Museum Fellowship Lesson Plans

  Netherlands, c.1942
Two Jewish sisters pose with their dolls.
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives

Life Prior to Kristallnacht (1933-1938)
Jacqueline Littlefield
Holocaust Human Rights Center of Maine
Augusta, Maine



This lesson includes sections addressing the issues of Jewish life in Europe in 1933, antisemitism, and increased discrimination and restrictions. For each section, a teacher will find suggested activities, resources, vocabulary, geographical locations and sample assessment questions. The lesson was developed by Jacqueline Littlefield, Education Outreach Coordinator for the Holocaust Human Rights Center of Maine, as part of a unit on the kindertransport. The lesson was designed with a strong online component since all of Maine's seventh and eighth grade students have lap top computers.


  • Students will recognize what life was like in Germany and other European countries prior to and after Hitler and the Nazi party came into power (1933-1938).
  • Students will recognize and understand events between 1933 and 1938 that increased discrimination against Jews in Germany and occupied Europe.
  • Students will develop a chronology of events leading up to Kristallnacht.
  • Students will define terminology related to this section.

Grade Level

Grades 8-12 

Curriculum Fit

Social Studies, Holocaust Studies, Language Arts

Historical Background

Antisemitism did not start with Hitlerís rise into power. He merely followed logically the racial doctrines that most Europeans believed. Antisemitism had long been a part of life in Europe. However, in the 1930ís, with Hitlerís arrival to power in Germany, life for the Jews became increasingly difficult. Blamed for Germanyís problems, restrictions against Jews increased after the Nazis came to power. 

In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of citizenship and isolated them from other Germans by outlawing marriages between Jews and citizens of Germany. The Nuremberg Laws were followed by other anti-Jewish measures.

In 1938, Hitler and the Nazi party had been in power 5 years. To advance their plans for a new German empire, German troops entered Austria on March 11, 1938 (Anschluss). When no one protested the invasion, Hitler took over parts of Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) in September 1938 and March 1939. Under German control, the Jewish populations of Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia found themselves subject to all the anti-Jewish laws the German Jews had been gradually forced to accept over the previous 5 years. 

Until the early 40ís, the intent of the German anti-Jewish policies was to make life so difficult for Jews that they would leave on their own. Many found it difficult to abandon homes their families had lived in for generations, and to leave communities and extended family members. Many believed the anti-Jewish events would stop under international pressure.

It was also difficult to find a country willing to take them. Still in the grips of the Depression, much of the world, including the U.S., leaned toward isolationism. In 1938, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a conference in the French resort of Evian to discuss the issues of the growing number of refugees. Of the 32 countries represented, only one, the Dominican Republic, agreed to accept more refugees. Adolf Hitler felt this proved that no country truly cared for the Jews. (From Into the Arms of Strangers and The Children of Willesden Lane Study Guides)

Procedure / Strategy

Jewish Life in Europe in 1933

  • Students, using the resources listed below, answer the questions about Jewish life in Europe in 1933 found at the end of the lesson.
  • Students select a photo and use a photo analysis worksheet to compare the photo to one taken today of a people doing the same activity.
  • Students listen to the personal stories.
  • Students define the listed vocabulary words using the recommended resources.
  • Students begin to create a chronology or timeline of events with brief descriptions, pictures and quotes.
  • From Jewish Life in Europe before the Holocaust, explore sidebar links to artifacts and biography.
  • From the USHMM Holocaust Encyclopedia, use the 'find articles on' search box to do a search on Germany: Jewish Population in 1933. Read through the articles retrieved, including the reminiscences of Gerda Haas, who lived in Maine and helped found the Holocaust Human Rights Center. She describes prewar Jewish community life in Ansbach.
  • Repeat the above directions for accessing material from the Holocaust Encyclopedia. Do a search on "Jewish Population in Europe in 1933."
  • Shtetl
  • Yiddish


  • It is suggested that teachers use the resources listed to provide students with an overview of this topic. It is important that students understand that antisemitism did not start with Hitler and the Nazis. They took it to a higher level. 
  • Students answer the questions about antisemitism found at the end of the lesson.
  • Students define the listed vocabulary words using the recommended resources.
  • Students continue to develop their chronology or timeline of events.
  • Antisemitism
  • Persecution
  • Pogrom
  • Scapegoat

Increased Discrimination and Restrictions

  • Students read the text, look at the pictures, and listen to any personal stories for each topic area. They should consider the who, what, where, when, and why for each topic.
  • Students define the listed vocabulary words using the recommended resources.
  • Students continue to develop their chronology or timeline of events. On their timelines, students should list anti-Jewish legislation noting dates.
  • Students should locate the listed geographical references.
  • Anschluss
  • Hitler Youth
  • Sudetenland
  • Aryan
  • Nuremberg Laws
  • Boycott
  • Reich
  • immigration and emigration
  • quota
  • refugees
  • visa (travel)
  • Austria 
  • Germany
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Poland
  • France
  • Sudetenland



  • Blend, Marta. A Child Alone. Portland, Or : Vallentine Mitchell, 1995. pages 22-30.
  • Harris, Mark Jonathan and Deborah Oppenheimer. Into the Arms of Strange: Stories of the Kindertransport New York ; London : Bloomsbury Pub. : Distributed to the trade by St. Martin's Press, 2000. pages 21-55.
  • Drucker, Olga Levy. Kindertransport. New York: H. Holt, 1992. pages 12-20.
  • Fox, Anne L. My Heart in a Suitcase. Portland, Or. : Vallentine Mitchell, 1996. pages 30-31 and 36-37.
  • Fox, Anne L and Eva Abraham-Podietz. Ten Thousand Children: True Stories Told by the Children Who Escaped on the Kindertransport. West Orange, NJ : Behrman House, 1999. pages 14-25.


  • Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport. Burbank, CA : Warner Home Video, 2001, 2000. Show segments 0:02:06-0:13:58, 12.02 minutes (picture children crossing street... "It was a 13 year quota for us.") 
  • My Knees Were Jumping remembering the Kindertransports. Waltham, MA : Distributed by the National Center for Jewish Film, 1997. Show segments 0:14:33-0:18:35, 6.02 minutes ("On March 12, 1938 Ö "I think anger is a talent I don't have to this day.") This segment deals specifically with Anschluss.


Questions for Jewish Life in Europe in 1933 

  1. According to the 1933 census, what was the Jewish population of Germany? (Approximately 505,000)
  2. How did this compare to the total population of Germany at that time? (.75 % of 67 million) 
  3. What percentage of Jews in Germany in 1933 held German citizenship? (80%)
  4. Where did 70% of German Jews live? Urban areas or in small towns? (Urban areas)
  5. Which German city had the largest Jewish population in 1933 and what percentage of the total city population did this represent? (Berlin, less than 4%)
  6. In 1933, what was the Jewish population of Europe? (9.5 million)
  7. In 1933, which countries made up central Europe? (Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Danzig)
  8. In prewar central Europe, where was the largest Jewish community located? (Germany)
  9. In 1933, which countries made up eastern Europe? (Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Soviet Union)
  10. Which eastern country in prewar Europe had the largest Jewish population and what was it? (Poland, 3 million)
  11. In eastern Europe, what was the name given to the predominately Jewish towns or villages in which many Jews lived? (shtetls)
  12. What language did these Jews speak? (Yiddish)
  13. Which group of Jews, those living in western or eastern Europe, tended to adopt the culture of their non-Jewish neighbors? (western)

Questions for Antisemitism

  1. Define antisemitism. (Prejudice towards Jews or discrimination against)
  2. Name one reason why some Christians did not welcome Jews. (Jews did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, were responsible for the death of Jesus and were known for their role as moneylenders)
  3. What is a scapegoat? (Person or groups of persons unfairly blamed for wrongs done by others)
  4. Give an example of a time when Jews were blamed for problems people suffered? (Black plague during Middle Ages)
  5. What is a pogrom? (An organized violence against Jews, often with understood support of authorities)
  6. Who is one person from whom Hitler learned his antisemitic views? (Karl Lueger)


Students respond to the following writing prompt: 

You are a teenager living in a Nazi-occupied country prior to 1939. Write a letter to a friend or relative not living under Nazi oppression. Your letter should be clearly organized describing your life prior to the NazisĻ rise to power and how your life has changed under Nazi occupation. Reference should be made to some of the historical events you learned about in this lesson. Make sure your references are accurate (dates, place names, people, events etc.). Use planning, drafting and revising to write your letter. Be sure your final copy includes sentence variety and transitional devices, as well as standard English conventions.

The assessment may be evaluated by means of a Life Prior to Kristallnacht (1933-1938) Letter Scoring Guide.


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