Music and the Holocaust: Lesson Plans


The musical and historical material in this collection offers a particularly useful resource for Holocaust education. While it is focused on music, the website has the potential to be used quite broadly across the teaching curriculum, in classes on Music and Music History as well as in subjects such as History, Social Studies, Language Arts or Citizenship.

These lesson plans

  • Are suitable for a range of ages (14-18) – students will be able to access different activities at their own level
  • Include a range of group/individual/pairs work, a range of activities – discussion/creative/research, curriculum links, full list of required resources and links, detailed, step-by-step activity guides and teacher notes, useful references for further investigation, for teachers and students
  • Enable educators to access and make the most of the rich resource housed on this website
  • Fit within the 4 themes of the website
  • Can work as a scheme of work or stand alone sessions
  • Support educators in teaching a challenging subject in an academic and meaningful way
  • Offer opportunities for students to make personal connections with sensitive material
  • Develop emotional literacy – students are encouraged to verbally express feelings and responses to music and other art forms



The lesson plans employ an integrated cross-curricular approach to the subject matter through which students develop a range of skills, not limited to one subject area including:

    • music criticism and appreciation
    • historical questioning, research and reasoning
    • emotional literacy - as express own responses to the music and the stories
    • creative – writing, art, drama etc as formulate own responses

An emphasis has been placed on individual experiences that make up the impersonal statistics of millions of faceless victims. Students can experience genuine empathy on encountering survivor testimony, case studies, personal stories.

Open questions are used throughout, prompting reflective and critical responses and in order to encourage students to formulate their own critical enquiry questions in a similar way.

The lesson plans are designed to engage different learning styles by teaching the Holocaust through music and a range of other art sources and including a variety of activities.

Each lesson focuses on a piece or pieces of music from the site – students should be able to listen to the music as a key part of the lesson. It always more educational, effective and emotive if students can listen to the music they are learning about. Teachers are encouraged to ask groups to respond physically to the music, as this can help them to understand the intention of the piece.

Activities are presented with careful consideration in order that non-music specialists will feel confident to successfully and enjoyably bring music into their classrooms for a transformative educational experience. Step-by-step guides and supporting resources will enable students to interpret and understand the power and importance of music.


Teachers should be careful never to ask students to ‘imagine they were there’ or role play a scene from the Holocaust as this would diminish the real experience – one could never imagine how it felt to be there. The lessons do, however, include a technique called ‘Class in Role’, this is not to be confused with role playing in the traditional sense. There is a separate resource sheet dealing with this technique in detail.

Other useful websites:

Yad Vashem -

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum -

Teaching the Holocaust

The Holocaust refers to a specific genocidal event in twentieth-century history - the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews, by the Nazi regime and its collaborators, between 1933 and 1945, across Nazi-occupied Europe.

The Jews were not the only victims of Hitler's regime, but they were the only group that the Nazis sought to destroy entirely. Gypsies, the disabled, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny.

The word Holocaust (of Greek origin), which came into use in the 1950s meant a sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar. Others prefer the (biblical) Hebrew word 'Shoah' (used early 1940s) which, unlike Holocaust, does not have connotations of sacrifice. The selection of these two words with religious origins reflects recognition of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the events.

The Holocaust was a watershed event in 20th century and human history. As such, it represents an historical, moral, social study, which can lead students to deeper understanding of many issues including: the ramifications of prejudice, antisemitism, racism, intolerance; and the roles and responsibilities of individuals, organisations and nations. It can heighten awareness of potential for genocide in the contemporary world.

It offers a context for exploring the dangers of remaining silent when faced with oppression of others or abuses of human rights, and for understanding the complexity of the historical process and the merging of factors to enable certain outcomes.

Define the Holocaust, be precise in your use of language and encourage your students to do the same.

Set in its historical context – including the history of antisemitism, Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust, aftermath of WW1, Nazi rise to power

Individualise the history – find out about individual experiences to see beyond faceless statistics. Numbers are important but the scale may make it difficult for students to relate to the tragedy.

Avoid simplifying or distilling into ‘lessons from the Holocaust’ – people and situations are complex, experiences varied widely from country to country, students should be encouraged in historical enquiry – sometimes there are no easy answers, indeed sometimes, there may be no answers. Take care not to reinforce simplistic labels (or ‘characters’) of victim, perpetrator, rescuer, bystander, rescuer.

Teaching the Holocaust is not about comparing pain – there is no hierarchy of pain. Reasons for Holocaust education include the unprecedented and paradigmatic nature of the genocide. It was a catastrophe for humankind revealing deep and fundamental flaws in western society.