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The Self-Deception of Irma Grese

65 min
  • How can a person become so deceived by an idea that they will commit horrific acts against others?
  • How can one prevent themselves from being deceived in such a way?   
  • Analyze a variety of primary sources to understand aspects of the Holocaust. 
  • Understand how ordinary men and women can succumb to self-deception and commit atrocities.

Educator Resources

  • Suggested Launch Activity Teacher’s Notes: 2-paragraph background on Primary Sources and the Holocaust
  • The Self-Deception of Irma Grese Answer Key

Student Handouts

  • Irma Grese and Deception: Analyzing Primary Source Documents – 3-paragraph concentration camp account
  • The Self-Deception of Irma Grese Essay and Discussion Guide
  • Photo Comparison with Critical Thinking Questions
  • Virtue in Action: The Self-Deception of Irma Grese
  • Virtue Across the Curriculum
  • Self-Deception Worksheet Writing Prompt

  • Nazi ideology
  • moral culpability
  • indoctrination
  • civic duty vs civic virtue
  • collective action
  • slavery
  • justice
  • liberty 

Bergen, Doris L. War & Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Browning, Christopher R. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

Gellately, Robert. Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Johnson, Eric. Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Wistrich, Robert S. Hitler and the Holocaust. New York: Modern Library, 2001.

Students will need some background in the context of WWII, Hitler’s rule, and Nazi objectives and policies toward Jewish people. The Launch Activity Teacher’s Notes material on Primary Sources and the Holocaust will help prepare students to use and value the primary sources in this lesson. 

Provide students with the handout, Analyzing Primary Source Documents, and use the Who, What, When, Where, Why, How method to talk students through analysis of the excerpt from BBC correspondent Patrick Gordon-Walker concerning his experience at Belsen Concentration Camp. 

Ask: Why are such primary sources important in understanding historical events? 

Discuss Self-Deception essay. (Prior to class time, have students read the Self-Deception of Irma Grese essay.) 

In class, have students work in pairs or trios to talk through the Discussion Guide questions. Instruct them to select what they consider the 3 most important questions for whole-class discussion. 

After small group work, take a quick poll of the class to identify what they think are the most important questions, and then lead students to consider those questions in whole-class discussion.  

Provide students with the Photo Comparison worksheet.

In small groups have students examine Photo 1 and discuss the questions on the same page.

Then instruct them to examine Photo 2 and discuss its questions.

Finally, in whole-class discussion, consider the Critical Thinking Questions accompanying the third photograph: 

  • How does this photo impact your view of the three girls from before? Do you think the girls in the first photo are capable of such atrocities?  
  • How do you think it was that ordinary individuals became involved in such barbaric actions?  
  • Though Irma Grese is not one of the girls pictured, she was a part of the same League of German Women. How does knowing Irma’s story affect how you view the girls?  

Provide students with the Self-Deception writing prompt and have them write their answer for a personal application of questions regarding how can a person become so deceived by an idea that they will commit horrific acts against others, and how such deception can be prevented?   

Virtue in Action and Virtue Across the Curriculum 

What movies have you watched that have an inner struggle in the main character between deception and doing the right thing? What was the outcome? 

Give students examples of some movies, as shown in Virtue Across the Curriculum. Have students view one of these movies, or another with similar themes, and write a movie review based on the concept of civic virtue. Have them identify what deception occurred and how it was overcome in the specific film they selected.