One Survivor Remembers: Antisemitism

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Objectives: 

Students will:

  • Learn about antisemitism
  • Learn about propaganda and stereotypes
  • Become aware of Holocaust denial
  • Make connections to current-day antisemitism, racism, prejudice and bigotry

Essential Questions: 

  • Why is it important to identify and counter stereotypes?
  • What are the dangers of creating “us” and “them” labels?

Materials Needed: 

Framework
Gerda and millions of other Jews were targets of the virulent antisemitism promoted by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party. Antisemitic laws, violence and propaganda preceded the Holocaust. Some have called antisemitism “the longest hatred,” tracing its roots more than 2,000 years. This lesson focuses on the rise of Nazism in pre-World War II Europe; keep in mind, though, that prior to this period, Jews were fully integrated into German society.

Antisemitism can take many forms: religiously based discrimination, targeting Jews for their religious beliefs; politically driven hatred or discrimination, targeting Jews regarding political issues; ethnically or culturally based hostility, targeting Jews regarding heritage or culture; and the perpetuation of stereotypes based on economic or other factors, tied to bigoted images of Jews being “greedy,” for example. Antisemitism employs venom, power and prejudice similar to racism and other forms of bigotry.

Although it’s easy to see antisemitism in pre-war Germany, it also existed in the United States. A 1939 public opinion poll, for example, found 53 percent of non-Jewish Americans thought Jews were “different” and should be “restricted.” Jews in America have faced numerous forms of discrimination.

Antisemitism persists today. Recent surveys show one in seven Americans still holds antisemitic views.

Suggested Procedures
Step 1

Review the handout’s definitions of antisemitism, discrimination, propaganda, racism, stereotype and Holocaust denial.

Step 2

Drawing from the film and related course materials, discuss how antisemitism set the stage for genocide in World War II.

Also discuss how antisemitism and other forms of bigotry persist today, using examples from the school, community, state, nation and world. As a starting point, have students consider how specific groups—Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Arab Americans, Muslims, immigrants, people with disabilities, etc.—are portrayed in the media, discussing the damage done by stereotypes.

Specifically speak to students about Holocaust denial, as this may be a new concept to many students. Lead them in a discussion using these guiding questions: Why would some want to deny that the Holocaust happened? How does denial of the Holocaust serve antisemitic groups? If these groups don’t outright deny the Holocaust, they often say it didn’t happen exactly as it’s recorded and, for instance, say that there were not remotely as many people killed as six million. Why is it dangerous to question the historical fact of six million Jews being murdered?

Step 3

Hand out the worksheets and have students write about or discuss the provided examples. This may be done as a small-group exercise in class or as an individual homework assignment. Help students understand that a cartoon is intended to be understood immediately; it is not “studied” like the written word often is. This makes cartoons especially powerful pieces of propaganda.

Extension Activity: 

  • The primary documents contained in One Survivor Remembers also can be used to reinforce this lesson. The Grunberg document, the Weissmann house photo, the slave-labor camp photos and the “Jude” star can be used to examine the message and practice of antisemitism before and during the Holocaust.
  • Ask students to examine magazines, newspapers, websites and other materials for images that include stereotypes. Individually or in groups, they can deconstruct these images following the model used in this exercise.