Deconstructing the Familiar: Photo Activity


Looking at the events of the Holocaust through the theme of collaboration and complicity provides educators with a unique understanding of why and how the Holocaust occurred.


This photo activity has students examine photographs from the Holocaust which may or may not be familiar to them. By examining the photographs, first without a caption and then with a caption, students see the behaviors of ordinary individuals and think about the pressures and motives that might have shaped the behaviors.

Grade Level


Learning Outcomes

1. Nazi leaders needed and found a broad range of helpers.

2. The range of behaviors and actions necessary to carry out the Holocaust is much more extensive than previously realized or understood (genocide doesn’t just happen on its own); help ranged from active participation to passive complicity.

3. Seemingly “innocent” actions, professional duties, and other seemingly inconspicuous acts had consequences even if the participants were “just doing their job” or “simply minding their own business.”

4. Knowledge of Nazi persecution of Jews was well-known if not always understood throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.

Instructions for Educators

1. Divide the students into groups of two or three.

2. Each group receives a worksheet and one photograph without a caption. (Note, there are seven different photographs. Several of the groups, depending on class size, will be examining the same photograph, but that is not a problem).

3. Students examine the photograph (without the caption) and answer the questions in Section 1 on the worksheet. (5 minutes)

4. When finished, hand out the same photograph to each group but this time with the caption and have the students read the caption and answer the questions in Section 2 on the reverse side of the worksheet. (12–15 minutes)

5. Bring the students back together as one large group. Distribute the photo activity chart to each student.

6. Have each of the groups report out on their photograph with particular emphasis to sharing their answers to the questions in Section 2. As they do, each student should fill in the corresponding boxes on the chart for that particular photograph.

7. Many educators find it helpful to project the photographs on a large screen for all to see since not all of the groups will have seen or examined all the images. View and download the seven photographs from the Image Gallery.

8. When the activity is complete, students will have seven examples of ordinary men and women contributing, in often-times ordinary ways, to Nazi Germany’s persecution and eventual annihilation of Europe’s Jews. The seven pictures when seen together offer students a unique understanding of how and why the Holocaust occurred.