How to teach about Auschwitz

Teaching about Auschwitz and the Holocaust can be a profoundly daunting task. Explaining to secondary school students that more than one million men, women and children were murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War is a teaching challenge that must be met with great skill and sensitivity.

It is essential that secondary school children are given the opportunity to learn about what went wrong in a modern society that allowed persecution and mass murder to reign across Europe. This article looks at the resources available to help teachers tackle the subject of Auschwitz, and how this devastating subject can be brought alive to inform and educate students today.

Teaching about Auschwitz – resources available

Teach about Auschwitz

The Holocaust is a compulsory, core part of the secondary school curriculum. But many teachers feel daunted by the task of teaching about one of the darkest times in recent history. Fortunately there are many excellent teaching resources available that offer support and advice on how to tackle this challenging subject.

A compelling BBC series, Touched by Auschwitz will help students to engage and learn through the stories of six Auschwitz survivors who recall their experiences and talk about the direction that their lives have taken since the Holocaust. This ground-breaking series will make history come alive for students who are struggling to come to terms with the devastating reality of the Second World War.

The Holocaust Educational Trust offers free teacher training and Continuing Professional Development programmes that are designed to assist teachers to teach about Auschwitz and the Holocaust across a range of topics and age groups. There is also a teaching pack available, Exploring the Holocaust, which is designed for use in UK schools.

In addition, the Guardian Teacher Network has an excellent range of lesson plans and resources that cover the factual history of the events leading up to the Holocaust, why there was so little resistance to the atrocities that took place and a one-hour lesson that uses simple, emotive artefacts such as a child’s shoe to help students understand the enormity of the crimes against humanity.

Learning through experience - how this challenging subject can be brought alive

While classroom resources are highly successful in creating powerful and compelling lesson plans, the opportunity to explore first-hand the realities of the Holocaust and Auschwitz can make a tremendous difference to students’ learning.

Some excellent museums and memorial centres that offer students the chance to find out more about the Holocaust include The Imperial War Museum and The Holocaust Centre. There are often educational events around Holocaust Memorial Day which is marked on 27th January each year - the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

'Lessons from Auschwitz' is a highly innovative and ground-breaking project organised by The Holocaust Educational Trust which enables students aged 16-18 to visit Auschwitz. Since 1999, over 27,000 students and teachers have taken part in this exceptional educational experience. The visits include pre- and post-trip seminars to help students to come to terms with the emotional impact of the visit and reflect on their experience.

Alex Maws, Head of Education at The Holocaust Educational Trust describes the impact of the “Lessons from Auschwitz” project:

“For the 3,000 people who visit Auschwitz-Birkenau each year as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project, the experience is unforgettable. Not only do these young people learn valuable lessons about the consequences of prejudice taken to its extreme, they also become Ambassadors in their communities, inspiring others to remember the Holocaust and encouraging their schools to take a cross-curricular approach to Holocaust education. Lessons from Auschwitz is often the starting point of a school’s partnership with the Trust – a partnership which then leads them to explore our Exploring the Holocaust teaching pack, our Outreach programme and our free CPD courses for teachers.”

The photographs from this article are taken from recent 'Lessons from Auschwitz' trips and they are used with the kind permission of Yakir Zur at YZ Photography.

The Holocaust is one of the most catastrophic and devastating events in our history. While teaching about Auschwitz and the Holocaust does take skill and sensitivity, there is an extensive range of excellent teaching resources available which will bring the subject to life in a powerful and compelling way that will engage and educate students. Teaching about the Holocaust is a critical aspect of young people’s development – it enables them to learn about the consequences of extreme prejudice and will clearly explain why this darkest part of history should never be forgotten.

Video can bring these events to life. The BBC series Touched by Auschwitz is an engaging programme telling the story of the Second World War through the eyes of six Auschwitz survivors.

BBC Active Video for Learning offers a high quality range of educational videos that will bring a wide range of topics to life. These videos are a perfect educational tool to enhance your next class, lecture or workshop. There are licences available for each title and all programmes are available in DVD format.