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The Self-Deception of Irma Grese

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.

CENTRAL QUESTIONS: 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 a such a way?


The Holocaust was a unique event in human history. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime carried out the genocide of an entire group of people, the Jews. Although Jews were practitioners of a religion, the Nazis used Social Darwinism and other racial science theory to label Jews a race who were “inferior.” They used the modern technology of railroads to ship Jews from all over Europe and killed them in modern factory systems. The organization of the systematic mass murder was carried out by Nazi bureaucrats who saw it as a complex problem to solve. All of this happened in the modern twentieth century. As a result, the Nazis killed six million Jews and millions of other people deemed “inferior.” In the wake of World War II, the world cried, “Never Forget.”

Discuss with the students how primary sources are important to the Holocaust for several reasons. Primary sources help preserve the memory of this terrible crime so that it never happens again. Additionally, primary sources help us to remember the victims of the genocide. Since there are those who deny that the Holocaust happened or question its scope, primary sources provide stark and comprehensive evidence that the Holocaust happened. Finally, primary sources associated with the Nazi participants can help start to explain how the people could have deceived themselves into thinking that it was morally acceptable to kill Jews.

This optional introductory activity is designed to support you in the classroom. However, the primary narratives and photos in the section that follows can be used with or without this introduction.