beginning student of the Holocaust.  Two sites which are rich in primary sources are Electric Zen: An Einsatzgruppen Electronic Repository, an extensive collection of documents relating to the activities of the mobile killing squads known by their originally innocent sounding German name "Einsatzgruppen" (literally "special groups"), and the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, the repository for a collection of over 3,700 videotaped interviews with witnesses and survivors of the Holocaust.  For students wishing to research topics relating to the experience of women during the Holocaust, Women and the Holocaust.   A Cyberspace of Their Own supplies an excellent introduction. Particularly valuable is its extensive annotated bibliography.  Finally, for teachers and students pursuing in depth research and hoping to leave no stone unturned, there is the Index of Bibliographies, complete with hypertext links, compiled by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

A Final Note

        Like every publication posted to the World Wide Web, this Beginning Teacher's Guide represents a work in progress.  Offered in the spirit of assisting teachers just beginning to teach about the Holocaust, it possesses many of the strengths and weaknesses of my own approach to this complex subject in my own classroom.  Those teachers who peruse and/or make use of this document are encouraged to send their comments and constructive criticisms to the author electronically by clicking here. You may also be interested in visiting a companion page created largely by my students entitled Helpful Hints For Students Learning About The Holocaust.  Hopefully, by working together, we can ease the path of those teachers coming after us who share our passion for and dedication to educating the younger generation about one of the critical events in modern history.   Always Remember!

Last Update: November 22, 2000