Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Teaching about Rescue

Teaching the Holocaust in middle school can be tricky. On one hand, the students have had little, if any, exposure to the topic and are eager to learn everything they can about it. On the other hand, they are still a bit young to hear all of the horrific details, and they can get very sad about it very quickly. I have found it to be very important to teach the facts, while also trying to teach some of the more inspiring aspects of the topic. One of these aspects is the subject of rescue.

Many middle school students read The Diary of Anne Frank. This is a great chance to teach about rescue. Once they have read the story, you can then teach them about Yad Vashem and their Righteous among the Nations honor. All four of the Frank rescuers are on this prestigious list. You can find information about the list and a discussion of the main forms of rescue during the Holocaust. You can then discuss how the Frank family helpers fit into this list.

Another person to study is Chiune Sugihara. There is a short story written about him, included in some middle school literature textbooks, called Passage to Freedom. You can also find his story on the Yad Vashem website. This can be a great chance to talk about stereotype as well. Most students only know of Japan as being our enemy during WWII. Learning about Sugihara can illustrate to the students that not all Japanese were “bad,” and that people from many countries and of all different races did what they could to help, even risking their lives. After studying his story, you can show a short video about him and his family, including primary resource photographs and an interview with his wife.

Once students have learned about a few rescuers, you can then have them explore the actual list of The Righteous Among the Nations and choose one to write about. The website also includes rescuers from other genocides, so it could be a jumping off point to teach about these other events. Another fantastic resource for learning about rescuers is the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. This is an organization that helps those rescuers who are still alive. Their website has the stories of many of rescuers, sorted by country. This would also help students understand that people from all over Europe tried to help. Writing about a rescuer can be a great way to cover many different curricular objectives, including research, paraphrasing and character study.

While it is important for students to understand that the Holocaust was a horrific event, I think it is also important, especially for the younger students, to see that there were people, although few in number, who risked their lives to help those who could not help themselves.

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