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Lesson: Leaving Europe


Students learn about the Nazis’ prewar policies of persecution and consider what eyewitness accounts reveal about the Nazi state.

Links to Historical Thinking Concepts:

Use Primary Source Evidence – Students respond to the prewar photographs of former internees and consider what they reveal about prewar Jewish life in Germany and Austria. Students also respond to former internees’ testimony about the rise of Nazism and consider what these accounts reveal about changes to Jewish life during this time.

Establish Historical Significance – Students respond to the testimonies of former internees and consider the changes that the internees discuss during these recollections. What do these experiences reveal about the early stages of the Holocaust?

Analyze Cause & Consequence – Students consider how the Nazis’ early persecution of Jews contributed to the Holocaust. How did these policies contribute to the former internees’ decisions to flee Nazi Germany and Austria?

Analyze Continuity & Change – Students learn about how the rise of Nazism affected the Jewish communities in Germany and Austria.

Take Historical Perspective – Students consider the perspective of an individual trying to flee Nazism.

Pair Discussion: Prewar Photographs

Have students explore this page of the website or pre-assign Reading: The Life That Was.

Explain to students that they are going to examine pre-Second World War photographs belonging to Jews who lived on Germany and Austria.

In pairs or small groups, students examine the photographs in Dossier: The Life That Was and respond to the following questions:

  • When do you think these photographs were taken? What do you see in the pictures that might reveal when they were taken?
  • What do the photographs reveal about the people depicted?
  • How do these photos compare to your own family and school photographs? How are they similar and how are they different?
  • How do the photographs relate to what you learned in your reading about prewar Jewish life in Germany and Austria? What do they convey about the prewar Jewish communities of Germany and Austria?
  • What questions do these photographs raise?

Class Discussion: Thinking About Testimony

Explain that students will be viewing testimonies of people who were teenagers during the rise of Nazism in Germany and Austria.

As a class, lead a discussion about testimony, using the following questions as prompts:

  • What is an eyewitness?
  • What is a testimony?
  • What forms does testimony take?
  • Why would somebody leave a testimony?
  • What can testimony tell us about a past event that other sources might not? What are the limitations of testimony?
  • Compare the value of testimony, artefacts (such as documents and photographs) and textbooks as sources for understanding the past.

Video Screening: The Rise of Nazism

Students work individually to summarize Reading: Nazism in Germany & Austria, noting the steps taken by the Nazis to persecute Jews after coming to power in 1933.

In pairs (or, as computer access permits, individually or in groups), students view Video: Nazism in Germany & Austria, which features recollections of former internees about how life changed for them, their families and their communities after the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany and Austria. Students should watch the video twice; on the first viewing, students watch and listen carefully, while on the second viewing, students should note the incidents of persecution as described by the interviewees.

As a class, students discuss their notes generated in response to the video.

  • How did life change for the interviewees after the Nazis’ rise to power?
  • How did your understanding of the rise of Nazism change after viewing the video?
  • What did the video testimony reveal that the reading did not? What did the reading reveal that the video did not?
  • The videos offer recollections of individuals who were young at the time of the events described. How does this affect their accounts? How did this affect your response to these accounts?
  • Based on the interviewee’s comments, why would Jews seek to leave Germany and Austria during the 1930s? What were some of the obstacles to leaving?

Written Reflection: Canada’s Closed Doors

Students explore the section of the website titled “Emigration to Britain” and “Canada’s Closed Doors.” Using what they learned from their readings and the video, students write a letter from the perspective of one of the individuals featured in the video to the Canadian or British government asking to be granted admission.

“We Had to Leave”
in the classroom


Leaving Europe
Students learn about the rise of Nazism in Germany and Austria by engaging with the prewar photographs of former internees, and with internee video testimony about how life changed after the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933.


The Life That Was


Dossier: The Life That Was


Nazism in Germany & Austria

Complete Teachers’ Guide to Enemy Aliens
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