Ethnic and religious diversity
This lesson is based on material from the Holocaust Educational Trust. You can find their Citizenship resources by following the link to the left. HET also run a team of outreach educators and can put you in touch with Holocaust survivors for school visits.
January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Students look at the responsibilities of bystanders who witness prejudice and discrimination.
- What was the Holocaust
- What the Holocaust teaches us about the responsibilities of bystanders
Consider this dilemma:
Imagine you see a teenager being beaten in the street by a gang. Do you have the right to try to stop the beating? Do you have a responsibility to try to stop the beating?
In pairs think of:
- Three reasons people might give for getting involved
- Three reasons they would give for walking away.
- What the effect on the gang members would be if no one stops them.
- What the effect would be of 1 person trying to stop them.
- What the effect would be of everyone around trying to stop them.
By talking and learning about what people did in the past, we can understand ourselves more deeply and help ourselves make the right decisions when faced with dilemmas in society today
The Genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany and Nazi Occupied Europe shows how rights were taken away from some groups. It provides an example of what can happen if ordinary people allow prejudice or indifference to override their moral responsibilities.
Introduce the Holocaust using our guide, for more in depth information follow the links at top left of this page.
The following sources refer to bystanders during the Holocaust. Read through and then look at the points for discussion.
An American soldier involved in the liberation of Europe, Alex Schoenberg said:
"We mentioned one thing to a German family in a town we had taken, that there was a concentration camp about four and a half miles from where they lived and they acted very surprised. They didn't know about it. But they did know, they did know about it. They had to be blind or deaf not to know about it. They saw cars and trucks going there and cars and trucks coming back. Cars and trucks going with people on them and the trucks returned with no people on them."
Jan Pitons lived very near the death camp of Sobibor in Poland. Years later he said this about what he witnessed there and how he responded:
"Near the end of March 1942, sizable groups of Jews were herded here, groups of fifty to one hundred people. Several trains arrived with sections of barracks with posts, barbed wire, bricks, and construction of the camp as such began. The Jews unloaded these cars and carted the sections of barracks to the camps. The Germans made them work extremely fast. Seeing the pace they worked at - it was extremely brutal - and seeing the complex being built, and the fence, which, after all, enclosed a vast space, we realised that what the Germans were building wasn't meant to aid mankind. Early in June the first convoy arrived. I'd say there were over forty cars. With the convoy were SS men in black uniforms. It happened one afternoon. I had just finished work but I got on my bicycle and went home."
Primo Levi, an Italian Holocaust survivor, wrote:
"How is it possible that the extermination of millions of human beings could have been carried out in the heart of Europe without anyone's knowledge? In Hitler's Germany a particular code was widespread: Those who knew did not talk; those who did not know did not ask questions; those who did ask questions received no answers."
In October 1941, Gestapo chief, Heinrich Muller, issued the following order:
"It has repeatedly come to our notice recently that persons of German blood continue to maintain friendly relations with Jews and appear with them in public in a blatant fashion" my orders are that in such cases the person of German blood concerned is to be taken into protective custody for educational purposes or in serious cases to be transferred to a concentration camp, Grade 1."
Inge Deutschkron was a German Jew who survived the war hiding in Berlin. She said
"This is no longer home, you see. And especially it's no longer home when they start telling me that they didn't know, they didn't know. They say they didn't see. 'Yes, there were Jews living in our house, and one day they were no longer there. We didn't know what happened.' They couldn't help seeing it. It wasn't a matter of one action. These were actions that were taking place over almost two years. Every fortnight people were thrown out of the houses. How could they escape it? How could they not see it?"
Points for discussion
Why do you think so many non-Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe later claimed that they did not know what had happened to the Jews?
If non-Jews really did know what was happening to the Jews, why do you think most of them did nothing to help them? Give as many different reasons as you can.
Consider this quote from the historian Ian Kershaw.
"The road to Auschwitz was built by hate but paved with indifference."
- Indifference means not caring..
- What do you think Ian Kershaw means in this quote?
- Do you agree with this statement?
- What else do you think makes someone a bystander as well as 'indifference'?
These links serve as a starting point for teachers and students researching the subject.
The Holocaust Educational Trust
Online Citizenship resource
Information about the Holocaust Memorial Day
Holocaust Memorial Day education resources
Anne Frank Educational Trust
The Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library
London Jewish Cultural Centre
Beth Shalom, Holocaust Centre in Nottingham
The Imperial War Museum
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum