Thursday, January 28, 2010

Resistance During the Holocaust - White Rose Student Essay Contest Resource

There is no date on the booklet, and I cannot remember how long I have had it in my files. I came across this little gem again when I was looking through my file drawer of Holocaust material to see what I happened to have on the topic of “Jewish resistance” since that is this year’s White Rose Student Essay Contest topic. I had forgotten about this booklet tucked away in the middle of the drawer: Resistance during the Holocaust published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I sat down and re-read it...41 pages of text not including the table of contents, notes, chronology, or index. It begins with a discussion of the reasons why it was difficult for people to resist. Then it gives examples of unarmed and armed resistance in the ghettos and unarmed and armed resistance in Nazi camps. The next section tells about partisan activities in both eastern and western Europe. The final two sections deal with spiritual resistance and resistance inside Germany.

As I was re-reading I realized that this booklet was a primer for anyone who was planning to tackle the White Rose project this year – my students among them. Next problem: I personally owned five copies of the booklet, but that wasn’t enough to cover my class. Solution: the World-Wide Web. The booklet is available on the USHMM website at

I created the following questions and instructions for my students to guide them as they read:
  1. What does the word resistance mean in the context of the Holocaust? (Although this question is listed first, you may actually answer it last.)
  2. What are the differences between armed, unarmed, and spiritual resistance? (Do not answer until after reading page 37.)
  3. What obstacles to resistance did Jews face? (Make sure you can explain each of these – don’t just name them.)
  4. Describe examples of resistance – the places it happened, the various forms it took, the people who implemented it. You should have notes for each of the headings and subheadings in this largest portion of the book. (For your White Rose essay, you will be choosing one specific person or group of people to focus upon for your research project; this booklet may give you some ideas. Caution! The booklet discusses non-Jews who resisted the Nazis. You must choose a Jewish subject for your White Rose essay.)
I reserved two days in the computer lab for my students to read and take notes over the booklet. I knew that might not be enough for them to finish, but it was enough to give them a very good start. And then the snow fell... We lost both of our work days to school cancellation. That meant my students had to do all of the reading and note-taking on their own. (The best laid plans of mice and men...)

My students did a good job on the obstacles to resistance and understanding the difference between armed, unarmed, and spiritual resistance. However, the notes they produced about the examples of resistance were very general. They missed the point that the book was a gold mine of names, places, dates, and events – the sorts of information that could be used as key words for searches on web sites and in the indices of books. They didn’t read with that question in the back of their minds: “Does one of these examples of resistance sound interesting enough to me that I would like to research it further?” (Ah – 8th graders have so much to learn!) Thus, my advice to you, my fellow teachers... Coach your students to search for the answers to the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? about the individual examples of resistance that are mentioned in the booklet. Not all of the answers are in the book, but it is an excellent starting point.

Many of you who are working on White Rose have probably found this excellent resource on your own already. For those of you who haven’t, my goal with this blog entry was to introduce you to Resistance During the Holocaust and help you avoid some of the pitfalls I experienced using it with my students. I hope I’ve accomplished my goal!


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Teaching the Holocaust in Catholic Schools

In May 2005, I had the good fortune to be selected to travel to Poland for the March of the Living. In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II Council’s declaration Nostra Aetate, the organizers of the March invited Catholic school teachers. I was teaching in the Diocese of Kansas City and St. Joseph at the time. Word filtered down to my principal, and I immediately signed up. The experience truly was life changing, deepening my grasp of such a fundamental period in history. Returning to the classroom, the message became clear to me: it is imperative to teach the history of the Holocaust in Catholic schools.

The Church’s declaration in Nostra Aetate laid the groundwork for opening a productive dialogue between the Catholic faith and the Jewish faith. Most important in this document is the removal of the blood libel held for centuries, and spoke actively against anti-Semitism. The historic teachings of the Catholic faith created a wedge that displaced the Jewish faith, and created animosity. With the publication of Nostra Aetate, the Church redefined the relationship, opening a door to a common ground.
"The Martyrdom of Simon of Trent" Gandolfino d' Asti, late 15th century.
A famous blood libel allegation in Trento, Italy, in 1475.

In 1998, the Holy See published We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. Pope John Paul II charged Catholic educators to help our students understand the implications of the Shoah, and the role of the Church in the events. The Pope called on Catholics to repent for sins of commission and for sins of omission for centuries of negative teachings about Judaism that helped allow the Shoah to take place. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops released guidelines for Catholic educators to teach the Holocaust.

Holocaust studies should be taught in Catholic schools, as the role of Catholicism and Judaism are historically intertwined. Pope John Paul II called on members of the Church to understand the consequences of the actions of men, and to not allow it to happen again. Catholic educators are in a position to carry out this mission. Whether in a Social Studies classroom, Language Arts classroom, or even religion classroom, the memory of the Shoah should not fade. Catholic social teachings demand that we care for those who do not have a voice of their own. Let us never again turn our back on another. The teachings of the Church are clear: We are called to witness the cruelty that silence begets. We must not hide from our mistakes as an institution, but learn from it, teach it to our young, and grow as a community.


Nostra Aetate
We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah
Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See's We Remember
National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education
The Holocaust: A Teaching Guide for Catholic Schools
Bearing Witness - Professional Development for Catholic Educators

Resources available in the MCHE Resource Center:
Sister Rose's Passion - DVD
The Longest Hatred - video
Guidelines For Teaching The Holocaust in Catholic Secondary Schools
Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See's We Remember

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Culminating Activity for Elie Wiesel's Night

A great way to incorporate research with teaching a Holocaust memoir is to have students research other humanitarians or organizations who are currently advocating for victims. I use this as a culminating activity after my unit on Night. The students watch the PBS documentary First Person Singular about Elie Wiesel and read his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in which he addresses the fact that neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed.

PBS has a great unit (CLICK HERE FOR THE UNIT) that I have adapted to allow students to research and create a presentation in PhotoStory (free to download from Microsoft) that combines the use of research skills and technology. PhotoStory allows students to create a “movie” that shows still pictures and has the students narrate the sound and can also add background music. The website for the project is and it has even more details about the lesson which I have adapted to work within my requirements. Some of my adaptations include asking students to address what the organization/humanitarian has done to help human rights, taking a risk, and providing a brief history/biography in at least 10 “slides” with a typed narration that they read into the presentation.

Students have really liked this assignment because most of them are new to PhotoStory and they like learning new technologies. I also let them work with a partner, which they enjoy and they like having a product at the end, which I allow them to present to the class. While they sometimes cringe when they hear themselves presenting, they like having it already recorded rather than presenting “live.”

Another angle teachers could take would be to have students research genocides that have occurred since the Holocaust and create a PhotoStory presentation about the information they have learned, having student address similarities and differences between the genocides (I would recommend limiting this to two genocides, i.e. the Holocaust and Rwanda, or Rwanda and Darfur.)

Resources to supplement Night:
Memoirs: All Rivers Run to the Sea by Elie Wiesel
The Nazi's Last Victims: The Holocaust in Hungary by Richard Braham
The Last Days - DVD
First Person Singular - DVD
First Person Singular Teaching Guide

Monday, January 4, 2010

Using one story to reach your students

A few years ago I had the privilege to travel to Poland and Israel with a group of teachers to study the Holocaust. I have a daughter in elementary school and she knew I was going to be gone and that I was going to study history but she never really asked any more than that. While I was in Israel I picked up a book titled I Wanted to Fly Like a Butterfly written by Naomi Morgenstern. It was child’s recollection of the Holocaust. A few months after I returned my daughter finally asked what I learned about while on my trip. How do you talk about a topic like this with young children? How do you educate them without giving them too much information?

I sat down with my daughter and read her the book I had picked up on my travels. We are not Jewish so I had to explain a few things as we read like synagogues and Yom Kippur, but she was curious about the life of this little girl not much younger than herself. My daughter listened to the story and then came all of the questions. Some I answered and some I didn’t.

This book is written at a level a young person can understand. We learn about Hannah and what her life was like in Poland before the war. We learn about Jews wearing the Star of David, being banished from schools, and living in hiding. While Hannah and her mother survive the war, there is a brief discussion of the loss of her father and other family members. This book is only 36 pages long and has lots of real life family photos and child-like illustrations.

What I loved about this book is its ability to be used at many grade levels. Younger students (grades 7-8) can focus on the individual and what she goes through. Younger students can also focus on the story of the family unit. Older students (grades 9-12) can focus on the Jewish community in the book and the impact the Holocaust had on them. High school students can even read this book and see how it fits into the larger framework of the Holocaust.

This book can easily be read aloud to a class in a standard class period. Depending on the grade level, however, some prior vocabulary work might be needed. Students could easily complete a sequence ladder or story frame while reading this book in order to visualize the steps that Hannah is going through. Older students could complete a history frame in order to understand Hannah’s experience in the grand scheme of the Holocaust. Hannah also includes her current address at the end of the book. She invites young people to write to her so she can hear their thoughts on the book or she will answer questions if students have them.

Click here for a lesson plan to go along with this book, chapter by chapter at the Yad Vashem website.