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tudents often ask, “Why the Jews?” as they begin
studying the Holocaust. Unfortunately, many Holo-
caust curricula avoid this question altogether or
answer it in simplistic, ahistorical terms. Thus students
may assume that Nazism’s attack on the Jews occurred in
a historical vacuum, leaving the Shoah to be viewed as an
aberration, a misstep along the path of history.
Dawidowicz (1990) recognized this situation, holding
that a lack of sufficient coverage of antisemitism (or, in
many cases, no coverage of the topic at all) was the most
important element missing in Holocaust curricula that
She proposed that
the more acceptable and common pedagogic strategy
[in excluding antisemitism from Holocaust curricula]
is to generalize the highly particular nature and
history of antisemitism by subsuming (and camou-
flaging) it under general rubrics like scapegoating,
prejudice, and bigotry. . . . These abstract words sug-
gest that hatred of the Jews is not a thing in itself, but
a symptom of “larger” troubles, though no explanation
is given as to why the Jews, rather than dervishes, for
instance, are consistently chosen as the scapegoat.
While classroom coverage of the Shoah has increased in
scope and sophistication since Dawidowicz voiced her
concerns, a study of textbooks frequently used in contem-
porary high school history courses shows that little prog-
ress has been made in the coverage of antisemitism and
its relevance to the study of the Holocaust (Lindquist,
2009). This lack of adequate coverage of the Shoah’s most
critical antecedent factor hinders effective education.
This essay outlines a lesson that overcomes this limita-
tion, an imperative because, as Eliot Eisner (1979) argues,
“what schools do not teach may be just as important as
what they do teach. . . . Ignorance is not simply a void, it
has important effects on the kinds of options one is able to
consider” (p. 83).
A BRIEF DISCUSSION OF HISTORICAL ANTISEMITISM
Antisemitism is a complex, nuanced topic, and a detailed
discussion of it is beyond the scope of this paper. Hence,
a brief discussion of what has been called “the longest
hatred” must suffice to establish the basic historical con-
text for this lesson.
Although the word antisemitism was not coined until
the 1870s, the phenomenon it identifies predates the Com-
mon Era (Bergen, 2009). European antisemitism is usually
viewed in three overlapping historical phases: 1) the reli-
gious, based on the fact that Jews did not accept Jesus as the
messiah and linked to the charge of deicide; 2) the cultural,
focused on the idea of the Jews as being different, “the
Other,” and thus a social, economic, and political threat to
European (i.e., Christian) civilization; and 3) the racial,
founded on the pseudo-scientific theory that Jews are bio-
logically different from non-Jews and, by extension, a threat
to the racial purity of non-Jewish peoples. It should be noted
that each phase defines the Jews as a collective body, a belief
that assumed critical importance during the Nazi era.
David H. Lindquist examines antisemitism through the visual imagery in Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom), a children’s picture
book published in Germany in 1938. His lesson affords students an introductory knowledge of antisemitism and its pernicious threat
while helping them gain valuable experience in evaluating primary source documents. Pair with Jeraldine Kraver’s essay (pp. 107–112)
to prompt discussion on the ethical dilemmas educators confront in teaching this subject.
David H. Lindquist
The Story of Der Giftpilz:
Teaching About Antisemitism
Through a Children’s Picture Book
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While precise dates for the dominance of each phase
of antisemitism cannot be set, it is useful to establish the
general time frame during which each variation exerted
its primary influence on European history. Religious anti-
semitism (at least the Christian version) began early in the
Common Era and continued to play a vital role throughout
the Middle Ages, losing importance as the Church’s role as
the central force in Western Europe diminished. Cultural
antisemitism developed during the Middle Ages, evolving
as it moved through various periods of economic, social,
and political change that eventually resulted in the Mod-
ern Era. Racial antisemitism achieved academic and po-
litical legitimacy in the late 1800s, morphing into its elim-
inationist form with the coming of the Third Reich.2
PROPAGANDA DURING THE NAZI ERA
Children were a primary audience for Nazi propaganda,
causing Mills (n.d.) to contend that “no single target of
Nazification took higher priority than Germany’s young
. . . . Of the topics that teachers were required to treat, the
most important was racial theory and, by extension, the
Jewish problem.” As a result, no child was too young to be
introduced to the polarizing notions of supposed Jewish
racial inferiority and Volkish (German) racial superiority.
The Nazi curriculum sought to instill the image of the
Jew as something less than human that represented
the antithesis of both the natural order and the divine
order; something that was at once unnatural and
immoral and, therefore, posed a danger to the very
existence of moral German society. The image of the
Jew as something less than human, unnatural and im-
moral, recurs throughout the Nazi propaganda picture
storybooks for young children.
Thus a study of children’s picture storybooks published
during the Nazi era provides a lens to examine three key
factors: 1) antisemitism’s three phases; 2) Nazism’s racial
ideology; and 3) the general texture of propaganda during
the Third Reich.
PEDAGOGICAL BASIS, ORGANIZATION,
AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LESSON
Understanding the visual medium is critical to our per-
spective of the world because we live at a time in which
“Don’t tell me–show me!” has become a standard request
(Kramer, 2007, p. vi.). For that reason, visual imagery has
become a medium through which history can and should
be taught. Visual images have the power to engage students
as they work with social studies topics because contempo-
rary learners are immersed in a visual world (Beal, Bolick,
& Martorella, 2009). Chung (2005) states that “visual im-
ages are not simply embodiments of social reality; they
are indeed ideological sites embedded with powerful dis-
cursive sociopolitical meanings that exert strong influences
on the ways in which people live their lives” (p. 24). Such
images can thus provide students with thought-provoking
perspectives as they examine various historical topics
In this lesson, we offer an examination of the 18 draw-
ings found in Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom), a chil-
dren’s picture storybook published in Germany in 1938.3
We study and evaluate the title of each image, a represen-
tative sample of the accompanying text, and its portrayal
of Nazi ideology. Along with the study of the historical
context of antisemitism, we introduce the book, consider
the three phases of antisemitism, and note when, where,
how, and why each phase was in play. We analyze contem-
poraneous and long-term implications of each phase along
with connections between the phases and their respective
historical contexts and discuss ways in which visual im-
ages may be evaluated and deconstructed, as well as the
strengths and limitations involved in using still images to
Although we do not reproduce here the images in Der
Giftpilz due to space and copyright constraints and because
such racist caricatures should not be widely disseminated,
they are available on several websites; the most efficient
link to use is the Jewish Virtual Library (www.jewish
which presents the images in the order in which they
appear in the book, accompanied by their titles and brief
portions of their accompanying text. The full German text
of the book, accompanied by full-color images, may be
accessed at http://www.archive.org/details/DerGiftpilz.
CRITICAL TEACHING POINTS
Teachers, first and foremost, must ensure that students do
not accept as fact the stereotypes depicted in the images
and the pejorative text that accompanies them. Teachers
must emphasize that fallacious ideas were at the root of anti-
semitism in general and Nazi racial ideology in particular.
Students must also be aware of the falsity of Nazism’s
assertion that the Jews constitute a distinct race. The ar-
ticle “Do the Jews Constitute a Race? An Issue Holocaust
Educators Must Get Right” discusses this issue in depth
and is a “must read” for teachers who include the study of
antisemitism in their curricula (Totten, 2002).
One might begin the lesson by introducing each visual
image to the class in order, with students deconstructing
each and assigning various phases of antisemitism to it, as
they discuss how the images advanced the goals of Nazism’s
racial ideology. Alternatively, the Jigsaw method (Aronson
& Patnoe, 1997) may be used, with each group responsible
for the evaluation of several images that represent all
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three phases. In this approach, each image is studied by
several groups, which report to the class as a whole. In
either case, the deliberation that occurs at upper taxonomic
levels becomes the central factor in the teaching/learning
process. We pose essential questions that tie the images to
antisemitism’s phases and to Nazi ideology, encouraging
students to delve deeply into both the images and the
stereotypes that the images promote and consider how the
images and text might have affected the book’s intended
audience, German children in the primary grades.
Image 1: The Poisonous Mushroom (the book’s title page: no
text). The poisonous mushroom (representing the Jews) is
hiding among edible vegetation, thus employing secretive
methods to gain control over society. The cover displays a
Star of David to ensure that the mushroom’s connection to
the Jews is not missed. This page advances the cultural
stereotype that Jews are devious, secretive, and manipula-
tive. A racial component is involved: The mushroom shows
supposed Jewish physical characteristics, exaggerated
and grotesque; the Jew is thus depicted as being physically
malformed, a defect indicative of racial inferiority.
Image 2: The Poisonous Mushroom. “Just as it is often hard to
tell a toadstool from an edible mushroom, so, too, it is often
very hard to recognize the Jew as a swindler and crimi-
nal.” Addressing her young son, a blond German woman
states that Jews use covert, criminal methods to imple-
ment their anti-cultural agenda, making them a threat to
the well-being of German society.
Image 3: How to Tell a Jew. “The Jewish nose is bent. It looks
like the number six.” The teacher tells his students, all of
whom have a stereotypical German appearance, that Jews
may be identified by distinguishing physical characteris-
tics. A Star of David and a grotesque caricature have been
drawn on the blackboard, guaranteeing that the students
are aware that the Jews are being discussed. The image
purports that Jews are biologically different from and
inferior to das Volk (the German people, also viewed as an
organic, racially defined body), thus reinforcing a central
element of Nazism’s racial ideology.
Image 4: How the Jews Came to Us. “Just look at these guys!
The louse-infested beards! The filthy, protruding ears!”
Protruding ears are an example of physical deformity, an
indicator of racial inferiority, while the descriptions
“louse-infected” and “filthy” propose that Jews are not civ-
ilized enough to keep clean, a serious fault in a society
that prides itself on orderliness and cleanliness.
Image 5: What is the Talmud? “In the Talmud it is written,
‘Only the Jew is human. Gentile people are not called
humans, but animals.’ Since we Jews see Gentiles as
animals, we call them only Goy” [a false translation of a
Hebrew word that means “nation,” used to refer to a member
of a nation other than the Jews]. According to this text,
Jews see themselves as better than gentiles and use the
Talmud to justify this view; this element brings religious
antisemitism into play as a supposed cultural arrogance is
intertwined with the religious hubris depicted.
Image 6: Why the Jews Let Themselves Be Baptized. “Baptism
didn’t make a Gentile out of him.” While religion is appar-
ently this image’s central theme, racial antisemitism is
actually its focal point. According to Nazi ideology, Jews who
converted to Christianity were still defined racially as Jews.
Thus being Jewish was a biological fact, not a religious or
cultural label that could be altered by either religious con-
version or a change in lifestyle. This concept was given
the force of law during the Third Reich, meaning that con-
verted Jews and their immediate offspring were subject to
anti-Jewish legislation enacted by the Nazi regime. This
image also expresses cultural antisemitism: No matter
what the Jews do, they will always be “the Other,” the out-
sider living a perpetual lie by adopting German ways in a
vain attempt to become truly German.
Image 7: How a German Peasant Was Driven From House and
Farm. “Daddy, someday when I have my own farm, no Jew
will enter my house.” The farmer has lost his land, proba-
bly because of Germany’s post-World War I problems. This
portrayal aligns with the Nazi assertion that a supposed
international Jewish-Communist conspiracy had caused
the nation’s economic, political, and social difficulties dur-
ing the 1920s. The image depicts cultural antisemitism,
labeling Jews as being anti-German (a political threat) and
greedy (an economic threat). Note also that the young boy
has learned his lesson well: He pledges that his generation
will exclude Jews from German life when it comes of age.
Image 8: How Jewish Traders Cheat. “Farming woman, have I
got something special for you today. Look at this material!
You can make a dress from it that will make you look like
a baroness, like a countess, like a queen.” This drawing
focuses on the cultural stereotype of greedy Jewish mer-
chants who exploit Germans. The merchant’s physical fea-
tures are based on a traditional caricature, ensuring that
readers realize that the man is Jewish. The fact that the
Jew is a merchant and the German is a hard-working farm
woman reminds readers of the stereotype that Jews are
lazy and do not do physical work. A cross is hung on the
kitchen wall, and the traditional rural culture that Nazism
glorified is on display. These elements stress the need to
separate Jews from hard-working Germans.
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Image 9: The Experience of Hans and Else With a Strange Man.
“Here, kids, I have some candy for you. But you have to
come with me.” This image focuses on the stereotype that
Jewish men are sexual predators who continually try to
accost German girls. In this case, however, the man is trying
to lure two young children, one girl and one boy, to go with
him. Thus this image suggests an even more repulsive
accusation than normal: The man intends to molest both
the boy and the girl, an ultimate act of racial defilement
and a particularly incendiary idea because racial defile-
ment was one of the most heinous charges that Nazi ideol-
ogy directed toward Jews. The man’s stereotypical features
are grotesque; hence, a racial theme also is present.
Image 10: Inge’s Visit to a Jewish Doctor. “Two criminal eyes
flashed behind the glasses and the fat lips grinned.” The
accusation of racial defilement is central to this image as
well. The doctor’s target is an attractive, innocent young
girl whose appearance suggests the German ideal; as such,
her physical beauty serves to emphasize the doctor’s unat-
tractive features. The message is clear: The Jewish doctor
threatens to despoil das Volk in general as he molests one
German girl in particular. A cultural factor also is present:
The percentage of physicians in Germany who were Jewish
far outpaced the percentage of Jews in the overall popula-
tion. Thus Jews were seen as attempting to control Germany
by dominating influential professions such as medicine,
journalism, law, commerce, and academia.
Image 11: How the Jew Treats His Domestic Help. “A man was
waiting for me at the station. He tipped his hat and was
very friendly to me. But I could tell immediately that he
was a Jew.” The Jewish man has adopted the civilities and
manners expected of Germans, but the girl whom he
greets has the cultural awareness needed to see through
his charade. The fact that the Jewish man has hired a Ger-
man girl is an affront to what the Nazis saw as the natural
order of things; after all, Germans should not have to demean
themselves by working for Jews. In this regard, Nazi pro-
paganda held that Jews sought to control society by exploit-
ing Germans economically. One additional aspect of this
image also should be noted: The girl realizes that the man
is a Jew even though his appearance does not portray the
stereotypical physical features portrayed elsewhere in the
book. Being able to identify Jews culturally as well as
physically was a skill Germans were encouraged to cultivate.
Nazi propaganda photo of children engrossed in the book. Courtesy Stadtarchiv Nürnberg (StadtAN), E 39 Nr. 2381/5.
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Image 12: How Two Women Were Tricked by Jewish Lawyers.
“‘Well, Colleague Morgenthau, we did a good piece of busi-
ness today.’ ‘Splendid, Colleague Silberstein. We took the
lovely money from the two Goy women and can put it in
our own pockets.’” Both men have stereotypical Jewish
names and many of the physical features that are found in
the other images. Like the doctor, these men are in a pres-
tigious profession in which Jews were prominent. Hence,
Nazi propaganda saw Jewish lawyers as trying to domi-
nate German society through their deviousness—they
tricked the women—a trait emphasized by the cynical
comment “We took the lovely money from the two Goy
women.” According to the lawyers, money is lovely (thus
emphasizing the concept of money-hungry Jews), and the
use of the word Goy implies Jewish disdain for Gentiles
Image 13: How Jews Torment Animals. “The animal fell once
more to the ground. Slowly it died. The Jews stood around
and laughed.” This image equates a lack of humanity with
Jewish religious practices. The animal is slaughtered
according to kosher laws, which are humane, but the
butchers are depicted as laughing while the animal
writhes in agony, linking the image to cruelty. Two German
boys watch; perhaps this is their first exposure to kosher
slaughtering. If so, it confirms all the negatives they have
heard about the Jews.
Image 14: What Christ Said About the Jews. “When you see a
cross, remember the gruesome murder of the Jews on Gol-
gotha.” The charge of deicide—placing the blame for Jesus’s
death on the Jews collectively throughout history—had been
the primary reason for Christian antipathy toward the
Jews since shortly after the advent of Christianity. While
religious antisemitism played only a minor role in Nazi
ideology, it did provide a historical backdrop for Nazism’s
anti-Jewish policies. After all, what greater reason could a
person have for hating a group of people than a belief that
that group was responsible for the murder of one’s God?
Image 15: Money Is the God of the Jews. “The God of the Jews
is money. To earn money, he commits the greatest crimes.
He will not rest until he can sit on a huge money sack,
until he has become the king of money.” In this image, a
stereotypical Jewish figure sits atop a huge sack of gold,
his obese figure suggesting an insatiable appetite for
wealth and power. The implication is that he probably be-
came wealthy by cheating good Germans. In the back-
ground, several other Jewish men seem to be plotting to
become wealthy, probably by using similar means.
Image 16: How Worker Hartmann Becomes a National-Socialist.
“The Jew cries, ‘We don’t care about Germany. . . . The
main thing is that things go well for us.’” Nazi ideology
claimed the existence of an international Jewish-commu-
nist conspiracy seeking to undermine Western civiliza-
tion in general and German society in particular. Realizing
this, Hartmann turns to National Socialism as the only
force that can protect das Vaterland from internal and ex-
ternal enemies who are in league with one another. This
image suggests a Jewish threat to destroy Germany politi-
cally, a development that would also lead to the demise of
das Volk as a viable racial body.
Image 17: Are There Decent Jews? “People are always saying
that we Jews cheat other people, that we lie and deceive.
Not a word of it is true. We Jews are the most decent peo-
ple in the world.” Stereotypical Jewish figures are discuss-
ing how Germans view Jewish behavior. The men are con-
vinced that they are the victims of a conspiracy, that the
world is against them. In doing so, they are establishing a
justification for what they do and what they are—money
hungry, clannish, and the like. As such, they are using
their faults to justify their faults. What could be more evil
Image 18: Without Solving the Jewish Question No Salvation for
Mankind. “He who fights the Jews battles the Devil.” This
image introduces Julius Streicher, editor of the virulently
antisemitic magazine Der Stürmer. His comments summa-
rize the key points made in Der Giftpilz: The Jews are evil
and money-hungry; if one wishes to be a good German
and to protect das Vaterland, one must defend all that is
right and good by opposing the Jews at every opportunity.
Dressed in Nazi party uniforms, youthful Germans stare
admiringly at Streicher’s image. They have learned their
lesson well: They will oppose the Jews. They will preserve
das Volk by shielding it from the Jewish plague. They will
EXTENDING THE LESSON
The lesson may be extended by introducing and explain-
ing the dangers of four conspiracy theories that students
should learn to recognize, reject, and protest: 1) Jews are a
threat to society; 2) Jews use hidden and nasty methods; 3)
Jews are a foreign body, “the Other,” seeking to influence
and cause harm to society in general; and 4) Jews are loyal
only to themselves and can never be loyal to das Vaterland
or any other non-Jewish entity (Yad Vashem, 2007). An
extra level of analysis may be developed by aligning Der
Giftpilz to these theories. For excellent portrayals of Nazi
propaganda in general, see the online exhibition State of
Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, located on the
website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
(www.ushmm.org), and the corollary text State of Deception:
The Power of Nazi Propaganda (Luckert & Bachrach, 2009).
S P R I N G 2 0 1 4 • V O L U M E 6 5 7
SKILLS AND CONTENT KNOWLEDGE
Holocaust curricula that minimize the issue of antisemi-
tism or avoid it completely fail to provide students with a
full opportunity to examine the Shoah’s implications. This
suggested lesson overcomes that shortcoming while pro-
viding students with an opportunity to analyze a primary
source document, expanding both their historical skills
and their content knowledge.
1. See Bergen (2009, p. 4) for a discussion of various spellings
of “antisemitism.” Bergen’s spelling is used in this article unless
another source is quoted.
2. See also the online exhibition Antisemitism: The Continuing
Threat, located on the USHMM website. The website also houses
a series of podcasts titled Voices on Antisemitism.
3. In translation, the book is titled The Mushroom. However,
common usage refers to it as The Poisonous Mushroom.
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cooperation in the classroom (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:
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studies in middle and secondary schools (5th ed.). Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Pearson.
Bergen, D. L. (2009). The Holocaust: A concise history. Lanham,
MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Chung, S. K. (2005). Media/visual literacy art education: Cigarette
ad deconstruction. Art Education 58(3), 19–24.
Dawidowicz, L. (1990). How they teach the Holocaust.
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Eisner, E. (1979). The educational imagination: On the design and
evaluation of school programs. New York: MacMillan.
Knauer, K. (Ed.) (2007). America: An illustrated modern history,
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Lindquist, D. H. (2009). The coverage of the Holocaust in high
school history textbooks. Social Education 73(6), 298–304.
Luckert, S., & Bachrach, S. (2009). State of deception: The power
of Nazi propaganda. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust
Mills, M. (n.d.). Propaganda and children during the Hitler years.
Retrieved from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/
Pegler-Gordon, A. (2006). Seeing images in history. Perspectives
Totten, S. (2002). Holocaust education: Issues and approaches.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Yad Vashem (2007). Addressing antisemitism: Why and how? A
guide for educators. Jerusalem: Author.
Germany: A teacher points out the salient features of a student’s
profile during a lesson in racial instruction. Circa 1934. Source:
Tot geschwiegen 1933–1945. Courtesy United States Holocaust