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Activity 9: Rethinking Responsibility

Age group:

Years 7-11 (ages 12-16)

Progression Steps 4 and 5

This activity provides an opportunity for students to consider the complex issue of responsibility in the context of the Nazi occupation of Europe during World War 2. Students will examine the video testimony of Ellen Kerry Davis, a Kindertransport refugee, as well as maps and other resources relating to key historical events (in particular, the mass shootings of the Einsatzgruppen) and consider how the actions of ordinary people shaped the events of the Holocaust.


By exploring examples of active perpetration, collaboration, and complicity, the activity challenges the myth that a relatively small number of fanatical Nazis were solely responsible for the Holocaust. For example, an analysis of maps allows students to understand the complicity of non-German people across Europe in countries allied to or occupied by Nazi Germany. The activity also encourages students to consider the historical context and potential dilemmas that individuals faced during the Holocaust, allowing a more complex understanding of the circumstances, which led to the genocide of Europe’s Jews.


Finally, students will be introduced to the Nuremberg trials following World War 2, allowing them to reflect on the ‘following orders’ defence and the scope for individual agency in defending human rights and democratic values during wartime – and in contemporary society.


For this activity to be properly understood, it should be taught after students have first studied the history of the evolution of the Holocaust through Activity 5: The Legal Effect: How Laws can Persecute or Protect and Activity 6: Prejudice and Propaganda.

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