Helpful Hints for Students Learning About the Holocaust
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
This page was last updated on
November 22, 2000.