The website "Learning from History" is a publication platform
for educational projects (realized in schools
and in out-of-school, youth education)
dedicated to the history of Poland and its neighbors in the 20th century and human rights
Discrimination affects all of us!
Location / Region: Nuremberg
Institution: Nuremberg Human Rights Center
Patron / Project supervision: Nuremberg Human Rights Center
Project authors: Nuremberg Human Rights Center
Age group: Mixed group
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Helga Riedl, co-worker of the Nuremberg Human Rights Center, Nürnberger Menschenrechtszentrum, Hans-Sachs-Platz 2, 90403 Nürnberg (U-Bahn-Haltestelle Lorenzkirche), phone: +49-(0)911-230 55 50, e-mail:

Introductory remarks
The project was introduced on 15.09.2010 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Nuremberg Laws and since then has been successfully carried out in groups of children and teenagers. The project is aimed at students in their seventh year of education and older, college attendees and other potentially interested groups of co-curricular and extracurricular activities. The project has been financed in the most part by the foundation Memory, Responsibility and Future (Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft).

Today, 75 years after the Nuremberg Laws were first announced and the non-discrimination principle has been anchored in the international law, national legislation and the municipal sector, people in our society every day still experience different forms of discriminative treatment. The legal prohibition solely cannot guarantee a society free of prejudice. According the Eurobarometer survey 317 from November 2009, 61% respondents believed that people are likely to be affected by discrimination based on ethnic origin, whereas 58% presumed an age-based discrimination. And this is not the end of the list. 

The aim of the project is to raise awareness of discrimination and to support courageous actions against it. The project scope combines three areas: historical and political education based on the example of Nuremberg Laws, nondiscriminatory pedagogy and the communication of knowledge regarding current legal situation related to discrimination. The way of working includes source materials as well as interactive exercises enabling the teenagers to reflect on their own experience and to develop and try out possible options for action. Working on source materials involves the historical legal acts - the so called Nuremberg Laws and the relevant implementing regulations, as well as the current legislation like the German Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the German General Equal Treatment Act.

Discrimination - a hot topic for young people

The world we live in is characterized by a growing diversity: in the kindergartens and at school children and young people mix with many different nationalities. In the course of inclusion handicapped and nonhandicapped children learn together. Many of them are being brought up in different forms of family organization. For some children it is still a challenge to endure that diversity. The aim of pedagogy is to implant a respectful attitude towards other people and to support them in tolerating differences.  

Young people already know what discrimination is from their very own experience and thus having participated in this social phenomenon in various, often interchangeable roles - those of victims, perpetrators or the so called bystanders. They can bring their personal experience - an experience that matters in their own life. By way of example, young people often recall some observed situation of discriminative treatment, in which they had not found the courage to step up. Beside the feeling of dismay, the bystanders found themselves overwhelmed with other unpleasant feelings up to guilty conscience. It becomes clear that there are no detached observers - as in a discriminatory situation everyone is involved. Many discrimination experiences took place in the so called everyday life, rather than in extreme situations: at work or when applying for a job, when doing shopping, looking for a flat, or in the public offices, when concluding a contract, visiting clubs or at school. By way of example, young people with a foreign look are not allowed in the disco, colored people are discriminated on the property market and older job candidates are very often not even considered by their potential employers.

Furthermore, discrimination is not only a problem of minorities. Everybody can be affected: One day we are all going to be old, we can get ill or have an accident, many of us practice a religion, we all are of specified gender and sexual orientation. This is an issue important to everyone, as the environment we live in is prone to discrimination. Each of us is a part of society, in which some people are being discriminated and socially excluded, whereas other enjoy special privileges. Nobody stays out of this context. 

Working with the display

The ground for the group work is a dedicated exhibition with display boards related to the Nuremberg Laws, the basics of discrimination as a social phenomenon as well as the current legal legislation in that matter. Fourth and last display board is empty and at the end of each project the results of teamwork - examples of possible actions that can be taken against discrimination are posted on it. If the original display boards are not available, you can download the PDF version at Every of the above mentioned topics is followed by different kind of exercises, which can be chosen and individually adapted for the given group of participants. These exercises have been prepared as an incentive for the formal and informal education and they are available under the above mentioned link.

Young people are invited to an active collaboration within the project framework. The experiences they bring in are as much important as the work with the legal texts of the Nuremberg Laws and the relevant implementing regulations. Short films as well as a visit paid to the historic places make for an interesting variety in the course of learning. The aim of the project is to enable the participant in course of cooperative, participative and experienced-based learning to develop a sustained differentiated attitude toward diversity as well as the competencies for action against discrimination. Team working in small groups supports its integrity and helps to reduce prejudices among participants. Moreover, team working improves the understanding of the complex context as well as the problem solving abilities, in the way that the participants are encouraged to develop together creative and practical solutions. 

The Basics of Discrimination

Discrimination results from the combination of prejudice and power on the side of the discriminatory individual, where discriminative treatment is also used to maintain or reinforce the dominant position. Three groups of people have been distinguished: perpetuators, victims and the so called bystanders. The biggest group consists of the bystanders - observers, whose roles can change basing on the attitude they decide to hold - whether to step up against discriminative behavior or to allow it. The crucial thing is to understand that those profiles are not permanently designated to specific individuals, but that they can vary from one situation into another. It is a question of individual experiences rather than of static identity categories.

These experiences have to be recognized, not only in terms of their occurrence, but also in their variety. It is important to develop such understanding as well as the relevant action competencies. As usual when talking about the concept of human rights three levels are to be distinguished: cognitive level aiming to recognize the existing rights and its violation, emotional level which is the ability to revolt and the action-orientation level, on which the competences for action are to be developed. 

One of the display boards shows a chart with theoretical background forming the basis for the exercises to follow. The exercises are of playful and experimental character. The aim is to encourage young people to gather their own experience on the subject. Following questions are approached: What is discrimination? How does discrimination occur? How do we recognize discrimination? What is characteristic about discrimination? What is the reaction of people affected by discrimination? What can I do if I am a victim of a discriminative treatment? Who can I resort to? 

In the different sequences the emphasis is always put on the development of action orientation. Young people's accounts about the observed or experienced discriminative behavior have to be discussed: What actions can be taken in such situation? In the short footage "Black rider" a colored young man is treated with disdain by an old lady on the tram. Shortly before the ticket inspector gets on the tram and the young man decides to defend himself against the insults thrown at him by the old woman, the film is stopped and the group discusses the way in which the bystanders could react in such situation. Young people feel encouraged to reflect on the case and come up with examples ofactions that can be taken. In this way, it is more likely the participants would step up if one day they are confronted with  discriminative treatment. The action chosen by the film’s main character - which is consuming the old lady's ticket - is usually considered to be very appropriate by many of the participants. 

Nuremberg racial laws as an example of a state decreed discrimination

When working on the education against discrimination it is very important that the structured discrimination, apart from the personal components, is also taken into account. A huge part of discriminative treatment is committed within the law and administration system, by hands of officials who are provided the institutional power by the state. Counteracting the abuse of power and developing a democratic truest attitude towards power are the aims of the non-discriminatory education. 

One of the display boards focuses on the roots and significance of the Nuremberg Laws as well as its consequences. When analyzing the "Law for Protection of German Blood and German Honor" as well as the "Reich Citizen Law" with the relevant implementing regulations, it becomes clear that it is a question of the state decreed discrimination of the Jewish population. By means of numerous collateral clauses and regulations, a radical division into two categories of people had been set. Jewish male and female citizens were gradually driven out of the career and public life and deprived of their political rights.

At the moment of adoption, the Nuremberg Laws had been limited only to Jewish people, but already in 1936 their applicability was extended on other groups, including Sinti and Roma. While working with the legal texts of Nuremberg Laws and the implementing regulations young people discover the specific consequences this kind of legislation had on the everyday life. They are astonished that Jewish people could not have been members of sports clubs, that they were forbidden to use the tram, to keep domestic animals, buy cigarettes or that they were forced to give away the radio sets they possessed. 

The possible impact of those regulations on their own everyday life, had those regulations still been in force, becomes clear to the participants. They also realize that many Aryan benefited there, where the position of non-Aryans had been impaired. If such perspective is adopted, there are no bystanders or unengaged ones. Social exclusion was sanctioned by these laws, and its inobservance - prosecuted. The use of violence against the victim groups defined by the Nazi law was considered a pro-social, rather than antisocial behavior. That is why many people were in the knowledge that their actions were right and had no feeling of guilt, as what they did was allowed by the state. To be a good man for the purpose of the law, meant at the same time to act in an inhumane way. This should be brought to mind and the correspondence with the current non-discrimination principle should be emphasized. 

As an historical example of how the Nuremberg Laws had been implemented in the everyday life, the film "Leo and Claire" by Joseph Vilsmeier is to be presented. In a few excerpts of the movie the society transition towards social exclusion is shown. We can watch Leo Katzenberger, a notable man at the beginning of the film, claiming his due before the court, which followed by him being deprived of his rights and slandered among the neighbors, up to the point where the trial against him ends with a death sentence. Also Irene Scheffler, who, as an Aryan is prosecuted because ofher love affair with Katzenberger, , didn't have the chance to escape conviction. This example reveals that discrimination always cuts both ways, and in the end affects all members of the society, even if to varying degrees. Through this historical linkage, young people can understand what made it possible that a modern society developed in to one excluding some of its members and how it was legally established. 

A visit paid to the Synagogue Monument in Nuremberg and the neighbouring Leo-Katzenberger-Street (both places are very close to the Nuremberg Human Rights Center) involves historical places in the course of learning. 

Current legal situation and the development of action orientation

Solely the knowledge about the crimes of the National Socialism is not enough to make for a successful scare campaign against discriminative treatment. Learning about history can of course be a motivation, in the way we recognize the correlation between events, however it is the development of competences for action in the first line that enables us to step up against discriminative behavior. Contrary to the assumption that the change in the behavior follows the one in the attitude, it happens very often that in a specific situation people would not act according to what they think, but are likely to be influenced by peer pressure, conformism, convenience, cowardice or opportunism. Therefore it is advisable that the desired change is obtained by means of the development of new behaviour scenarios which should be tried out in specific situations. Only when the different action opportunities are taken into account, people are able to make decisions, even if subject to limiting conditions.

Using the third display board the participants learn about the legal regulations, international agreements and conventions that guarantee the equal treatment of all people. In this part, the emphasis is put on the non-discrimination principle in the international and state law. While reading current newspaper cuttings and court sentences on discrimination cases the participants discover what is considered a discriminative treatment in the legal system. They can also learn the interpretation of German General Equal Treatment Act and discuss it together. 

The aim of this part is to develop strategies against discrimination, which can be implemented at home, at school or in a sport club. It is important to prepare and present possible options for defense against discrimination. That is why in the last part of the project the participants are encouraged to develop examples of action, which can be applied in the everyday life. This could be presented in form of a workshop or as a specific schedule of an event that can be held at school, in a sport club or in a peer group. Designing posters or jacket lapel pin about tolerance can serve as a good example of such creative solutions. The results of team working can be posted on the last empty display board and discussed at the end together in a bigger multigroup assembly. As an example, one of the training groups consisting of vocational school students (painters) decided to buy two buckets of paint in order to cover up racist and sexist slogans in the men's WC at school. 


Young people collaborate with commitment during workshops and bring in many personal experiences. This provides the opportunity to raise awareness of discrimination. The diversity of the developed options for actions allows for hope that they might be also successfully applied in real life when necessary. The linkage shown between the Nuremberg racial laws and non-discrimination principle of the current legislation seems to be very fruitful and well communicated. The involvement of historical places is also rated very positively by the participants. The work with the Nuremberg Laws and complimentary regulations bring the young people's attention to the process in which a society starts to develop in a radically inhuman way, by means of exclusion, deprivation of rights, deportation and annihilation, where good people do bad things only because it is decreed by state. The nondiscrimination principle as a human right is an answer to this. However, the civil society is also encouraged to step up against every attempt of exclusion. 

Young people have to understand the following: I am involved. This is my future and I can help shape it. It is important to support the ability to recognize and carry out critical analysis of the discrimination and its social function. The aim of the project is to serve as an impulse to sharpening the awareness of discrimination and as a vital element of the future civil society. 

Author: Helga Riedl
Ed. Agnieszka Kudełka
Translation: Katarzyna Dawid

Didactic text

The project takes up an essential concept of the human rights system: the non-discrimination principle, which is affirmed in the Second Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and as the principle of equality it is considered to be the integral part of every other human right concept. "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without ...

Historical inspection
Workshop (group work with a trainer)
Interpreting historical documents
Visiting an exhibition
Exercises regarding the identity
Nazi repressions against civilians
Race hygiene (Rassenhygiene)