Bystanders in the Holocaust and Rwanda

Christopher Bobal
Lee’s Summit High School
Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Grade Level
7th-12th grade

Language Arts
Social Studies

Time Needed
3 class periods

Often overlooked by teachers, in the study of genocides, is the role of the bystanders. Information is more readily available on the acts committed by the perpetrators and even the victims, especially the survivors. However, bystanders can be found in all genocides and they play a key role. Without them the perpetrators would find it harder to commit the atrocities. For comparative purposes this lesson considers bystanders in the Holocaust and in Rwanda. Students will explore who is a bystander as well as discuss what can or should anyone do in the face of genocide.

Two things to consider about this lesson:

  • While the lesson could stand on its own the more background students have on the Holocaust and Rwanda the better.
  • While the lesson is designed for 3 days it contains elements that can be used independently of each other depending on the needs of the teacher.

Teacher Instructions
Genocide Definition
Martin Niemoller Quote
Holocaust Timeline
100 Days of Genocide in Rwanda
Walter Stier Holocaust Testimony – Video
Ghosts of Rwanda – Video (show segment 3)
US Policy on the Holocaust
US Policy on Rwanda

Pedagogical note from the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education: We encourage all educators to be familiar with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Guidelines for Teaching the Holocaust. When teaching this unit, please remember the guideline which tells us to avoid comparisons of suffering and pain. This includes both individuals and groups.

This teaching unit was designed by a member of the Isak Federman Holocaust Teaching Cadre.

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