Lesson Plan

American Obstruction

Why did the US fail to act after there was confirmation of mass murder against European Jews? Guide students through the disappointing history of the US State department’s obstruction of the truth of the Holocaust.

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Enduring Understanding

The U.S. knew about the Holocaust, but failed to act in response to it until it was almost over.

Essential Question

  • 1Why are governments prone to using censorship?


10 Min

Briefly, ask students if they believe that the US was heroic in their effort to stop the Holocaust. Why do they believe what they do? What evidence do they have to support their position? Then, review the Holocaust Timeline at Echoes & Reflections to take a look at 1941 and 1942. Note some key dates, including the deployment of the Einsatzgruppen in 1941 and the Wannsee Conference in 1942.


15 Min

Then introduce the Ringer Telegram, by way of the USHMM Americans and the Holocaust online exhibit, (can be found under the section titled “Cold-Blooded Extermination”) which found its way to US officials in August 1942. Begin by showing the full image of the telegram and asking students to read it. What do they understand of the messages that is being conveyed? What is the warning in these words?

After they have investigated the primary source document, read together the description of “cold-blooded extermination” on that same page for context.

Ask students to reflect on this historical monument. What would they have done if they were in a position of power and heard of these acts of violence?

Then, introduce students to the State Department cover up. Read the first part of this section together and ask students what questions emerge in their minds. Ask them to record for themselves, what would they still like to know and what confuses them about this response.


20 Min

Ask the students to pair up and read the biography of Breckenridge Long via the USHMM Americans and the Holocaust site. Before they begin, prompt them to say their questions aloud to their partner. As they read, they should be attempting to answer these questions by writing down information that pertains to them.

Finally, if time permits, groups can share what they discovered and what remains unknown about this cover-up story.

Wisconsin Academic Standards

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

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