Senior History
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Holocaust and Genocide Senior History Unit

The Holocaust and Genocide – A cross-curricula approach

Contexts of study and comparison: Yugoslavian Civil War, Rwanda, Cambodia, the Holocaust (or Shoah)

Abstract and module rationale:


Why relate the Holocaust to other Genocides?

An essential element that pervades all Genocide is the idea of crimes against humanity. The NZC (New Zealand Curriculum) asks educators and students alike to inquire into significant events and thereby help to better understand our contemporary world. To unpack this further, we must examine the many “branches” or facets of our civilisation, especially democracy, by understanding Genocide and the Holocaust in depth. Students should be exposed to accurate historical truth (including terminology which is based around best practice) and guided in a full examination of acts of injustice using historical example. A note about terminology: it is vital that the language of criminals is carefully explained to young people. Instead of using criminal Nazi language such as the “The Final Solution”, which demeans the victims of the Holocaust, more accurate terms like Shoah or Holocaust should be used. This is also a significant teaching opportunity to examine the power of language in history and instances of genocide.

Criminality and Genocide

By sharpening learner understanding of similarities and differences, studying Genocides will enable a broader yet more accurate understanding of past crimes against humanity. Common patterns of criminal acts within Genocides can be identified and used for testing and understanding similar events. The UN definition of Genocide is a very useful term to use for teachers and can be used as an objective “template” for considering significant abuses of people, groups and communities in History. The UN definition of Genocide is quoted later in this document.

International Law

Through studying Genocides we can improve students understanding of international law, and processes thereof, and how modern nations who have actively fought against regimes who have committed Genocide have been tried. This will encourage students to examine historic legal responses like the Nuremberg trials, but also more recent examples from the Yugoslavian war crimes trials in The Hague. The creation of significant documents like the UN’s universal declaration of Human Rights, the UN convention on the rights of the child and the creation of the United Nations itself are also relevant to a study of positive outcomes from 20th century Genocide.

Values: Students will be asked to examine issues to do with humanity that will encourage excellent in their work and study. Thinking skills will be promoted by examining, multiple examples of genocide with direct links to NZ (i.e. Jewish refugees – survivors of the European Holocaust- to NZ after World War two, the flow of migrants from Cambodia in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the arrival of migrants from contemporary  conflicts). There are connections in this study to Senior Social Studies, Religious Studies and Geography. It is vital that students examine the causes, events and outcomes of Genocide in an objective manner so as to gather, analyse and evaluate, with respect, the scope of Genocide in History.

Definition of Genocide

The word Genocide was coined during the Second World War in response to the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators against the European Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. The United Nations defines Genocide as: “Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, including killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about a physical destruction in whole or part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (Echoes and Reflections, p.383)

Other key words: altruism, anti-Semitism, armed resistance, bigotry,  bystander, caricature, collaboration cultural resistance, spiritual resistance, crimes against humanity, democracy, discrimination, ethnic cleansing, hate group, Holocaust, homophobia, insurgent, Judaism, liberation, Nuremberg Laws, Nuremberg Trials, occupation, perpetrator, prejudice, propaganda, racism, refugee, resistance, “Righteous Among the Nations”, stereotype, scapegoat, totalitarian, tyranny, victim, visual history testimony, war crimes trials.

As this unit of study is planned and is unpacked for student use, the above key words should be carefully defined with appropriate definitions. It must be stressed that they all convey different meanings within the greater topic of Genocide and the Holocaust and should be approached carefully with this in mind.

Areas of focus

Causes and background: What is Genocide? What are the similarities and differences between Genocides? How does racism and or religious intolerance cause genocide?

Events: The Rwandan Civil war and the aftermath of colonialism in Africa; The European Holocaust and Second World War; Cambodia, communism and civil war in South East Asia; Yugoslavia and Balkan Politics and Society.

Outcomes: the human cost; are there answers to ending Genocide? What organisations exist like the UN to foster cooperation and peace? What does NZ do to stop war, intolerance and anti-democracy in our own “back yard” (i.e. the Pacific)?

Specific Learning Outcomes for young people

  • Using student based inquiry as a basis for learning outcomes related to Genocide and the Holocaust

  • Through careful comparisons between Genocides highlight certain similarities that will alert students of potential dangers within contemporary society. Help individuals and groups prepare through formal or informal means to stop Genocide in the future

  • Deeper understanding of the dangers of Genocide will strengthen community awareness and, consequently, resilience

  • Roles and responsibilities within young peoples’ communities will be enhanced by accurately studying causes, events and consequences related to genocide and the Holocaust

  • The importance of positive global citizenship will beinately reinforced

  • Multiple connections to New Zealand’s democratic past and present will be made through our commitment to the United Nations , e.g. Prime minister Peter Fraser attendance and actions at the 1945 United Nations charter meeting (

  • Positive exposure to political education that is directly linked to the fundamental tenets of the United Nations

  • Digital citizenship through constructive use of online tools and media for learning purposes

Suggested Activities / Learning Opportunities

  1. Produce questions about and around the topic, e.g. list as many questions about keywords, or topics within Genocide as you can. Share with classmates in an online environment. Turn your collaboration into further questions.

  2. Build an online wiki of statements about causes and consequences of Genocide. Link web pages that have answers to the wiki, then evaluate your choices.

  3. Which questions were open or closed about the topics you have studied (e.g. The Holocaust, Cambodia etc.). What does it indicate to you if there are more open or closed questions? Discuss in an online chat room your findings, save the discussion and highlight the most interesting portions. Explain your choices in a format of your choice.

  4. Prioritize your questions about Genocide. Then customise the top ranking questions as if you were going to put them to a Human Rights judge. Explain and evaluate your choices.

  5. Brainstorm possible uses of all questions you have asked about issues surrounding or directly to do with the Genocide. Are there any missing sections, eg have you considered politics, economics, human rights, community welfare, the environment?

  6. Developing recognition between genocides.

  7. Understanding the past; creating deeper connections with communities in NZ via learning about experiences. Developing empathy in learning, especially with primary evidence in the form of survivors of Genocide.

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