This unit is designed for 11th and 12th grade high school students.
The following is a curriculum for high schools developed at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, focusing on the “Auschwitz Album.” Please read the material, and then address the questions in the assignment. The relevant reading is featured in this curriculum, and will not appear as a separate reading file.
- Learn about Auschwitz through a photograph album of historical and personal value. This unique document depicts a Jewish transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
- Learn about the experiences and fates of Jews deported to the Auschwitz death camp.
- Learn about the rapid dehumanization process that transformed ordinary people into inmates.
- In examining the details in many of the album’s photos, we hope to restore some of the Jews’ dignity, which the Germans brutally stripped from those they had slated for death.
- Study about Nazi ideology, German anti-Jewish policies, and the “Final Solution.”
- Learn about German attempts to maintain secrecy regarding their plans to destroy the Jewish people.
This is an interdisciplinary unit combining the album’s photos, documentation, and testimonies. Pedagogically, it demonstrate the importance of using multiple tools to present the events that took place at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
This educational unit is based on 207 photographs of the Bilke Jewish community and the Jacob family. This collection of documents is known as the “Auschwitz Album” or the “Lili Jacob Album.” The photos were taken in Auschwitz-Birkenau in May or the beginning of June 1944 and accidentally found by Holocaust survivor Lili Jacob at the time of liberation.
The photos were taken for unknown reasons by two German SS photographers, Ernst Hoffmann and Bernhard Walter, whose task was to take ID photos and fingerprints of the inmates. In teaching the unit we must emphasize the role and identity of the photographers, and make use of additional sources in order to gain a more complete picture of the camp’s function as part of the “Final Solution.”
The subject of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps is one of the most difficult to teach. Lessons are often rife with photographs and testimonies that depict corpses and horrific scenes. By contrast, the Auschwitz Album contains faces of living Jews, even if only a short time before their deaths.
The pedagogical rationale of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem stresses the importance of focusing on individuals during the Holocaust. Therefore, we stress the humanity of those who became victims, and not their victimhood.
One of the leading principles of Yad Vashem’s educational philosophy is to create empathy with the survivors as well as the victims. We therefore focus on students’ emotions and how they relate to this material.
The unit is divided into two lessons.
- Lesson I of this curriculum concentrates on the Auschwitz Album as a type of family album, because when Lili Jacob found it after the war, it contained photographs of her brothers and grandfather. For Lili, these were the only family portraits that remained after the war, and she may therefore consider it a type of family album. Additionally, it looks like a family album in its composition with captions and individually pasted photographs. For the survivors of the Holocaust, each photo of family members is precious. Many survivors lost all loved ones, and the only trace left might be a small picture which somehow survived or was sent abroad before the war. In their testimonies, survivors often recall how everything was taken from them upon arrival in the camp, unless they had succeeded in hiding a small photo. Unfortunately, there are thousands of Holocaust survivors with no visual memory of their relatives, since not even a single photo remained. In Auschwitz, all photo albums, books, personal documents, and other materials, were burned in a special oven located in crematorium Building II.
Surviving photographs, irrelevant of their origin, enable us to see the human beings behind the statistics.
Photographs often tell, a story about the subject’s identity, religion, nationality, tradition, and social status. This lesson provides the opportunity to contrast current photos with those of a different period, and learn about the people they represent.
- In Lesson II, students will discuss serious questions about the killing apparatus of the camp as seen in this album, and follow the story of the transport through its various stages. In order to provide a broad perspective and understanding, the unit makes use of source materials other than the album, such as testimonies.
The Auschwitz Album documents one group of Jews from among scores of similar transports, including arrival at the camp, descent from the boxcars, and “Selection,” at which a few were chosen for work and transformed into prisoners, while the majority were sent to their deaths.
The framework of this unit is dictated by the limits of the Auschwitz Album. Therefore we will not elaborate on the killing process itself, which began immediately after the photos were taken. As part of our educational philosophy, we focus not on death, but on the struggle for life, and the dilemmas faced by the victims in that period. Furthermore, for educational purposes we recommend not using photos that document death itself. These photos enable a better understanding of the situation of the victim, who did not completely know or understand what they were facing.
This unit includes several handouts about issues that may arise in the classroom including the development of the “Final Solution,” the album’s role after its discovery at the end of the war, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, and an article on photographs as historical documents.
“Notes to the Teacher” in each segment includes points that should be raised during classroom discussion.
- Handout 1: The Album has its Own Destiny
- Handout for the Teacher: The "Final Solution"
- Handout 2: Auschwitz-Birjenau: History of the camp
- Plan of the Former Concentration Camp KL Auschwitz I - Oswiecim
- Plan of the Former Concentration Camp KL Auschwitz II – Birkenau (Brzezinka)
- Handout 3: Photographs as Historical Documents