teacher's guide

student activities

study resources


Teacher's Guide to
Learning about the Holocaust through Art


The works of art in this collection offer a useful resource for Holocaust education, especially when combined with the accompanying biographical and historical material.

Because it is art-based, this resource has the potential to be used quite broadly across the curriculum - in Art and Art History, as well as more common subjects such as History, Social Studies, Language Arts or Citizenship.

Learning about the Holocaust through Art is not a complete course in itself, but a supplement to other teaching programs. There are plans to develop this resource further - to incorporate it into programs of study matched to particular national and subject curricula - but this is for a later stage. For now, the teacher will need to consider how best to make use of this resource within their own programs.

The explore section provides the core material - art reproductions and documentation. This current section (learn) provides some ideas for using the material. The interact section provides tools to help you and your students use the material - including a page where individuals can collect and annotate art works from the collection.

Learning about the Holocaust through Art assumes the student is familiar with using the Internet. It also assumes the student has some knowledge of the Holocaust, appropriate to their age and ability levels. Students will need to be familiar with some of these terms and concepts:

- Allies
- Anschlus
- Antisemitism
- Aryan
- Barbed-wire fences
- Barracks
- Burials
- Concentration camps
- Crematoria
- Cultural life
- Death camps/extermination camps
- Death marches
- Degenerate art
- Deportation
- Final solution
- Forced labor
- Gas Chambers
- Genocide
- Gestapo
- Ghettos
- Judenrat
- Kristallnacht
- Labor camps
- Liberation
- Living conditions
- Medical experimentation
- Medicine
- National Socialism
- Nazis
- Nuremberg Laws
- Occupation
- Partisans
- Prisoners/inmates
- Property
- Reich
- Religious activity
- Righteous among the Nations
- Sanitation and hygiene
- Selection
- SS
- Starvation
- Trains/transportations
- Transit camps
- Underground/Resistance
- Vichy
- Watchtowers
- Yellow badge/star

General Objectives

The activities in this resource share the following broad objectives:

  1. Students will learn more about the Holocaust through the stories of the artists and the places in which they worked (ghettos, camps, hiding places).
  2. Students will learn about the artistic activity that occurred in these places and its different functions.
  3. Students will approach the works as historical evidence, looking at what they reveal about life in the ghettos and camps.
  4. Students will approach the works as artistic creations, considering their meanings and messages.

Activities based on this resource

The Learning about the Holocaust through Art activities section includes three lesson plans for three levels - (1) elementary, 10-12yrs, (2) secondary 13-15, and (3) high school (16+). These activities are specifically based on this resource and encourage the student to observe, read closely and think critically about the material.

There are some further questions and activities listed in the next section (below). While these relate closely to the resource, they may also require further reading or experience - see the study resources section for relevant books and websites.

Level 1 activities

The purpose of these activities is to encourage the students to look closely at the art works, considering what they can reveal about (1) the individual human being, (2) their environment and (3) their way of life.

You may wish to allow the students to select one of these three topics and then form groups to choose and discuss relevant art works.

For the story-writing exercises, the student could print out the pictures they have chosen, or write their stories online, using the collection page in the interact section.

Level 2 activities

The purpose of these activities is to encourage the students to consider the experiences of people under Nazi occupation. As well as the art works, the students should look at the biographies, histories and the information in the study resources section of the website.

Sections (A) and (B) of each activity could be done individually or in groups.

Level 3 activities

These activities encourage the students to look closely at the art works and their context. As well as considering the subject matter of the works, students are asked to consider their composition and the manner and conditions of their creation. They are also asked to consider the role of the imagination.

Students will need to draw on all the material in the resource – the art works, biographies, histories and other study resources.

Activities that extend this resource

Here are essay questions and activities that seek to connect the resource with other knowledge or experience the student might have. They are for older or more able students and will probably require further reading - see the bibliography in the study resources section for relevant websites and books.

1. What was the official Nazi policy on art and how was this implemented during the period of the Holocaust? Give other examples of "establishment" versus "underground" art.

2. What was unique about the works of art created during the Holocaust when compared with works created up until that time?

3. Write about the various functions the art of the Holocaust performed. These might include testimony, documentation, commemoration, spiritual protest, artistic expression, a means of barter. Give examples from this collection.

4. How do the works of art in this collection relate to your previous knowledge of the Holocaust? Have they confirmed your understanding or changed the way you think about it? Give examples.

5. Do you think works of art created during the Holocaust can or should be used as evidence to counter the claims of Holocaust deniers? You might consider the Lipstadt Irving trial of 2000, in which the work of David Olère was used to support the existence of gas chambers (see Holocaust Denial on Trial and David Olère drawings and paintings - both are external links)

6. "Works of art reveal aspects not expressed in historical documentation." Do you agree with this sentence? Why or why not?

7. Can you recall any other artistic expressions (visual or dramatic) of difficult historical events? How well did these works represent the events? How did they affect you and your attitude towards these events?

8. "Beauty versus ugliness." Is there any tension between the aesthetic values of art and the intensity of the tragedy portrayed?

9. "Objectivity versus subjectivity." Is there any tension between factual, documentary testimony and personal, artistic expression?

10. Make you own artistic response to the subject of the Holocaust.