Monday, October 28, 2013

Lesson plan on personalizing the Holocaust

With the implementation of Common Core and 1:1 initiative of I-pads, presenting classroom lessons is continuously changing.  With emphasis being placed on nonfiction reading, writing and researching, I utilized my trip to Poland and Germany to challenge students.  Therefore, the youtube video is an introduction to real people, real places and real events.  Nonfiction stories of Holocaust survivors, prisoners of concentration camps or extermination camps, righteous rescuers, and liberators spread their messages through autobiographies, biographies, chronicles, documentaries, movies, poetry, plays, oral traditions, testimonies and interviews.  

Therefore, this movie reflects her personal experience visiting historical sights at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration and Extermination Camp, Treblinka Death Camp, and Buchenwald Concentration Camp.  The people highlighted in the video are listed in order of appearance.  In 1941, Maximilian Kolbe, Polish Franciscan priest, volunteered to take the place of family man Francizcek Gajowniczek, one of ten selected men to die. Local Kansas City man Colonel Keith Schmedemann, was a liberator of Buchenwald in 1945.  Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Winner for his memoir NIGHT, was among the thousands who were liberated by the United States Army.  Dr. Janusz Korczak established an orphanage for 200 children that were relocated to the Warsaw Ghetto.  Instead of seeking freedom for himself, Janusz Korczak  went with the orphans to Treblinka Death Camp.  Karol Wojtyla, also known as Pope John Paul II, grew up playing with his Jewish friends Zygmunt, Leopold, Poldek and Jerzy Kluger who molded his boyhood experiences in Wadowice, Poland. 

Another group, righteous rescuers, are non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.  Five brief stories are told.  One is of a rescuer and a survivor.  In 1940, Maria and her mother saved Janina, a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Warsaw.  Inspired by her father to help those less fortunate, Irena Sendler was head of the children’s section of Zegota---the Polish Underground Council for aid to Jews.  A chair like many others on the brick road symbolizes Oskar Schindler’s ingenuity and contribution to help save Jews. Oskar Schindler, German industrialist, employed cheap Jewish labor at his Krakow factory. These righteous rescuers are just a few of many whose stories continue to be told.

Through reading, researching and talking with scholars, survivors, righteous rescuers, and liberator, I continue to strive for understanding.  Therefore, teaching the Holocaust challenges me to integrate the choices of victims and rescuers of the past into the future, our children.   

Respectfully submitted by  Kimberly Klein on October 28, 2013.  The lesson is outlined below:

Learning Target:  To apply reading and writing skills to comprehend, analyze and evaluate

OBJECTIVE:  Students will watch Youtube video “Holocaust: Memories of the Past Spoken to the Heart” of historical sites, people, and events that I created for student introduction.  The genre is nonfiction.


  1. As a class, students will read Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren. 
  2.  Students will take notes on the real people, real places, real events,conflict and attributes/flaws 
  3. Students will organize information (events) in a timeline
  4. Students will research in the USHMM website -The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a reliable website and is recognized internationally 
  5.  Using the website, students will research a liberator, righteous rescuer, survivor, or victim 
  6. Students will record information about person—also referring to documents, testimonies, biographies, photographs, letters, interviews 
  7.  Students will analyze information.  This process includes paraphrasing information, summarizing, connecting, reflecting and drawing conclusions. 
  8.  Students will write a “How to inform” paper on the “Said” topic 
  9.  Students will include bibliography that demonstrates how to cite sources

ASSESSMENT:  Students will present findings and how they accomplished the task to the class

EVALUATION:  Progress will be monitored from baseline reading, researching, analyzing and citing from introduction.

Therefore, learning about the people, places and events of the Holocaust will allow students to develop critical thinking skills, to make connections from the past to the present, and to learn how to access information.

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Little Eichmanns" and the misappropriation of Holocaust terms

Adolf Eichmann was an SS officer and a staunch member of the Nazi party.  His logistical skills serve him well in his rise through the SS where he eventually came to lead office IV B4 as an expert on Jewish Affairs.  Eichmann was chosen by Reinhard Heydrich to organize the logistics behind the mass deportation of the European Jewish population to the death camps.  In 1942, Eichmann attended the Wannsee Conference as recording secretary.  It was at the conference that the details of the Final Solution were disclosed to the government agencies that would play a role in the Holocaust.  Eichmann was not a simple bystander at this conference, but instead an active participant seeking to advance his career at the expense of humanity.  To allow Eichmann to be considered any less than an architect of active destruction is to reduce his role to a simple yes man.  Eichmann would later stand trial in Israel for his crimes, and was executed in 1962.  While in custody, he admitted his work in planning the movement and destruction of the Jewish population, and his zeal for the work.  Adolf Eichmann was a man who fully understood the ramifications of his actions, and the destructive power of his choices. 

History of the phrase “Little Eichmanns”
In 1995, John Zerzan, in an essay defending his friend, Ted Kaczynski, AKA the Unabomber, used the term “little Eichmanns” to describe a member of the “establishment” who threatened the masses. 

The concept of justice should not be overlooked in considering the Unabomber phenomenon. In fact, except for his targets, when have the many little Eichmanns who are preparing the Brave New World ever been called to account?... Is it unethical to try to stop those whose contributions are bringing an unprecedented assault on life?”

Mr. Zerzan is an anarchists, and coined the phrase, seemingly, to describe people in the American system that he felt were responsible for executing the goals of the government and business.  Ward Churchill, a professor at Colorado University, Boulder, released a rant against the powers that be, picking up the phrase, “little Eichmanns” to describe the victims of 9/11 as the mindless automatons that pushed an economic system he disagreed with. 

“Little Eichmanns” in the news today
With the current government shutdown, the term “little Eichmanns” has again been misappropriated.  In this case, conservative bloggers and writers are characterizing members of the Executive branch and employees of the National Park Service as “little Eichmanns." In an attempt to understand the linkage between the historical person, Adolf Eichmann and the use of the term “little Eichmanns,” we must understand two things: 
1) What is the truth regarding Adolf Eichmann’s actions and culpability in the Holocaust;  and
2)  the final intended purpose of the misappropriation of the historical figure. 

What did Zerzan and Churchill, both extreme political leftists, hope to convey with the term “little Eichmanns”?  Eichmann’s role can not be denied.  He was instrumental in the planning and implementation of the Holocaust – the systematized murder of 6 million Jews during World War II. Eichmann's guilt as a perpetrator of the Holocaust has been substantially proven and the excuse of “following orders” carried no weight in his defense.  Unfortunately, all who misappropriate his name, including present-day extremists from both sides of the political spectrum, are suggesting that the targets of their accusations are guilty of perpetrating a CRIME akin to GENOCIDE. 

Ultimately,  the misappropriation of terms and names like “Holocaust,” “Eichmann,” “Hitler,” and to a lesser extent, the term genocide, do damage to the actual meaning of the terms.  When these words are used to make a hyperbolic emotional or political points, they degrade the true meaning of the words. 

These terms are unique, and not transferable.  They should not be appropriated for common use to manipulate the emotional power associated with the name/word.  As teachers, we must not allow ourselves to minimize or overlook the power of words.  We must teach our students the danger of misappropriation and work to protect the veracity and the strength of words.  We must teach our students to protect themselves, also, from those who seek to confuse, manipulate and control a conversation through misappropriation.  All things must be kept in perspective, and the actions of men like Eichmann must not be minimized in any way.  To reduce the term for a simple political cause is a degradation of ourselves, our culture and our history.  Our students must be taught to guard against such actions.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Utilizing Literature Circles

As a history teacher, I’m always concerned about how to most effectively guide students through a book.  Years ago, when I assigned All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein, students “completed” reading guides that followed the book.  It became increasingly clear that students were treating this assignment as busy work- filling in random comments and copying reading guides.  This trivialized Gerda’s story so I was eager to try something new.  Several years ago, English Language Arts colleagues modeled a literature circle with MCHE's Isak Federman Holocaust Teaching Cadre.  This completely changed the way I approached All But My Life.  Students are naturally interested in Gerda’s story and her writing is easily understandable and engaging for high school students.  Their interest, coupled with the reading quizzes I gave, kept the students reading and allowed the students to have meaningful conversations during class time.

To further acquaint yourself with literature circles, Facing Historyprovides some excellent tips for literature circles, especially covering the sensitive subject of genocide.  They also include valuable assessment and extension activities. 

The literature circles allowed my honors sophomores to develop a deeper understanding of the complex history and an appreciation for Gerda’s compelling story.  My literature circle discussion questions were adapted from the teaching materials provided by the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation.  I taught this book to honors World History students for roughly ten years and highly recommend it for teenagers (15+) and adults. 

Teachers guide and exhibition on Jewish resistance

The Museum of Jewish Heritage has an interesting website with a very good resource for teachers.  From 2007-2008 they sponsored an exhibit called "Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust."  While the exhibit has long since closed, the website is still open and a teacher's guide is still available.

Asking students to think about what resistance entails when teaching about the Holocaust is an important topic.  While people might think of armed rebellion as the only form of true resistance, resistance goes much deeper than that. 

Smuggling bread, teaching in secret, or rescuing a Torah scroll were all examples of resistance too.  This teacher's guide provides background information, developed lessons, and lots of primary sources.

I find one of the most interesting parts of the guide to be a lesson on ethical wills.  We might think of a will as a way of dividing up our personal belongings after we pass away, but an ethical will is about putting your values and beliefs on paper.  It challenges students to think about what is really important in life and how even attempting to pass along your values is a form of resistance.