The Holocaust: The Twisted Road to Auschwitz 1933-1945
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The Holocaust: The Twisted Road to Auschwitz 1933-1945

Categories Holocaust 

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 events of the Holocaust worked together to ultimately lead to the murder of more than 6 million Jewish men, women, and children.
  • Evil happens when good people stand by and do nothing.
  • Each of us has a responsibility to be informed and make determinations based on evidence and thoughtful evaluation.
  • The use of primary documents and witness testimony are the most powerful tools in order to understand and learn from the events of the past.

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.)


Have students view portions of the video The Path to Nazi Genocide. (You may wish to forward the video and begin at 12:25 when the Nazi Party comes to power in Germany. This film is intended for adult viewers, but selected segments may be appropriate for younger audiences. Please view before sharing with students. )

As student view the video ask them to take notes on significant events , images, quotes, etc.
After the documentary, involve students in creating a 3-1-2:
  • Describe three images that impacted you most.
  • Write two quotes you found especially noteworthy/significant.
  • What one question you would like to discuss.
Allow time for sharing and discussing in small groups and/or with whole class.

“The Twisted Road to Auschwitz”:
The path taken was made up of policies, laws, events, propaganda, etc. which ultimately led to the Holocaust .
  • Introduce students to The U.S .Holocaust Memorial Timeline
  • Each pair of students is to select one of the events listed from 1933-1945. (You may wish to assign each pair a certain time period from which to select, i.e. 138-1939)
  • Engage students in researching the event select and events and create a time-line card. The time line card can be prepared digitally if preferred. Each time-line card should include: 1) why this event was selected-it’s significance; 2) a photo illustration/image or copy of primary document (as appropriate).
  • Have students post their cards in chronological order and share with the class. 
  • While each event was significant, which would the class determine to be that one pivotal event which might be considered, “The Beginning of the End.” (Note to Teachers-many consider Kristallnacht –Night of Broken Glass- to be such an event.) Involve students in a class discussion.

Images of the Holocaust:
A study of the Holocaust introduces us to some of the most powerful , haunting images imaginable. One of the images frequently mentioned is that of the shoes of the men, women and children who were murdered.

Provide time for students to research and find that one Holocaust image that especially affects, haunts, or touches them in some way. Have them create a poem, monologue, art piece, musical melody, etc., in tribute and remembrance. You may wish to create a school-wide Holocaust program in which these can be shared.

Below are two such examples based on the shoes to share and discuss. Ask, “What about the shoes haunted the writers?” When you see the image of the shoes of the Holocaust, what thoughts come to mind?


Through Their Eyes:
While events and primary resources are vital to the study of the Holocaust, it is incomplete without first-person testimony. Survivors provide a rich and powerful experience and bring history to life. What was their reality? What were their hopes for the future? The best time to have survivors come to the class is after students have studied the history of the Holocaust and have a basis for understanding. You may arrange to have a speaker visit your class by calling a local Holocaust center or the Jewish Federation in your area. (For help, contact Associated Holocaust Organizations for an up-to-date list of Holocaust centers. If it is not possible to arrange for a speaker, many of these first person testimonies are available through organizations such as the Shoah Foundation

Director Steven Spielberg, the vision behind the Shoah Foundation said that he believes that through these testimonies people “can be changed. “
  • As students hear selected testimonies, encourage them to discuss their thoughts and feelings about such issues as prejudice, injustice, persecution, bystanders, upstanders, survival, and the courage of the human spirit.
  • Have students reflect on one or more of the testimonies they watched and write a personal piece to express “How I was changed.”


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

• Student time –line cards reflect understanding of a specific event and its significance in terms of the Holocaust.
• Discussion and debate and student “image” project emphasize student ability to apply learning into a thoughtful, thought provoking conversation/product and reflect a depth of knowledge and awareness of the events of the Holocaust.
• The impact of survivor testimony can be noted not from personal statements alone, but from the ways in which students actions over time reflect the ways in which they show respect for others and their own willingness to take a stands against injustice.