Lesson Plan

First They Came

Introduce students to Martin Niemoller, a Protestant clergy member, who exemplifies the complexities of the history of the Church and its relationship to Nazism.

View All Lessons

Enduring Understanding

Religious organizations were often swept up in the pull of Nazism, even when their members might have seen the danger.

Essential Question

  • 1How do we live by the principles we are taught, even when the institutions that teach them fail to do so?


10 Min

Collectively read Martin Niemoller’s famous lines, recorded as a poem “First They Came” available from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

Ask students to reflect on the meaning of the poem. What is most striking about it? What message is it sending to its audience?


25 Min
Teacher's Note
Stop the video when text blocks appear to give students an opportunity to read and ask questions.

Place Martin Niemoller in context by watching the video Awakening Conscience from Facing History and Ourselves. Prior to showing the seven-minute video ask your students to take notes on the things they think are most important. What strikes them about the story of Niemoller and the history that surrounds his story?
After the video, ask students to share what they discovered, prompting them to clarify why they felt this information was important.

If missed, ask students what they make of the following issues, in particular and return to these sections of the video if necessary:

  1. Broad acceptance and hope about the Nazi Regime (1:05)
  2. Nationalism–an exclusionary allegiance to one’s nation or state (2:47, 3:50, 6:00)
  3. Churches willingly aligning with fascism (3:20)


10 Min

Ask students to return to the poem and either ask a student to read it aloud or watch this rendering here.

Given what they now know about Niemoller’s story, ask them to reflect on the lines again in some individual writing. Who is the ‘they’ Niemoller is referring to? What does it mean to ‘speak out’? To whom would Niemoller or any other citizen of Germany ‘speak out’?

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.