Museum Fellowship Book Reviews


book cover used by permission of publisherBearing Witness: Teaching About the Holocaust
Beth Greenbaum
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann: Boynton/Cook, 2001

Reviewed by:
Niki Locklear

Simon Kenton High School
Independence, Kentucky


Beth Greenbaum’s Bearing Witness is a comprehensive and invaluable resource for high school and middle school educators who want to teach about the Holocaust through literature. In her book, Greenbaum shares her teaching strategies, lessons, materials, and classroom activities because she believes that by “studying Holocaust literature allows for the survival of the texts….it resurrects the damned, the people whose voices were all but extinguished.” 

Greenbaum organizes the book into twelve chapters, each designed to introduce a specific theme or period through readings, videos, discussions, and journal responses. The first three chapters allow the reader to see how Greenbaum introduces her students to the core concepts of the course, the idea of “bearing witness”, and the theme of hatred in terms of racism, prejudice, anti-Semitism, and dehumanization. At the same time, the reader is getting a personal introduction to her students, listening to their responses in their poetry and journal responses. Chapter four focuses on how to present to students examples of literature and activities which examine the necessity to not remain silent. Not only does the author give teachers suggested materials for each concept, Greenbaum also presents the reader with ways to allow opportunities for students to make “leap-frog” associations from the classroom to personal experiences or current events.

The remaining chapters center on reading and responding to literature about the Ghettos, the Resistance Movements, Hitler’s theory of the Master Race, the Camps, and the Survivors. Greenbaum focuses on six major works of literature as the basis for the Holocaust study: The Diary of Anne Frank, Night, Survival in Auschwitz, Incident at Vichy, Maus I, and Sunflower. Within each chapter, she provides the reader with historical background, examination of the major works, teaching objectives, rationale of the writing assignments, and students’ examples. In many chapters, the author provides us with alternative student activities, potential sensitive issues and strategies for dealing with them, and additional web sites and resources for further historical background and documentation.

Because her primary audience will be teachers who are interested in using Holocaust-related materials in their classroom, Greenbuam has added Appendix A which includes her suggestions of reading materials and videos for incorporating Holocaust Literature into an English curriculum, materials for grades seven through twelve, and a list of historical writings and documentaries for Holocaust inclusion into the America History or European History curricula. In addition, she has included Appendix B, a compendium of stories, poems, memoirs, and videos; a glossary of Holocaust terms; and a comprehensive (and usable) Works Cited. 

Greenbaum invites us into her classroom to see how she provides “an opportunity for students to think honestly and genuinely as they bear witness to the awesome truth of the Holocaust." Although the author has tried to add enough supplementary materials, activities, and notes to reach “seasoned” teachers of both the language arts and social studies departments, this book is geared more for a first-time teacher of Holocaust Literature, particularly in a Language Arts classroom. 


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