Unit 3: Totalitarianism and Freedom in the 20th Century

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The ideals of liberal democracy and individual freedom faced their greatest challenge in the 20th Century with the emergence of several totalitarian political movements -- most notably Nazism and Soviet Communism. These systems of government were characterized by nearly limitless state control over all aspects of public and private life.

Unit 3 of “Freedom Matters!” investigates these totalitarian governments of the previous century, as well as the freedom movements that resisted them. In the first lesson, students will examine Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, the conditions that gave rise to these totalitarian states, and the ways in which both movements limited freedom.

Lesson 2 looks at the years following the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. By examining two critical documents -- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki Accords -- students will explore the universal understanding of individual rights that emerged in the last half of the twentieth century.

While Hitler’s fall marked a turning point in the spread of liberal-democratic values around the world, the fight for individual freedom continued to experience serious setbacks. Lessons 3 and 4 shed light on the many challenges faced by freedom movements in the years since World War II.

To this end, students will investigate efforts to advance individual rights in three case studies: Poland, South Africa, and China. With the help of video interviews from the Freedom Collection, students will come to understand how differences in culture, history, geography, and political institutions can affect the progress of liberty and democracy.

The investigation concludes with a text-based discussion of freedom movements in each of these three countries. Drawing on their own research, students will analyze the diverse motivations of dissidents in Poland, South Africa, and China; the unique barriers to freedom that existed in these nations; and the relative success of movements in securing individual liberty.

Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler

UNIT 3, LESSON 1

Lesson 1: Totalitarianism and Freedom in the 20th Century

Students will examine Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, the conditions that gave rise to these totalitarian states, and the ways in which both movements limited freedom.

Eleanor Roosevelt reads the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

UNIT 3, LESSON 2

Lesson 2: The Global Response to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union

Students will explore the universal understanding of individual rights that emerged in the last half of the twentieth century.

AP Photo/Mark Avery

UNIT 3, LESSON 3

Lesson 3: Freedom in the 20th Century: Case Studies of China, Poland and South Africa

Hitler’s fall marked a turning point in the spread of liberal-democratic values, but the fight for freedom continued in the twentieth century. Students will investigate efforts to advance rights in three countries:  China, Poland, and South Africa.

AP Photo

UNIT 3, LESSON 4

Lesson 4: Assessing 20th Century Movements for Freedom

Students will lead a text-based discussion of freedom movements in China, Poland, and South Africa. For each country, they will analyze the motivations of dissidents, the barriers to freedom, and the relative success of movements in securing individual rights.