Museum Fellowship Lesson Plans

  Krsitallnacht 1938
Shattered storefront during Kristallnacht.
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.

Analyzing and Evaluating Holocaust Literature
Sally Levine
Greenfield Hebrew Academy
Atlanta, Georgia



One outstanding tool for the teaching of the Holocaust is Holocaust literature. The work may be historical fiction, or an autobiographical accounting of an individual's experiences. In either case, in dealing with such an emotionally charged topic, some works may, or may not completely stand up to careful scrutiny. This series of lessons, taught after the history of the Holocaust has been thoroughly covered in class, serves to teach students to evaluate the accuracy of research, and/or memory. At the end of this brief unit, students should be able to apply what they have learned in class, based on evidence and verifiable testimony, to new information or material to which they may be exposed.


At the end of the unit, students will be able to: 

  • sequence major events in Holocaust History
  • synthesize what they have studied in terms of Holocaust literature
  • distinguish non-fiction from historical fiction
  • understand that history is made up of verifiable facts, based on both testimony and physical evidence
  • analyze the power of memory and how it is not always accurate
  • critique Holocaust literature in terms of its historical accuracy and its value in telling the story of the Holocaust

Grade Level

Grades 8-9 

Curriculum Fit

English, Holocaust Studies

Procedure / Strategy

Opening Activity

  1. Discuss the reliability of memory. How do many people who see the same thing recall the event differently?
  2. Define frame of reference and how it impacts how people view events around them.
  3. Discuss how Jewish observance fixes life events in time.
  4. Hand out copies and read from the foreword in Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust by Yaffa Eliach: “Paul Tillich wrote that ‘Judaism is more related to time and history than to space and nature.’ Jewish tradition, by its very nature, is time oriented. Time is classified into two major units: sacred and profane. Those two fundamental dimensions of time dominate Jewish law (Halacha) and life. Its most obvious manifestation is the Jewish lunisolar calendar with its division of the days of the year into sacred and secular days, into holidays and regular days. Many precepts (mitzvot) can be fulfilled only at very specific times of the day and night. The Sabbath and holidays begin and end at a precise minute. The holidays are governed by the clock , by the sun and the moon. The cycle of the week, the phases of the moon (the new moon coinciding with the new month and the full moon with the fifteenth of the month), the seasons and their prescribed holidays, dominate the life of the individual Jew. Even in the skies about Auschwitz, the full moon always appeared on the fifteenth of the Jewish month. A person brought up in this tradition, where time plays such a major role, has a constant awareness of time. The many handwritten Jewish calendars compiled in camps and hiding places confirm this time consciousness. The survivor telling his tale is scrupulously aware of Jewish-sacred-national Time.”

Lesson Sequence 

  1. Students will choose a book of a Holocaust theme, fiction or non-fiction, and will have it approved. They will have two weeks to complete their reading. 
  2. Students will tab their book to denote major historical events which impact their protagonists.
  3. Students will write a summary of their book. They will include information about the setting (time and place), protagonists, conflicts and their resolutions.
  4. Using resource materials and their books, students will construct parallel time lines. They will sequentially note the major historical events in their book and will give brief descriptions of these events. The second parallel time line will denote actual events in Holocaust history which would have had an impact on their characters. These events may not directly correspond with the actual dates on the story time line, but should have a cause and effect relationship. For example, if a character is sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz, corresponding historical events might include the building of Auschwitz or the experimental gassing of Russian prisoners of war. In some cases the events might correspond directly. For instance, if a protagonist is deported from the Warsaw ghetto on a particular date, the actual date of the liquidation of the ghetto should correspond. Students may include photographs and maps to illustrate these events.
  5. Students will critique their books. Their opinions will be elicited on such topics as the historical accuracy of the book, the powerful imagery it contains, age-appropriateness, and prerequisite knowledge needed for understanding. Quotes from the book must be cited to support their opinions. Students will also include brief biographies about their authors.

Materials / Resources

  • Bachrach, Susan D. Tell Them We Remember. Boston : Little, Brown, 1994.
  • A book, fiction or non-fiction, about the Holocaust, deemed appropriate for middle school, chosen from the Bibliography of the USHMM. (Students who choose to read Night by Elie Wiesel will be required to have permission from parents to read this selection).
  • Resource material from the class library or the Internet related to Holocaust history 

Evaluation / Assessment

In this lesson I formally assess and assign grades for the following:

  • Students will be given outlines denoting the required features of each of the assignments.
  • Grades will be based on rubrics which will be provided to explain the amount of credit involved in the execution of each aspect of the projects.
  • Students will be given an opportunity to examine exemplary projects which were submitted during the previous school year.
  • Students who chose the same reading material will have an opportunity to evaluate other students’ projects.

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