History Through Literature – The Holocaust

Learning about the Holocaust is a sensitive and disheartening task, yet a necessary one.  Citizens of the globe need to understand the international conditions and attitudes that enabled the Nazi regime to carry out and nearly succeed in the systematic extermination of the Jewish population.  It was among the darkest days in the history of humanity and the importance of understanding it lies in the need to ensure it never happens again.  To truly understand history is to learn from it, better understand ourselves in the process, and use this knowledge to create a brighter future.

Recently one of my English Language Arts students came across a short story about the Holocaust in her ELA textbook and expressed an interest in learning more about the event.  I took this as an opportunity to engage her in a course she sometimes has difficulty finding motivation for, by creating a cross-curricular unit plan on the Holocaust, using various forms of text.  It is the first of a series of workbooks I plan to create, entitled ‘History Through Literature,’ for use in Outreach Schools in particular, as a supplementary resource to the distance learning materials generally used.  By creating a thematic approach to literature based upon historical events, I believe students will see greater relevance in ELA lessons that also meet Social Studies curriculum outcomes.

The engagement factor works the other way too.  By teaching Social Studies using more than just informational sources such as textbooks, and assigning a chapter with questions at the end, there is a chance of capturing the student’s emotions and heart. This is especially true if you are able to bring more personal and creative texts into the course, such as poetry, diary entries, short stories, novels, film, political cartoons/posters etc. If you can create a passion for the course material in the student, then they more often than not will produce something spectacular.

FREE UNIT PLAN DOWNLOAD FOR TEACHERS – History Through Literature – The Holocaust

The attached Unit Plan on the Holocaust explores the tragic event through the use of the following texts:

  1. Video Clip – Helga’s Diary: The Holocaust Through The Eyes Of…
  2. Article – Holocaust At A Glance – National WWII Museum (U.S.A.)
  3. Poem – ‘First They Came’ by Martin Niemöller
  4. Posters/Cartoons – Nazi Propaganda Posters
  5. Film – ‘The Book Thief’
  6. Diary Entries – Excerpts from ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’
  7. Statistics – Documenting Numbers of Victims of the Holocaust
  8. News Article – ‘Escape Tunnel, Dug by Hand, Is Found . . .’
  9. Poem – ‘The Burning of the Books’ by Bertolt Brecht
  10. Poem – ‘Shema’ by Primo Levi
  11. Timeline – Anne Frank Interactive Timeline

Further Reading (Exploring the Holocaust Through Literature)

  1. Maus – Art Spiegelman
  2. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
  3. Night – Elie Wiesel
  4. The Zookeeper’s Wife – Diane Ackerman
  5. A Scrap of Time – Ida Fink
  6. The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
  7. Auschwitz and After – Charlotte Delbo
  8. Why? Explaining the Holocaust – Peter Hayes
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