Click here to return to Student 
Projects and Resources page

Helpful Hints for Students Learning About the Holocaust

Teacher's Preface

       I have asked the students in my senior elective class, "Always Remember," a one-semester Holocaust studies course, to offer their advice to other high school students who wish to study the Holocaust.  Since my students' experience learning about the Holocaust has been limited largely to a single course, they have based their helpful hints on the materials and lessons which I have presented to them.  Students who have already taken a similar course and would like some suggestions for more advanced study may wish to consult my Beginning Teacher's Guide to Using the World Wide Web to Teach About the Holocaust.


by Daisy Burns and Porsha Locke

        The Holocaust is a difficult topic to study. As a class of high school seniors, we have explored many different media in order to better understand the Holocaust. At our teacher's request, we have organized our thoughts about some of the materials and media we have been exposed to. We have included different books, films, and Web sites that we have used in our study of the Holocaust. We have provided some information about each and our opinion about whether they were helpful and whether we liked them. We hope that other students find our observations helpful.


        Books are still an excellent resource for learning about the Holocaust.  They are the best way to fully understand the course of events.  They are easy to obtain and to use.  Basic information is best learned from books.  You don't have to jump from link to link, turn up the volume or rewind.  Everything is right in front of you, easily accessible.  On the other hand, books can sometimes be monotonous or boring.  It isn't always interesting to look at words on a page.

        The annotations of the books we have read this semester have been prepared by Leslee Friedman, Jeff Stone, Matt Miksch and Emory Herbertson.

        David Altshuler and Lucy Dawidowicz, Hitler's War Against the Jews is clearly written and illustrated with a wide variety of interesting photographs. It is written in a deceptively simple, straightforward style, but it is actually very opinionated. It presents what scholars refer to as the "intentionalist" view, the idea that Hitler had a detailed planned for killing all the Jews of Europe, a plan which he announced in Mein Kampf and carried out with remarkable determination and consistency.

        Michael Marrus, The Holocaust in History covers almost every important aspect of the history of the Holocaust.  Organized topically and historiographically, it tries to present all sides of the arguments over each major issue.  Because it contains lengthy summaries of the interpretations of different historians, it is often densely packed with ideas and information.  Although it is very insightful and very informative, Marrus's book is NOT an easy read.

        Elie Wiesel, Night is a classic memoir, a first person account written by a well known survivor.  Wiesel writes in an engaging manner.  His sentences are short and to the point.  He tells a very moving story that can be easily understood by any student interested in learning about what it was like to be imprisoned in a concentration camp and survive one of the death marches as well.

        Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz can best be described as an eloquently written memoir by another survivor of Auschwitz.  Like Wiesel, Levi's writing is clear and to the point.  More philosophical than emotional, Levi explains the Nazis' efforts to dehumanize their prisoners and the prisoners' efforts to resist dehumanization.  Levi's reflections are powerful and profound, but his frequent use of French and German phrases, which he usually does not translate, can leave gaps in the reader's understanding.

        Art Spiegelman's Maus was the book that most members of the class liked best.  It was easy to read and understand, and its innovative style and format engaged the reader from the very beginning.  Written from the point of view of the son of a survivor, it illustrates the impact of the Holocaust on the children of survivors while providing yet another perspective on such important topics as ghettos in Poland, the Jewish police, the actions of ordinary Poles in hiding and betraying Jews and life in a concentration camp.  Its presentation in the form of a comic book makes the story easier to grasp and less depressing, but it tells a basically true story and should be taken and studied seriously.

        Carl Friedman's Nightfather, like Maus imaginatively recreates the experiences of the daughter of a survivor.  Creatively narrated from the naive perspective of an eight-year-old, Nightfather helps the reader understand what it feels like to grow up in the constant shadow of the Holocaust.  Short, absorbing and easy reading, this book is also disjointed and must be carefully pondered and discussed to be fully appreciated.

        Although not required reading in our class, Vladka Meed's On Both Sides of the Wall deserves mention as a fascinating account of resistance inside the Warsaw Ghetto.  Well written and going into considerable depth, this survivor memoir provided the basis for Leslee Friedman's very interesting research project.

Web Sites

        The main problem with using the Internet in a course is that not everyone in the class has access to a computer with Internet access at home.  Aside from that, the Internet can be a very useful tool.  The World Wide Web is use friendly, visually appealing, and can provide a great deal of useful information in one place.  Searching the World Wide Web gives you the feeling that you are really discovering something for yourself.  It also provides a welcome break from the usual discussions of reading assignments.

        The following annotations of the two Web sites that our class explored in the greatest depth have been prepared by Erin Mikkelson, Sarah Sight and Jeff Stingley.

        The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students provides an excellent introduction to the Holocaust.  It provides an overview of the history of the Holocaust and a good amount of general information.  It contains attractively displayed visual images, including numerous historic photographs, a good number of color maps and photographs of artifacts from the Museum's collection.  The site is very user friendly and easy to navigate.  We would, however, have liked to have seen even more artifacts displayed, and we believe that the historical introduction to the rise of National Socialism could have been improved by providing a fuller explanation of the political and economic difficulties experienced by the German people during the 1920s and early 1930s.

        The Florida Center for Instructional Technology of the College of Education at the University of South Florida has created A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust which contains a great deal of information that is useful for students who are studying the Holocaust.  The Books section of this site lists a large number of books of interest to students and provides annotations for each.   Included are books about the Germans and books about the victims of the Holocaust.  In our class, we had read survivor memoirs such as Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz and Elie Wiesel's Night.  The Books section of the Teacher's Guide listed other interesting works written by survivors, such as Ida Fink's A Scrap of Time and Other Stories and Tadeusz Borowski's This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, which sounded very interesting.  We also found the section on Art to be interesting and unusual.  It contained a number of interesting paintings, especially a series by David Olere, which students might benefit from studying in class. Finally, the Documents section of this site contains excerpts from important primary sources, including a number of Hitler's speeches.


        We always enjoyed watching films (especially since that usually meant that we didn't have to do any reading homework the night before!).  The combination of the auditory and visual stimulation resulted in a very good learning experience for most students.  Hearing about the Holocaust from real people and watching newsreel footage or dramatic recreations made the events more immediate and more interesting.  When you hear the words of a survivor and you see the emotion on his or her face, the whole experience is more memorable.  Because the Holocaust is such an important event, even Hollywood films attempt to portray every aspect of it as accurately as they can.

       The annotations for each of the films we watched have been written by Hannah Durham, Ben Parkey and Hillary Bownik.


       The Holocaust Through Our Own Eyes , produced by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, serves as a very effective introduction to the Holocaust.  Through the use of newsreel footage and excerpts from interviews with survivors residing in the Greater Kansas City area, this film helped us begin our study of the victims and events of the Holocaust better than any work of literature or Web site could have.

       Night and Fog was one of our favorite videos.  It was unique in the sense that it gave a very dark view of a uniquely brutal reality.  It is short, to the point, and probably one of the most memorable films we watched.  It was particularly effective because we did not view many videos of this type.   One or two is sufficient to impress students with the shocking brutality of the camps.

       We watched Weapons of the Spirit after viewing Night and Fog.  The combination of the two films showed two very different aspects of the Holocaust.  It is important for students to see and hear from people like the French farmers in the village of Le Chambon who risked their own lives to help the intended victims.  We believe that this more uplifting look at an aspect of the Holocaust complements a view highlighting its destructiveness.  We would have preferred to watch the abridged classroom version of this documentary rather than the full length edition.

       Kitty: Return to Auschwitz provided a very informative tour of the women's camp at Birkenau and added additional testimony which we were able to compare with the written testimony provided by Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel.

       One Survivor Remembers, a documentary based on the reminiscences of Gerda Weissmann Klein, was harder to follow or appreciate than those listed above, perhaps because we viewed it early in the semester before we were more familiar with the course of events.

       The excerpts we watched from the Jewish Heritage Project's Lodz Ghetto gave us a realistic picture of life in one of the largest and long-lived of the ghettos created by the Nazis.

Popular Films

       Although Escape From Sobibor has all of the usual characteristics of a Hollywood film, it held our attention better than any other film we watched.  We were able to recall important details about the death camp, the nature of Jewish resistance and the daring escape of nearly three hundred prisoners in October 1943.  For most students in the class, this was the film they enjoyed the most.  (Our understanding of the nature of Jewish resistance and the events depicted in the film were enhanced by a lecture derived from Richard Rashke's book Escape From Sobibor, upon which the film is based. A review essay of Rashke's book by our instructor, containing most of the points presented in the lecture, can be accessed by clicking here .)

       Au Revoir, Les Enfants, based on the childhood memories of well known French director Louis Malle, is the heartwarming story of the unsuccessful efforts of a few French monks to save several Jewish children from the Nazis.  It provided a welcome break from some of the more depressing depictions of the Holocaust, and it reminded us that not all of the victims of the Holocaust nor all of the collaborators resided in Central and Eastern Europe.


       We hope that our observations have proved helpful to any students who have visited this site.  If any teachers have snuck in, they are also welcome.  Whether you are a student or a teacher, if you would like to comment on what you have seen or ask any questions of our instructor, please e-mail your comments to Dr. Carl Schulkin at

       This page was last updated on November 22, 2000.