The Holocaust & The Bystander Effect Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

This lesson plan is a tool for helping students learn about the bystander effect that occurred during the Holocaust. Students will be able to describe the bystander effect and recognize how the Nazi regime encouraged German citizens to remain apathetic to Jewish neighbors.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson on the bystander effect during the Holocaust, students will be able to:

  • Define the bystander effect and discuss research related to this phenomenon.
  • Identify how Nazis systematically promoted apathy and anti-Semitism.


60 minutes

Common Core Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.


  • anti-Semitism
  • Aryans
  • bystander
  • bystander effect
  • concentration camps
  • dehumanize
  • genocide
  • gypsies
  • Holocaust
  • propaganda


  • Copies of the worksheet, one for each student
  • Copies of the lesson, one for each student
  • Paper
  • Pens

Reading & Discussion

  • Pass out copies of Bystander Effect & The Holocaust to the students.
  • Have students skim through the lesson to identify vocabulary words. Have students turn and talk to their partners about word meanings in context.
  • Read the section entitled 'Background and Definitions' with students. Have students develop a class definition for bystander effect. Write the definition on chart paper.
  • Activate prior knowledge by asking the students what they already know about the Holocaust. Lead students to make the connection between inaction on the part of the bystanders with the atrocities that were committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
  • Read 'The Rise of Anti-Semitism' with students.
  • Ask students the following questions:
    • Describe the conditions in Germany following World War I.
    • What policies were established to isolate Jewish people from Aryan people?
    • Why was anti-Semitism so popular in Germany during that time?
  • Read 'The Bystander Continuum' section to students.
  • Ask students the following questions:
    • Define perpetrators, victims, rescuers, and bystanders.
    • Why didn't the bystanders speak out?
    • How did people who claimed to be bystanders help the Nazi regime?
  • Read 'The Bystander Effect Research' section with students.
  • Ask the following questions:
    • What prompted Latane and Darley to study the bystander effect?
    • When are people most likely to intervene in an emergency? Why?
  • Have students read the 'Lesson Summary' to themselves.
  • Pass out the printable worksheet. Have students complete the questions independently; then check the answers together.


Case Studies

Materials needed: paper, pens, copies of lesson

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