Lesson Plan

Bystander’s Guilt

Students will learn the definition of being a bystander to the Holocaust. They will have the opportunity to think critically about what it really means to be a bystander, the different levels of inactivity and passivity, and whether or not calling oneself a bystander deflects responsibility.

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Enduring Understanding

After the war, light was cast on the dark reality that had taken place. While fingers were being pointed, many Germans and Europeans claimed that they were “not involved” and that they had merely been “bystanders” to the events of the Holocaust.

Essential Question

  • 1Are bystanders guilty?


5 Min

Write the term “bystander” on the board and ask students how they would define it. Ask for examples of when someone could be a bystander.


15 Min

Direct students to the resource ‘Bystanders‘ by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Read through the information as a class and allow students a chance to ask questions before moving on.

Have students think about the different degrees of bystanders, and what each of their roles were.


30 Min

Divide the class into groups of three or five. Ask groups to sit together to discuss the questions below. Tell students that they don’t have to come to an agreement with the members of their group, that they should be actively trying to see both sides of the argument. If time permits, reconvene as a class and ask groups to share what they were able to come with.

  1. How do bystanders, or witnesses, contribute to the possibility of mass atrocity?
  2. How can indifference to, insensitivity to, or tolerance of hurtful acts be combated?
  3. How do meanings of words change over time? What connotations do the words “bystander” and “witness” have? Are they the same?
  4. Do you think someone could be reprimanded (fined, tried in court, etc) for being a bystander? Should they?
  5. Are bystanders guilty?

Wisconsin Academic Standards

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

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