UCSB Oral History Project Homepage > Research and Teaching Homepage > Teaching Holocaust at K-4 Level

Teaching "Holocaust Lessons" at the K-4 level

By Leah Bergner, UCSB senior: Sociology major, History minor
June 2002

Introduction (Taken from my letter to Nina after her presentation to our History 133D class, November 2001)

…Similar to your guest appearance, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Nurmet came to talk to my fourth grade class about their survival during the war. Both were taken away from their families and placed in a province of Russia called Latvia. There was an internment camp, run by Germans, in that area. Harry and Linda Nurmet were not Jewish, in fact, they were Lutheran. He was an artist, forbidden to paint (he even has works in The Chicago Museum of Art). This was the reason they immigrated to the U.S.—he wished to paint freely. Mrs. Nurmet was sick in the camp and her neck was permanently bent due to malnourishment (she was only 18 or 19 years old at the close of the war). They did not escape, they were liberated in 1945. Her obvious impairment because of the horrific camp conditions, as well as their visible identification numbers on their neck (behind their ear), left a lasting impression on my mind. I will never forget meeting with them. Today, she has passed on but he still resides in the little town of Oregon, Illinois. …Up until last week, when you came to speak to our class, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Nurmet were all I had ever known of real-living Holocaust survivors. Grateful that I had this opportunity at such a young age (and again in college) to meet such wonderful, strong-willed people, I still wonder why I have gone my entire life only meeting a few. I’m glad you feel the need to tell of your experiences. I shutter to think when all of the survivors are gone how our society will acknowledge the Holocaust and Nazi-run Germany…Your story, along with others, comes from the heart. I am so grateful to you for allowing me to walk through the events and your experiences with you as you recall them. The importance of such oral history is tremendous. It can leave an impact on a person far greater than ever reading about it on the pages of a history textbook. …I feel that your escape was meant to be. And you have taken your survival to an entirely new level by sharing your history with others. You never left behind your fighting spirit—You have in turn supplied me with the belief that despite adversity a fighting spirit is something worth holding onto…

This letter was written to Nina to thank her, but I can’t help recall how I felt after I heard her speak. Not only was I touched and honored that she would share her personal life stories with us, but I was also appalled. As a student studying to become a teacher, I was appalled to think that I myself had gone through years and years of schooling without the messages of Holocaust survivors incorporated into the curriculum.

This lack of oral history in the education system has prompted me to develop a compilation of resources that would be useful to elementary school teachers wishing to incorporate more Holocaust lessons (in addition to teaching tolerance and diversity) into their curriculum. Basically, I wanted to do the leg-work involved in taking-on this responsibility. I have found it rather difficult to locate readily available resources on the Internet. In addition, I have not found many appropriate resources available for the younger grades (K-4, where my interest lies) either.

Below you can view the steps I have took to gather together materials and ideas for Holocaust teaching in the elementary school classroom.

Internet Sites to explore:

Loc.gov (Library of Congress)

We ordered books/resources we found useful looking into in more detail (local libraries are also useful):

1) Kerr, Judith. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. New York: Putnam and Grosset Group, 1971. ISBN: 0-698-11589-9.

This is a story about a German Jewish girl name Anna and her family. They must leave their home in Berlin in 1933, before the rise of Hitler. For three years Anna travels all over Europe as a refugee; she must deal with all of the challenges that come along with it too.
[This book is a chapter book appropriate for children 4th grade-7th grade].

2) Lee, Enid, Deborah Menkart, and Margo Okazawa-Rey eds. Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development. Maryland: McArdle Printing, 1998. ISBN: 1-878554-11-5.

This interdisciplinary guide offers a lot of great help to those teachers wishing to know how to incorporate teachings of tolerance into the classroom curriculum. It seems to be a good resource for teachers and administrators wanting to know how to deal with diversity, and how to confront racism and oppression in the world.
This manual involves quite a lot of reading/skimming, but it does not have printable handouts or materials for students. It is simply a reference guide that will supply the reader with a means by which to get some ideas flowing with regard to how to implement concepts into the classroom. I really liked how the guide presented examples as to the stages that children go through when thinking about concepts of race, prejudices, oppression, and diversity.

3) Meinbach, Anita Meyer, and Miriam Klein Kassenhoff. Memories of the Night: A Study of the Holocaust. Torrance, CA: Frank Schaffer Pub., 1994. ISBN: 0-86734-777-5.

This study is designed to complement any study of the Holocaust. It provides a list of books and resources available for teaching about the Holocaust. It provides many handouts and materials to use directly in the classroom, and it helps prompt discussion before, during, and after readings.
Although this text provides a lot of compact information about the Holocaust, and provides a substantial amount of background information to prepare those who may not know much to begin with, it is most definitely geared more towards the older students. Still, the literature used in the lesson plans provided are great lessons ranging from Number the Stars to …I Never Saw Another Butterfly. I really enjoyed the fact that this resource explored areas other than the typical biography. This resource looks at literature involving resistance, responsibility and art/poetry.

If you are just getting started on a unit about the Holocaust, for older children (4th-12th grader), this one is perfect because it really prepares the teacher with historical perspectives.

4) Sullivan, Edward T. The Holocaust in Literature for Youth: A Guide and Resource Book. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1999. ISBN: 0-8108-3607-6.

This is not a book to read. This is a reference book only. It will provide anyone teaching, researching, or studying the Holocaust with an annotated bibliography of resources in book format. It also recommends Internet sites and other professional resource institutions to explore and/or order from. In addition, this aide helps any adult be able to start a school library by supplying them with a break-down of resources according to grade level (this would be helpful if you are looking to teach out of certain books within a certain grade/age level).

5) Warren, Andrea. Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps. New York: Harper Collins Pub., 2001. ISBN: 0-688-17497-3.

Jack, a young 15-year old is caught up in the Nazi concentration camps as he tries to make sense of the world and life. Being torn from his family at a young age is a difficult thing to have happen. However, Jack does not give up on life, in fact, he embraces it. He makes the best of his situation by forming friendships, which help hold them all responsible for surviving. For them there is always hope.
This book is wonderful for readers in 4th grade to 8th grade. At the back of the book the author helps to explain a bit more about the concentration camps and provides various facts that help make an event that happened so long ago very real. She also gives adequate additional citations (mostly for grades 5th and up) for those who wish to continue their study on the camps and Holocaust survival.

6) Vos, Ida. Hide and Seek. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1981.ISBN: 0-395-56470-0.

This delightful autobiographical novel is about an eight-year old Jewish girl, named Rachel, from Holland. She tells of her life during Nazi occupation. The story walks you through every aspect of Nazi rule that would greatly affect the life of this young girl, her sister and her parents. As if going into hiding weren’t enough, they were forced to change their names and practice a different religion. Despite the struggles and the emotional roller-coaster this youngster manages to deal with, there is a happy ending.
[Appropriate for grades 3-7, 132 pages].

7) Bunting, Eve. Smoky Night. San Diego: Voyager Books, 1994. ISBN: 0-15-201884-0.

When groups of people cannot get along destruction may occur. However, this lovely illustrated book teaches the great lesson of appreciating difference, having courage, and getting along with one another. One night Daniel, his mother, and their cat are faced with an apartment fire. Although they never before conversed with one other woman in their building, they are forced to as both of their cats are missing. In the end, both cats are found holding paws in the midst of smoke and both neighbors are taught the lesson to see past difference and take care of each other.
[This book is at a 2nd grade reading level, but would be appropriate for 4th graders as well].
See my lesson based on this book.

8) Hoestlandt, Jo. Star of Fear, Star of Hope. New York: Walker and Co., 1995. ISBN: 0-8027-8373-2.

During Nazi-occupied France, two childhood friends know what it is like to lose each other. The author reflects what it was like to lose her best friend, Lydia. Suddenly she didn’t come back…
[written through simple prose, for grades K-6].

9) Innocenti, Roberto. Rose Blanche. Minnesota: Creative Editions, 1985. ISBN: 0-15-200917-5.

A little girl in a German village spots a Nazi camp at they edge of her town; there are starving children there. Rose Blanche does what she feels in natural and in the end pays for having a giving heart. She shows us the innocence of a child. [reading level: grades 3-4].

10) Adler, David A. The Number on My Grandfather’s Arm. New York: UAHC Press, 1987. ISBN: 0-8074-0328-8.

This book, although approaching an introduction to the Holocaust lightly, it is a very cute book that examines the curiosity of children and the lessons they can teach us. The young girl’s Grandfather accidentally makes her aware of the numbers on his arm. In return she gets a first-hand account of the Holocaust from her dear grandfather. [Grades K-4].

11) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.: Teaching About the Holocaust: A Resource Book for Educators. http://www.ushmm.org/

This guide contains a fairly large collection of resources and a very informative annotated bibliography and videography, in addition to a historical timeline, which may prove useful in refreshing your memory. However, this resource is primarily geared towards middle school and high school classroom curriculum.
[there are better guides out there]

12) Payne, Lauren M. We Can Get Along: A Child’s Book of Choices. Minnesota: Free Spirit Publishing, 1997. ISBN: 1-57542-013-9.

Getting along with others is not always easy. But, free agency allows you to make your own choices—the purpose of this book is to inspire responsible choice making; there are always alternatives to poor behavior. This book introduces the idea to youngsters about kindness, respect, and tolerance being responsible behavior.
This book is very simple and very to the point. It is geared towards the younger children [ages 3-8].

13) Bunting, Eve. Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust. Pennsylvania: Jewish Publication Society, 1980. ISBN: 0-8276-0325-8.

Bunting, a great author of children’s literature explores the idea of courage with children. The animals in the clearing are taken away by the Terrible Things for no reason at all. None of the other animals worry though because it doesn’t or hasn’t yet affected them. Little Rabbit would like to say something to these Terrible Things but the others would rather turn their backs on the problem. This allegory teaches that standing up for what is right may take a lot of courage but it is better than waiting for others to join you, which may be too late. See my lesson based on this book.

This annotated bibliography is only a start. There is a lot of educational material that must be sifted through and be added to this. Remember when selecting literature for the younger grades that, and as I learned from my own experience, youngsters need only be introduced to the concepts that surround the Holocaust. Don’t make it too overwhelming for them. Be gentle and simple and you’ll find that young ones have a sense for what is right and wrong, what is considerate and kind, and what is destructive and oppressive more than adults do at times.

Many of the guide/reference books listed in this bibliography contain a lot of useful lesson plans. I noticed that although I may not want to follow everything just as they have it, it is less time consuming to modify as you go along. It provides a nice foundation to work from.

UCSB Oral History Project Homepage > Research and Teaching Homepage > Teaching Holocaust at K-4 Level
Text written June 2002 by Leah Bergner
Last Updated January 1, 2003
This Page Part of the UCSB Oral History Project
Created and Maintained by H. Marcuse and Associates