Lesson Plan

Deconstructing the Familiar

Complete an activity having students analyze photographs from the Holocaust with and without context; the photos are from the United States Holocaust Memorial site. Students see the actions of perpetrators, bystanders, and victims in these primary sources.

View All Lessons

Enduring Understanding

The Holocaust could not have been possible without the participation of many.

Essential Question

  • 1Why might people follow a leader without question? What are some examples where doing so could be necessary?


10 Min

Read this quote by Holocaust historian, Raul Hilberg, from “Destruction of the European Jews” to the class. “In retrospect it may be possible to view the entire design as a mosaic of small pieces, each commonplace and lusterless by itself.” (Hilberg, 1885, P. 263)

Ask students, What could have happened if one of these “mosaic pieces” were to refuse an order?


5 Min
Teacher's Note
It would be beneficial to print out the photographs and separate the ones containing the captions from the ones without captions prior to the lesson.

This lesson has been simplified from a lesson created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (full lesson can be found here). Distribute this worksheet and the caption-less photographs to students in groups of three. Explain to them that they will first receive a photograph without any context and that they will be asked to answer the questions as best they can.


35 Min

Provide each group with a photograph without a caption and a worksheet. There are seven different photographs, depending on the size of the class some groups may be examining the same picture.

Allow students some time to look over the picture and answer the questions in Section 1 of the worksheet. When everyone is finished, hand out the same photograph this time including the caption. After looking over the photograph and caption, ask students to answer the questions in Section 2 of the worksheet.

Have each of the groups share what they learned from their photographs. If possible, project the pictures on a large screen so the entire class can see the picture the group is describing.

How does looking at the pictures after receiving the context change how you feel about the photo?

Wisconsin Academic Standards

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

Teacher Primer

Know Before You Go

Before you teach, use our teacher primer to freshen up on your content knowledge.