Chapter 1.1 – Who were the Jews of Europe before the Second World War?

Develop knowledge and understanding:

To deepen student knowledge and challenge common misunderstandings, in this chapter they will learn:

  • That before the Holocaust Jewish people lived in countries all across Europe.
  • That Jewish people were employed in all types of jobs, and the majority were not wealthy.
  • About some of the ways in which Jews contributed to their communities and countries.
  • That Jewish people had many different beliefs and identities.
  • That Jews in Germany were a very small minority – less than 1 per cent of the German population.

Challenge myths and misconceptions:

Here is a summary of the key myths and misconceptions that we identified in our research and that we are aiming to challenge through this textbook chapter content and its supporting materials:

  • All Jews owned businesses and were rich
  • Germany had more Jewish people than anywhere else
  • ‘Jews’ and ‘Germans’ were different from one another
  • Jews were persecuted simply because of their religion

Should you choose to share these with students it is very important to be clear that these are false statements and they need to be taught about with sensitivity and skill.

Access the research briefing that is relevant to this textbook chapter content here:

Research briefing 2: Victims of the Holocaust

Suggested activities:

Further enquiry – pre-war Jewish life:

Students can undertake further research into pre-war Jewish life using the Wiener Library’s ‘The Holocaust Explained’ website. They can discover more about a range of individuals from across Europe and watch survivor testimony about life before the Holocaust in 3 short videos.

To discover more about the diversity of Jewish life in communities across Europe students can access the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website. Here they can view a map showing the distribution of Europe’s Jewish population in 1933 and they can consider the similarities and differences between Jewish life in Western Europe and Eastern Europe.

Additional resources for teachers:

Classroom materials: ‘Life in Plauen’

What does life in Plauen reveal to us about the paradoxes and contradictions of Jewish and non-Jewish relations in Germany in this period?

Classroom materials: ‘German Jews and the Holocaust: the Gumprich and Voos families’

Using rare home movie footage students engage with some of the challenges faced by German-Jewish families in the months before the Second World War.

 Online classroom materials: ‘Being German and Jewish: Living in hope in uncertain times.’

These lessons are intended for Year 9 students studying the Holocaust. They have been designed to be taught as a sequence of five 30 minute lessons via an online platform. The lesson material is an adaptation of the classroom lesson ‘Life in Plauen’.

Online classroom materials: ‘Jewish life in Warsaw before the Holocaust.’

These lessons are intended for students in Year 9 or above. They have been designed for student directed home study or teacher directed study, there are materials to support both approaches. We recommend that you divide the content into two manageable 40 minute lessons.

Short film: ‘The way we lived: Exploring Jewish life and culture.’

This resource provides essential context for the study of the Holocaust. It highlights the diversity of Jewish life and culture before the Second World War.

  • Introduction to Jewish life before the Second World War
  • Who we were
  • What we believed in
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