Faces of the Holocaust: The Bystander

Meet the representatives of the 32 countries and 24 NGOs who attended the July 1938 Évian Conference, convened to solve the pressing problem of Jewish refugees. Among them was Golda Meir, a representative of Mandatory Palestine. Over the course of the nine-day conference, they learned about the thousands upon thousands of Jews trying to flee. Every single country expressed sympathy for the Jews, but few offered to actually help. After watching the video, the prompts below can be used to engage students in thought-provoking discussion about what they have learned.

  1. There have been at least 100,000 Darfuri people and possibly up to 500,000 Darfuri people killed in Western Sudan since 2003. In response, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum declared the events a Genocide Emergency and emphasized the importance of stopping a modern-day genocide, especially in the context of remembering the Holocaust. Should people who don’t become activists on behalf of the Darfuri people be considered bystanders?
  2. Are bystanders as responsible for the atrocities of the Holocaust as the perpetrators?
  3. The “bystander effect” was coined by social psychologists in 1964. They argued that people are less likely to intervene in an emergency situation if others are present. Why do people stay silent, if there are others around?
  4. Are the terms ‘bystander’ and ‘indifference’ the same?
  5. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his book Stride Toward Freedom, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Is Martin Luther King, Jr. right to equate passive acceptance with perpetuation and silence with cooperation?
  6. Menachem Z. Rosensaft is a leader of the Second Generation movement, or the children of survivors who continue to be an important voice in conversations about the Holocaust and its relevance. He wrote in his essay, “Judging the Bystander with a Measure of Humility,” that it is “easy to be self-righteous, to judge the bystanders to the Holocaust harshly from a perspective of more than six decades. Would we, though, have been willing to sacrifice ourselves and our families to save a stranger or even a friend? We would like to think so, but there must always be a disturbing hesitation, a doubt. Our assessment, then, of the bystanders must be tempered by a measure of humility.” Is it fair to judge a person when we were not in their shoes?
  1. Utilize our film guide about the Bystander video.
  2.  The United States has accused China of committing genocide against the Uighurs. There is evidence that the Chinese government is sterilizing female Uighurs and separating families into internment camps, in an effort to wipe out the ehnic population. Read this article. Write a letter to your local representative about what you think should be done.
  3. Students should read First They Came by Martin Niemoller and then write a reflection on what they learn about being a bystander.
  4. Menachem Begin opposed Israel’s acceptance of any German repatriations after the Holocaust. In a speech to the Knesset on January 7, 1952, he argued, “From a Jewish standpoint, there is not a single German who is not a Nazi, and there is no single German who is not a murderer.” Use a Four Corners lesson to discuss if students agree with Menachem Begin’s perspective.
  5. Read The Hangman by Maurice Ogden to the class. Students should write a speech to convince the community from acting as bystanders.
  1. Elie Wiesel said at his Nobel Peace Acceptance Speech on December 10, 1986, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Have you ever acted neutral or stayed silent on an issue, and why?
  2. The phrase “never again” has become associated with the Holocaust and other genocides. What does it mean to you?
  3. Unfortunately, there are many atrocities happening around the world, including the current genocides in Myanmar, China, and Sudan. It is impossible for a person to be involved in stopping all injustices. How do you balance not being a bystander while also recognizing that there is a limit to what one individual can do?
  4. Since the Holocaust, there have been other situations of oppression of Jewish people, including to Soviet Jews and Ethiopian Jews. What is the obligation of the global Jewish community and the State of Israel to oppressed Jewish communities?

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