Teacher's Guide

The History of Antisemitism and the Holocaust

German text and images in chart explaining blood purity laws
Photo caption

German Nuremberg Law teaching chart that distinguishes the hierarchal difference between German-blooded individuals, Jews, and those in between, distributed in 1936. Learn more about the Nuremberg Laws here

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is America’s national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and serves as this country’s memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust. The Museum works to keep Holocaust memory alive while inspiring citizens and leaders to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. 

The Museum’s collections document the fate of Holocaust victims, survivors, rescuers, liberators, and others through artifacts, documents, photos, films, books, personal stories, and more. 

The National Endowment for the Humanities has invited National History Day (NHD) and the USHMM to work together to promote better understanding among young people of antisemitism, the Holocaust, and Jewish history. This guide introduces resources from the USHMM and potential topics for NHD research projects. Stay tuned for more information, resources, and workshops in the coming year. 

Guiding Questions

What are the origins and history of antisemitism?

How has antisemitism evolved over time?

What was the Holocaust?

How and why did the Holocaust happen?

Resources for K-12 Classrooms

The USHMM offers a wealth of resources for educators and students. Consider the following lesson plans as an entry point for teaching about the history of antisemitism and the Holocaust. 

History of Antisemitism and the Holocaust 

This lesson focuses on the history of antisemitism and its role in the Holocaust to better understand how prejudice and hate speech can contribute to violence, mass atrocity, and genocide. Learning about the origins of hatred and prejudice encourages students to think critically about antisemitism today.

Understanding Nazi Symbols 

By focusing on the history and meaning of the swastika, the lesson provides a model for teachers to use when examining the origins of symbols, terms, and ideology from Nazi Germany and Holocaust-era fascist movements that students are seeing in contemporary American culture, promoting critical historical thinking and analysis.

Nazi Racism 

Racism fueled Nazi ideology and politics. To critically analyze actions taken by Nazi Germany and its collaborators requires an understanding of the concept of racism in general and Nazi racial antisemitism in particular.

Analyzing Memes 

When students bring memes linking current events to history into the classroom, they can be the entry point for a deeper conversation. This activity uses critical thinking skills to unpack the message in the meme, encouraging deeper conversation.   

Connecting the Holocaust to Local History

As Europeans faced escalation toward war and growing antisemitism, followed by years of fighting and atrocities, Americans reacted in various ways. Some of these reactions can be seen in local news coverage or found in the archives of museums and historical associations throughout the U.S. As you explore the responses and actions among individuals and communities in the United States, consider how this local emphasis might affect our understanding of the Holocaust and antisemitism.  

Local Sites for Holocaust Education 

Federal support and location among the monuments and museums on the National Mall make USHMM the nation’s most prominent center for learning about the Holocaust and antisemitism, but museums and other organizations dedicated to this history can be found throughout the country. Find many of these sites through the Community of Holocaust Education Centers and the Association of Holocaust Organizations. You may also find our teacher’s guide Investigating Local History useful in identifying and accessing sources or sites in your own community. 

Using Historic Newspapers for Local Research

History Unfolded: U.S. Newspapers and the Holocaust

What could Americans have known about the Holocaust? Uncover what ordinary people could have known about the Holocaust from reading their local newspapers from 1933 to 1946. Read newspaper articles that were published across the U.S. to find out what was reported, when, and where. 

Chronicling America and the National Digital Newspaper Program 

Through this partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, users of Chronicling American can search and view newspaper pages from 1690 to 1963. Consider comparing coverage of the events of the 1930s and 1940s in mainstream press to coverage in papers for Jewish American readers or other audiences. You may find our Race and Ethnicity Keyword Thesaurus for Chronicling America useful in planning your search terms. We also offer a comprehensive introduction to working with historic newspapers in our teacher’s guide Chronicling America: History’s First Draft.  

National History Day Topics

The 2024 NHD theme Turning Points in History provides an opportunity for students to research more about turning points, antisemitism, and the Holocaust in the Museum's collections. The list below offers examples of potential topics that encourage learning about antisemitism and the Holocaust.  

Explore the Museum’s collections, or research what local newspapers may have reported about some of these events. 

Combatting Contemporary Antisemitism

Antisemitism did not end with the defeat of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, the legacy of hatred and violence against Jews can be seen today in the words and actions of white supremacist groups or in everyday interactions. Standing up to this hate requires knowledge of the terms and symbols used by the perpetrators. USHMM offers a glossary of Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist Terms and Symbols as a starting point for recognizing antisemitic messages. 

Holocaust denial is any form of antisemitism that claims the Holocaust either did not occur or has been exaggerated. In this video, Holocaust Denial, Explained, historian Deborah E. Lipstadt explains the different forms of Holocaust denial and why they are so dangerous: 

Here you can find additional resources about antisemitism and Holocaust denial.  

NEH Connections

The National Endowment for the Humanities has supported numerous projects exploring Jewish history, preserving stories of Jewish life, and celebrating Jewish culture. Among these are several that might be useful in your classroom. 

Judaism in America 
This episode of the NEH-funded podcast BackStory explores the history of Judaism in America, featuring stories about George Washington’s visit to a Rhode Island Jewish community, the Cincinnati Jewish leaders who popularized Hanukkah celebrations in the U.S., and the rise in anti-Semitism that accompanied the highly publicized 1913 murder trial and subsequent lynching of Jewish American factory superintendent Leo Frank. 

Walter Winchell: The Power of Gossip 
Award winning writer, producer, and director Ben Loeterman used a NEH media projects production grant to develop Walter Winchell: The Power of Gossip. The film, which premiered in 2020, introduces audiences to the notorious newspaper columnist, radio commentator and television personality. The film includes portions on Winchell’s Jewish identity and how he used his broadcasts to expose and attack Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s. Stream the film now on PBS.

GI JEWS: Jewish Americans in World War II 
The 2018 NEH-funded documentary GI JEWS: Jewish Americans in World War II tells the profound and unique story of the 550,000 Jewish men and women who served in World War II. These brave men and women fought for their nation and their people, for America and for Jews worldwide. Like all Americans, they fought against fascism, but they also waged a more personal fight—to save their brethren in Europe. 

Mission US: City of Immigrants 
One of the most innovative ways for students to learn about the Jewish American experience of the early years of the 20th century is through Mission US 4: City of Immigrants, where players navigate New York’s Lower East Side as Lena, a young Jewish immigrant from Russia. Trying to save money to bring her parents to America, she works long hours in a factory for little money and gets caught up in the growing labor movement.