Lesson Plan

A Spirit of Cruelty

Students will learn about anti-Jewish attitudes that pre-dates the Holocaust by centuries.

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Enduring Understanding

Anti-Jewish sentiment was rife for centuries before the Holocaust, particularly in historically Christian countries and empires. Jewish life was under constant threat of violence, to the point that sometimes entire Jewish communities were massacred.

Essential Question

  • 1What long-standing hatred of Jews did the Nazis draw upon?


5 Min

Explain that historically, anti-Jewish sentiment was a common phenomenon in the Western, Christian sphere for over a millennia. Jews were often limited in their livelihoods and where they were allowed to reside. The medieval period in particular – a time of religious crusades and conquest – was full of anti-Jewish rumours, sentiment, and action. Jews were thought to be responsible for the crucifixion, and the idea of Blood Libel (Jewish slaughter of Christian children for religious rituals) was born. At the same time, ill-treatment of Jews was not always met with sympathy. Similar to today, there were people who disapproved of the hatred and violence they faced.


5 Min

Share this image of a Medieval tax record with students. Tax records didn’t usually have pictures, but this one did. These records were documents that listed tax payments and this document records the payments made by Jewish people in the city of Norwich in Norfolk, England.


15 Min

Lead the class in a short discussion about the image. Ask students what they see and what the various symbols might mean. This guide by the National Archives will help you to highlight certain aspects of the image. Help students to correctly interpret the image as anti-Jewish.

Wisconsin Academic Standards

This lessons meets the following Academic Standards required by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Teacher Primer

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