The History of the Holocaust

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

Find these Common Core aligned lesson plans and more like them in our World History Category.

History of Holocaust Lesson Plans

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

The Rise of Nazism and Foundations of Genocide

Events Leading to Holocaust Timeline
Events Leading to Holocaust Timeline


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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 will create a Spider Map detailing 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

    The selection process in which Jews and other ethnic groups were taken to concentration/death camps began with identification. Jews, gypsies, enemies of the Nazi regimes, prisoners of war, and others were identified and forced onto trains that brought them to a variety of camps, one of which was Auschwitz. In all, over 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, and of those, 1.1 million were murdered.

  2. Arriving at Auschwitz

    Deportees arrived at Auschwitz mostly by train. Several trains arrived daily beginning in 1942. In 1944, tracks were laid directly into the camp to support the transportation of 440,000 Hungarian Jews. Upon arrival, they were forced off the trains, leaving all possessions behind. Immediately, prisoners were identified as able or not able. If they were deemed too weak, they were sent immediately to their deaths.

  3. Living Conditions

    Prisoners who survived the initial selection process were forced to endure deplorable living conditions. They were assigned to wooden barracks, where up to several hundred prisoners would be housed. There was little protection against natural elements, and barracks generally contained two small stoves for heat, and no windows. Sanitation was essentially non-existent, and prisoners were forced to utilize the little resources available to carry out everyday sanitary functions.

  4. Labor / Routine

    Every morning, roll call was taken. Roll call could last for hours, as prisoners endured weather conditions. Each prisoner was assigned to a task at Auschwitz, and most labor centered around expanding the camp, harvesting resources, or disposing of the deceased. However, if a prisoner's labor was lacking, they were killed. At the end of the day, another roll call was taken, which again could take hours. Days were long and strenuous on the already weakened prisoners.

  5. Punishments / Infractions

    In terms of infractions, anything and everything could be deemed punishable. Infractions included stealing extra food or clothing, or not performing labor to the Nazi overseers' expectations. More often than not, punishment usually meant death for any and every infraction to ensure obedience, and remind everyone that resistance was futile.

  6. Departure

    Of the 1.3 million people brought to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were murdered. Auschwitz became a primary death camp towards 1944-45, as many were brought there for the mere purpose of being executed. However, the camp was liberated in 1945, and several thousand survivors were still there, weak and ill. Escape was far and few between. As Soviet forces approached, many were forced on death marches to other camps.

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 amongst 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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Holocaust Vocabulary Lesson Plan

The History of the Holocaust - Terminologies in Understanding the Holocaust
The History of the Holocaust - Terminologies in Understanding 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: Analytical Spider Map

The History of the Holocaust - Why didn't the Jews leave?
The History of the Holocaust - 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

    On top of a passport and certification from police and tax offices, potential emigrants had to have an entrance visa from another nation. They could also only take a very limited sum of money.

  2. Hope

    Many Jews felt that they could deal with the persecution of the Nazis until the German government regained stability.

  3. Hard to Find Safe Havens

    Finding a nation that would take in emigrants in the 1930s was impossible. At the Evian conference in 1938, most nations, including the USA and Great Britain, refused to take in more refugees.

  4. Patriotism

    German Jews were just as proud of their nation as non-German Jews. Ten thousand German Jews died fighting for their nation in WWI.

  5. Financially Impossible

    After 1937, Jews needed to pay a 25% tax on all of their assets and a 25% capital transfer tax. This was an impossibility for most families.

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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The History of Anti-Semitism in Europe Timeline

The History of the Holocaust - History of Anti-Semitism
The History of the Holocaust - 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