Erosion of Rights

Defining the Problem
When we first learn about the Holocaust and discover what happened to the Jews of Europe we
ask the question, ‘how could civilised people allow this to happen’? After all, during the 1920’s
Germany was considered by many to be one of the most civilised societies in the world .
There is no simple answer and no single reason to help us understand why the Holocaust
happened. Nevertheless, it is clear that the mass murder of 6,000,000 European Jews is one of
the greatest atrocities in human history. The Nazis developed in the 1920’s and 1930’s an
extensive racial ideology that portrayed the Germans as a master race (the Aryan race) and all
other groups as inferior. Two other important parts of the ideology were anti-semitism (which
had always been present in German society) and an elaborate conspiracy theory. In addition to
being viewed as inferior the Jews were also blamed for all the economic and social ills of
Germany. The Nazis effectively used propaganda to convince the German people that behind
the scenes the Jews were destroying German society and culture, and “contaminating” the
German race. The active persecution of the Jews began immediately after Hitler came to power
in March 1933 and continued until the end of the War in 1945.
If we examine the anti-Jewish restrictions between 1933 and 1945 we can see the step-by-step
process of gradually depriving the Jews of their civic rights and segregating them from society.
This step-by-step method of the Nazi’s enabled them to hide their real intentions and made the
German people passive. The lack of action on the part of other German people during this
time, especially the pre – war period, made it possible for serious human rights to take place. Of
course, this is only part of the answer, but it shows that societies have to guard at all times
against the politics of exclusion.
In this module students will work quite intensely with the anti-Jewish restrictions imposed by the
Module Objectives:
To understand what happened to Jews living in Hitler’s Germany.
To understand the dangers of gradual depriving minorities of their rights
To help young people to develop an understanding through the situation
faced by Jews in their every day life, of why the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights is so important
Copy of the power point presentation ‘The Erosion of Human Rights in Germany’; print outs of
each restriction faced by German Jews between March 1933 and March 1945; several large
sheets of plain paper; felt tipped pens.
Step 1: The teacher explains briefly to the students what propaganda is, what the aims of
propaganda are, and how in Berlin (and in Germany) this propaganda was disseminated in the
1930s and 1940s. The teacher can also ask if the students feel that propaganda exists today.,
and how it is now disseminated.
Step 2: the teacher shows the power point to the students. This is a fairly passive activity and
students will remember only a few of the restrictions, though they will be impressed by the sheer
number and the gradual nature in which they were imposed. This power point will form the basis
of the remainder of the activities.
Step 3: Small groups of four students are created. The students are given roles in the group
(see teacher’s manual). Each group receives a print out of the restrictions (no longer in
chronological order but scrambled). The students place the restrictions in chronological order
(they will need considerable space for this). In this manner they will become better familiarized
with the restrictions.
Step 4: Students categorize the restrictions. They make piles according to the TYPES of
restrictions that they can distinguish (groups will create different categorize). Each group
presents its categories (examples might include: restrictions against children, economic
restrictions, etc.)
Step 5: Within each pile the groups must now prioritize. They select one restriction from each
pile that they think had the greatest impact on children living at that time. They write this down
a large sheet of paper. They also briefly write down why they feel this is the case. Each group
presents its findings.
Step 6: Groups discuss what they think the Nazis were trying to accomplish (their aims) by
imposing these restrictions. Each group tells the teacher what it has come up with and the
teacher keeps a visible (master) list of these aims on the blackboard.
Step 7: Students are debriefed and the teacher explains how the Nazi policies had various aims
(e.g. isolating the Jewish community, creating space for “Aryan Germans”, humiliating Jews,
Each group is given a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a children’s version
can be found at:
together with a set of flash cards, with each article placed on an individual card. Using this
information, the groups match the restrictions against the Jews with an article from the
Declaration of Human Rights, which, in their opinion, was created to protect people from the
kind of suffering the Jews experienced.
The class discusses situations today or in the recent past in their own community, where
despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, people still face discrimination, oppression,
torture and death. What are possible solutions to these problems.
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