History of Antisemitism Lesson

Download a PDF of the Lesson here

This lesson, which has been adapted from the USHMM History of Antisemitism lesson, will address the long history of antisemitism and how it led to the Holocaust. Since antisemitism has been around for centuries, it is important to see that the Holocaust is just one fraction of a larger problem of Jewish persecution in history. Teaching this lesson near the beginning of your Holocaust unit will provide context and help students understand why the Holocaust happened.

Grade Level: 9-12

Subject: English Language Arts, Social Studies

Duration: One 90-minute class period

NC Standards Addressed:


RI 1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Social Studies:

WH.H.1.3: Use Historical Analysis and Interpretation to: 1. Identify issues and problems in the past. 2. Consider multiple perspectives of various peoples in the past. 3. Analyze cause-and-effect relationships and multiple causations. 4. Evaluate competing historical narratives and debates among historians. 5. Evaluate the influence of the past on contemporary issues.

WH.H.1.4: Use Historical Research to: 1. Formulate historical questions. 2. Obtain historical data from a variety of sources. 3. Support interpretations with historical evidence. 4. Construct analytical essays using historical evidence to support arguments.

Essential Question:

Why is antisemitism so prevalent?

Learning Objectives:

After the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify the various events and ways Antisemitism has reared its ugly head over the centuries before the Holocaust.
  • Explain why people were prone to have Antisemitic feelings and how they are not justifiable.

Previewing Vocabulary:

  • Anti-Semitism– Hostility to or prejudice against Jews.
  • Holocaust- Destruction or slaughter on a mass scale especially by fire or nuclear war.
  • Genocide- The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.
  • Bias- Prejudice in favor or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
  • Aryan- Relating to or denoting a people speaking an Indo-European language who invaded northern India in the 2nd millennium, BC, displacing the Dravidian and other aboriginal peoples.
  • Monotheism- The belief that there is only one God.
  • Covenant- An agreement.
  • Orthodox- (Of a person or their views/beliefs) conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved.
  • Israel- “One who wrestles with God.”
  • Exile- The state of being barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons.
  • Diaspora- The dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel.
  • Inquisition- A period of prolonged and intensive questioning or investigation.
  • Infidel- A person who does not believe in religion or who adheres to a religion other than one’s own.
  • Pogrom- An organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jews in Russia or eastern Europe.
  • Ghetto- A part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups.
  • Usury- The illegal action or practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest.


(Links to Google Docs, Forms, and Slides will ask you to make a copy):

For Teacher’s Background Knowledge:

For Students in Lesson:

PDF: Pyramid of Hate Activity


  1. Before class, have students take the online Bias Survey on race from Harvard on their own for homework, and then share their feelings and reactions to the results in a Google form.
  2. At the beginning of class, ask students to share something that surprised them, something they learned about themselves, or a question that was generated from the Bias survey. You can do this as a whole class discussion or on a padlet. Display the results of the Google form survey to the first question to have a jumping off point for the discussion to see how everyone reacted to the survey and their results.
  3. Hand out the Introduction to Antisemitism handout to each student and use the Introduction to Antisemitism Google Slides presentation to define the key terms before working through the presentation with the videos and survivor testimony (all links to videos and podcasts are in the Google slides presentation). Provide the PDF of the transcript of the History of European Antisemitism film and the Mark Potok podcast at the end so that students can read and listen at the same time.
  4. Print out a blank version of the Prejudice Pyramid and either have students do individually, with a partner or as a team, identify as many examples of actions that fit the category for each section of the pyramid. Feel free to provide an example for each to students if necessary. (5 minutes) Come back together as a class and draw an example pyramid on the board and have students call out what they came up with and add others from your key if need be. Connect this to the study of antisemitism and the Holocaust by talking about what steps were necessary before genocide took place.


  • Use an exit ticket and have students reflect on what surprised them, what they learned, or a question that they now have after learning about the history of antisemitism.

E-Learning Adaptation:

All of the above could be done in an e-learning situation by sharing the links to the survey, slides, and pdfs for students to work through on their own. Follow up with a synchronous class discussion.e lesson can be used as an E-learning lesson as all materials are available online with instructions listed on their worksheets.


As a follow up lesson or resources that you can use to extend student learning on this topic.

  1. Have students do individual research on the different time periods and types of Antisemitism by following the directions on this Google slide presentation. It often takes a few class periods for students to finish. Make sure to make a copy for each student if they will complete it individually, or you can have them complete it in groups so each student is responsible for his/her own slide.

2. Have students watch Fiddler on the Roof and fill out the study guide before discussing what they learned about Jewish culture and antisemitism from the film.

3. Anti-Semitism Document Based Question: (Really good for your higher level learners)

4. Additional Resources through the Smithsonian

5. Additional Resources through the NHMM

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