A Holocaust Monument

Grade Levels: 3 through 12


Sunshine State Standards: View all Sunshine State Standards


In this activity students use geometric shapes or forms to create a Holocaust monument. The lesson is appropriate after students have studied the Holocaust enough that they are ready to express some personal response to what they have learned. The activity is provided at three levels of increasing complexity. Level one uses simple shapes and is appropriate for elementary grades, level two utilizes three dimensional forms, and level three assumes that the students have some understanding of architecture.

Level 1: Shapes

Discuss geometric shapes with the class. Review the definitions of the shapes. Also discuss the emotional response we have to certain shapes. For instance, compare several circles with a row of acute triangles. Which seems more inviting? Which seems dangerous? Also consider the position or orientation of shapes. For example, a triangle resting on its base is a very stable shape, but inverted it is unstable. Rectangles tipped at an angle become dynamic, suggesting either action or the potential for movement. A large shape leaning toward us can seem very threatening, but two shapes leaning against each other can be stable and even suggest shelter.

Then explain that the students are to use geometric shapes to create a Holocaust monument. Such memorials have taken many forms and have expressed many different themes. Some are dedicated to the memory of the victims or to one of the victim groups. Other monuments specifically commemorate the struggle, the agony, or the resistance of the victims. Monuments are also erected to the heroism of rescuers and liberators. Show students photos of various memorials.

Once students have decided what they would like to express in their memorial, they should make pencil sketches of various arrangements of shapes. Allow time for students to discuss their preliminary sketches in small groups. Students should then select the sketch that is most expressive of their chosen theme.

Students use rulers, compass, and a knowledge of geometry to draw and cut their shapes from a single color of construction paper. Have them cut all the shapes out and arrange them on a second sheet of contrasting color. They should check their designs and make any last minute changes before gluing the shapes down.

You may ask the students to draw one or more figures viewing the monument to establish a sense of scale. These figures can be drawn directly on the background paper.

If the teacher wishes to extend this activity as a math lesson, students could be asked to calculate the area of their monument. Problems of scale and ratio could also be introduced. For example, if the drawn figure is six feet tall, how tall would the monument be?

Level 2: Forms

Proceed as above, but discuss forms rather than shapes. The student project could be done either as a modeled (shaded) drawing or as an actual construction. If done as a drawing, make sure that students determine a consistent light source and shade each of the forms to create the illusion of dimension. It is also possible to use a computer graphics program to create shaded forms. If the assignment is done as a three dimensional construction, have students paint the monument a single color to emphasize the forms. As before, you may wish to have the students add a figure for scale. A mathematics component could be added, this time calculating either surface area or volume.

Level 3: Architecture

If students have the appropriate background, the assignment could be approached as an architectural monument. Proceed as above, but discuss the emotional responses to different types of space. How do we respond differently to open or closed areas? To public or private spaces? To different scales of buildings? Show photographs of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Also consider the architectural monuments at Yad Vashem and visit the Web site of the South Florida Holocaust Memorial. Student projects may be completed as architectural renderings or as models.


How well does the finished project express the theme chosen by the student artist?


James E. Young, The Art of Memory: Holocaust Memorials in History. New York: Prestel-Verlag, 1994. An excellent reference book with photographs.

Memorial art located at former camps.

Other memorial art.

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.

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