Skip PBS navigation bar, and jump to content.
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

spacer above content
Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Interpreter Elly Kupfer demonstrates the new IBM phones at the Nuremberg Trials The Nuremberg Trials provides insights into social studies topics including World War II in Europe, the Holocaust, the start of the Cold War, international war crimes trials, the nature of justice, free speech issues, the impact of war on cities and civilian populations, and more. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into four categories: history, civics, geography, and law. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

History | Civics | Geography | Law

  1. Perspectives on war and justice.
    Use the Timeline and World War II information from other American Experience Web sites to learn about key events in World War II. Select one of these events and find out more about it. Then imagine that you are a person who participated in this event -- for example, a Polish citizen who lived through the Nazi occupation, an American soldier who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, or the widow of a German soldier who died fighting in the Soviet Union -- and consider how this person would have reacted to the Nuremberg Trials as they were taking place. Write a letter to the judges at Nuremberg giving your view of the trials and what you hope they will accomplish.

  2. Dictators on trial.
    Unlike Adolf Hitler, who died before he could be put on trial for his crimes, former dictator Saddam Hussein is currently facing trial in Iraq. Read a week's worth of daily news reports about Saddam's trial, along with background information on the trial. Then, working with a partner, list at least three similarities and at least three differences between Saddam's trial and the Nuremberg Trials. Share your lists with your classmates.

    Finally, discuss these two questions as a class: (a) Justice Robert Jackson feared that the Nuremberg defendants would succeed in using their trial as a platform to justify their crimes and rally their supporters Do you think Saddam is trying to do the same thing with his trial, and if so, do you think he is succeeding? (b) How do you think Saddam's trial will affect Iraq's future?

History | Civics | Geography | Law

  1. Mass killings and free speech.
    In 2005, Turkish officials filed criminal charges against the noted writer Orhan Pamuk for stating in an interview that the Ottoman government killed large numbers of Armenians during World War I. Turkish officials said that Pamuk's statement violated a law against "insulting" Turkey. (While the Turkish government acknowledges that many Armenians died during the war, it denies that there was a campaign of mass killings against them.) The charges were later dropped, however.

    Also in 2005, Austrian officials arrested the British historian David Irving for claiming that descriptions of the Holocaust have been greatly exaggerated. In Austria (and several other countries), denying the Holocaust is illegal.

    Working with a partner, find out more about both of these cases. Then compare and contrast them. What do you think is the purpose of the Turkish law under which Pamuk was charged, and the Austrian law under which Irving was charged? Do you think either of these laws is a good idea? Would you support similar laws in the United States -- for example, a law that made it a crime to deny that European Americans killed large numbers of Native Americans, or a law that made it a crime to accuse European Americans of genocide against Native Americans? Explain your reasoning.

  2. Holocaust humor?
    Shocking revelations of concentration camp atrocities were entered into evidence at the Nuremberg trials. After the war, many people around the world dedicated their lives to hunting down former Nazi officials and establishing Holocaust memorials, museums, and other remembrances.

    Decades later, the hit musical "The Producers," now a feature film, has a song entitled "Springtime for Hitler." Its lyrics include: "And now it's... / Springtime for Hitler and Germany / Deutschland is happy and gay! / We're marching to a faster pace / Look out, here comes the master race!"

    Are some topics, such as the Holocaust, so serious that they should never be the subject of jokes?

    Set the subject of the Holocaust aside for a moment and discuss as a class whether there are any other topics that, in the opinion of a majority of students, should never be the subject of jokes. List any such topics on the board. Then consider what they have in common: Would jokes about those topics make fun of people you know, or people who have suffered some sort of harm, or people who may not be able to defend themselves? Would they make light of illegal or immoral behavior? See if you can come up with a set of rules regarding the kinds of topics you think are not legitimate for jokes. Alternatively, if the class thinks no topics should be "off limits" for humor, list the reasons why you think this is so.

    Now, using that discussion as background, discuss the Holocaust as a potential subject for humor.

History | Civics | Geography | Law

  1. Nuremberg and the Third Reich.
    The city of Nuremberg played an important role in Nazi Germany. During the Nazi Party's rise in the1930s, for example, it was the site of gigantic party rallies, as shown in the famous documentary "Triumph of the Will." In addition, the racist Nuremberg Laws of 1935 -- which, among other things, outlawed marriage between Jews and non-Jews -- were announced in (and named after) the city.

    Working alone or with a partner, find out more about a topic related to Nuremberg and the Third Reich. For example:

    • read some of the speeches by Hitler and other Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg rallies and explain what they reveal about the Nazis' plans for conquest and murder;

    • research the life of Leni Riefenstahl, the woman who directed "Triumph of the Will," which has been called one of the most powerful propaganda films ever made;

    • explore how the infamous Nuremberg Laws made Jews second-class citizens and helped pave the way for the Holocaust;

    • find out what armaments factories were located in Nuremberg during World War II and how the Allies tried to destroy them;

    • investigate why the Allies chose Nuremberg as the site of the war crimes tribunal, and assess how much of the city was damaged in 1945.

    Report your findings to the class.

  2. War's toll on great cities.
    View the gallery of photographs showing the destruction inflicted on Berlin during World War II. Many cities around the world suffered large-scale death and/or destruction during the war. Photocopy a blank map of the world and give a copy to each member of the class. Then divide the class into ten groups and assign each group one of the following cities: Berlin (Germany), Coventry (United Kingdom), Dresden (Germany), Hiroshima (Japan), Leningrad (Soviet Union), London (United Kingdom), Nanking (China), Stalingrad (Soviet Union), Tokyo (Japan), and Warsaw (Poland). Each group should prepare a five-minute oral report for the class on where its assigned city is located, the circumstances under which it was attacked, the amount of damage that was caused, and the number of people who were killed or injured; groups should illustrate their report with photographs if available. As each group makes its report, the rest of the class should mark the location of the city, along with other basic information (such as the number of casualties), on their blank maps.

History | Civics | Geography | Law

  1. A permanent war-crimes court.
    One of the many legacies of the Nuremberg trials has been the establishment of the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.), a permanent war-crimes court, in the Netherlands. A hundred countries have formally approved the agreement creating the I.C.C. The United States, however, is not one of them.

    Should the United States join the I.C.C.? Read these two perspectives, from Human Rights Watch which favors U.S. participation in the Court, and from the U.S. State Department, explaining the U.S. government's opposition to it. Divide the class into two groups, one on each side of the issue, and have each group prepare the three to five most effective arguments it can present in favor of its position. (Each argument should be no more than a paragraph long.) Then have the groups exchange their arguments and write a response to each of the opposing group's arguments. Post the arguments and responses on the wall and review them: which group's arguments and counter-arguments do you think are more effective?

  2. Victor's justice?
    Take the poll on whether you think the Nuremberg Trials were fair. Some of the potential criticisms of the trial are:

    • The Nuremberg judges came from the same four countries as the prosecutors: the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and France, which together had formed the International Military Tribunal. The defense attorneys, in contrast, were all Germans.

    • The Allied countries had committed some of the very acts that the defendants were accused of committing, such as bombing civilians.

    • The defendants were accused of committing crimes that were not legally defined as crimes at the time they were committed, such as waging aggressive war.

    • Under the rules of the court, defendants were responsible for the acts they committed even if they were just following orders.

    Working in groups of two or three students each, consider each of these points. Then, for each item, write a paragraph explaining whether you think it is a legitimate criticism or not, and why. If you do think it is a legitimate criticism, suggest what could have been done to address it.

page created on 01.03.06 back to top
Site Navigation

The Nuremberg Trials American Experience

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: