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Home > Archive > For teachers > Holocaust (History) > Background


This lesson is designed for middle or high school integrated language arts classes that are studying The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night, although it can also be incorporated into middle or high school history courses. Guidelines for teaching this topic have been developed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and can be found at "Teaching about the holocaust". This lesson is designed to incorporate the guideline of translating statistics into people by allowing the students to experience the stories of children and families of the ghettos and then to develop an even more intimate experience with a child from the Theresienstadt (Terezín) Ghetto by looking at a piece of artwork or writing that the child created during his or her time at Theresienstadt and creating a butterfly in memory or honor of that child.

The term “ghetto” needs to be defined in terms of the Holocaust era versus the common definition students know today. According to, the origin of the term “ghetto” comes from the Italian language and means “part of a city to which Jews are restricted,” in reference to the name of an island near Venice where Jews were forced to reside in the 16th century. It was extended to mean, “crowded urban quarters of other minority groups” in 1892. The common definition used today is “a section of a city, especially a thickly populated area, inhabited predominantly by members of an ethnic or other minority group, often as a result of social or economic restrictions, pressures, or hardships.” According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “During World War II, ghettos were city districts (often enclosed) in which the Germans concentrated the municipal and sometimes regional Jewish population and forced them to live under miserable conditions. Ghettos isolated Jews by separating Jewish communities from the non-Jewish population and from other Jewish communities. The Germans established at least 1,000 ghettos in German-occupied and annexed Poland and the Soviet Union alone.”

Although there were over 1,000 established ghettos during the Holocaust era, there were a few large, long-standing ghettos that should be introduced during this lesson. These include the Warsaw Ghetto, the Lodz Ghetto, the Kovno Ghetto, and the Terezín Ghetto. The largest ghetto was the Warsaw Ghetto. This ghetto was famous for the uprising that occurred within its walls. (More information about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising can be found at The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.) The second largest ghetto was the Lodz Ghetto, which was sealed off and is best known for the “Give Me Your Children” speech by Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski. (The transcript of this speech can be found at Voices from the Lodz Ghetto.) The third ghetto, the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania, is known for the “Intellectuals Action,” in which Lithuanian auxiliaries shot hundreds of Jewish professionals. (More information about the Kovno “Intellectuals Action” can be found at Kovno 1940-1944 Timeline.) Finally, the fourth ghetto of Theresienstadt (or Terezín) is known as the “model ghetto” because it underwent a beautification project prior to a Red Cross visit and was used to create a Nazi propaganda film. Theresienstadt is also known for the poetry and art created by its children and preserved after the war. (More information about the “model ghetto” and the Red Cross visit can be found at Theresienstadt : Red Cross Visit.)


This lesson plan addresses the following national language arts standards as defined by the National Council of Teachers of English:

  1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  1. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  1. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  1. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  1. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  1. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.
  1. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  1. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  1. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

This lesson plan addresses the following national social studies content standards as defined by the National Council of Social Sciences:

  1. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural experiences.
  1. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ways human beings view themselves in and over time.
  1. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of people, places, and environments.
  1. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.
  1. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.


  1. Guidelines for Teaching the Holocaust –
  1. Warsaw Ghetto Uprising –
  1. “Give Me Your Children” –
  1. “Intellectuals Action” -
  1. Theresienstadt Red Cross Visit –
  1. Ghetto Information – The World Must Know by Michael Berenbaum
  1. Historical Definition of “Ghetto” –
  1. Map of European Ghettos –
  1. Warsaw Ghetto Handout –
  1. Lodz Ghetto Handout -
  1. Kovno Ghetto Handout -
  1. Terezín Ghetto Handout -
  1. Children’s Stories – Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine; Fireflies in the Dark by Susan Goldman Rubin; I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Hana Volavkova (Editor)

Ghettos of the Holocaust

Article Summary Sheet

Title of Article:


  1. Which ghetto was discussed in the article?
  1. Write the most important information from the article on the lines below.
  1. What was the most interesting or surprising information you learned from this article?

*You will use the back of this paper to take notes on the other ghettos as presented by your classmates and teacher tomorrow.*

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