Each year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes International Holocaust Remembrance Day on or about January 27. It serves as a reminder of the Holocaust, a tribute to the victims of the atrocities, and a time for UNESCO to reaffirm its commitment to countering antisemitism and other forms of racial intolerance. This date also marks the anniversary of the liberation of the last Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
One of the best ways to teach about the Holocaust is through the stories of individuals and families. As Dr. Ruth Okoye states in her blog post, “Storytelling is one of the best ways to convey factual information for retention. Science tells us that storytelling is a proven way to structure the instructional environment to invoke intelligence.”
Anne Frank is arguably the most well-known storyteller from the Holocaust era. Her diary tells her story of hiding from the Gestapo in the “Secret Annex” of an old office building. Including Anne’s diary in lessons on the Holocaust offers students the ability to understand both the facts about the Holocaust and its impact on individuals.
Before introducing Anne’s diary, consider watching the beautifully animated film Anne Frank’s Diary, available on YouTube. The film received the Children’s Jury Award at the Chicago International Children’s Festival and shares Anne’s story in a personal and heartfelt manner. Use this tip to make viewing easier: insert a hyphen after the “t” in the link to the video to remove ads and watch the video on the entire screen. (In this case, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAIRFyR6NyQ becomes https://www.yout-ube.com/watch?v=qAIRFyR6NyQ.)
Continue learning about Anne Frank by taking a virtual tour of the Anne Frank House (reviewed here). Step inside the Annex for a room-by-room exploration of the Frank family’s hiding place that eventually housed another family and an acquaintance named Fritz Pfeffer. Many areas of the rooms include clickable images that share information about the home’s contents.
The Frank family received help from several community members, including Miep Gies. Share this video documentary that includes an interview with Ms. Gies where she discusses how she aided the family during their time in hiding. Miep Gies is also responsible for gathering the family’s belongings, including Anne’s diary, following their arrest on August 4, 1944.
The Utah Education Network shares a collection of lessons and resources for grades 3–12 entitled Anne Frank in the World (reviewed here). The activities for younger students focus on comparing and contrasting nutrition and exercise in their everyday lives and how Anne coped with living in such a small space while depending on others to provide supplies. Lessons for older students delve into discrimination, propaganda, and a timeline of the events of the Holocaust.
Find additional resources that include personal stories about the Holocaust below.
- Oral Stories of the Holocaust (reviewed here)
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (reviewed here)
- Timeline of the Holocaust (reviewed here)
- Google Cultural Institute (reviewed here) – Stories of the Holocaust
- IWitness (reviewed here)
Help students extend their understanding by using learning tools that guide them through analyzing and comparing characters.
- Use this set of character analysis graphic organizers from LiteracyLeaders.com by choosing from twenty-two options that map out characters’ feelings and attributes, then use evidence to explore and understand characters. Find organizers students can use as they read Anne’s diary and learn about her day-to-day existence while hiding in the Secret Annex.
- Canva offers many free timeline templates (select the checkbox to easily find the free options). First, ask students to choose a template and create a timeline that follows the events that occurred while Anne was hiding in the Annex. Next, create another timeline that includes significant events of the war, then have students compare the two timelines to understand the impact of those events on Anne and her family. Another option is to create a timeline of another person impacted by the Holocaust (use the Oral Stories from the Holocaust resource mentioned above) to compare and contrast the different experiences by age, country, or religion.
- Use this Text with a Character Slide Template provided by Ditch That Textbook as an example and have students create interactive conversations with Anne Frank, Hitler, or Anne’s father. Imagine that Anne had text messaging. Who would she text? What would she say?
Providing understanding through personal stories incorporates a deeper understanding of historical events. It expands the lens of knowledge beyond facts and figures and brings emotions and everyday experiences that provide a more profound and nuanced understanding than typical textbooks.
As you teach about the Holocaust, consider enhancing understanding through personal stories. Do you have a suggestion or idea that provided your students with a deeper understanding of historical events? Share your thoughts with our readers in the comments as we learn together.