The Holocaust: Historical Perspectives 1918 -1933
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The Holocaust: Historical Perspectives 1918 -1933

Categories Holocaust 
grades:  High School (9-12) 

Lesson Summary:

The Holocaust must be considered in the context of history. This lesson provides a framework for understanding the precedents and circumstances that contributed to the events in post World War I Europe, especially in Germany, from 1918 until 1933 when Hitler and the Nazi party took power in Germany

The Treaty of Versailles, The Weimer Republic Social, Political, and Economic Climate of Europe 1918--1933 are addressed. 

Enduring Understandings:

  • The years following the end of World War II significantly challenged and changed the political, social, and economic landscape in Europe and ultimately helped pave the way for the Nazi party to take over and control Germany in 1933. 
  • The Holocaust was not inevitable. “The Holocaust took place because individuals, groups and nations made decisions to act or not to act” (Teaching About the Holocaust: A Resource Book for Educators—U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum).

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

Although anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews because of religious or cultural differences) goes back many centuries in Europe, for purposes of understanding this time period (1933–1945), one need only go back to the years immediately following World War I in Germany. Germany experienced political and economic crises after its humiliating defeat in World War 1 (1914–1918). The Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, and Germany was forced to pay high war reparations in addition to losing many of its territories and colonies. Factories were forced to shut down because of the destruction of Germany’s foreign trade. The working classes suffered from poverty and unemployment. By 1932, more than 6,000,000 workers were unemployed. People at all levels, from the peasants to the middle class to the military, experienced severe hardships. The atmosphere was one of despair, making it difficult for democratic leadership. In fact, by 1933, the government had changed many times, always in economic and political crisis. The time was ripe for a dictatorship to arise—one that promised extreme measures to deliver the people from their misery. 

In 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. A strong, charismatic leader, Hitler soon overthrew the government’s constitution and created a dictatorship which permitted only one party—the Nazi Party. He had already formed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party—the Nazi party—in 1919. Nazism and its ideology responded to the deep problems in Germany. Besides the support Hitler had from the military on ideas of discipline, order, and conquest, Hitler’s promise of social reform attracted the support of the masses. By 1929, the Nazi Party had many thousands of members. Once Hitler and the Nazi Party were in power, they took over the press, the radio, and the school system. In a short time, a totalitarian state was established and the Gestapo, the state police, was organized to monitor and stamp out any opposition. Concentration camps were set up for anyone opposing Nazism.

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


Historical Perspectives Chart – copies for each student
(Suggested)  Fill your room with appropriate maps, news articles, encyclopedias, and reference books to help students in their research. For suggestions, refer to Holocaust Materials


Video: The Path to Nazi Genocide : Parts 1 and 2 ( from beginning through 12:25)
The Weimar Republic: Primary Resources and Readings from Facing History and Ourselves 
The Weimar Republic


Note to Educators:

One of the primary concerns of educators teaching the history of the Holocaust is how to present horrific images in a sensitive and appropriate manner. Graphic material should be used judiciously and only to the extent necessary to achieve the objective of the lesson. You should remind yourself that each student and each class is different and that what seems appropriate for one may not be appropriate for all. Students are essentially a "captive audience." When you assault them with images of hor­ror for which they are unprepared, you violate a basic trust: the obligation of a teacher to provide a "safe" learning environment.Try to select images and texts that do not exploit the students' emotional vulnerability or that might be construed as disrespectful of the victims themselves. (Studying the Holocaust Through Film and Memoir: Human Rights and Social Responsibility , Kassenoff and Meinbach, page xxiv.)

Before: Aftermath of W.W. I and the Treaty of Versailles :
View portions of the documentary The Path to Nazi Genocide (from beginning to 12:25).  These sections focus on the aftermath of W.W. I, the Treaty of Versailles and how the Nazis Nazi Party ultimately come to power in Germany

As students view the documentary, have them complete the Historical Perspective chart (attached) and involve them in a discussion of the question, “How did the repercussions of the Treaty of Versailles affect the political, social and economic life in Germany?"

During: Life in Germany: The Weimer Republic – 1919 to 1933.

After World War 1, Germany faced desperate economic conditions and significant challenges in terms of politics and social conditions.
Involve students in analyzing the picture below; what can they discover regarding the economic situation and inflation. You may wish to project this image directly from the website so that it can be analyzed more easily. (“One of the first problems that the Weimar Republic faced was hyperinflation. Money became so worthless that children could play with stacks of it. People's savings were wiped out causing widespread discontent and civil unrest.” )


Divide students into groups, each assigned a specific aspect of life during the Weimer Republic , 1919-1933. Depending upon the number of students, you may need to have more than one group covering the same topic . If so, often they will approach it differently which makes for interesting conversations?

Using text and various websites, students research their topic in order to create a digital story that reflects life in Germany in terms of the topic being addressed. Encourage them to include narration, pictures, music, cartoons, etc. Students can post these on YouTube or other platform in order to share.

Alternatively, presentations can take other forms—interview, short play, documentary, newspaper articles, etc.

A variety of resources (see Holocaust Resources) include information on each of the topics below, including: Facing History and Ourselves (click on Primary Resources, Readings, etc.) and Mt. Holyoke Resource Page.

Life During the Weimer Republic:
Political Conditions:
Topics can include:
  • Political Parties
  • The Rise of the Nazi Party
  • Hitler’s rise to power
Social Conditions
Topics can include:
  • Art
  • Music
  • Theater

Economic Conditions: What did the economic landscape look like in terms of job opportunities unemployment? Topics can include:
  • Unemployment
  • Hyperinflation

Gallery Walk: Involve students in reflection and review by posing several questions related to the lesson for which there are more than one answer. Each question is placed on a piece of paper and posted around the room. Group members work together to come up with their response to each question and record their answer on the paper using a specific color of marker. (You may wish to create groupings of students who researched different aspects of life during the Weimer Republic.)
Sample Questions (teacher and /or students may wish to supplement these or create their own):
1. In what ways did Germany’s defeat in W.W. I and the Treaty of Versailles, exacerbated by worldwide economic conditions, contribute to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party?
2. What were some of the most significant conditions that led to the fall of the Weimer Republic?
3. In what ways did the ineffectiveness of the Weimar Republic contribute to the Holocaust?
4. During the years of the Weimer Republic, there was a tremendous amount of growth in the various arts. To what do you attribute this?


Read, “Why Study Weimer?” written by professor Paul Bookbinder. In what ways does the climate of the Weimar Republic mirror and inform some of the major issues and challenges facing democratic nations today?. What does it teach us about human behavior?  

Based on understandings gained through this lesson. Involve student in a debate of the impression that “the Holocaust was inevitable."


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

• Student digital stories present a clear and accurate description of the political, social, and economic factors that contributed to the Holocaust.
• Students’ writing and discussion reflect a depth of understanding concerning the many factors that contributed to the Holocaust
• Student debate reflects difficult questions and significant understandings concerning human behavior and the choices we make.