Module 3: Jewish Refugees in Inter-War Europe

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Refugee crisis 1938 and the international response; Conference of Evian 1938; Situation of Jewish Refugees; Optional: Case Study Switzerland.


“Why didn't the Jews leave Germany after the Nazis came to power?” - is a question often asked by students learning about the Holocaust. This learning module is intended to help students to understand the complexity and dynamics of the refugee crisis that erased after the “Anschluss”, the incorporation of Austria in March 1938. It also addresses the difficulties that Jewish refugees faced when trying to flee Nazi Germany and the incorporated Austria.The activity involves reading of various texts and historical documents, group work, discussions and presentations.


Group size: 8 and more
Time frame: 2,5 - 3,5 hours
Material: Various texts: e.g. summaries, reports, historical documents, statements (see pdf-document on the left side), writing materials, flipcharts etc.


To gain an understanding of the complex issue of Jewish refugees in inter-war Europe. To learn about different perspectives, positions and responsibilities through various and mainly historical documents e.g. newspapers, statements, letters, testimonies etc..

Preparation for trainers

The historical context should be clarified, a timeline 1933-1945 and a glossary could be prepared together with the students. Please use the timeline in the learning centre.

Preparation for group work

Depending on the group size, 2 or 3 working groups need to be formed; each participant gets a set of texts on the topic of the particular working group.
Group 1: Refugee crisis 1938 and the international response: Conference of Evian
Group 2: Difficulties for refugees to leave Nazi-Germany and German-occupied countries
Group 3: Case Study: Switzerland closes its borders to Jewish refugees


The activity consists of three parts. The first part takes 60 - 90 min.. This time is needed for reading and summarizing the various texts and the exchange within the group. Texts are to be divided among the group members. Not everyone needs to read every text, but it is recommended that at least two read the same texts. Alternatively texts could be provided in advance for reading and preparing at home. The second part takes 45 - 60 min. and includes the discussion of the different papers in the light of the given group-topic as well as the development of a creative way of presentation. In part three each group is supposed to present their results in front of the whole group in 15 - 20 min.. This time frame for each presentation should not be exceeded.

Part I: Reading and summarizing

Each participant reads the assigned text and prepares a short summary of the text (bullet points). Therefore, they should also take into consideration the particular source they are working with:
What sort of document is it?
Whose perspective is presented?
What is/ might be the intention of the author?
Afterwards, the group members should present their summaries of the texts to each other and thereby exchange the topics, positions or arguments of all texts in the particular working group.
(60 - 90 min.)

Part II: Discussion and Preparation of the Presentation

Following, the group discusses how to present the different perspectives in the entire seminar group. Main questions for the discussions in the group work are:
Group 1:
How did the (Western) World respond to the refugee crisis? What were their perceptions of the Jewish refugees?
Group 2:
What obstacles were there for Jewish people to leave Nazi-Germany and German-occupied countries?
Group 3:
What was Switzerland's response to the refugee crisis in 1938? What are the possible explanations for the country's harsh policy towards Jewish refugees?
Each group prepares a creative presentation of their results.
Examples: Talkshow, roundtable discussion, fact sheet, flyers, reportage, etc..
(45 - 60 min.)

Part III: Presentation

Each presentation should not exceed 15 - 20 min. and include the results of the discussion as well as the discussion-progress. After the presentations there should be space for discussing and comparing the results of each group.
(45 - 60 min., depending on number of groups)

Developed by Tanja Lenuweit, Network Migration in Europe e.V., 2011