The Holocaust: The Role of Propaganda
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The Holocaust: The Role of Propaganda

Categories Holocaust 
Tags: Propaganda , Genocide 

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.)


What is Propaganda?
Involve students in a “Think- Pair-Share” to create a “working definition” of propaganda:
  • Each individual writes down his/her definition of propaganda (You can link this strategy to teacher tools) 
  • Share with a partner and discuss. Together craft a definition that reflects new understandings and agreed upon wording. 
  • Class share. Begin with one definition and write it on the board. Have students make suggestions and changes until students are satisfied with the class definition. 

Compare the class definition with that of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. You may choose to reading various sections aloud or have students do this independently, in pairs , or in groups if you have the technology available.  

Discuss, “What did you discover about propaganda that you had not considered previously ? 

Explain that one of the most powerful tools of the Holocaust was the use of propaganda.

Nazi Use of Propaganda: 
Visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Propaganda Gallery 
Select one of the images and with the entire class, use Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS strategies to help students analyze the piece:
-What is going on?
-What makes you think this?
-What more can we discover?
List student predictions on the board.

How Propaganda Works:  
Involve pairs of students in researching and selecting one additional propaganda piece used during the Holocaust (video, poster, movie clip).
The following websites offer a wide variety:
US Holocaust Memorial Museum Propaganda
Calvin German Propaganda Archive 
Have students write a response to the following questions based on their selection:
-What inferences can be made? 
-What is this propaganda piece trying to “say?"
-”What makes this propaganda piece so effective? 
-In what ways do you think it changed perceptions? Why?
-What should viewers/listeners be questioning as they look at or listen to this piece of propaganda? 

Have each group share their findings and facilitate a class conversation. 

Play the song, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from Cabaret. Reflect on the lyrics. What makes them so powerful? What does the clip say to you about the people in Germany in the early 1930’s as the Nazi Party comes to power? Would you consider this a form of propaganda? Why or why not?   


The Power of Propaganda
• Distribute large sheets of paper—sufficient for the number of pairs in your classroom. In the middle of each affix one of the quotes below In pairs, discuss one of the following quotes attributed to various heads of the Nazi Party.
• Have students conduct a “silent conversation” as they take turns writing their thoughts about the quote and their reactions to what their partners have written. Continue the “silent conversation” for about 15 minutes—no talking.
• Post each “conversation” around the room for students to share and notice various perspectives since several pairs will have the same quote.
  1. “It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.” -- Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister
  2. “Propaganda is a truly terrible weapon in the hands of an expert.” — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1924
  3. “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” ? Herman Göhring, Nazi military leader, Commander of the Reichstag and Hitler’s designated successor 
  4. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” -Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister

Fighting Propaganda
Hold a Grand Conversation to discuss what each of us can do to eliminate the effects of negative propaganda being disseminated on TV, Radio, video, movies, cartoons, political speeches, etc. Encourage students to use their research into Nazi propaganda to help formulate their ideas and suggestions. (For example— Know the Facts. Hitler and other Nazi leaders kept telling the public that the war was the fault of the Jews. Yet, as a result of Germany’s invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, that World War II began. (source: Teaching About the Holocaust: A Resource Book for Educators, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.)
Based on the Grand Conversation, create a TOP 10 list of things we can do to counter propaganda. Keep it posted as a daily reminder!

Lessons for Today
• Explore the political cartoons used in newspapers across the country and world. (Visit for a wide variety of political cartoons from several well known editorial cartoonists.
• Select one that deals with a current issue or event. What is the cartoonist trying to say? What facts can you find to support or counter this opinion?
• Share your political cartoon and findings with the class.
• What is important to remember when viewing them? (Refer back to TOP 10 in the above activity as necessary.)


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.



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