Life before the Holocaust

One aspect of Holocaust Education that I have tried to expand and develop in the schools I have worked in is Jewish life in pre-war Europe.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to the relaunch of the excellent education DVD The Way We Lived at the Imperial War Museum. The DVD, which is being distributed free to schools who have visited/will be visiting the IWM Holocaust Exhibition, includes an updated version of The Way We Lived and a new, 12 minute segment on antisemitism. Rachel Donnelly, Holocaust Education Officer at IWM and Paul Salmons from the Institute of Education both spoke about how pre-war Jewish life is often passed over by teachers who are so often teaching the Holocaust with massive time restrictions. They reinforced the importance of developing students’ knowledge and understanding of who the Jews of Europe were before the war, in order that they are able to fully appreciate what was lost in the Holocaust. I believe this is an incredibly valuable resource that will help teachers bring this important aspect of understanding the Holocaust into their teaching.
Some text books, notably the SHP Holocaust KS3 text book, contain some excellent sources and activities on pre-war Jewish life in Europe and I have worked on a mapping exercise with the Imperial War Museum North that is going to be a part of their teacher training programme. Unfortunately for copyright reasons I cannot reproduce that here but have I have developed a Power Point presentation that sets up an activity that uses photographs and students’ source interpretation skills to build up a picture of the variety and breadth of Jewish life in Europe prior to 1939. You can adapt this task with photographs from text books or you can go online to the excellent Yad Vashem and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum photographic archives where you have many photographs to choose from.

Having seen the The Way We Lived DVD, I will be developing some resources to be used alongside it that will go up on this blog’s Resources Page. In the meantime, if you are a teacher who has visited the Holocaust Exhibition and would like a copy of the DVD, please email Rachel Donnelly directly at

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