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Holocaust remembrance day

January 27, 2022

7 Lessons for Holocaust Education to Cultivate Critical Thinking

Read about seven strategies for teaching the Holocaust that have proven to be effective and will help deepen the learning experience of your students.

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By Dr. Kori Street

As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day during the second year of a global pandemic that has isolated and siloed society, visible antisemitism is on the rise. This disturbing trend has been increasing for some time.

In 2020, the Anti-Defamation League reported historically high levels of antisemitism across the United States, including 2,024 separate incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism. Other organizations have noted that 2021 was the most antisemitic year in the last decade. Already in 2022, recent incidents—including a harrowing hostage situation at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas—have brought renewed urgency to counter antisemitism.

How can educators help? Research shows that within classroom settings, some of the best ways to counter hatred of Jews is by teaching the Holocaust.

Teaching about the Holocaust as a historical event and as part of our shared human story requires a sound pedagogy for instruction.

Here are seven strategies for teaching the Holocaust that have proven to be effective and will help deepen the learning experience of your students.

Survivors of the Holocaust
Survivors with Historic Image of Liberation

Teach with Testimonies

Data from a recent study shows that listening to the stories of survivors is among the most effective ways to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides, and to develop empathy and respect for others. USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive has preserved more than 50,000 testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust. Several thousand of these testimonies are available for use in classroom settings via the IWitness educational platform and Teaching with Testimony, a new educational program that unlocks the powerful classroom potential of testimony.

Talk to Survivors

Many Holocaust survivors have spent countless hours sharing their stories with, and answering questions from, students. However, as many survivors are reaching advanced ages, these personal experiences are becoming less common. Several museums around the world are home to a new interactive exhibit called Dimensions in Testimony, which enables people to ask questions that prompt real-time responses from pre-recorded video interviews with Holocaust survivors and other witnesses to genocide. An educational version of the technology, featuring Holocaust survivor and educator Pinchas Gutter, is available for use in classroom settings.

Access No-Cost Professional Development Workshops

All of USC Shoah Foundation’s professional development workshops are of no-cost to educators. Webinars are offered on demand, are thematic in nature, and touch on different approaches and topics that supplement testimony-based resources.

Different Resources for Different Grade Levels

Teaching the Holocaust is a sensitive endeavor at any grade level. It is crucial for educators to understand this developmental framework while providing meaningful content, differentiating for different grade levels. For example, the animated film Ruth: A Little Girl’s Big Journey and the virtual reality film Lala, and accompanying classroom activities, are appropriate tools for teaching the Holocaust to primary school students.

Learn Through The Arts

The arts can impact learning in meaningful ways. The Willesden Project—brought to life by acclaimed concert pianist Mona Golabek—brings the power of music and story to reach young people globally and contribute to their development as empathetic, knowledgeable and resilient individuals. This five-year initiative offers a growing and unique constellation of educational elements—rooted in testimony, technology and music—to open students’ hearts and minds, and expand the ways in which they learn about the history of the Holocaust and related and resonant themes.

Work with Popular Films

Several popular films have forged educational partnerships with USC Shoah Foundation for its Teaching Film with Testimony educational program. Films captivate student interest and curiosity. Documentaries, nonfiction films and historical fiction films provide vivid snapshots and curated perspectives of an event, topic or concept. By teaching film with testimony, students deepen their critical thinking, recognize the value of individual accounts, and become inspired to activate their civic agency and responsibility. Classroom activities in conjunction with JOJO Rabbit and Final Account, among others, are available on IWitness.

Trusted Organizations

Comprehensive Holocaust education materials must be vetted and verified by experts and independently evaluated. The gold standard is Echoes & Reflections, which utilizes unparalleled expertise and resources from three world leaders in Holocaust education: Yad Vashem, ADL and USC Shoah Foundation. Since 2005, Echoes & Reflections has impacted more than 85,000 educators, reaching an estimated 8 million students across the United States—and at no cost. Through its Holocaust education programs and resources, educators gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to teach this topic effectively.

To access more materials, activities and ideas for teaching about the Holocaust, check out Share My Lesson's curated collection here.

Dr. Street Headshot

Author Bio

Finci-Viterbi Interim Executive Director Kori Street Ph.D., has spent a decade leading USC Shoah Foundation’s academic, education and administration initiatives which reach scholars, educators and students in 80 countries. An historian and scholar of teaching and learning, Dr. Street oversaw the development and exponential growth of IWitness, the Institute's no-cost educational platform reaching tens of millions of educators and students worldwide. They also spearheaded the Stronger Than Hate Initiative—bringing the Institute’s programming and ethos to the greater USC community. Formerly a professor at Mount Royal University, Dr. Street currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of Holocaust Organizations and as a member of the Education Working Group of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Kori Street

Finci-Viterbi Interim Executive DirectorKoriStreet Ph.D., has spent a decade leading USC Shoah Foundation’s academic, education and administration initiatives which reach scholars, educators and students in 80 countries. An historian and scholar of teaching and learning, Dr.

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