Education occurs through remembrance, and remembrance through education. Education implies remembrance. […] I believe in remembrance more than anything else. […] I believe in young people, who are committing themselves, and who in Germany are confronting their past. There must be more and more young Germans who consciously remember Auschwitz–for Germany’s sake.

Elie Wiesel in: Hope against Hope, 80-81

Educational resources

Elie Wiesel’s significance to building a critical culture of remembrance after Auschwitz calls for a combination of academic research on his work and for educational projects to convey his humanitarian message. Therefore, the Elie Wiesel Research Center’s goal is to make pedagogical resources and programs available to researchers and educators, free of charge.

Teaching suggestions for the Holocaust testimony Night by Elie Wiesel

Night, a significant Holocaust testimony written by Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel ten years after his liberation, is now available in a new German translation. It has been updated with the latest scholarly findings and contains learning tools, such as a glossary of Jewish terms, camp language, and Nazi terms, biographical and editorial notes, and a map that outlines deportation and liberation paths. This makes it easier for teachers and students to comprehensively explore the text and engage in worthwhile classroom conversations. The new translation also makes Night a suitable object of study for a variety of subjects, including religious education, ethics, history, social studies, and German. In addition, the broad academic applicability of Night makes it an ideal piece for colleagues from various subject areas to cooperate on interdisciplinary studies. Night is also complex enough to serve as the central text of
seminar courses in higher education school. Outside of a school context, Wiesel’s Night can also serve as a supplementary learning text to enhance visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial or other Holocaust memorial sites.

When working with Elie Wiesel's Holocaust testimony in school, it is vital that students be prepared to deal with the text. Instead of jumping into the complexities of the material, students should be allowed to naturally relate to the topic, to express their interests in the text and draw ties to it through, their previous experiences, and unique
approaches. Some students may also need space to consider reservations about the text, or even to express a desire to not to have to deal with such material "all the time". In this way, students are given the appropriate space to form an individual connection with the testimony. Allowing students to build a personal connection to Night also
provides teachers with the opportunity to explore the students’ relationships to the topic in an academic environment. Teachers should be able to use these personal connections to discuss the consequences, alternative possibilities, and significance for
the modern day that the text represents, so that students are not left alone to struggle with the implications of Wiesel’s Holocaust testimony. When taught with the proper care, Night can help students recognize a level of importance and transparency to the lives they live and the state of the modern world.

Therefore, we suggest dividing courses on Wiesel’s Night into three parts:
Part one: Explore each students approaches, previous experiences, possible
defenses, and resistances against the topic. This can help students explore underlying
(and controversial) questions/statements like the following:
• Why should we remember?
• What does this mean to me?
• That was so long ago, it has nothing to do with us anymore!
• I’m sick of this topic, I don’t want to deal with it all the time!
• I come from another country. Why should I have to deal with it?
• etc.
Part two: Read and examine a biography, a testimony on the Holocaust.
At this stage, students should read Night by Elie Wiesel in its entirety (approx. 130 pages in a paperback) or delve into representative excerpts from the work. As in Part one, students should be allowed to respond to the text by building a personal connect — sharing their personal impressions, feelings, questions, etc. In teaching Night, it is essential to observe the "prohibition of overwhelming" and refrain from confronting unprepared students with such stressful topics as are found in Wiesel’s Night. Above all, it is crucial to have a good follow-up and review.

Part three: What now? Relating course material to life as we know it.
Elie Wiesel turned his experience of the death camps into a message for humanity, human dignity, and peace. After reading Night, one can take a closer look at the biographical aspects of the work and discuss their significance to the present and future of the world. Here are a few sample questions to consider using in your course:
• What are some examples of prejudice in the world today? What are the causes of it?
• What can we do today to help people live peacefully in a diverse, pluralistic society?
• How can we prevent and fight racism and Anti-Semitism today?

You can find hints and ideas for Part two in the following lesson outline, "Life and Faith Stories of a Survivor" (coming soon). Further teaching suggestions are currently in development and will soon be available on this page.

The first publication of the lesson outline was in: Glaubensprofile: Elie Wiesel, in: notizblock. Zeitschrift für Religionslehrerinnen und Religionslehrer der Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart 26/1999, S. 43-50 (Wiederabdruck in: Franz Wendel Niehl (Hg.): Christen-Juden, Katechetisches Institut des Bistums Trier, 2002).

To download a PDF version of the lesson outline and all required materials as a PDF version, click here.

Introductory thoughts

"... But You, God, where are You?"

Life and faith stories of a survivor

Prof. Dr. Reinhold Boschki

"Imagine how I came to Auschwitz," Elie Wiesel prompts us, “Each of us was allowed to take only one suitcase from home." I often challenge my students to think about what we would pack in a suitcase if we were forced to leave our homes for an uncertain future. Perhaps a wristwatch? Sentimental objects from around our rooms and apartments? Old letters? Clothes? While the thought might seem dramatic for the modern day, it gained new relevance as we read reports of refugees from Kosovo in the spring of 1999. "What I took with me?" Wiesel continues, "My tallit, my tefillin, that is, prayer shawl and prayer belt, some religious books, various ritual objects – nothing else. That's how I got to Auschwitz."

Before reaching the age of sixteen, Elie Wiesel, who came from the Hasidic tradition of Eastern European Jewry, was deported from his home to the concentration and death camps. Moments after stepping off the cattle train, at the infamous ramp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, he saw his mother and little sister Tsiporah for the last time. In the following moments, his suitcase was also snatched away from him. As they walked into the camp, Elie clung to his father, who would later die in the Buchenwald concentration camp from illness and weakness brought on by hunger, hard labor and frequent beatings. Elie barely survived to see the liberation of Buchenwald in April 1945.

His traumatic experiences in the camp evoked despair in Wiesel – a despair that he often describes as a matter of man and God. Yet, an irrepressible hope for a future free of prejudice, hatred, and discrimination permeates Wiesel’s life and work. Rather than drown in horrors of the past, we should use our memories to shape a kinder future of peace and human dignity. As Wiesel once wrote, "Memory is hope - and hope is memory."

The tremendous tension between hope and despair in Wiesel’s work makes him one of the most important contemporary witnesses for humanity, while the fight between trusting devotion and painful condemnation of God makes his work one of the most distinguished testimonies of the faith of the 20th century.

Will Elie Wiesel’s life and work still remain significant for the coming century? Are there any remaining connections between the world Wiesel and the reality of most young people today? If so, what bridges the ever-growing generational gaps?

Preliminary remarks on didactics of religion

> For many students, the topic of "Auschwitz" is not a "tear-jerker". They may present indirect or direct resistance against the subject because they "can't hear about it anymore". Teachers reference the Holocaust in many subjects (e.g., Literature, History, Social Studies, etc.), so students often feel they hear about it too much. Some students have even come to a point of questioning "why Germany is always in the dock.” They ask, “Why are Germans always on trial for crimes committed so long ago?” Alternatively, some students leave their studies saying, "Elie Wiesel's book is the most important book I have ever read." Others even believe Elie Wiesel’s work should be compulsory material in public curricula, so all students in Germany will be required to read it. – How do such different opinions come about from the same material?

> To change these views and engage students, contrast these comments with feedback from students who have already studied Elie Wiesel in class. For example, comments like the following may be helpful: "For the first time, we approached this topic from a completely new perspective — not just through numbers and statistics."

> Recent studies, such as the Bodo von Borries study on the historical consciousness of young Germans, have shown that young people are overloaded by the topic of Germany’s Nazi past. They’re constantly fed reactions and reminders of the topic by the media, their families, and schools — all of which attach extreme importance to the topic, whether positive or negative. For example, students are acutely aware of the agitation in their teachers, principals, caretakers, and the police when Nazi imagery, such as swastikas, appear in public spaces. In addition, many young Germans report disparaging feelings and experiences when traveling abroad (often related to public opinions of Germany), however subtly.

> To relate the content to more pressing questions for teenagers and adolescents, start by engaging with their fundamental concerns: "Where do I stand in the world?", "Where do I belong?". Then explore these thoughts from a historical perspective with personal questions: "Where do I come from?", "What is my (family and social) history?"

> The religious question of the Holocaust also concerns young people. While it’s often not explicit at first, students given time and space with the content may express concerns about the question of God in the face of such evil:  "How can God allow ethnic cleansing, murder, and expulsions in Kosovo and elsewhere?", "Why does God let little children starve to death?", "Why didn't God intervene in the Holocaust?"

> Encouraging young students to ask difficult questions and taking them seriously is the first task of a religious educator. Creating an open, safe space where challenging questions can be asked enables teachers to break down reactions from the class and build more impactful lessons.

> It is crucial that the students can react openly to responses to Elie Wiesel, the horrors of Auschwitz, and the question of God and the Holocaust. To prevent demoralizing students or burdening them with an emotional overload, the teacher must help them cognitively and affectively deal with course content. It is not pure didactics of mediation that lead the conversation further but correlative approaches that integrate, dialogical-creative didactic appropriations.

> Particularly for the question of God in the context of Auschwitz, it is essential to lead students to an active discussion that extends beyond the classroom. Elie Wiesel’s works are particularly suitable for this purpose, as they lead readers directly to both questions of doubt and moments of faith in God's justice.

> The established teaching modules U1, U2, U3, etc., and materials M1, M2, and M3 can be used in Hauptschule, Realschule, and Gymnasium, especially in grades 9 and 10. They can be used together to form an academic arc or serve as individual curriculum topics such as the church under National Socialism, faith in God today, Judaism, or human rights. A more precise classification of each course is deliberately omitted to require instructors to deal with them individually and creatively.

Literature basis

Elie Wiesel: Night, New York: Hill and Wang, 2006. 120 pp.

Night is Wiesel's autobiographical report of the last weeks in his homeland, the deportation, and his struggle for survival in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps.

Night is suitable as a full-length narrative for religious education classes, as it raises core universal questions from the then fifteen-year-old Wiesel’s perspective: How can humanity stand by while people are burned? Where is God in all this horror?

In the face of destruction, Wiesel does not abandon the question of God but instead addresses it with grounded vigor. Thus, Night may be read as both a story of life and faith.


Lesson modules

Module 1: The Report of a Survivor

> It is better to "enter" this lesson with narratives, rather than facts. This can be done with a short story (M 1) or by reading the entire book Night by Elie Wiesel. The following introduction to this module has a proven record of success: The teacher reads a large selection from the course material directly to the students while quiet Yiddish music (e.g., One of Giora Feldmann’s clarinet pieces) plays in the background.

> When reading all of Night in the module, the book can be divided into 4 parts:

  • Part 1: pp. 4-34 (Read aloud to students)
  • Part 2: pp. 35-59 (Students read alone at home)
  • Part 3: pp. 60-90 (Read aloud to students)
  • Part 4: p.91-closure (Students read alone at home)

Note: The page numbers are based on the new translation of Night, 2006.

> Divide the class into groups of of 4 to 5 students and guide them through a “writing discussion” based on the central text on p. 34 (M 2). In this project, the M 2 text is pasted in the middle of a poster, and students are instructed to silently write their thoughts around the central block of text. Students in each group must follow one important rule: Conversations are only allowed in writing on the poster.

> Each group then presents a brief report of their ideas and "conversations" to the class. As part of their presentation, each group writes their most important thoughts on a new poster board with the phrase "Never shall I forget this night" highlighted in the center.

> The teacher takes the posters with them, evaluates each statement, and uses refers back to the written conversations as they delve further into the content in the coming lessons. In particular, the religion teacher will use these conversations to return to the question of God in M 2, addressing how students’ reactions and thoughts on Elie Wiesel’s beliefs have evolved since their introduction. The classroom discourse will likely grow as the students discover new commentary on God by Elie Wiesel.

Module 2: The story of Elie Wiesel’s life

> Elie Wiesel transformed his horrific memories of inhumanity in the camps into a message of humanity and faith in God. As an activist, Wiesel is an unstoppable force in the fight against human rights violations around the world (M 3).

> Assign partners to each student so they can work together on the questions in M 3.

Module 3: Where is God?

> The question of God runs like a thread through Elie Wiesel's literary work. As a child, he grew up in the tradition of "Hasidism" (Hasidim literally: "the pious"), a particularly vibrant group of Eastern European Judaism that has existed since the late 18th century. Hasidism was born as a popularization of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, which maintains a similar theological to Christian mysticism: God is in all things, and every human is directly connected with God.

> First step: Meditative writing. Print out green worksheets with the following questions for students to answer on the first day.

  • Where do you think God can be found today?
  • Where do you see God in your life?
  • Where do you see God in the world?

To build an impactful class discussion, it is vital to take all statements seriously, even responses such as “God is nowhere” or “I can't see God”. Have students stick their responses on a classroom board under the heading "Where is God?" Instruct the students to stand in silence while they review their peers’ responses.

> Second step: Read M 4. Have students read M 4 and pose the following questions for students to discuss in small groups:

  • How does Elie Wiesel think about the question on the board?
  • Compare the two stories from Wiesel’s childhood, keeping in mind experience in the camps.
  • What do you think of the statement about Hasidism?
  • How do you feel about the scene from the camp?

Each group writes their thoughts on M 4 red slips of paper and presents them to the class. They then paste their responses on the board to provide a visual divide between Elie Wiesel’s (Red) and our (Green) answers to the question, “Where is God?”.

Module 4: Arguing with God in Religion classes.

> Years ago, the exegete Meinrad Limbeck wrote that the Lamentation in Christianity represents a disappeared genre of prayer. However, biblical psalms of lament, like Job, survived in the Jewish tradition and even made their way into liturgical performances. For many students, outcry as a form of prayer can more easily facilitate a relationship with God than more standard forms of prayer. If teachers can engage their class in the subject of God through lamentation, they can help their students build connection with God - even if it is based on a dispute!

> Elie Wiesel takes up the tradition of connecting to God through lamentation because of his experience in the death camps. This thought parallels the idea underlying a composition by Jontef, which sets Jewish songs to new music (M 5).

> In class, the teacher should engage their students with the song and lyrics from M 5. Then, students should begin a "Wailing Wall" project, wherein they build a wall out of their complaints to God. For this project, students silently formulate complaints to God (e.g., "God, why do you allow...", or "God, I accuse you of …”) and write them on shoe boxes or strips of paper. When everyone finishes, each student brings their complaint to the front of the class and reads it aloud. If the statements are written on shoe boxes, the complaints are then stacked into a tower. If the statements are written on paper, the complaints are taped to the board to form a tower or wall. By the end of this project, the class will have formed a wall from their lamentations against God.

> Immediately after the wall is complete, teachers should initiate a conversation of how lamentation and trust play a role in the life of devout believers (M 6). This conversation can expose new dimensions of the God conversation and evoke an understanding of man’s connection to God-man as a partnership/dialogical relationship.

Module 5: A source of hope

> Elie Wiesel's path of faith is complicated. Yet, his core message is simple to understand: Trust in God and faith in humanity go hand-in-hand. In class, students should come to understand that Wiesel’s faith in God inseparably from the humanitarian ideals he developed as an Auschwitz survivor: faith in God and humanity.

To help students reflect on everything they learned in the lesson modules, have them write a fictious letter to Wiesel.

> Students are most likely to come up with thoughtful "messages " by learning by engaging with the recipient directly or indirectly. Students can lean on the collection of quotations (M 7) to inspire their fictious letters to Wiesel.



To download a PDF of the lesson outline and all required materials, click here.

Note: You can find the first publication of this lesson outline in:

> Glaubensprofile: Elie Wiesel, in: notizblock. Zeitschrift für Religionslehrerinnen und Religionslehrer der Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart 26/1999, S. 43-50 (Wiederabdruck in: Franz Wendel Niehl (Hg.): Christen-Juden, Katechetisches Institut des Bistums Trier, 2002).

> The materials provided here have been revised and formatted as part of the republication on:



  • Babic, Matthias/Maitereth, Juliane/Strasser, Nina-Marie: »Nie werde ich diese Nacht vergessen, [...]« It’s a Podcast – Erinnerungskultur im Religionsunterricht neu erleben, in: Zeitschrift für christlich-jüdische Begegnung im Kontext (ZfBeg), 2021 (Heft 3), S. 241-243. To download a PDF file of the article, click here.

This lesson is presented as a podcast because of the popularity and availability of the medium. While it depends on factors like length and relatability, podcasts have the potential to reach a broad audience. Students can listen to them on the way to school, in the bathtub, or even before falling asleep. Podcasts are often made as simple entertainment, but they can also deal with factual and informative content. Many podcast operators take up current topics or discourse regarding current events and relevant world news. The teaching-learning processes for Elie Wiesel’s works are largely guided by memory. Modern mediums like podcasts can help break down barriers between the students and Wiesel by presenting historical information in a modern way.

  • Hinkelmann, Nina/Zwior, Laurenz: »Um zu vergessen, spricht man. [Um zu erinnern, schweigt man].« Unterrichtsentwurf zu Elie Wiesels Der Schwur von Kolvillág, in: Zeitschrift für christlich-jüdische Begegnung im Kontext (ZfBeg), 2021 (Heft 3), S. 244-247. To download a PDF file of the article, click here.

This lesson plan on Elie Wiesel's The Oath of Kolvillág includes Wiesel’s novel and additional teaching-learning materials from Jewish sources. It is intended to ensure both Judaism and the learning Judaism facilitates are discussed when learning about the novel.

  • Schober, Michael: Filmtipp: Die Schüler der Madame Anne (Les héritiers), in: Zeitschrift für christlich-jüdische Begegnung im Kontext (ZfBeg), 2021 (Heft 3), S. 248-249. To download a PDF file of the article, click here.

The US film “Freedom Writers” focuses on the gang wars and ethnic conflicts surrounding a classroom of students. The students’ teacher gains their trust by showing genuine interest in their experiences — nearly each of them had suffered as a result of the gang wars. Thanks to the teacher’s interest and intervention, the classroom becomes a safe, fragile space for students to escape the violence.