Teaching the Holocaust can be an incredibly challenging endeavor. After all, most Western students would have a very difficult time imagining a national government actually turning against an entire people, or more precisely an entire group of people and other subgroups (gypsies, homosexuals, physically and mentally challenged individuals, and political opponents). Fortunately, the Holocaust is foreign to most students today.
Of course, when teaching the Holocaust, it’s imperative to try to make it as relevant to students’ lives as possible. Actually this is true when teaching anything. Relevance promotes understanding and retention. While the Holocaust may be foreign to students’ lives, bullying, unfortunately, is not so foreign to our students. Many of our students have experienced bullying in one form or another and, obviously, some have acted as bullies. Ask students to consider why people bully others. Though bullying can certainly hurt the one being bullied, the bully is hurting, as well. After all, why bully if you aren’t hurting about something or other?
Obviously, this question can be turned abound. Why bully if you are hurting about something or other? Unfortunately, the answer makes all too much sense. Bullies bully so that they don’t have to think about their own pains and hurts. Rather than turning their attention inward, to their own issues, they turn their attention outwards in a mean spirited kind of way. Through bullying they feel powerful and important, something that their own pains are preventing them from feeling if they turn their attention inward.
So, when teaching the Holocaust a great place to start would be with the reasons that the Third German Reich was feeling pain before they committed the atrocities of the Holocaust. Indeed, they were feeling real pain. For one, they had just lost World War I. The allied victors were extracting significant payments from the Germans. Obviously these payments hurt the German economy. An entire wheel barrow full of money could buy a loaf of bread. Challenge students to consider the ways that previously successful Germans might have felt with these new challenges and difficulties. Unfortunately, in light of an understanding of bullying, students will now be able to better understand the horrors of the Holocaust.