Elie Wiesel: Speaking Truth to Genocide

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Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel. Photo ©2000 Eddie Adams.


  • 9-12


  • Genocide

Additional Resources


  • Article 3: Right to life, liberty, personal security


  • How can we be more like Elie Wiesel today?
  • What can this class do to remember the Holocaust and be a defender against genocide?


40 to 80 minutes


After this lesson, students will be able to

  • Know who Elie Wiesel is and why he is a human rights defender.
  • Learn how his example provides the inspiration for students to stand up to genocide today.


  • Drawing inferences
  • Making conclusions
  • Organizing and interpreting information
  • Participating in group planning and discussion
  • Cooperating to accomplish goals


  • Social Studies Standard 2: World History
    • Commencement KI 1 PI 1, 3, 4, 5; KI 2 PI 3, 4, 5; KI 3 PI 1, 2, 3; KI 4 PI 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Social Studies Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government
    • Commencement KI 1 PI 1, 3, 4; KI 3 PI 1; KI 4 PI 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
  • English Language Arts Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; Writing PI 1, 2, 3, 4
  • English Language Arts Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2, 3, 4; Writing PI 1, 2

NYS P-12 COMMON CORE LEARNING STANDARDS in Literacy for History/Social Studies 6-12

  • RH/SS.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • WH/SS.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • RH/SS.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • RH/SS.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • WH/SS.11-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • WH/SS.11-12.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.


  • Defender
  • Genocide
  • Human rights
  • Holocaust
  • Kristallnacht


  • Human rights
  • Global citizenship
  • Justice
  • Government
  • Power
  • Individual responsibility


  • An LCD projector


  • Students should have completed a unit on the Holocaust.


Poster board for each member of the class

  • Handouts of his profile from Speak Truth to Power



  • Show the following video in which Oprah Winfrey interviews Elie Wiesel at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. www.YouTube.com/watch?v=mUEEYa0pvgU
  • Distribute to the students the interview of Elie Wiesel from Speak Truth to Power [link]
  • The teacher should emphasize that in addition to speaking around the world for peace, perhaps Mr. Wiesel’s greatest accomplishment is helping create the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D. C., to which he was the founding chairman. The teacher should then explain that it was due to Mr. Wiesel’s influence that the museum was started in 1993 as a living memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, and as a reminder of the cost of hatred in the world. Since that time, over 34 million visitors have witnessed its exhibits, most of which can be seen through this short video produced by the museum: www.ushmm.org
  • United States Memorial Holocaust Museum: www.YouTube.com/watch?v=6MPeKNBZW6o


  • The teacher will suggest that one way the students can follow in Elie Wiesel’s footsteps is to promote awareness of genocide to themselves and their community by creating an in-class Holocaust museum of their own.
  • Each student will be given a large piece of poster board, and then asked to randomly select one of the following topics to research, each of which has been adapted from the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, www.ushmm.org :
    • Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust
    • The role of Nazi propaganda in causing the Holocaust
    • The Hitler Youth for Boys and Girls
    • Kristallnacht
    • The Nuremberg Laws
    • The concentration camp system
    • The Nazi takeover of Europe
    • The mobile killing squads known as the Einsatzgruppen
    • The ghetto system
    • The larger death camps
    • Children in the Holocaust
    • The role of bystanders
    • The Warsaw Ghetto Resistance
    • The White Rose Movement
    • Irena Sendler as a Holocaust Rescuer
    • Oscar Schindler as a Holocaust Rescuer
    • Raoul Wallenberg as a Holocaust Rescuer
    • The defeat of the Nazis and liberation of the camps
    • The Nuremberg trials and the role of Robert H. Jackson
    • What happened to the survivors after the war, where did they go, etc?
    • How the Holocaust is remembered today through memorials around the world
    • The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum
    • Genocide in Armenia and Hitler’s reaction to it
    • Genocide in Cambodia
    • Genocide in Rwanda
    • Genocide in Darfur
    • Human Rights in Congo
    • What STAND is and how students have reacted to genocide today.
    • A poster on the accomplishments of Elie Wiesel as a human rights defender
    • One on the book Speak Truth to Power
    • A poster which explains what the purpose of this project is (to become a defender against genocide like Elie Wiesel); this poster should also have the students’ signatures symbolizing their own commitment to being defenders.
  • Working in class for 2-3 days or at home, students will create a poster which explains their project, the guidelines for which should be established by the teacher.
  • To complete their research, it is recommended that the students be directed to the United States Memorial Museum’s website at http://www.ushmm.org/education/forstudents/

Become a Defender

  • Once these posters are completed, the students will honor Elie Wiesel’s work by creating a “living” Holocaust museum of their own. To do so, the teacher should follow these steps:
    • Group the students and their posters in chronological order of their topics, and then place them around the room or a larger display area like the school’s library, cafeteria, etc.
    • Ask students to stand in front of their poster to explain their topic to their peers, to another class who hasn’t studied the Holocaust, or better yet, to a parent’s night gathering. Doing so has the added benefit of having the students become more of a defender, which in the end is what this project is all about!
    • The teacher may want to make this event even more significant by inviting a Holocaust survivor to speak afterward, which in turn will reinforce the importance of what the students have accomplished.
    • For more information on how to incorporate this lesson into a larger Holocaust Day of Remembrance, please contact teachers Monnie DeBerry and Duane Eliff from Hardin County Middle School in Savannah, Tennessee, both of whom have teamed up successfully to stage such an event and poster project over the past few years. It should be noted that this lesson is based upon the initial framework which these two great teachers created and provided.
    • STAND trains and mobilizes volunteers with educational information, online resources and social networking to protect citizens from the violence of genocide.
  • Create a Human Rights or Darfur group in their school, have an event to raise money and awareness for the refugees of the crisis, such as a spaghetti dinner, battle of the bands, or loose change drive in the cafeteria.
  • The students can get more ideas for this charitable work by researching the student group called STAND (www.standnow.org) or by going to www.springvillestudentsforhumanrights.org
  • For additional resources on genocide prevention, it is recommended that the class visit the webpage of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: www.ushmm.org/genocide


The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is sponsoring an annual contest honoring a student who submits the best advocacy activity based upon the lesson studied. A goal of the lesson is to instill into each student that one voice, one person can make monumental changes in the lives of many. Tell us how you “Became a Defender”!


  • A one-page summary of the advocacy activity
  • Digitized copies of materials that can be sent electronically
  • Photos of the activity (please include parental consent form)
  • A one-page summary of how the activity made a change in the lives of one person or many


  • A week long “virtual” internship at RFK Center
  • An opportunity to meet the defender through a SKYPE visit,
  • A visit from Kerry Kennedy or a defender to your school
  • A poster of a Speak Truth to Power Human Rights Defender
  • A donation of a signed copy of Speak Truth to Power for the school library
  • The application and instructions for entry can be downloaded here (link for materials)
  • The deadline for all applications is the third week in November.
  • The winning student and teacher will be notified by the last week of January

Additional Resources

International Rescue Committee
The IRC works to help people survive humanitarian crises and afterward, to begin the rebuilding process. They work in 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities in an attempt to restore safety, dignity and hope to millions of people.

A non-profit organization that campaigns against genocide and crimes against humanity. Aegis Trust also runs the Kigali Memorial Center in Rwanda and the Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center in the UK to teach the public about the realities of genocide.

Genocide Intervention
By empowering individuals and communities with tools provided by a broad U.S. constituency that includes over 1,000 student chapters at colleges and high schools, Genocide Intervention works to put an end to situations of genocide and mass atrocity.

A non-profit organization that takes a preventive approach to genocide and crimes against humanity while also working to stop current and ongoing genocide.

Genocide Prevention Now
Genocide Prevention Now is a review published online of Holocaust and Genocide news and information.

International Crisis Group
A non-governmental organization that focuses on resolving and preventing all kinds of deadly conflict. Their work focuses on distributing informative reports on these kinds of conflicts.

Genocide Prevention Task Force
This task force is an extension of the U.S. Institute of Peace that aims to make genocide prevention a U.S. national priority and to provide leaders with policy recommendations to help prevent future genocide.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Offers teaching materials for teachers and students to help learn about the history of the holocaust, reflect upon the moral and ethical questions raised by that history and to consider the links to genocide today.

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