The Holocaust: Questions and Activities for Thought and Discussion

These discussion questions and activities are being used by one Interdisciplinary Team of North Hagerstown High School as a guide to visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They can be adapted for use with any unit of study on the Holocaust.

Teachers: This guide contains an exhaustive number of questions. It would take more than the usually allotted time for one student to correctly answer all of these questions by touring the museum. It is up to you to decide how this guide is best used. One suggestion might include selecting which questions you want the students to answer. Another might involve assigning certain questions to groups of students, or assigning a single question to one or more students. The "debriefing" process, where students discuss the content and artifacts of the museum after the visit, is where important learning takes place. It is during that process that this guide can be brought together by the answers and experiences of the students who have toured the museum.

Before Visiting The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

1) Ask yourself: What do I know about the Holocaust? Make a list of words or phrases that you think are related to the Holocaust. Try to define the terms on your list either verbally or in writing. Then compare your list and definitions with others in your class.

2) Your list may contain the following terms:

  1. Holocaust
  2. Anti-Semitism
  3. Pogrom
  4. Police State
  5. Final Solution
  6. Concentration camp
  7. Extermination camp
  8. Genocide
  9. Nazi Party
  10. Adolph Hitler
  11. Auschwitz
  12. Eugenics
  13. Euthanasia
  14. Resistance
  15. Liberation

You may want to develop your own vocabulary list based on what you know or want to know. It may include general ideas, or it may include specific people, places, and ideas from the Holocaust period. Abother alternative is to generate a list of terms that are associated or connected with each other. In class, discuss why you placed those terms in the groups that you did. Example: Jew: religion, race, people, star, Israel.

3) Ask yourself: what do I WANT to know about the Holocaust?

Make a list of questions you would like answered by visiting the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Compare your list with others in the class. Does your list include these "frequently asked questions" about the Holocaust?

  • Why did Hitler and the Nazi Party hate the Jews?
  • Were other people killed along side the Jewish people of Europe?
  • How did the Nazis identify people who were Jewish?
  • How did they get the Jews of other countries to go to the concentration camps?
  • How did the Nazi Party convince the German people to hate and eventually allow the killing of 6,000,000 Jewish people and 5,000,000 non-Jewish people?
  • How does a concentration camp differ from an extermination camp?
  • What was it like to be removed from ones home and sent to these camps?
  • What did the German people know about what was happening in the camps?
  • How did Jewish people and anti-Nazi European citizens fight back?
  • What effect did the events of the Holocaust have on those who survived the camps?
  • What conditions existed that allowed people to inflict such cruelty?
  • What motivated survivors to live from one day to the next? What "coping skills" did they use?
  • How were children treated in the camps?
  • How were the lives of the children of survivors changes by their parents' experiences?

While at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

The following questions are based on the book entitled The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust As Told By the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, by Michael Berenbaum. Little Brown, & Co., New York, 1993. 240 pp.

Part One: The Nazi Assault

1) What was your first impression after stepping off the elevator onto the 4th floor of the museum? Why do you think the start of the exhibit was designed with the simulation of the experience of that of an American soldier arriving at the concentrati on camps in April, 1945? Support your response with evidence.

2) What forms did anti-Semitism take in Europe before the 20th century?

3) What were the conditions in Germany during the 1920s that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler? What were some of the cultural, societal, and personal pressures on young people during this time that may have caused them to act one way or another in response to the growing power of Nazism? If possible, support your response with pictures, artifacts, or written passages from the exhibit.

4) What steps did Hitler take to secure absolute power after becoming Chancellor of Germany in 1933? (Teacher: Encourage students to engage in the additional research that may be needed to create a detailed timeline of the events that led to Hitler's ascension to the chancellorship and consolidation of power afterward).

5) By what methods did Nazi authorities differentiate Jews from non-jews in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe? List tests, forms, or theories that were used at the time to separate the Jewish population from the population in general.

6) What did the Nuremburg Race Laws of 1935 state? What effect did these laws have on German Jews? How did Jewish people in Germany respond to this legislation?

7) In what ways was Germany during the Hitler period a police state? Give several examples in terms of events or policies.

8) What did the Evian conference of 1938 deal with? What did the conference conclude?

Examine the cartoon in the Evian conference section. Based on the drawing answer the following questions:

A) Are there recognizable symbols in this cartoon? What are they?
B) What is the title of the cartoon?
C) What/who is the central focus of the cartoon?
D) Where is the cartoon character sitting?
E) Based on the cartoon, who do you think is saying "Go" and who is saying "Stop"?
F) What does the cartoon suggest is Nazi policy toward Jews in the 1930's?
G) How does the cartoonist portray the Evian conference in relation to the cartoon character?

If you have trouble answering any of these questions, you can search for clues in the text panel next to it.

9) Make a list of all of the "enemies of the state" as seen by the Nazi Party. What other types of people were subject to persecution by the Nazis?

10) Describe what happened during the Night of Broken Glass (Kristalnacht), November 9, 1938. Use elements from the museum's exhibit to illustrate the happenings of that historical event.

11) On what basis were handicapped individuals murdered after the war began? Based on evidence in the exhibit (photos, uniform, Hitler's memorandum) who was responsible for administering the murder of the handicapped? Where was the killing performed? Based on this information from the exhibit, develop a theory about how much people in Germany may have known about the murder of the handicapped. Was there any opposition to this program of euthanasia?

Part Two: The Holocaust

12) What steps did the Nazis take against Jews living in occupied countries?

13) How did Jews in those countries avoid capture? What do the exhibits tell you about life as a Jew in occupied Europe? What position did non-Jews take as they witnessed what was happening to the Jewish community living among them?

14) What was it like to live in the Jewish Ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe? How were these Ghettos governed?

15) Was the Jewish Ghetto of the Holocaust period different or similar in any way to the ghettos of the inner city in modern America? How?

16) React to the poetry of the children of the ghetto. What would it have been like to live there? Can we even begin to imagine what it was like from our historical perspective?

17) What was the Wannsee Conference designed to do? How did this event mark a change in Nazi policy towards the Jews of Europe?

18) What does the Warsaw ghetto uprising say about the state of mind of the Jews living there? Why do you think the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto waited until 1943 after most of the inhabitants had been deported and killed to resist with weapons (the Oneg Shabbat archives began earlier)?" Are there examples in the exhibit of ways that the Nazis discouraged resistance by their victims?

19) Imagine what it was like to ride in a boxcar to the concentration camp. What steps would people have taken to survive through the experience of deportation and imprisonment? Address the needs of the young, old, or those with medical conditions in your response.

20) How was Auschwitz different from the other concentration camps? Describe what it was like to arrive there.

21) Reaction requested: The Final days of A Shtetl. On September 25 and 26, 1941, German execution squads (Einsatzgruppen), murdered the 3,000 people of the Lithuanian town of Ejsziszki (pronounced A-shish-key). This small town is unique in that a photographic record of its population was captured by four photographers before the war. As you view these photographs, configured in a massive tower that stretches up through the four levels of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, describe your impressions and thoughts. How does the photographic record give the history of the Holocaust a human face? Does your family have a picture album that resembles the photographs of Ejsziszki?

Part Three: The Last Chapter

22) For each of the nations listed, describe in a sentence or two how the nation reacted to the plight of the Jews experiencing persecution by the Nazis. Use historical events as demonstrated by the museum's artifacts to support your statement on the pos ition of the nation or government.

  • The United States
  • Demark
  • The Netherlands
  • France
  • Italy

    23) Matching: Complete these descriptions of the contributions of the following people (Teacher: it will be difficult for a student to locate all of these answers. You may want to have the class complete the exercise as a group after the museum visit and combine students' answers into a group response).

    1. A diplomat from Sweden who helped protect thousands of Hungarian Jews.

    2. A young Dutch girl who wrote a diary that would inspire the world.

    3. Chairman of the Warsaw ghetto Judenrat or Jewish Council.


    4. Historian who hid the record of living in the ghetto in a milk can.

    5. Leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

    6. German anti-Nazi pastor who condemned inaction in a call to early action.

    7. A Lutheran minister who helped conspire to remove Hitler from power.
    8. Monarch of Denmark who expressed solidarity with his nations Jews.

    9. German citizen helped save thousands of Jews by having them work in his munitions factory.

    10. Help save Jews from deportation in Italy.

    A. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    B. Raoul Wallenburg

    C. Rabbi Nathan Cassuto

    D. Oskar Schindler

    E. Anne Frank

    F. King Christian X

    G. Reverend Martin Niemoller

    H. Mordechai Anielewicz

    I. Adam Czerniakow

    J. Emmanuel Ringelblum


    1. A diplomat from Sweden who helped protect thousands of Hungarian Jews. B. Raoul Wallenburg
    2. A young Dutch girl who wrote a diary that would inspire the world. E. Anne Frank
    3. Chairman of the Warsaw ghetto Judenrat or Jewish Council.
      I. Adam Czerniakow
    4. Historian who hid the record of living in the ghetto in a milk can. J. Emmanuel Ringelblum
    5. Leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
      H. Mordechai Anielewicz
    6. German anti-Nazi pastor who condemned inaction in a call to early action. G. Reverend Martin Niemoller
    7. A Lutheran minister who helped conspire to remove Hitler from power. A. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    8. Monarch of Denmark who expressed solidarity with his nations Jews. F. King Christian X
    9. German citizen helped save thousands of Jews by having them work in his munitions factory. D. Oskar Schindler
    10. Help save Jews from deportation in Italy. 
      C. Rabbi Nathan Cassuto

    24) Based on what you know about how blacks were being treated in America during this time period, what affect do you think the experiences of black American soldiers who liberated concentration camps had on their view of the world and their own experiences?

    25) Where was the Nazi war crimes tribunal held? Why did the victorious allies choose Nuremberg as the location for these trials?

    After Visiting The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

    26) What aspects of the history of the Holocaust did you find most relevant to your own experiences? Do you think that people today can learn something from this history? If so, what? If not, why not?

    27) Could a government such as the one Hitler created ever have taken shape in the United States? List the differences between American democracy and Hitlerian authoritarianism.

    28) What elements of German culture might have contributed to Hitler's success in making anti-Semitism part of Germany's political landscape? Do these elements still exist? Teacher: arrange an on-line e-mail exchange with German citizens or youth. Have your participants comment on German culture today or describe how it differs from the Germany of the 1930s and 1940s.

    29) What groups are still discriminated against today in the United States? In Germany? describe other examples of segregation, discrimination, and persecution in today's global society. What steps can be taken to fight these examples of inhuman behavior?

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    Many thanks to those people who contributed to the development of this guide. Your guidance was instrumental in making it a worthwhile effort. GC.

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