Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is to explore the world's response to genocide since World War II, and some of the reasons for global silence in the face of mass atrocities. Students are introduced to the paintings of a Holocaust survivor and explore the theme of indifference as it relates to the artist's work and the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust. Students then engage in research on various cases of contemporary genocide in order to further understand the factors that have prevented the world community from fulfilling the ideal of "never again."
- Students will analyze the art of a Holocaust survivor and discuss the theme of indifference as it relates to the Holocaust.
- Students will investigate examples of world indifference and resistance to helping the Jewish people during World War II.
- Students will conduct research on genocides that have occurred since World War II.
- Students will investigate patterns of global unresponsiveness to genocide.
National Standards (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
Age Range: Grades 10-12
(Click on the link above for a master pdf file with all of the handouts or click on any individual title below for an html version of that single handout.)
Other Materials: chart paper, markers, LCD or overhead projector (to view paintings), books and web access for student research (optional)
Time: 45-60 minutes or 1-2 class periods (for Part I); time for Part II will vary
Techniques and Skills: analyzing visual art, brainstorming, case study, connecting past to present, cooperative group work, critical thinking, historical understanding, large and small group discussion, reading skills, research skills, using the internet, writing skills
Key Words: Al-Anfal campaign, atrocity, Auschwitz, betray, communist, concentration camp, convention, deportation, disappeared, displacement, emigrate, ethnic cleansing, evacuate, execution, extermination, final solution, genocide, immigrant, immigration, indifference, institutional, intervene, intervention, isolation, Holocaust, Khmer Rouge, killing center, legislation, massacre, nonintervention, Nazi, perpetrate, persecution, propaganda, quota, refugee, relocate, repatriation, repression, resettle, signatory, slaughter, sovereign, survivor, systematic, unresponsiveness, Zionist
Part I ( 45-60 minutes)
1. Project the painting Indifference by Fritz Hirschberger. Before revealing the title, accompanying text, or providing any background information, ask students some of the following questions:
- What are your immediate thoughts and feelings upon seeing this painting? What mood does it evoke?
- What do you think is taking place in this scene? What event or situation might be depicted?
- Who do you think the people in the painting might be? What do you notice about their appearance (form, clothing, etc.)? What do you think is happening to them?
- What do you notice about the background?
- Where and when do you think the scene in the painting may have taken place? What was going on in the world at that time?
- Why do you think the artist chose these colors? How do they make you feel?
- What do you think the artist is trying to tell us? What artistic elements does the artist use to get his message across?
- What do you think an appropriate title for this painting might be?
- If you could ask the people in the painting a question, what would it be?
- What other questions does this painting evoke for you?
2. Tell students that the painting was created by the artist Fritz Hirschberger, who was a Holocaust survivor. Display the poem that accompanies the painting and tell students that it was written by Edward Yashinski, a Jewish poet who also survived the Holocaust but died later in a Communist prison in Poland. Ask for a volunteer to read the poem aloud. Ask students how they feel the poem relates to the painting, and if it changes their earlier impression of the image.
3. Tell students that Hirschberger titled his painting Indifference, which is a word that also appears in the poem. Ask students what the word indifference means (lack of interest or concern), and pose the following questions:
- Why do you think Hirschberger chose the word indifference for the title of his painting?
- How does the painting depict or capture the feeling of indifference?
- Do you agree with the sentiment in the poem that one should fear indifference more than death and betrayal? Why do you think the artist and poet may have felt this way?
- Hirschberger and Yashinski were both Holocaust survivors. What experiences do you think they may have had with indifference?
Tell students that the painting is based upon a photograph taken by the Nazis at the death camp, Auschwitz, and that it suggests the isolation and hopelessness of the Jewish situation during the Holocaust. Provide additional information as appropriate from Background on "The Holocaust Series: Sur-Rational Paintings" by Fritz Hirschberger.
4. Ask students for examples of indifference on the part of individuals during the Holocaust (e.g., most did not protest or resist the Nazis, and did not shelter, hide, feed, or protect the victims). Ask if it is also possible for nations to act with indifference, and solicit examples (e.g., most did not publicly condemn the slaughter of Jews, admit significant numbers of refugees, or challenge Hitler until mass extermination was already well under way).
5. Project The Last Supper at Evian OR The Fish Stinks First from the Head, which is another painting from Fritz Hirschberger's Indifference exhibit. Allow students to discuss what they think the painting depicts and what the significance of the title is. After some discussion, display the text that accompanies the painting and ask for volunteers to read it aloud. Highlight the way in which the painting demonstrates world indifference to the plight of the Jews at the beginning of the Holocaust. Read Global Indifference to the Holocaust together, which offers three additional examples of world indifference or resistance to helping the Jews during the Holocaust.
6. Post the following description of indifference by Eli Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, celebrated writer, activist, and Nobel Peace Prize awardee:
"[Indifference is] a strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil."
Ask students to reflect silently on this quote and to think about why much of the world remained silent and indifferent during the Holocaust. Instruct them to record their thoughts as a journal entry or web log (blog). Invite volunteers to share their responses aloud and explore with students some of the possible reasons for silence and indifference. Conclude the lesson by reading aloud the following passage from Wiesel's Night:
"Watchman, what of the night? So many victims in so many places need help. We need above all, to be shaken out of our indifference the greatest source of danger in the world…For, remember, the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. The opposite of faith is not arrogance but indifference; the opposite of art is not ugliness but indifference. And the opposite of peace is indifference to both peace and war indifference to hunger and persecution, to imprisonment and humiliation, indifference to torture and persecution."
(Note: Though it is beyond the scope of this lesson to provide a detailed analysis of the reasons for global indifference and silence during the Holocaust, you may want to explore some of the following themes with students as a follow-up to your discussion: Isolationism, xenophobia/anti-foreign sentiment, immigration policy/anti-immigrant sentiment, institutional and individual anti-Semitism, distancing/dehumanization of victims, disbelief/unwillingness to face facts, limited interest in international issues, exclusive interest in domestic matters, "realpolitik," narrow individual political interests, concern for economic well-being).
Part II (time will vary)
Note: Though there has been much debate in the international community about the legal definition of genocide as set forth in the Genocide Convention and its applicability to various situations, this lesson uses the term genocide consistently to describe the mass slaughters and atrocities that have occurred in Cambodia, Northern Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.
7. Tell students that, in 1999, NATO intervened militarily in Kosovo in response to atrocities committed against ethnic Albanians, including prohibitions on the use of the Albanian language in public schools and human rights abuses by the Serb-dominated police force, culminating in the displacement of up to 60,000 ethnic Albanians. Post the following quote from Eli Wiesel in response to the intervention:
"Does it mean that we have learned from the past? Does it mean that society has changed: Has the human being become less indifferent and more human?"
Ask students to respond to Wiesel's reflections and to the question posed at the end of Lesson 1: Do you believe that the ideal of "never again" has been achieved?
8. Ask students if they are aware of examples of genocide or mass slaughter that have occurred since the Holocaust and list their responses on a sheet of chart paper. For each example offered, ask students if they know what actions the world took (or failed to take) in response, and chart their ideas. Tell students that the organization Genocide Watch cites examples of genocide or mass murder in over 70 countries since World War II (see Genocides, Politicides, and Other Mass Murder Since 1945, With Stages in 2006. Point out that in most of these cases, the world community failed to intervene to prevent the genocide or to halt it before killing on a massive scale had taken place (despite the legacy of Raphael Lemkin and the fact that approximately 140 countries are signatories to the Genocide Convention).
9. Tell students that they will be working independently or in small groups to learn about one example of genocide and to explore the factors that have stopped the world from saying "never again" in each case. Depending upon the time available and the ability level of your students, select one of the following methods for conducting research:
- Divide the class into four groups and assign each group one of the following case studies: the Cambodian genocide (1975-1979), the Al-Anfal genocide in Northern Iraq (1987-1988), the Bosnian genocide (1992-1995), and the Rwandan genocide (1994). Provide class time for groups to conduct research over a period of several days.
- Ask students to choose one of the above case studies and to conduct research independently or with a partner for homework. Allow approximately one to two weeks for students to complete their research and to write a brief report.
- Assign independent research on one of the above case studies (or another example of genocide) as an optional or extra credit assignment. Allow students one to two weeks to complete their research and to write a brief report.
10. Distribute the following handouts, which provide background information as well as web and print resources for investigating the four examples of genocide noted above.
Instruct students to consult at least three sources as they conduct their research, and to write a report that includes the following information: (a) a summary of what occurred; (b) response by the world community before, during and after the genocide; (c) reasons why the world failed to intervene to prevent or halt the genocide; (d) in retrospect, actions that the world community might have taken to prevent or halt the genocide.
11. Set aside class time for students to present their research and to answer questions from their peers. Keep the discussion focused on factors that kept the world community from taking decisive action to prevent or halt each case of genocide. Encourage students to note similarities across each example and to highlight patterns that emerge regarding the global response to genocide. The following reference sheets for educators provide information that will support the discussion.
12. Conclude the lesson by asking students what they think the United Nations, United States, and other countries should do to prevent or halt current and future instances of genocide. Ask students to consider what individuals can do to pressure the world community to act. Tell them that the final lesson of this unit will focus on the genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan, with a particular emphasis on actions they can take to help fulfill the ideal of "never again."