ASK A TEACHER: Why do you teach the Holocaust?

Posted by Mary Hendra on February 19, 2012

Why do you teach the Holocaust? What do you hope your students will gain from your teaching of the Holocaust? We asked several of our Teacher Leaders and share their responses below. What about YOU? Reply to this blog post with your own thoughts!

Why do I teach the Holocaust? There are so many lessons to be drawn from the Holocaust- I don't know where to begin! From looking at the creation of an Us vs. Them mentality, to tracing the development of negative stereotypes which turn into legalized restrictions which turn into state-sanctioned genocide, to understanding the power of bystanders and upstanders alike. Nothing seems to impart to students the urgency and importance of having the courage to do what is right quite like the Holocaust.
Stephanie Carrillo teaches World Civilization II, American History, and Cultural Diversity at Crossroads School

I teach the Holocaust to humanize a historical event. I think one of the Facing History activities that does this the best is a Cafe Conversation regarding the Election of 1933. The students take on the persona of a German citizen at the end of the Weimar Republic in which they discuss for whom they will be voting. They examine 3 political parties including the Nazi Party Platform based on the facts of their character. It is interesting to see the discussion. The students start to understand the why behind the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party.
Maritza Cha currently teaches U.S. History, Government and Peer Counseling at Social Justice Leadership Academy

When I was a classroom teacher, the question of "Why study the Holocaust?" was often asked by my students at the beginning of our Facing History unit. As an educator, this question should always be welcomed and seen just as legitimate as asking, "Why study biology?" or "Why study Algebra?" Students have a right to ask these questions, and we should be prepared to respond and offer them an understanding of the importance of what we teach and why. I wasn't always welcoming of these questions in my early years as a classroom teacher because frankly, I didn't have a response to what I thought was an obvious answer. It wasn't until I asked myself the same question, "Why do I teach the Holocaust?" that I discovered that my response wasn't so obvious after all. In fact, more questions came to mind for me to reflect upon. For what purpose? To what end? What does this history do for my students and how does it help them in their lives?
After attending a week-long Facing History and Ourselves seminar, I came away with the language, perspective and rationale for why I teach this history. And it has helped me to be a responsible and responsive educator to myself as well as my students who ask me the same question.
We study this history because it is our story. As humans, we search for ways to successfully navigate our world to avoid situations which keep us from growing and moving forward by attaching ourselves to the ideas and experiences which feed and nourish our hearts and minds. We need a map of human behavior, past and present, to help guide us into a world filled with choices and decision-making. We need social tools such as perspective-taking, language, and dispositions which get us further along in a meaningful and purposeful life. The study of the Holocaust offers us clues to who we are, what we can become and where we are going. This history is filled with liberating insights as well as troubling pitfalls to what it means to be human. We all eventually ask ourselves why we are here, what this world needs from us and what we can offer others as we make our lasting imprint on that which lives after us. Be it our children, extended family, the community we live in or the world we share with others - the legacies of the life we live now and tomorrow touches others immeasurably. So let's take this journey together with an open mind and be prepared to learn more about you than you have ever imagined or dared to ask before.
Dan Alba taught history for 16 years, including at his alma mater of Roosevelt High School. Many teachers know him now as a Senior Program Associate with Facing History in Los Angeles

Topics: Holocaust and Human Behavior, A View from the Classroom

Welcome to Learn+Teach+Share

This blog helps Southern California teachers connect directly with each other, share ideas, and learn about new resources and opportunities for those interested in or already implementing Facing History.

Learn More:  

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts