FAQs & Recommendations for learning about the Holocaust

The Holocaust is a complex history. Learning and teaching about the Holocaust fosters important dialogue and encourage critical thinking about individuals’ roles as active members of civil society. It is important to remember the Holocaust is a sensitive topic that can trigger many emotions for people. The history and its lessons must be represented in nuanced and pedagogically sound ways. In advance of visiting the Museum, please consider spending some time to better familiarize yourself with the general history of the Holocaust and exploring some of the FAQs and recommendations below.

Why Study the Holocaust?

When studying the Holocaust, learners are engaging with complicated moral questions, many of which do not come with simple answers. The complexity that accompanies the study of the Holocaust encourages people to think critically about important issues and values not only within the historical context of the Shoah, but also in contemporary society. The Holocaust aptly demonstrates the fragile nature of democratic institutions, inclusion and even citizenship. It challenges individuals to develop their participation in their own civil society. Understanding the range of human behavior represented during the Holocaust and the choices, responses and actions of individuals and communities, makes the Holocaust a story for all of humanity. By fostering critical thinking, the legacy of the Holocaust is a call to action for individuals to care, protect and take responsibility for their civil society, social justice, and human rights around the globe.

Considerations for Approaching the study of the Holocaust

  • Avoid making any comparisons of suffering, whether it be between various experiences during the Holocaust, other genocides, or contemporary connections.

  • Avoid fixating on the victimhood of Jews and the ways in which they suffered and were murdered during the Holocaust. Instead, reinforce their lives as individuals and communities and the diversity that existed prewar.

  • Consider people’s choices, reactions and responses under the most dire of circumstances and where possible include the narratives of acts of resistance whether it be physical or spiritual.

  • Avoid simple answers to complex questions. The Holocaust is a complicated history that has no easy answers. Remember that when sharing back any information and takeaways. Use inquiry-based learning as a forum for dialogue and discovery about this history.

  • Remember that the Holocaust did not just happen. Many preconditions and circumstances needed to be in place for the Holocaust to occur. Take time to learn about the history leading up to the Holocaust to better understand how things unfolded.

  • Avoid using numbers to categorize people and instead bring life to individuals. Remember the Holocaust happened to people – individuals and communities, comprised of men, women and children. Each victim had their own set of unique circumstances, their own life and story.

  • Teaching about the Holocaust should always be done  in a safe and pedagogically sound way. Remember that understandings will differ based on things like location, nationality, subject exposure and age. Contextualize the history and experiences so people can better understand its relevance.

  • When talking or teaching about the Holocaust avoid passive language intimating that the victims enabled their own persecution or suffering. Consider active language.

  • Use critical thinking to generate dialogue and encourage discussion, reinforcing why the Holocaust is still relevant today, for everyone.

The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn't. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.

Professor Yehuda Bauer Historian & Scholar

FAQs / Facts about the Holocaust

  • The Holocaust was the state-sponsored systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims – six million were murdered. People with mental and physical disabilities and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi Germany.


    The Nazis carried out a second, concurrent genocide during the Holocaust. This was against the Roma and Sinti (“Gypsy” people). This event is often termed Samudaripen, meaning the murder of all, or collective murder. Another term you might encounter when reading about the Roma genocide is Porajmos, literally meaning “devouring.”

  • According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the working definition of antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. The Holocaust is history’s most extreme example of antisemitism.

  • The word Holocaust comes from the ancient Greek: olos meaning “whole,” and kaustos, or kautos, meaning “burnt.” Originating as early as the fifth century B.C.E., the term can mean a sacrifice wholly consumed by fire or a great destruction of life, especially by fire. While the word Holocaust, with the meaning of a burnt sacrificial offering, does not have a specifically religious connotation, it appeared widely in religious writings through the centuries, particularly in descriptions of pagan rituals involving burnt sacrifices. In secular writings, Holocaust most commonly came to mean “a complete or whole destruction.”


    By the late 1940s, Holocaust became a more specific term due to its use in Hebrew translations of the word Shoah. This Hebrew word had been used throughout Jewish history to refer to assaults upon Jews, but by the 1940s it was frequently being applied to the Nazi murder of European Jewry.

  • The Holocaust refers to the period from January 30, 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, to May 8, 1945 (V-E Day), the end of the Second World War in Europe.

  • The Holocaust affected people in every country in Europe, and in North Africa, and its legacy continues to be felt worldwide.

  • The explanation of the Nazis’ implacable hatred of Jews rests on their distorted world view which saw history as a racial struggle. They considered the Jews a race with the goal of world domination and who, therefore, were an obstruction to Aryan dominance. They considered it their duty to eliminate the threat of Jews.


    There is no doubt that other factors contributed toward Nazi hatred of the Jews and their contrived image of the Jewish people. These included the centuries-old tradition of Christian antisemitism which propagated a negative stereotype of the Jew as a Christ-killer, agent of the devil, and practitioner of witchcraft. Also significant was the political antisemitism of the latter half of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries, which singled out the Jew as a threat to the established order of society. These combined to paint the Jew as a target for persecution and ultimate destruction by the Nazis.


    Scholars emphasize the impact of the loss of the First World War on Germany, stating that this formed part of the preconditions that set the stage for the Nazi era and the Holocaust. These scholars argue that the Allies imposed such a humiliating peace on the defeated Germans after 1918 that the Germans had no choice but to seek the restoration of national honour at any price. It’s also argued that the victors of the First World War forced the Germans to pay crushing reparations, thereby sparking hyperinflation in the 1920s and destroying the German economy. According to this line of reasoning, Germans turned to Hitler to rescue them and used the Jews as a scapegoat for their suffering. According to scholar Doris Bergen, the First World War did not directly lead to Nazism or the Second World War. Bergen points out that Germany’s refusal to accept the reality of defeat led many to search for someone to blame for what they perceived as betrayal. She posits that the massive legacy of death and suffering in the aftermath of the First World War was a precondition that enabled an unprecedented explosion of violence just two decades later.

  • While the entire German population was not in agreement with Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, there is no evidence of any large-scale protest regarding their treatment. There were Germans who defied boycotts or aided Jews in escape and hiding, but their numbers were very low. Some supported Hitler for a variety of nationalist reasons while not necessarily advocating the Final Solution, and some opposed Hitler’s leadership but were nevertheless in agreement with his anti-Jewish policies. Among German Christian clergy, the response was mixed. Some publicly protested the Nazi Euthanasia program but were silent on the treatment of Jews. The majority of the clergy complied with the directives against German Jewry and did not openly protest.

  • No attempt was made to call upon the local population in Europe to refrain from assisting the Nazis in their systematic murder of the Jews.


    Tens of thousands of Jews sought to enter the United States and Canada, but they were barred from doing so by stringent immigration policies. Even the relatively small quotas of visas which existed were often not filled, although the number of applicants was usually many times the number of available places.


    International conferences held in Evian, France (1938) and Bermuda (1943) to solve the refugee problem did not contribute to a solution. The response of the Allies to the persecution and destruction of European Jewry was inadequate. Only in January 1944 was an agency established for the express purpose of saving the victims of Nazi persecution. On December 17, 1942, The War Refugee Board issued a condemnation of Nazi atrocities against the Jews, but this was the only such declaration made prior to 1944.


    Though intelligence data and news reports revealed Nazi violence against Jews as early as 1933, and a dramatic increase in that violence in 1941, scholars generally agree that the United States government and the Allies did not receive reliable confirmation of the full scope of the Nazis’ Final Solution until August 1942.

  • The Nazis did not openly speak about the Final Solution. Extensive use of pretext vocabulary for deception was used to fool the victims and, thereby, prevent or minimize resistance. Deportees were told that they were going to be “resettled.” They were led to believe that conditions “in the East” would be better than those in ghettos. The Nazis made every effort to ensure secrecy and deliberately misled the population. In addition, the notion that human beings – let alone the civilized Germans – could build camps for mass murder was simply unbelievable. Camp escapees who returned to the ghettos frequently encountered disbelief when they related their experiences. Even Jews who had heard of the camps had difficulty believing reports of what was taking place in them. The relative ignorance about the Final Solution on the part of European Jews is corroborated by German documents and the testimonies of many survivors.

  • There were two main forms of resistance during the Holocaust: spiritual and physical. Spiritual resistance refers to attempts by individuals to maintain their humanity and core values in spite of Nazi dehumanization and degradation. Such unarmed resistance came in many forms: religious and non-religious, cultural, and educational. In many instances, Jews in ghettos and camps continued observing religious traditions, provided schooling for the children, maintained cultural activities and communal life, and documented the experience in writing and art. Physical resistance refers to armed resistance. Despite difficult conditions, many Jews engaged in armed resistance against the Nazis in three basic types: ghetto revolts, resistance in concentration and death camps, and partisan warfare.