Museum Fellowship Lesson Plans


Photo of Elie Wiesel
Portrait of Elie Wiesel delivering a speech.
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives

Aftermath and Universal Lessons of the Holocaust
Rosemary Conroy
St. Luke School
Shoreline, Washington




This lesson falls at the completion of our Holocaust unit and is designed to "pull together" the lessons of the Shoah by asking the very simple questions, "What have I learned from the Holocaust?" and "How can I make a difference?" This is a return to the preliminary question asked at the beginning of our study, "Why study the Holocaust?" The follow up student activities can be adjusted and modified to fit into any classroom time schedule and can easily be integrated across the curriculum.


  • To help students to recognize the responsibility of society to preserve the basic human rights of all of its members. 
  • To assist students in answering the following questions: How can I make a difference? What does the Holocaust mean to me? 
  • To help students internalize the lessons of the Holocaust and intolerance.
  • To encourage tolerance of diversity and opposing views.
  • To raise students' concern about apathy, indifference, prejudice, social responsibility and the nature and dynamics of unchecked power.
  • To help students to understand the unique nature of the Holocaust.

Time Required

1-2 days

Grade Level

Middle school or high school

Curriculum Fit

Social Studies

Materials Used / Resources

  1. Niemöller, Martin. "First the Nazis ..." Overhead transparency of the quote. See quote below.
  2. Ogden, Maurice. "The Hangman." Find poem below.
  3. Pupko, Elisa. "Why." This student entry won recognition in the Jacob Friedman Creative Writing Contest of Washington State in 2000. 
  4. Wiesel, Elie. "The Perils of Indifference." Speech given at the White House on April 12, 1999.

Teacher Directed Activity

  1. Begin with reading overhead quote by Niemöller and discussing its relevance.
  2. Discuss in small groups the impact of the various writings of Ogden and Wiesel. Share responses. 
  3. Pose the following questions: Why is it important to study the Holocaust? Is studying such an event enough? What practical action can emerge from our study?
  4. Conclude with the reading of poem "Why."

Suggested Student Activities

  1. Select an event from a news report on TV, in the newspaper, or at your school and describe how the event caused others to 'bear witness."
  2. Keep a journal for a week or two in which you record your feelings about disturbing events in the news.

  3. Write a letter to a Congressional representative or a newspaper editor stating your views about a social injustice.

  4. In a small group list ways that people can "bear witness" in the face of racial, cultural, economic, political, and religious persecution.

  5. Make a bulletin board for the school hall bringing focus to issues of social injustices.

  6. Create a memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust and display it.  

Evaluation / Assessment

The Hangman
Into our town the Hangman came. 
Smelling of gold and blood and flame 
and he paced our bricks with a diffident air 
and built his frame on the courthouse square

The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
Only as wide as the door was wide;
A frame as tall, or little more,
Than the capping sill of the courthouse door

And we wondered, whenever we had the time.
Who the criminal, what the crime.
That Hangman judged with the yellow twist
of knotted hemp in his busy fist.

And innocent though we were, with dread,
We passed those eyes of buckshot lead:
Till one cried: "Hangman, who is he
For whom you raise the gallows-tree?"

Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
And he gave us a riddle instead of reply:
"He who serves me best," said he, 
"Shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree."

And he stepped down. and laid his hand
On a man who came from another land
And we breathed again, for another's grief
At the Hangman's hand was our relief

And the gallows-frame on the courthouse lawn
By tomorrow's sun would be struck and gone.
So we gave him way, and no one spoke.
Out of respect for his Hangman's cloak.

The next day's sun looked mildly down
On roof and street in our quiet town
And stark and black in the morning air,
The gallows-tree on the courthouse square.

And the Hangman stood at his usual stand
With the yellow hemp in his busy hand;
With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike
And his air so knowing and business like.

And we cried, "Hangman, have you not done
Yesterday. with the alien one?"
Then we fell silent, and stood amazed,
"Oh, not for him was the gallows raised."

He laughed a laugh as he looked at us:
"...Did you think I'd gone to all this fuss
To hang one man? That's a thing I do
To stretch a rope when the rope is new."

Then one cried "Murder!" One cried "Shame!" 
And into our midst the Hangman came 
To that man's place. "Do you hold," said he, 
"with him that was meant for the gallows-tree?"

And he laid his hand on that one's arm.
And we shrank back in quick alarm,
And we gave him way, and no one spoke
Out of fear of his Hangman's cloak.

That night we saw with dread surprise
The Hangman's scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute
The gallows-tree had taken root;

Now as wide, or a little more,
Than the steps that led to the courthouse door,
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
Halfway up on the courthouse wall.

Martin Niemöller
First they came for the Communists 
and I did not speak out--because I was not a Communist. 
Then they came for the Social Democrats 
and I did not speak out--because I was not a Social Democrat. 
Then they came for the trade unionists 
and I did not speak out--because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews 
and I did not speak out--because I was not a Jew.  
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Why by Elisa Pupko (10th grade)

The third he took-we had all heard tell
Was a user and infidel, and
"What," said the Hangman "have you to do
With the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?"

And we cried out, "Is this one he
Who has served you well and faithfully?"
The Hangman smiled: "It's a clever scheme
to try the strength of the gallows-beam."

The fourth man's dark, accusing song
Had scratched out comfort hard and long;
And what concern, he gave us back.
"Have you for the doomed--the doomed and black?"

The fifth. The sixth. And we cried again,
"Hangman, Hangman, is this the last?" 
"It's a trick," he said. "that we hangmen know 
For easing the trap when the trap springs slow.""

And so we ceased, and asked no more,
As the Hangman tallied his bloody score:
And sun by sun, and night by night,
The gallows grew to monstrous height.

The wings of the scaffold opened wide
Till they covered the square from side to side:
And the monster cross-beam, looking down.
Cast its shadow across the town.

Then through the town the Hangman came
And called in the empty streets my name-
And I looked at the gallows soaring tall
And thought, "There is no one left at all

For hanging." And so he calls to me
To help pull down the gallows-tree.
And I went out with right good hope
To the Hangman's tree and the Hangman's rope.

He smiled at me as I came down
To the courthouse square through the silent town.
And supple and stretched in his busy hand
Was the yellow twist of the strand.

And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap
And it sprang down with a ready snap
And then with a smile of awful command
He laid his hand upon my hand.

"You tricked me. Hangman!," I shouted then.
"That your scaffold was built for other men... 
And I no henchman of yours," I cried, 
"You lied to me. Hangman. foully lied!"

Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
"Lied to you? Tricked you?" he said. "Not I.
For I answered straight and I told you true"
The scaffold was raised for none but you. 

For who has served me more faithfully
Then you with your coward's hope?" said he,
"And where are the others that might have stood
Side by your side in the common good?,"

"Dead," I whispered, and sadly 
"Murdered," the Hangman corrected me:
"First the alien, then the Jew... 
I did no more than you let me do."

Beneath the beam that blocked the sky.
None had stood so alone as I
And the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there
Cried "Stay!" for me in the empty square
Why do you torment?
What is the purpose?
Do you enjoy inflicting pain on others?
Don't you have a heart?
Can't you see the pain you are causing?
Inside and out
They did nothing wrong.
Especially not to you.
I know
You are just cruel.
You have no heart.
You are numb to the cries of pain of your victims.
This must be stopped.
This should stop forever.
No one should have to suffer like that again.
How will people know?
The need to know.
We must educate others.
But how?
I am just one person.
What can I do?

I am only one voice among billions.
No one will listen.
Or will they?
I can learn.
Learn every horrifying detail of the Holocaust.
Then tell people what I've learned.
Let them know every horrifying detail.
Tell them to tell others.
Tell them to never forget.
To always remember.
My one voice will grow.
It will become one hundred voices,
One thousand voices,
And finally,
Hopefully billions of voices.
All talking for the same reason,
To not let others forget.
I must do this.
It will not undo what has been done in the past,
But it will prevent it from happening in the future.


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