Definitive Holocaust Video to Supplement Maus?
October 4, 2014 4:42 AM   Subscribe

Thanks to the wonderful responses I received in the question of "What would be in your best high school english class?" I've started the year by reading Art Spiegelman's Maus. What's wonderful is that my incredibly reluctant readers are actually reading and enjoying the book, what's not wonderful is they don't seem to understand that the Holocaust was a VERY BAD THING. I'm looking, ideally, for a 1 hour documentary that does just that.

As a class they've read and discussed background writing from camp survivors and other historical pieces, but I'd like to show them a video about what it was like to live during WWII and what the camps were like. I would prefer a documentary that isn't filled with horrific images of the dead, yet clearly gets the point across.

They HAVE seen Surviving Auschwitz videos from the Shoah Foundation, but for whatever reason, they get hung up on the age of the speakers and don't get it.

I've taken them to the Holocaust Memorial in Boston which didn't have much of an impact.
posted by kinetic to Education (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I doubt that they're resisting the idea because you haven't given them enough evidence that the Holocaust was awful. They're resisting because a) they are teenagers and they are too cool to admit that something is upsetting, or b) it's stressful to really try to grasp the massive human cruelty of the Holocaust, so their brains are avoiding it. The more you tell them "look, this was really, really bad!" the more they will tell you how Not A Big Deal it was.

I don't think showing a video is a bad idea, just that I've been in this situation (my students were from an antisemitic, Holocaust-denying country which sent hundreds of thousands of people to concentration camps) and that even if you do get through to them, they may be somewhat programmed not to admit it.
posted by chaiminda at 5:09 AM on October 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Night and Fog is probably the film you are looking for - made in 1955 it shows contemporary footage of people in the concentration camps and Nazi rallies. It made a huge impression on me as a teen but I'm Jewish. It's a very raw thing to watch and may be more horrific than what you want.

I have a friend - Miriam Brysk - who is a Holocaust survivor who is an artist whose work is about the Holocaust. She has written several books as well. She was not in the camps but with the partisans hiding and went on to have a career as a scientist before retiring and becoming an artist. She speaks about the Holocaust and if you google her name and Holocaust survivor you'll find a lot of videos. She has had number exhibits at various Holocaust museums and devotes her life to educating teens on the subject. Here is lesson plan information that she and a librarian developed. You might contact her to see what video footage she can share and even see if there's grant money to bring her from Michigan.
posted by leslies at 5:40 AM on October 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's longer than an hour, IIRC, but this is the best documentary film about the Holocaust that I have ever seen. It will burn that reality into your brain to the point that you will never forget it.

I recommend "Memory of the Camps." It contains actual footage from American and British documentary footage from the liberation of the death camps. It's truly heart wrenching and disgusting, but I think that is the point. What happened in those hell holes was both heart wrenching AND disgusting. It should be watchable for free on various sites since it was funded by governments. I suggest you watch it first before you commit to recommending it. It's brutal, but I think we should all be forced to watch it so it is unlikely to ever happen again.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:02 AM on October 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Was just putting together a comment to recommend "Memory of the Camps". It is available on Frontline's website.

Recently, the British Film Institute has also made a full-length film out of the footage Hitchcock shot called "Night Will Fall". The film is playing in British cinemas now, so it might not be available on DVD for a while yet. A trailer of the film can be seen on The Guardian's website.
posted by briank at 6:08 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tons of material, all horrific, out there, but the problem may be that young people seem unable or unwilling to relate to something that top them was or seems "so long ago." What needs to be known is that the Holocaust came about because a govt with great care and painstaking exactitude systematically made it happen, and if a modern govt can and did do this, it is possible for such things to happen again, esp. with the not available use of data amassed with computers.
posted by Postroad at 6:29 AM on October 4, 2014

Best answer: I've read and watched far more explicit books and documentaries on the Holocaust but Spielberg's film Schindler's List is absolutely heartbreaking and really brings home the brutality and desperation and sheer inhumanity of so many versus the few. I'm thinking that it might be very accessible to your students in a way that documentaries aren't (e.g. Liam Neeson's current reputation as an "action man" movie star, etc.)

It's longer than an hour (195 minutes) but you could schedule it in 2 or 3 parts?
posted by humph at 6:30 AM on October 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is a really off the wall suggestion, but the Stephen Fry episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (it's on YouTube, or it was) is mostly about the Holocaust and how his relatives had moved to Britain in maybe the 1920s for a job and trying to figure out what had happened to the people they'd left behind. I think a big component of "getting it" is understanding the, I don't know, capriciousness of the it. I think we sometimes tend to subtly suggest that people survived because they were tougher than others and discount the chance involved, both in getting out and in surviving the camps.
posted by hoyland at 6:37 AM on October 4, 2014

Another vote for Night and Fog [YouTube Playlist]. It's about 30 minutes. It seems longer.

My 8th grade Social Studies teacher, Mr. Marcus, showed it to us way back when. I've always appreciated it. And his Big Balls - I can't imagine the hick midwestern school I was attending would ever have approved showing that.

One thing: it's strong stuff. Watch the kids as they watch the movie - 1 or 2 airline sickness bags might not be a bad idea. One kid in my class started laughing (and got marched out of the room immediately). He was an idiot, but I'm pretty sure he didn't really find it funny; he just didn't know how to deal with it.

It made a huge impression on me, and I'm not Jewish.

And - wherever you are now, Mr. Marcus - you rock.
posted by doctor tough love at 6:39 AM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I confess I missed this sentence in your post:

> I would prefer a documentary that isn't filled with horrific images of the dead

Given what you said you want to do, I'm going to disagree with you and say that this is the rare occasion when yes, you do want horrific images of the dead.
posted by doctor tough love at 6:50 AM on October 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

Came in here to suggest "Night and Fog," now thirding it.
posted by Alterscape at 7:05 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you choose Memory of the Camps, I don't mean to sound indifferent but if you are aiming for impact, skip over the first 3 minutes and 45 seconds and just start with the arrival of the Allied troops at Bergen Belsen. You can even stop running it at 9 minutes. The footage is shocking but it's makes its extremely calm and factual point in just that 6 minutes of footage, without getting into the parties and political lines that may feel much less relevant now.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:08 AM on October 4, 2014

Another off the wall suggestion: at that age they're likely to be Reddit users, very familiar with lists like this. You could compile* a set of 12 or so facts (example) about the Holocaust in this format using public domain photographs and send them the link.

* Happy to help with that part if you need it.
posted by humph at 7:48 AM on October 4, 2014

Seconding the idea of seeking out holocaust survivor speakers if possible. The school I teach at does this annually, and with speakers not going to be around forever, it's a chance to give them a direct connection to history. Even if some of them don't get it now, they may get it later in life.
posted by alphanerd at 8:24 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also think you need to show them something with horrifying imagery and/or obvious heartbreak. I find it positively terrifying that they aren't already feeling these things about the Holocaust, and I just don't think you're going to get through to them without shocking them. Don't be afraid of showing them something scary - they need to appreciate how scary the Holocaust was.

Like humph I think Schindler's List could be really useful here.

Okay, off to go question my faith in humanity now. I find it so disturbing that anyone older than 5 would need to be taught that something like the Holocaust is Very Bad.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:27 AM on October 4, 2014

Recommending the segment from Band of Brothers where the Allies find the concentration camps and make the locals bring the survivors bread and clean up. It's a great reenactment with some context for the local community's impact.
posted by effluvia at 8:30 AM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

My 1st real reading about the Holocaust was Leon Uris' Exodus. There are graphic descriptions of Mengele's horrific torture, the camps, and it proceeds to the establishment of Israel. Written in 1958, it is very pro-Israel. I learned a lot about WWII, including the Holocaust, from Herman Wouk's Winds of War & War and Remembrance. We recently re-watched Band of Brothers, which is really good. The episode of the camps is fairly short.

documentary that isn't filled with horrific images of the dead, yet clearly gets the point across I think it's hard, perhaps impossible, to talk about the Holocaust without horrific images. I read about it as a teenager and much of it is still with me. That's not a bad thing.
posted by theora55 at 9:17 AM on October 4, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks so far. I just got an email from my school director saying I cannot show the kids Night and Fog because of the images but Schindler's List is okay. More ideas are welcome.
posted by kinetic at 9:32 AM on October 4, 2014

Best answer: I would suggest you think about WHY they "don't think the Holocaust was a bad thing", rather than just telling them that it was and you'll keep showing them corpses until they agree. Like, do they agree with the industrialised eradication of the Jewish race, gypsies, Slavs, communists and homosexuals? Or don't they believe it actually happened? Or have they become so inured to hearing about genocides in the news that they don't see why this one is a particular Big Deal? I think your approach needs to take that angle into account.

I think a lot of the time Nazis are protrayed as being almost cartoonishly evil murderers, with no discussion of their motivation or how an entire, incredibly cultured country (home of Goethe, classical music, Marx and Kant) managed to slide into extremism. Obviously your students are not going to be moved by hearing that absurdly evil people in history were almost unfathomably evil. What else would you expect from evil people? Instead, you need to make the connection between normal germans in 1930, and genocidal Nazis in 1942. It was a gradual process; the original plan was forced emigration of the Jewish people, not genocide. There were several pre-final solutions that did not "work".

Most of my class watched the World at War when it was re-run in the 1990s (aged about 14), through choice, at home with our families, and we were all absolutely glued to it each week and discussed it over lunch the next day in the same way that people discuss Bake Off these days. See how your class get on with the holocaust episodes (and also the Hiroshima episode, which I can't find on youtube - if you're looking for something to watch yourself the whole series is great.).

It doesn't pull any punches, but it is not needlessly gory. It deals very seriously with the build up to the Holocaust: the demonisation of the Jewish people and the gradual removal of their rights, the creation of ghettos and the lead up to the Final Solution, not just the trains and gassing part (which you can get a bit desensitised to after being hit over the head with it for a while). I think that part is the most important part - anyone can say "Nazis were evil, and they gassed 14m people because they were so evil". That has no relevance to me because I am not evil, or a Nazi, and have no plans to gas people. If you say "there was high unemployment, and the Jews were a convenient scapegoat for interwar Germany's economic problems, and there was a gradual erosion of Jewish people's rights..." I can begin to see how people who did not start off evil could slip into becoming evil, and how mass murder could become normalised, and how we need to be vigilant about politicians today demonising minorities for their own gain.

The episodes are mostly talking heads (survivors, guards, former Nazi officials) interspersed with historical footage. If your students don't believe this happened, ask them why former Nazis would be admitting shovelling bodies into a pit, or describing Himmler looking queasy as he wiped brains off his uniform. Why would all of these people make that sort of thing up? Why would Himmler make speeches to the Nazi Party leadership, which were filmed, about the glory of witnessing the shooting 1000s of Jews if it wasn't actually happening? Where has all of this footage come from?

"Why the Holocaust is worse than other genocides" is an interesting discussion, and if that is their objection I would actually have that discussion with them. I'm not completely sure that the Holocaust actually WAS morally worse than, say Rwanda or Srebrenica or even Nanking or Katyn (in terms of scale of course it was far worse). It was probably the first genocide to be well-documented and highly publicised by the media, which hopefully your students will be able to discuss seriously. Maybe they can also discuss the reasons for the Allies' lack of action despite knowing about the camps, and the complicity of the whole german people, rather than just discussing the corpses which is really the least interesting part of the Holocaust (if you are dead it does not much matter whether it was Zyklon B, tank exhaust fumes, malnutrition or a bullet that finished you off). Most teenagers should be able to have a stab at some more nuanced discussion than "Nazis are evil". Get them to draw some parallels with other genocides.
posted by tinkletown at 9:48 AM on October 4, 2014 [15 favorites]

I also think you need to show them something with horrifying imagery

Unless this is an elective class about this topic that they choose to take (as opposed to a mandatory general class), as a parent of a sensitive child I ask you to please not do that. Also, in my experience, horrifying imagery can work both ways: it can also tune people out. I agree with chaiminda: it's stressful to really try to grasp the massive human cruelty of the Holocaust, so their brains are avoiding it.

I would also consider if all of those children really don't understand that the Holocaust was very bad, or if they just don't want to talk about it (yet). Dismissing things is what teenagers do, isn't it? Doesn't mean that what you already showed them didn't make an impression at all. Also, I am an adult, and I still don't like to talk about horrible things that happen with classmates/collegues. If people talk about, say, Boko Haram, I change the subject and they may get the impression that I don't care about the topic, but that's not true. It's just that there is nothing to be gained by me talking about it and I find that it is very bad for my own mental health to keep talking about all the terrible things in the world. I do like tinkletown's suggestions about engaging them in a conversation.

I am not by definition opposed to showing even a sensitive child graphic imagery of the holocaust, but I would worry that showing that in the context of a classroom full of children/adolescents who are already somewhat dismissive about the topic would do more harm than good. It's really different to see these movies in a classroom than when you're at home with a parent.

If you do show them a video with graphic imagery, it may already help if you tell them how bad it is and give them the option not to watch because it is so bad. That way you give the sensitive or younger children an out (Night and Fog is rated 15+ in the UK for example. I would not want my 14 year old to watch a 15+ movie about such a horrible topic without my own supervision) and it gives all the children the message that this really is serious.
posted by blub at 10:04 AM on October 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think sometimes avoidance of the seriousness of these things is due to a few factors:

1) The human brain resisting comprehension of the scale of the horrors
2) Convincing oneself "it could never happen here, that was a special case"
3) Difficulty empathizing with people from such a long ago time and place

Schindler's List, the concentration camp liberation episode of Band of Brothers (though I think that's most effective when you've been watching the rest of the series), and other personalized, dramatic-type media are often good for #3, and to some degree #1.

#2 can be addressed by a detailed breakdown of how the Nazi party came into being, but I think is more effectively addressed by emphasizing how universal are the human tendencies towards authoritarianism. Stressing "the banality of evil" and whatnot. In this case perhaps teach them about the Milgram experiment and emphasize how replicable it is. Dateline NBC did a little trial of it as part of a larger series of similar experiments, to give them a modern, popularized viewpoint of it.

For #1, honestly, the horrible imagery is best but very difficult to convince administrators to show (as you've discovered). In that case, perhaps you could do a class exercise pointing out the population changes that resulted from the scope of the tragedy. Have your entire class stand in the middle of the room. Say they represent the entirety of the Jewish population of Europe. Then make 2/3rds of them stand on one side of the room, 1/3 stand on the other--the 2/3rds are dead after the Holocaust. You can repeat this on a country by country basis. For example, if you then say the entire class are Polish Jews, only 10% make it to the "alive" side. You could include emigration, and split the "alive" group into Jewish people who left Europe and Jewish people who remained. Also do this for Roma people and other racial targets of the Holocaust, to emphasize not only Jewish people were killed.

Also, if you tell your students you wanted to show them Night and Fog and Memory of the Camps, but were not allowed due to graphic content, I guarantee 95% of them will be on Google that night looking for those movies (which are very easy to find).
posted by schroedinger at 10:34 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I saw Death Camp Treblinka: Survivor Stories last year, and it was the first time I really grokked the concept of death camps - I think prior to that I'd thought all of the camps had some sort of work component and just hadn't been aware that some of them had the sole purpose of killing large numbers of people as efficiently as possible. It really hammered it home for the first time, and I was 36 years old and well-educated. I cried off and on for a few days after seeing it.
posted by goo at 10:54 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing see if you can find a Holocaust survivor to talk to the students. For me, seeing the number tattooed on the survivor's arm when I was 10 has stuck with me for over 30 years.
posted by bendy at 1:22 PM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just got an email from my school director saying I cannot show the kids Night and Fog because of the images
Are you FUCKING kidding me?

And so "Never forget" slowly turns to "Fuggedaboudit!"

I ran across this Top 15 Holocaust Films for High School Students - I've never seen Europa Europa but the description makes it sound like it might fit: "An incredible true story of a teenager who survived the Holocaust. Suitable for older high school students only."
posted by doctor tough love at 2:05 PM on October 4, 2014

"Six million Jews" is a very abstract concept. I mean, the crematoriums at Auschwitz could process 12,000 people a day and I've stood in front of an oven and that is still a difficult number to understand concretely. Something like, I dunno, looking at photos of a sold-out Scottsdale Stadium (which holds 12,000 people) makes it more relate-able.

Also, while I understand classroom simulations are now considered not pedagogically sound, my history teacher did a similar exercise during a single class, without the group appellations, and I have never forgotten the escalating confusion, insecurity, and helplessness of just 25 minutes of arbitrary division. Nor will I forget the relief when the whole tone of the class changed, everyone went back to their normal seats and everything became clear.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:11 PM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

They are teenagers, and they are reacting as teenagers will. Some may get this more intuitively, or react more strongly because of their own heritage, or because they realize that because they are gay or Jewish or Other in some way, they would have been targeted themselves. For the others, though, trying to overwhelm them with material in order to elicit the response you think they should have may well be an exercise in futility. I would not be surprised if the focus becomes, Wow, Our teacher kinetic is really pushing an agenda, why is kinetic getting so riled up, what's kinetic's problem, etc.

If they see you are horrified at (what you see as) their disturbing lack of empathy, they are just as likely to react to your horror--which is immediate and present--as the atrocities--which are in the past and not (to them) personally relevant. Their mindset is that this is not happening now, and they can't change the past anyway, so why do they need to get upset over it? They are emotionally divorced from the situation.

[Please understand that this does not mean that teenagers are incapable of empathy, though! They are caring friends, love their girlfriends/boyfriends, their siblings and parents. It's just that they need more of an immediate and personal connection to the subject matter (This is honestly how a lot of people, even older than your students, relate to the world today. If they haven't been in someone's shoes, they find it difficult to empathize.)

Hard to finagle a way to make them feel closer to the subject matter ethically, following school rules and all. So, yeah, this may not be an achievable goal.

In my own experience, though, Eli Wiesel's Night really hit home with my own kids like nothing else has, before or since. This was not something they were required to read in school, but a book I discovered, and I read it before they did. Though they were young, I decided it was something they would benefit from experiencing.

Night is the true, first-hand perspective of a boy actually going through the horrors of the camps (as recalled by the man himself and then translated into English).

I think one reason it was so powerful is because it doesn't try to elicit any emotions, and is not at all dramatic or breathless in presentation. Rather, it is a stark, matter-of-fact and devastatingly honest account told by someone who, like them, was just a boy, neither hero nor villain, not even particularly brave or noble, caught in a horrific situation not of his own making, and thus eminently relatable.
posted by misha at 8:19 PM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

It might be good to relate it to their personal experiences. Like learning about the Holocaust seems remote and European/Jewish only, but to say to them that everyone of them will have some kind of genocide in their family history, some more recent than others, and that genocide isn't gone (Hello North Korea and ISIS), so understanding how one of the largest and most organized (don't try to rate, they're all uniquely awful so that ends up a pointless distraction) genocides will help them understand their own histories and the genocides today. Otherwise it can seem to be just a plot point in Fault In Our Stars (they have read Anne Frank's diary right?) and not something that has any meaning for them now.

I also second not pushing the horrors. I think kids are exposed to a lot more accounts of simulated and real violence - beheading videos are on the news - and they're numb (as a way to handle that, not because they're horrible people) to what was deeply shocking before by overexposure. I find the survivors accounts of afterwards far more painful than the photographs - the people who couldn't speak about it for so long because of the pain, the people who denied, the parents who never found their children, the stories of people who tried to help in the camps - it's the small moments that resonate.

You could assign them each a person with some firsthand materials available for them to draw on, and ask them to write a small piece about that person's involvement - a guard at a camp, a soldier who came to the camp, survivors, Nazi officials, etc. (Sugihara!) Not as a defense but a reflective piece on that person and have them all read them out and see a broader wider range of real human beings rather than just a single Nazi/Jews event.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:42 PM on October 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was always the very earnest sensitive kid who "got it" and would have to be led out of class because I was sobbing about the Salem witch trials or whatever. At times that got me picked on, cruelly, by other kids. If I had been just a little more socially aware and driven to seem "cool" I would have hidden my distress and acted like these things were no big deal.

While it's a good thing to give them the information, you can't control what they think about it, their emotional responses, or their emotional maturity. Or their willingness to share an earnest emotional response in front of their peers.

It may be enough for them to have the information, and in a few years they may be better equipped to process it.
posted by bunderful at 10:53 AM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

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