The History of the Holocaust

Lesson Plans by Richard Cleggett, Matt Campbell, and John Gillis

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History of Holocaust Lesson Plans | What led to the Holocaust?

Student Activities for The History of the Holocaust Include:

The Holocaust was a 20th century genocide of staggering proportions. Over the course of twelve years, the Nazi Party brutally and systematically killed nearly six million Jews and five million other victims. It remains a profoundly tragic chapter of world history.

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The History of the Holocaust Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Rise of Nazism and Foundations of Genocide

Events Leading to Holocaust
Events Leading to Holocaust


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In this activity, students will create a timeline representing the events that led to the systematic and bureaucratic execution of over six million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, Slavs, “racially inferior” individuals, and any other enemies of the Nazis. Students will depict these events and describe how they are interconnected within the Holocaust.

Treaty of Versailles The Treaty of Versailles brought an end to World War I. Germany was forced to admit full responsibility for starting the war, was required to pay reparations for their belligerence, and was forbidden from raising an army over 100,000 soldiers.
Mein Kampf Mein Kampf was a widely read political manifesto by Adolph Hitler. Hitler’s work outlined his goals to bring Germany out of its humiliated state following WWI. Hitler argued that Germany’s struggles were caused by the Jewish race and in order to save Germany, it would need to “purify” itself of Jewish “parasites”.
Hitler Named Chancellor of Germany Hitler is elected as Chancellor of Germany. His plan was to quickly create a unified, one-party state. Hitler ordered an expansion of a state police force that would seek out political opponents to his National Socialist or “Nazi” party.
Anti Jewish Boycott The Nazis carried out a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses throughout Germany. Jewish businessmen had their stores and offices blocked by the Nazi Stormtroopers (SA). Although the boycott lasted only a day, it represents the first government-ordered actions against Jews.
Nazi Book Burning The Nazi German Student Association burned any and all works of literature that were seen as “un-German”. All works by Jews, regardless of topic, were burned along with any other work that stood in the way of the new German ideology.
Nuremberg Laws The Nazi government enacted a series of laws that reflected Hitler’s objective of purifying Germany of Jews. These laws revoked German citizenship from Jews and outlawed intermarriage or relations between Germans and Jews.
Anti Semitic Exhibition Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels opened his Anti-Semitic Exhibition known as Der Ewige Jude or “The Eternal Jew” in the German Library in Munich. This anti-semitic exhibit was seen by over 400,000 and attempted to convince viewers of Jewish conspiracies to cripple the German state.
Kristallnacht Kristallnacht, otherwise known as the “Night of Broken Glass” was the name given to the violent and destructive acts that took place throughout Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Sudenland. Over the span of a day, 267 synagogues and numerous Jewish-owned businesses were damaged or destroyed.
Jewish Exclusion from Economic Life The Nazi government ordered a ban on all Jewish businesses throughout Germany. Jews were forbidden from selling any goods. Combined with the Nuremberg Laws, Jews living in Germany were essentially exiled from public life.
Warsaw Ghetto Established The Nazi government enacted numerous anti-Jewish laws that forbade them from much of society in Poland. Jews in Warsaw were to be confined in an enclosed ghetto. Jews throughout Poland were forced into the Warsaw Ghetto, with nearly half a million occupants confined to a few square miles. Following their confinement, many Jews were deported to concentration camps.

Extended Activity

To extend this activity, students can detail the event they found most significant in causing of the Holocaust. In the description boxes, students will answer the following questions.

  1. Describe the event or action.
  2. What lead to this event?
  3. Who was impacted by this event?
  4. Why is this the most significant event that led to the Holocaust?

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Perspectives of a Holocaust Victim

The History of the Holocaust - Victims of The Holocaust: Primo Levy
The History of the Holocaust - Victims of The Holocaust: Primo Levy


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In this activity, students will create a traditional storyboard that represents the experience of a victim of the Holocaust. This assignment will first require students to research an individual that was impacted by the events of the Holocaust. Once students have found a resource, such as an autobiography or interview, they will choose a series of quotes that they found to be the most profound. These quotes will act as an outline for the storyboard. Students should include each quote in the text box below and create a corresponding representation of the quote.

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Life in the Camps: Victims of the Holocaust

The History of the Holocaust - Life in Auschwitz
The History of the Holocaust - Life in Auschwitz


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In this activity, students will create a traditional storyboard to research and outline what defined life in the Auschwitz Labor/Death camp that existed during the Holocaust. Students will analyze and explain what constituted prisoners’ arrival, their daily life, experiences, and ultimately their fate in Auschwitz. This will give a general perspective of life in the camp and what prisoners experienced.

Life in Auschwitz

  1. The Selection Process

  2. Arriving at Auschwitz

  3. Living Conditions

  4. Labor / Routine

  5. Punishments / Infractions

  6. Departure

Extended Activity 1

For an extended activity, students will create an additional storyboard that represents the life of a survivor after the Holocaust. Students can refer to the following links to assist them in their research. Students should find a survivor that has contributed to the preservation of the history of the Holocaust and represent the actions they have taken to do so.

Extended Activity 2

Have students research and outline another labor or death camp that had existed throughout the Holocaust. Students should be aware that although similarities exist among life in each camp, camps operated and functioned differently as well. This will expand students’ perspectives on how camps operated, and allow students to look at camps comparatively.

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Visual Vocabulary

Important Vocabulary for the Holocaust
Important Vocabulary for the Holocaust


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In this activity, students will use a spider map to define major terms used in discussing the Holocaust. This will allow students to understand the basic, essential terminology associated with the Holocaust, thereby enabling better understanding of the Holocaust and why it happened. Students will be able to define and analyze these terms and their relations to the Holocaust.

Terms include: indoctrination, anti-semitism, genocide, dehumanization, and nationalism. Teachers, however, may pre-select any additional terms they deem necessary.

Example Holocaust Vocabulary


Indoctrination is the act of indoctrinating, or teaching a specific idea, ideology, opinion, or a specific perspective. Indoctrination was used to manipulate and educate the youth of Germany to perceive Jews, gypsies, and other "racially inferior" peoples as lesser than that of the German Aryan race.


Antisemitism is the discrimination and prejudice against Judaism and the Jewish people. Nazis and Nazi sympathizers held extremely strong anti-Semitic views, contributing to their persecution and maltreatment.


Bias is a trend, feeling, opinion, inclination, or viewpoint that is preconceived, or unreasoned and hostile. Nazis and Nazi sympathizers were biased against Jews, homosexuals, and others considered "undesirables". Biases held great precedent in Nazi Germany.


Nationalism is the pride in one's country. It is the devotion and complete loyalty to the state, expressed with acts and actions of patriotism. Feelings of nationalism helped fuel Nazi Germany, even in regards to the acts committed throughout the Holocaust.


Genocide is the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group. The Nazis committed genocide against the Jews and other ethnic populations who existed in the countries and areas they controlled.


Dehumanization is the act in which one is deprived of human qualities or attributes. It divests people of individuality. In Nazi Germany, propaganda, indoctrination, and education was aimed at dehumanizing Jews and other ethnic groups. Dehumanization was also used to control and initiate the events of the Holocaust.

Extended Activity

Have students expand further on one of the terms defined in their spider map. Students could expand on how the term applies to understanding the Holocaust in more depth, and its relation to a broader perspective on why the Holocaust occurred.

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German Jewish Perspective

Why didn't the Jews leave?
Why didn't the Jews leave?


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Why didn’t the Jews leave Germany when the Nazis came to power?

In this activity, students will create a spider map that answers the question, “Why didn’t the Jews leave Nazi Germany?” This frequently asked question is less difficult to answer than many might suppose. There were very practical reasons why Jews could not leave Nazi-controlled Europe.

A great place to start research on this activity is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Why didn’t the Jews Leave Nazi Germany?

  1. Difficult Emigration Bureaucracy

  2. Hope

  3. Hard to Find Safe Havens

  4. Patriotism

  5. Financially Impossible

Extended Activity

For an extended activity, students will create a storyboard that focuses on a specific individual or family who attempted to leave Germany. In addition, students could create a storyboard that focuses on the ship the St. Louis. This ship left Germany in 1939 full of Jewish refugees. It eventually had to return to Europe because no nation in the Americas would take the refugees. A good place to begin research on the St. Louis is here.

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History of Anti-Semitism in Europe

History of Anti-Semitism
History of Anti-Semitism


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In this activity, students will create a timeline that highlights the development of anti-semitism in Europe. This activity addresses the question that many students ask when they study the Holocaust: “Why did the Nazis single out the Jews?” The timeline should start with destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Students should view the 13 minute documentary that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum hosts on the history of anti-semitism in Europe.

History of Anti-Semitism Timeline


The Romans Destroy the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem

Not long after the death of Jesus, Roman soldiers destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Many early Christians incorrectly blamed the Jews for the death of their prophet.

State and Church Laws Restrict Jews

The Church and the State maintained many restrictions against the Jews. During the era of early Christendom, Jews were forced to take lesser jobs in banking and trade.

The Crusades

After Pope Urban II stated that he wanted to regain control of Jerusalem, the Crusades began. Crusaders killed thousands of Jews as they crossed Europe to Jerusalem.

The Black Plague

During the Middle Ages, Jews were accused of poisoning the drinking water and causing the Black Plague.

The Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther

Many Jews refused to convert to Lutheranism. Martin Luther initially felt disappointed, but later felt that the Jewish community had to be destroyed.

The Dreyfus Affair

French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was a high-ranking Jewish military officer. He was framed for selling secrets to the Germans. He served five years in a remote prison for a crime he did not commit.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

In the early 1900s, Russian secret police created an elaborate false document attacking the Jews. The document claimed that Jewish leaders were planning to take over the world. This lie fueled antisemitic feelings across the globe.

Pseudo-Scientific Racial Theories

In the later 19th century and into the early 20th century, pseudo-scientific theories developed regarding Jews being a race of people with 'inferior blood'. These ideas were reinforced by old stereotypes, and became widely accepted.

Extended Activity

For an extended activity, students could create a similar timeline storyboard for other groups that have faced long-term persecution. Native Americans or Africans would provide a good focus for this kind of activity.

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The History of the Holocaust

The Great War devastated Germany. After the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, Germany went into a deep depression. Germany had to pay reparations for World War I to other countries and limit their military. Economy and industry were debilitated and Germany entered into a hyper-inflationary period. The German people suffered greatly, and blamed their leaders for prolonging the war and then badly negotiating terms in the Treaty of Versailles.

The success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia spread fears of communist expansion. Many political activists were imprisoned for instigating political unrest. A prevalent attitude among the German people was a preference for an authoritative government or leading body.

Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, a political manifesto, while serving time in prison for treason. Hitler blamed Germany’s disastrous economy on the Jewish race. After only serving nine months of a five-year sentence, Hitler, a mesmerizing speaker, drummed up enough political power and support to become Chancellor of Germany. His National Socialist Party (Nazi Party) took over and drastically changed Germany.

This guide presents a variety of topics and activities that will help teachers engage students in a discussion about the Holocaust to further develop an understanding of this very complex topic. These activities are meant to help students grasp daunting questions about what lead to the bureaucratic and systematic extermination of the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other individuals that the Nazis deemed “undesirable”. Student can represent the causes of the Holocaust and explain how the horrors of the Holocaust came to be.

Essential Questions for The History of the Holocaust

  1. What is genocide?
  2. What were the factors and events leading up to the Holocaust?
  3. What is anti-semitism and when has it occurred throughout history?

Check out other lesson plans on history and literature during World War II and Holocaust

The History of the Holocaust

Introduction to World War II

World War II: 1939-1941

World War II: 1942-1945

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Night by Elie Wiesel

The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal

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•   (English) The History of the Holocaust   •   (Español) La Historia del Holocausto   •   (Français) L'histoire de L'Holocauste   •   (Deutsch) Die Geschichte des Holocaust   •   (Italiana) La Storia Della Shoah   •   (Nederlands) De Geschiedenis van de Holocaust   •   (Português) A História do Holocausto   •   (עברית) ההיסטוריה של השואה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) تاريخ المحرقة   •   (हिन्दी) प्रलय का इतिहास   •   (ру́сский язы́к) История Холокоста   •   (Dansk) Historien om Holocaust   •   (Svenska) Historien om Förintelsen   •   (Suomi) Historia Holokaustin   •   (Norsk) Historien om Holocaust   •   (Türkçe) Soykırım Tarihi   •   (Polski) Historia Holokaustu   •   (Româna) Istoria Holocaustului   •   (Ceština) Dějiny Holocaustu   •   (Slovenský) História Holokaustu   •   (Magyar) A Története a Holokauszt   •   (Hrvatski) Povijest Holokausta   •   (български) Историята на Холокоста   •   (Lietuvos) Holokausto Istorija   •   (Slovenščina) Zgodovina Holokavsta   •   (Latvijas) Vēsture Holokaustu   •   (eesti) Ajalugu Holokausti