The following recommendations for the study of the Holocaust within an Art or Art History class are from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
One of the goals for studying art history is to enable students to understand the role of art in society. The Holocaust can be incorporated into a study of art and art history to illuminate how the Nazis used art for propagandistic purposes, and how victims used artistic expression to communicate their protest, despair, and/or hope. A study of art during the Holocaust helps students:
- analyze the motivations for, and implications of, the Nazi's censorship activities in the fine and literary arts, theater, and music (e.g., the banning of books and certain styles of painting; the May 1933 book burnings);
- examine the values and beliefs of the Nazis and how the regime perceived the world, by, for example, examining Nazi symbols of power, Nazi propaganda posters, paintings, and drawings deemed "acceptable" rather than "degenerate";
- study how people living under Nazi control used art as a form of resistance (e.g., examining the extent to which the victims created art; the dangers they faced in doing so; the various forms of art that were created and the settings in which they were created, and the diversity of themes and content in this artistic expression);
- examine art created by Holocaust victims and survivors and explore its capacity to document diverse experiences including life prior to the Holocaust, life inside the ghettos, the deportations, and the myriad of experiences in the concentration camp system; and
- examine interpretations of the Holocaust as expressed in contemporary art, art exhibitions, and memorials.
Aryan: A term for peoples speaking the language of Europe and India. In Nazi racial theory, a person of pure German "blood." The term "non-Aryan" was used to designate Jews, part-Jews and others of supposedly inferior racial stock.
Auschwitz - Birkenau /oushvits - biakenow/ : A complex consisting of concentration, extermination, and labor camps in Upper Silesia. It was established in 1940 as a concentration camp and included a killing center in 1942. Auschwitz I: The main camp. Auschwitz II (Also known as Birkenau): The extermination center. Auschwitz III (Monowitz): The I.G. Farben labor camp, also known as Buna. In addition, there were numerous subsidiary camps.
Cabaret /kabaray/ : Large restaurant providing food, drink, music, a dance floor, and floor show.
Cantor: Leader of chanted prayers in a Jewish service; the congregational singer.
Concentration camp (Konzentrationslager abbreviated as KZ) /kontsentrationslahga/ : Concentration camps were prisons used without regard to accepted norms of arrest and detention. They were an essential part of Nazi systematic oppression. Initially (1933-36), they were used primarily for political prisoners. Later (1936-42), concentration camps were expanded and non-political prisoners--Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and Poles--were also incarcerated. In the last period of the Nazi regime (1942-45), prisoners of concentration camps were forced to work in the armament industry, as more and more Germans were fighting in the war. Living conditions varied considerably from camp to camp and over time. The worst conditions took place from 1936-42, especially after the war broke out. Death, disease, starvation, crowded and unsanitary conditions, and torture were a daily part of concentration camps.
Degenerate art (Entartete Kunst) /entatete koonst/ : Art which did not fit the Nazi ideal.
Dehumanization: The Nazi policy of denying Jews basic civil rights such as practicing religion, education, and adequate housing.
Displacement: The process, either official or unofficial, of people being involuntarily moved from their homes because of war, government policies, or other societal actions, requiring groups of people to find new places to live. Displacement is a recurring theme in the history of the Jewish people.
Gestapo /geshtahpoh/ : Acronym for Geheime Staatspolizei /gehaime shtahtspolitsai/ , meaning Secret State Police. Prior to the outbreak of war, the Gestapo used brutal methods to investigate and suppress resistance to Nazi rule within Germany. After 1939, the Gestapo expanded its operations into Nazi-occupied Europe.
Ghettos: The Nazis revived the medieval term ghetto to describe their device of concentration and control, the compulsory "Jewish Quarter." Ghettos were usually established in the poor sections of a city, where most of the Jews from the city and surrounding areas were subsequently forced to reside. Often surrounded by barbed wire or walls, the ghettos were sealed. Established mostly in Eastern Europe (e.g., Lódz, Warsaw, Vilna, Riga, or Minsk), the ghettos were characterized by overcrowding, malnutrition, and heavy labor. All were eventually dissolved, and the Jews murdered.
Nationalism: A movement, as in the arts, based on the folk idioms, history, aspirations, etc., of a nation.
Reichskammern /raikskaman/ : Reich government departments.
Reichstag /raikhstag/ : The German Parliament. On February 27, 1933, a staged fire burned the Reichstag building. A month later, on March 23, 1933, the Reichstag approved the Enabling Act which gave Hitler unlimited dictatorial power.
Riefenstahl, Leni (b. 1902) : Nazi film director chosen personally by Hitler to make propaganda films for the Nazi regime, which include The Triumph of the Will (1935), Olympia (1938), and Reichsparteitag (1935).
Socialism: A theory or system of social organization that advocates the ownership and control of land, capital, industry, etc. by the community as a whole. In Marxist theory it represents the stage following capitalism in a state transforming to communism.
SS (Schutzstaffel /shoots shtahfl/ or Protection Squad) : Guard detachments originally formed in 1925 as Hitler's personal guard. From 1929, under Himmler, the SS developed into the most powerful affiliated organization of the Nazi party. In mid-1934, they established control of the police and security systems, forming the basis of the Nazi police state and the major instrument of racial terror in the concentration camps and occupied Europe.
Theresienstadt /tereysienshtat/ (Terezín /terezeen/) : Nazi ghetto located in Czechoslovakia. Created in late 1941 as a "model Jewish settlement" to deceive the outside world, including International Red Cross investigators, as to the treatment of the Jews. However, conditions in Terezín were difficult, and most Jews held there were later killed in death camps. Theresienstadt is the German name for the town; Terezín is the Czech name.
Third Reich /raich/: Meaning "third regime or empire," the Nazi designation of Germany and its regime from 1933-45. Historically, the First Reich was the medieval Holy Roman Empire, which lasted until 1806. The Second Reich included the German Empire from 1871-1918.
Warsaw ghetto: Established in November 1940, it was surrounded by a wall and contained nearly 500,000 Jews. About 45,000 Jews died there in 1941 alone, as a result of overcrowding, hard labor, lack of sanitation, insufficient food, starvation, and disease. During 1942, most of the ghetto residents were deported to Treblinka, leaving about 60,000 Jews in the ghetto. A revolt took place in April 1943 when the Germans, commanded by General Jürgen Stroop, attempted to raze the ghetto and deport the remaining inhabitants to Treblinka. The defense forces, commanded by Mordecai Anielewicz, included all Jewish political parties. The bitter fighting lasted twenty-eight days and ended with the destruction of the ghetto.
Weimar Republic /vaimahr/ : The German republic, and experiment in democracy (1919-1933), was established after the end of World War I.
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Discussion Questions/Research Topics
Analyze the use of propaganda by the Nazis.
Compare German and American World War II poster art and the use of war propaganda.
Research the depiction of Jews in medieval European art.
Research the history of the swastika.
Evaluate the continuing role of the mass media and propaganda in Nazi Germany, including use of the "Big Lie" and the corruption of language.
Research Holocaust art produced by women. Can any contrasts be drawn when comparing Holocaust art produced by women with art produced by men?
Many Jewish families in Germany had roots in their towns and villages for generations. Research the contributions of German Jews to their country through visual art. To narrow your research, focus on a particular region or school of art.
Compare two or more different Holocaust memorials.
Explore the role of architecture in the Third Reich.
What was considered "degenerate art" by the Nazis? Discuss using examples.
This list of artists included in the Degenerate Art exhibition includes many well-known twentieth century masters appropriate for student projects and reports.
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Kristallnacht. Map plotting concentrated areas of Nazi violence against Jews during the infamous "Kristallnacht".
Reproducible Student Hand-Outs
Ghettos in Europe. Map showing Jewish ghettos in Europe under the Nazis.
Railroads Leading to Auschwitz. Map of the rail system that brought victims to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Concentration Camps. Map of Nazi concentration camps in Europe.
Bibliography: Art in the Third Reich.
Bibliography: International Art Trade.
Exploitation of Art in the Third Reich: A Selected Bibliography.
Nazi Propaganda: A Selected Bibliography of Books, Dissertations, and Media.
Bibliography of Books on Nazi Propaganda by Randall Bytwerk.
Terezín: A Selected Bibliography from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Lesson Plans from the Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Looking at Photographs. Students analyze photographs for details needed to unlock meanings.
Raven' Beauties. Students learn about the Women of Ravensbrück and design a postage stamp to honor them.
Class Memorial. Students plan and conduct a memorial service commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.
David Olère. Students analyze the artwork of David Olère and compare it to Holocaust photographs on the site.
Cartoon: Truth or Tale. Students view Nazi propaganda and discuss the power of symbolism and suggestion
A Holocaust Monument. Students respond use geometric shapes or forms to create a Holocaust monument.
Mapping Survivor Stories. Students trace a survivor's story using a timeline, map skills, photography, poetry, and/or prose.
News Flash! Students create news headlines of the Holocaust.
Shemini Atzeret - Simhat Torah. Students become acquainted with a Jewish festival..
Käthe Kollwitz: Never Again War! Students investigate the life and artwork of Käthe Kollwitz.
Camels and Pyramids. Students identify patterns and rhythm in art.
Lesson Plans on Other Sites
A lesson on the power of propaganda poster art.
Assignment: Rescue: The Story of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee, an eight-day unit for high school.
Art in Nazi Germany--when art and politics didn't agree: a unit plan for ages 15-18 in art.
Teaching material prepared by Dr. Hornshøj-Møller for the Nazi propaganda film, Der ewige Jude. This includes a single-page (double-sided) handout for students to take home the day before seeing the film, a pre-questionnaire, a post-questionnaire, and more. (In German only.)
Florida Resource Manual on Holocaust Education
The following materials from the State of Florida Resource Manual on Holocaust Education, Grades 9-12 will enrich your class's study of this topic. This manual was distributed to all Florida high schools in the spring of 1999 and should be available in your school resource center.
Antisemitic Book Illustrations Unit 3 pages 63-65 Political Cartoon on the Evian Conference Unit 4 page 35 On Movies and Memory Unit 8 page 43 Holocaust Remembrance Day Unit 10 page 48 Identity Cards Unit 10 page 60 Constructing a "Wall of Righteous People" Unit 10 page 61 Designing Tiles For A "Wall of Remembrance" Unit 10 page 62
Student art and poetry may be viewed and posted at "Imagine: A Student Forum" sponsored by the Cybrary of the Holocaust.
Visit World Wide Arts Resources for information on specific artists, art education, and art history.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.