Even though the causes and circumstances of escape for Jews during the Nazi era and for those fleeing places like Syria today cannot be equated, a look back in history reveals that certain rhetoric is repeated. Educators today are faced with the challenge of addressing issues like this one in their classroom, which led to the development of the lesson, “Escape from War and Persecution.” This lesson, available online (currently in German, and later in English) here, on the Zwischentoene website, looks at the experiences of those fleeing from the National Socialists. It also offers critical examination surrounding those who offer to help refugees in their crossing of borders or oceans. It also explores current refugee movements and raises ethical and political questions around human aid and integration.

  • Suitable age and level of education: age 14 to 18; ISCED level 2 + 3
  • Time frame: 3 x 45min


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© Zwischentöne

The intent is for pupils to engage with a range of historical and current examples of refugee movements. Refugees flee in response to the threats and dangers of war, violence, starvation, or the lack of a meaningful future for them in their home country. In this lesson, students examine cases where people fled their home countries, and reflect on the similarity of the reasons in different historical periods.

“Are those who help refugees to escape heroes or profiteers, good Samaritans or human traffickers?”

Students explore the role that statistics and online forums play in shaping people’s views on taking in or helping refugees. In order to examine this question, pupils analyze tweets responding to the results of a survey Conducted in July 1938 on allowing Jewish refugees into the US that was republished again shortly after the terror attacks in Paris in January, 2015. Students are asked, “Are those who help refugees to escape heroes or profiteers, good Samaritans or human traffickers?” Students discuss this question using the example of two people who helped Jews escape during the National Socialist era. Through these examples, students are given the opportunity to explore the different motives of those trying to help refugees escape. 

The Platform: Nuances/Zwischentoene– Teaching Materials for Classroom Diversity

The Internet platform zwischentoene.info provides teaching modules (in German) that represent and reflect this diversity. By the end of 2019, this platform will also be available in English and various other languages here on this website. These modules– for politics, history and ethics/religious education classes for pupils in secondary education– address the questions that textbooks frequently gloss over. For example, one core area explores the perspectives of Muslims and those from migrant backgrounds.

escape photo
© Zwischentöne

Diversity in classrooms is the norm. Whether in Dresden, Cologne or Munich –  increasing numbers of school pupils in Germany come from migrant backgrounds. The diversity of their biographies and the pluralisation of living environments offer the ideal opportunity to encourage pupils to take a constructive approach to social differences. In light of the public controversies surrounding Islam and immigration, these topics lend themselves to learning processes closely related to living environments and to stimulating the pupils’ decision-making and negotiating skills.

The materials consist of different types of media assembled from a wide range of sources. What they have in common is a non-mainstream perspective. The use of online media is an important component of the teaching modules, either in the shape of social networks, content sharing platforms, or blogs. The aim is to facilitate the active and considered use of these different forms of media in order to promote critical thinking. The modules are designed to complement the curriculum; when devising them, great value was placed on their direct application in the classroom. Educators are able to simply enter the free module, find relevant historical information and all materials necessary to execute a lesson in the classroom.

The internet platform will be continuously updated and augmented with new teaching modules. The facebook group “Zwischentöne – Materialien für Vielfalt im Klassenzimmer” provides a forum for exchange and discussions.

“Zwischentoene/Nuances” is a knowledge transfer project of the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research and has been funded by Robert Bosch Stiftung (2013-2016).

What do you think?:

  • What factors might motivate someone to help a refugee escape?
  • What circumstances make aiding a refugee moral? Immoral?

Let us know your thoughts!  Write your comments below or on the IHRA’s Facebook page, Twitter, or by using the hashtag #SeekingProtection on your preferred social media.