Teaching and learning

The Holocaust

The Nazi Genocide against the Jewish people

Review by Tara de Boehmler

We might say ‘never again’ but if the crimes and suffering of the Holocaust are forgotten our chance to learn from them is lost. To ensure it retains its immediacy, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies has produced a classroom resource on the Holocaust.

The Holocaust: The Nazi Genocide against the Jewish people uses facts, photos, documents and the words of those involved to provide a concise yet detailed overview of the atrocities visited upon the Jewish people, largely during World War II.

But the resource goes back further, outlining Europe’s history of persecution of the Jewish people, including the two revolts in 70CE and 130CE that saw them expelled from Israel; the adoption of anti-Semitism as the official ideology of the German Christian Social Workers Party and the League of Anti-Semites in the late 19th century and the incorporation into German law by the Nazis of the theory of racial hierarchy headed by Indo-European ‘Aryans’.

Chapters deal with the isolation and persecution of Jewish people from German society; World War II and “the simultaneous War of Extermination against the Jews” which robbed the lives of an estimated 6,000,000, including some 1,500,000 children; the Resistance; those who showed compassion and assisted Jewish people; perpetrators, collaborators and bystanders; the human toll and after the Holocaust.

It is the words and often graphic photos of those involved that provide students with the most immediate sense of the suffering of the victims, the courage of their protectors and the culpability and occasionally the remorse of perpetrators.

In the words of Jankiel Wiernik, one of the few survivors of the death camp of Treblinka:

“I was put with a group that was assigned to handle the corpses. The work was very hard because we had to drag each corpse … for a distance of approximately three hundred metres….

“We had to carry or drag corpses on the run, since the slightest infraction of the rules meant a severe beating. The corpses had been laying around for some time and decomposition had already set in, making the air foul with decay.”

Military Brigadier and medical officer HL Glyn Hughes describes the scene the British found on liberating Belsen:

“The conditions in the camp were really indescribable; no description or photograph could really bring home the horrors that were there outside the huts, and the frightful scenes inside were much worse...”

In an August 1941 letter to his wife, German officer Helmuth von Moltke writes:

“What will happen when the nation as a whole realises this war is lost … with a blood guilt that cannot be atoned for in our lifetime and can never be forgotten.”

The book sums up the Holocaust’s warning that must echo throughout time:

“While the Holocaust was unique, its lessons about the essential fragility of human civilisation are universal. The Holocaust is a warning to every generation about the human potential for evil, especially as a consequence of racial hatred, and about the inherent evil of totalitarian regimes. It teaches us that every generation owes to itself and to future generations to cherish, and if necessary to fight to defend, the sanctity of human life, dignity and freedom.”

As the book says so well, in conclusion:

“It remains important that we should all be on our guard to ensure that the calculated incitement of racial hatred and the oppression and mass murder that it has too often produced in the past never again presents a danger to the survival of human civilisation.”

For Year 9 and 10 students learning about the Holocaust, the Sydney Jewish Museum provides curriculum-friendly tours, which can be adapted for younger students. For more information about The Holocaust: The Nazi Genocide against the Jewish people and to order copies, contact Suzanne Green on 02 9360 1600 or via suzanne.green@nswjbd.com.