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Handling sensitive subject matter in the classroom – The Holocaust

This joint ERA/CLA blog looks at how print and audio/audio-visual resources can assist in the teaching of a sensitive subject.


This month the world will come together to remember the millions who lost their lives during the Holocaust. This is an event which is commonly taught in History at Key Stage 3, and can also be covered as part of Religious Studies. Over the course of a young person’s education, there are several subjects that are understandably sensitive to teach and this can include the Holocaust.

Some educationalists believe that teaching the Holocaust transcends any single curriculum area, and that this subject is both so potentially harrowing and yet so relevant that it needs a special teaching methodology.  So how can this event be taught in a such a way as to balance factual rigour and deeply traumatic evidence with the sensitivities of young students?

Many published textbooks cover the factual elements of this sensitive subject. When studying the Holocaust, it’s not difficult to find material that will brief the reader on the number of lives lost, the names of concentration camps, and the years that the Nazi regime held power. But sticking to the facts could leave students with a very dry understanding of events, without recognising the emotional and sociological impact they had. It’s therefore important when teaching a sensitive subject, such as the Holocaust, that students are presented with age-appropriate resources that can give them both a factual grounding, but also a deeper and more complex emotional understanding.

The stories of Holocaust survivors and witnesses are essential – as time passes, it becomes more important to ensure that students have access to both written testimonies and video and audio recordings of these. Reading or hearing first-hand accounts can enable a student to fully grasp the Holocaust’s devastating impact on individuals, a community, a country, and ultimately the world. There are many published and broadcast resources that can be of great help when teaching the Holocaust:

  • University College London’s Centre for Holocaust Education hosts a collection of resources for teachers, as well as research findings and other material.
  • The BBC’s World Service ‘Witness’ Series has some excellent audio and film clips including the account of Oliver Gebhardt, who escaped Nazi Germany as a child on a kindertransport train.
  • Extracts from the ever moving Diary of Anne Frank can often speak to students as they experience a first-hand account from someone around their own age
  • Surviving Auschwitz is a powerful interview with Kitty Hart-Moxon, who survived a two-year imprisonment in Auschwitz
  • Holocaust Learning has a collection of survivor testimonies that explore individual’s unique experiences

Teaching a sensitive subject like the Holocaust is inevitably going to be difficult. However, there are many excellent published and broadcast resources that can help you in providing students with a richer understanding of a topic and routes in to the human story of such events.


About the Authors

The Educational Recording Agency represents 21 Member organisations from across the creative sector including UK broadcasters. The ERA licensing scheme supports educational establishments in the UK by enabling them to make copies of broadcasts from radio or television for educational use. The licence also enables access to online or on-demand services. Find out more about ERA on their website.

CLA are the recognized UK collective rights licensing body for text and images from book, journal, and magazine content. They exist to simplify copyright for content users and copyright owners. Their mission is to help customers legally access, copy, and share the published content they need, while also making sure that copyright owners are paid royalties for the use of their work. Find out more about CLA on their website.