Teacher | Student
Originally produced in: Polska
Also available in: en

Curricular level

Third class of Compulsory Secondary Education (the old core curriculum), 15-16 years, First class of high school (Polish lyceum), 16-17 years, history: “Occupation policy of the Third Reich. The Holocaust”. Polska


Establishment of a network of Nazi concentration and extermination (death) camps during World War II was the most horrible manifestation of human bestiality in world’s history. In Hitler’s plan, extermination camps were supposed to be used to eliminate the whole nations. Criminal activities in the camps that were organized mainly in Easter-Central Europe and in Germany were stopped only by advent of the Allies who systematically liberated successive “death factories”. This way they freed several thousand prisoners, who had been devoid of hope for survival. But did “freedom” mean the same as “liberation” for people who experienced evil that occurred in Nazi death camps? Was it possible for them to return to normal life? Could the "normal world" exist after the tragedy of war and destruction?

The materials for students refer to liberation of Nazi camps in 1944 and 1945. The materials were designed to draw the attention of students primarily to two issues.

Firstly, despite the huge scale of loss of the Jewish nation because of the Holocaust, Jews were not the only nation that was condemned to annihilation in the Hitler’s criminal plan. Jews were not the only society, whose representatives were murdered in concentration and death camps organized primarily in East-Central Europe and Germany. Thus, materials were selected to show common suffering in the Nazi camps of nearly all European nations occupied by the Third Reich.

Secondly, the materials should draw attention to the double meaning of the term "liberation" which, in regard to prisoners of Nazi concentration camps, had to be clearly distinguished into two aspects. It may mean "freeing" in a physical sense, in other words, return to a free life. But it can mean "release" from the stigma of the camp, which left traces in the psyche of former prisoners through contact with unimaginable evil that took place in the Nazi "death factories." This stigma prevented many of them from returning to regular life and normal relations with other people.

Conceptual Objectives

  • Student discusses the process of liberation of Nazi camps in 1944-1945, taking into account different conditions and chronology of the events on the Eastern and Western Front.
  • Student analyses the German policy of creating camps at the end of the war and in view of expected defeat.
  • Student distinguishes the concepts of extermination (death) camp, labour camp, and concentration camp. He or she also knows the assumptions and way of operation of such organizations.
  • Student understands the meaning of concentration camps liberation. He or she takes into account not only rescuing prisoners, but also the issue of knowing the truth about the magnitude and horror of the plan of extermination of whole nations that was realised by Nazi Germany.
  • Student notices the changes in the psyche and relationships with other people because of camp experiences.

Methodological Objectives and Skills

  • On the basis of the map, student specifies the stages of liberation of Nazi camps on the Eastern and the Western Front. He or she links this with the acquired information about the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation in 1944 and 1945.
  • By analysing archive materials student draws conclusions about the broader historical phenomena.
  • Student analyzes the source text and gives a critical judgement of it taking into account the author's credibility.
  • Student does synthesis of the various historical facts concerning the operation of concentration camps and Nazi policies in the last phase of the war. Student can situate the outcome in broader picture for Nazi crimes during the World War II.

Suggestion of Activities

The activities on the basis of these materials can successfully complement and visualize the knowledge acquired from e.g. literature classes on the experiences of people affected by the nightmare of the Holocaust and the Nazi concentration camps. The activities can also be an introduction to a discussion about the role of historical memory, in this case the memory of Nazi crimes, in contemporary public debate (especially the use of history for political purposes). The issue of Nazi crimes is exceptionally broad, but it is very well investigated and documented in historical literature. Thus the materials offered in this module can be used to encourage students to conduct their own research on this subject by looking for accounts of survivors, searching photographs documenting the events, etc.

Another way to stimulate cognitive activity of students may be encouraging them to realize a group project that would refer to a Nazi camp of their choice. The students’ task would be to gather as many details about the establishment, operation and liquidation of the particular Nazi camp. Visual materials and reports of prisoners could form a basis for the creation of thematic school exhibitions which would be the crowning achievement of their cognitive effort, and also a tribute to the victims of the criminal activities of the Nazis.

Suggestion of Evaluation

In assessing the work of pupils in this module, teachers should pay special attention to the students’ ability to approach information critically. Students should be aware that the history of the twentieth century is often used for the purposes of propagating a political ideology or manipulating public opinion. Hence the key competence seems to be the ability to select information and assess their credibility. Other evaluation criteria should relate to the presented conceptual and methodological objectives.

Further Information and Interdisciplinarity

http://www.auschwitz.org.pl – website of Auschwitz-Birkenau – the largest Nazi extermination camp.

http://www.deathcamps.org – English-language site about the Nazi concentration camps.

http://isurvived.org – website dedicated to survivors of Nazi camps.

http://jtajchert.w.interia.pl/zdjecia_po_wyzwoleniu_obozu_berg.htm – website dedicated to relations and photographs from liberation of Belsen camp.

http://www.dsh.waw.pl/hm/isfldp – webpage of the International Slave and Forced Labourers Documentation Project (“Dokumentacja losow zyciowych bylych robotnikow niewolniczych i przymusowych”).

http://hm.fotohistoria.pl/hm_presentations/forgotten_camps/index.php?ver=pl&content=temat&temat=Wyzwolenie%20obozu,%20powr%C3%B3t%20do%20domu – webpage that contains reports of survivors from the camps.

http://www.gazetalekarska.pl/xml/oil/oil67/gazeta/numery/n2008/n200803/n20080307 – webpage that presents the profile and work of Prof. Sterkowicz – the author of the cited memoirs.

http://www.kz-gedenkstaette-neuengamme.de – the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial webpage.

http://www.lodzjews.org/root/form/pl/getto/index.asp – website dedicated to the extermination of the Jews in Lodz.

http://www.muzeumtradycji.pl/page/index.php?str=109 – webpage of the museum of the Radogost prison.

http://www.lodzgetto.pl – website dedicated to the extermination of the Jews of Lodz.

http://www.toya.net.pl/~jubeka/fotolodz/www%20foto/gal%2044.html – photo gallery of the Radogost museum.