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EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

Teaching the Holocaust with Primary Sources

Holocaust Header

IntroductionNuremberg Race Laws | Kristallnacht | Ghettos
Concentration CampsDachau | Bergen-Belsen | Auschwitz
Righteous Among the NationsGies | Schindler | Winton | Grueninger

Primary Source and Analysis Tools | Library of Congress Resources 
 Primary Source Sets | PDF Version

Primary Sources and Analysis Tools

This page contains information about incorporating primary sources into learning activities and links to primary source analysis tools. Examples of primary sources relative to our topic are included in the printable version of the resource booklet and primary source set above. You are also encouraged to visit the Library of Congress Resources page above to locate collections, exhibits and more sources of digitized primary sources. Of course, you should always go to and conduct your own search for primary sources that you can use in your classroom! If you need assistance feel free to  contact the TPS EIU staff or use the library of Congress "Ask a Librarian" links.


Why teach with photographs?

Photographs are powerful tools that can activate a student's background knowledge on a particular person, place or event and spark an interest to learn more. Teachers may effectively use photographs to present historical events, people and places in a personal way that students can connect with. The idea that photographs never lie has a long history, with many debates resting on photographic evidence. Some argue that photographs can indeed lie, they can be doctored, staged, or faked in many ways.

There is much more to a photo than the subject in the center. People, places, things and conditions in a photograph may offer a more complete view than we see in the expression of the subject.

Connecting to our topic of the Holocaust.

Reading photographs engages students in the process of historical inquiry. Students learn to move from a broad, general overview to more precise aspects and then return to the general with new perspectives or understanding.

The More You Look The More You See encourages students to use observation, inference or deduction, interpretation and investigative skill to read a photo using their knowledge base and previously learned skills as a foundation. Students are also encouraged to look at details and items in the background of a photo for the ABC Photo Study. To find a phrase or word that relates to the image for each letter of the alphabet requires using vocabulary and investigating skills. Students must have an understand of a topic or theme to arrange photos in a sequence that tells a story. The Storyboard Activity encourages students to visually inform their peers about a person, place or event. Finally, when you Put Yourself in the Picture you try to physically place yourself in another place and time. Students rely on all five senses to describe what surrounds them if they were in the photo.

Analysis Sheets: The More You Look The More You See | ABC Photo Study Analysis | Put Yourself in the Picture Analysis


Why teach with maps?

Maps serve as representations of geographic, political or cultural features on flat surfaces. Maps are visual records of knowledge valued by people in an area and they point to belief systems as well as boundaries. Teachers may effectively use maps to illustrate concepts that may otherwise be difficult for students to understand, such as settlement patterns, trade routes, economic growth and development.

Maps can be an important source of information for investigation. A map is a visual recollection of where people lived, roads and rivers passed, and natural geographic features once stood. A map represents a place that has been reduced in size, and chosen to focus on a particular theme. The results are then presented with symbols. The map reader, who may live in a different location and time, must decode the symbols and techniques used to understand the map.

To read a map, students should have a foundation of information to place it within the correct geographical, chronological, and cultural contexts.

Connecting to our topic of the Holocaust.

Reading maps is a wonderful way to present information to students in a new format. Students will look at two components: the physical qualities of the map and information that will help us understand what this map is trying to tell us and why someone felt that this information needs to be shared. The Map Analysis form presents a format that encourages students to study a map in terms that they are familiar with, and help them realize the importance of the "parts" until they see all of the information presented collectively.

There are many ways to use maps in teaching the Holocaust. Students can view maps of Germany before and after the war. They can see how Germany's boundaries changed after World War II. They can also discover villages that were lost after the war. The Library of Congress holds maps that show the position of the Allied forces during 1944 through 1945. When you use the Map Analysis sheet, not every question will have an answer. Feel free to revise the form to fit your classroom or lesson.

Analysis Sheets: Map Analysis 

Posters and Broadsides

Why teach with posters and broadsides?

Propaganda is a tools used as a weapon freely during war. Famous images and slogans that originated on posters of past wars are still recognized today. Some of the same techniques that were used to invoke emotion are used today in advertisements, something students will be able to understand. Posters attract our attention and often immediately appeal to some type of emotional reaction.

When we look at posters as historical documents, we must consider what the poster implies. In less than a single sentence, and on occasion with no words are all, posters are highly selective in the way that they depict the world. The way that a group, race, class or gender is portrayed in a poster can be very biased or skewed to fit the needs of the creator or to raise the desired reaction from viewers.

Connecting to our topic of the Holocaust.

When reading a poster, decoding and the use of context clues can be helpful. Students must understand that although their first impression is important, they must continue to investigate the attributes of the poster to fully appreciate how the artist developed the entire finished product. Using the Poster Analysis sheet students can deconstruct the poster to consider symbolism and messages. As a final step, students will consider all of these features to try to understand the possible motivation and goal of the creator and possible reactions of various groups that view the poster.

The Nazi party were experts at propaganda which they used in posters. Posters range from campaigning for Adolf Hitler for President of the Reich to posters accusing the Jewish people 

Analysis Sheet: Poster Analysis 


Why teach with documents?

Diaries, journals, telegrams, and other written documents provide students with evidence of daily life during other time periods. Primary source documents include letters, journals, records, or diaries that may be handwritten or typed, published or private.

Documents can provide personal information about major historical events or individuals, as well as day to day life while allowing students to analyze fact versus opinion or find evidence or data not located in textbooks. 

These items record people's everyday lives; events and travel ticket stubs, brochures, programs, flyers and posters. These documents are printed objects intended for one time use. They tell us a great deal about the personality of a group at a particular point in time.

Connecting to our topic of the Holocaust

As with anything we read, we use our foundation of knowledge and decoding skills to comprehend new concepts. By putting the pieces together we are able to understand more than the words visible on a document. Using the Document Analysis sheet students will consider the physical characteristics of a document and what they reveal about the author. Students study the document to gain an understanding of the use of terminology, words that are crossed out or added and specific phrases or terms used. 

The Library of Congress, Veterans History Project contains many forms of documents such as diaries, telegrams and official papers. The Nazis were meticulous record keepers, a search for these papers can be found and analyzed.

Analysis Sheet: Document Analysis 


Why teach with cartoons?

Editorial or political cartoons divulge opinions on issues, events and people in the public eye. They are present in major, local and regional papers and appeal to most readers. The people who create editorial cartoons possess an awareness of society and cultural events as well as art skills such as the use of symbolism, satire, and the use of caricatures.

Editorial cartoons can be used to teach students to identify current issues or themes, analyze symbols, identify stereotypes and caricatures, think critically, recognize the use of irony and humor and understand the need for a broad knowledge base. Cartoons are terrific tools for developing higher-level thinking skills. Students can discuss, analyze and create original works that reflect their perceptions of current events and issues.

Connecting with out topic of the Holocaust.

Cartoons offer a variety of ways to reach learners. The use of language and writing skills, drawing techniques and social situations offer multiple opportunities to reach students from different backgrounds and interests. Using the Cartoon Analysis sheet students will search for the use of each of these tools in editorial cartoons from the past and today. They will then from opinions about the purpose of the cartoon, the message the artist was trying to send and possible responses by readers.

These cartoons were created to disseminate information and expose the public to the issue of the war and the atrocities of Adolf Hitler. Cartoons were used in nearly every country during World War II, Britain, France, Russia and the United States all published cartoons about Hitler and the Nazi party. Few of the cartoons deal with the topic of the Holocaust but there are numerous cartoons dealing with the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler's power over the party.

Analysis Tool: Cartoon Analysis




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