The Holocaust raises important questions and resists easy answers.
This is the conclusion that I have come to from almost a half century of studying the Holocaust and this is the reason that I am so impressed by Beth Krasemann’s work, The Holocaust By Inquiry.
Read the Table of Contents for a moment and notice that she asks so many important questions; read the actual content, chapter by chapter, and see how she weighs the evidence carefully, never quite offering an answer but inviting an inquiry. She provides the readers, students and teacher alike, the raw material from which scholars have come to their learned conclusions. Documents, which for historians are the basic building blocks for understanding of an event, are presented. Documents are treated in context – historical, governmental and personal. She quotes from Diaries, which like governmental documents were often written contemporaneously with the historical event and most importantly personalize the event, making it real as experienced in the actual life of men, women and children. She dares to use the personal accounts of perpetrators rejecting the presumption that to understand is to forgive but also most sensitive to the fact that some of their self-justifications were the lies they told themselves. Denial of the Holocaust did not begin after the Holocaust.
Pedagogical approach to each inquiry
Each inquiry centers on a basic question and unfolds in a nearly identical fashion. The teacher introduces the topic by drawing on the historical background offered at the beginning of each chapter.
Introduction: Students can read a short introduction to the topic for homework or the teacher can introduce the topic with a short lecture. Further, the students can be asked about what they know about a particular event, drawing from any prior knowledge. Then, the teacher can ask students to think of any questions they might have about the event.
Opening hook: The teacher projects or shares an image, short video clip, or short reading about the topic. Here are some examples: an image of Ecclesia for an inquiry on antisemitism, an image of children playing in the ghetto at Terezín in discussing ghettos, a film clip from the opening ceremonies to analyze the 1936 Olympics, or a chart illustrating the 1932 German parliament election results to explore how Hitler was elected. Once the hook is presented, the students are asked to make observations, share their insights and brainstorm questions they have based on the opening hook. The teacher can elicit further questions to focus the research.
Fundamental questions: Teachers introduce a series of essential questions that will further drive critical thinking. In each inquiry, one animating question frames the entire inquiry but there are always multiple questions to intellectually pursue to gain a deep understanding of the topic.
The documents: The students are handed a packet of the documents with the driving inquiry question on the front page. Many of the historical sources presented in this book are visual so those can be projected on a screen. Students can also be told what the assessment will be at the end of the inquiry, so they know how to focus their thinking. For example, in the inquiry pursuing an answer to the question: why did the Weimar Republic fail? The students write a fictional, detailed biography of a likely Nazi Party supporter. As the students progress through the inquiry, they focus their attention on evidence that helps them write a compelling narrative.
Discussion: After an analysis of all the documents, the teacher returns to the overarching themes and driving questions for the inquiry. Students are asked to synthesize the major themes and the teacher solicits deeper answers and raises even more questions. This is a chance for the students to consolidate and reflect on all of the material they have been presented with. It is a time to prepare them to complete and engage with a culminating, synthesizing activity about the topic. This is an important moment in the lesson to bring together a range of reactions to the demanding material.
Evaluation: Teachers ask for students to create and articulate their own answers to the inquiry question. The assessment can be a reflection on the topic, in the form of a journal entry or diary. Teachers can ask students to write an essay, make an oral presentation, or even produce a short film. The assessment is a critical part of the lesson structure as students articulate their own answers to the inquiry question. They can be graded or ungraded and used as part of a formative or summative assessment.
Table of Contents:
Table of Contents Teaching the Holocaust by Inquiry Beth Krasemann
Why Teaching the Holocaust Matters Today More Than Ever
Holocaust Study Through Inquiry
The long history of Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism
The breakdown of the Weimar Republic
1933: How did Germany transform from a democracy to a dictatorship?
How were the Jews isolated in 1930s Germany?
The Reich Citizenship Law of September 15, 1935
Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor [Nuremberg Laws] of 15 September 1935
Human Behavior and Conformity
What Does the Euthanasia Program Reveal about Hitler’s Nazi Regime?
How did Hitler use the Olympic Games for his Propaganda Purposes?
Why did the Jews stay in Germany in the 1930s?
Kristallnacht: In what ways did Kristallnacht represent a Turning Point?
Why Were the Jews Forced into Ghettos in Eastern Europe, While There Were None in Western Europe?
The Jewish Councils and Mordecai Chaim Rumkowski: collaborator, traitor, or hero?
Ghetto Culture: Concerts in the Midst of Suffering – Disrespectful or Vital?
Nazi “Fake News” and Terezín: What was it really like in the Ghetto?
How did the Jews and other victims resist in the death camps?
Human Dignity and Moral Dilemmas: What ‘Choiceless Choices’ did the Victims Face?
What motivated non-victims to help and rescue victims?
The Einsatzgruppen: Guided by peer pressure, blind obedience, or utmost belief in the cause?
A Mosaic of Victims: Who were Hitler’s other victims?
To what extent are the employees of the Deutsche Reichsbahn morally responsible for the extermination of the Jews?
How did Rudolf Höss see his role in the Holocaust and how is this possible?
What does it mean to ‘return to life’ after such tragedy?
Memorial and museums: how do we remember the Holocaust? Is there a ‘right way’?
Should human hair from victims be put on display in Holocaust museums?