Ordinary people throughout Europe faced "choice less choices" during the Holocaust. Some of the questions with which people had to grapple included whether one life was more precious or valuable than another, and how far they were willing to go to save the life of someone else.
When studying the Holocaust, it is important to consider the different roles people played. Not only should a full examination of the victims and perpetrators take place, but also the role of bystanders. Perhaps most salient, however, is an exploration of those who made a conscious choice to risk their lives in an effort to save the lives of others, who were often strangers.
The psychology of those who chose to resist the Nazis’ efforts, and rescue others is a fascinating topic to explore with students. Most were just ordinary people who felt compelled to act out of a moral obligation to their fellow man. There were people, such as Miep Gies, who hid Anne Frank and her family. Others were members of the clergy, like Father Marie Benoit who, in keeping with his religious training, demonstrated compassion for others despite their ethnicity or religion. Towns like Le Chambon, France, and nations like Denmark united in the face of imminent danger and threats from the Nazis because they vehemently disagreed with the Nazis’ ideology and actions. Regardless of one’s background or religion, those who resisted the Nazis, and rescued one or one thousand victims chose to do so because it was simply the right thing to do.
Students should understand that acts of resistance were not only extreme, such as hiding a family or falsifying papers, but also subtle. For example, Jews imprisoned in concentration camps resisted the Nazis by saying prayers in their barracks whenever possible.
Regardless of students’ ages, it is essential that they learn about the efforts of those who resisted the Nazis, and rescued those being victimized. It sets an important example for students who live in a world in which persecution continues, and in which they have the ability to make a difference in the lives of others.
There are many ways educators can introduce a discussion about people who resisted the Nazi's during the Holocaust. One way is to read first hand accounts. Many students are required to read "The Diary of Anne Frank" in high school, which gives a great description of how a normal person tried to help a Jewish family during this period. An outstanding fictional account of rescue and resistance is "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak. While many students may read this book outside of school, educators should be aware that there is disturbing imagery and references to violence. Nevertheless, the novel could be an excellent teaching tool. Here are some more lesson plans that can make this topic accessible to students.
Holocaust and Resistance Lesson Plans:
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has excellent suggestions for how to teach students about the Holocaust. It also outlines ideas for how to observe Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). The lesson focuses on the life of Abraham Foxman, a hidden child, and emphasizes the importance of making moral decisions in the face of obvious prejudice and discrimination. The lesson contains excellent handouts, and important links to guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust.
This is an important lesson about the role played by bystanders during the Holocaust. This lesson focuses on the choices made by individuals, as well as by governments and heads of state during the Holocaust. Many connections can be made to students' daily lives when considering the role that bystanders play in terms of being complicit.
In this lesson students explore what constituted an act of resistance. This lesson also helps to cement students' understanding of the timeline of the Holocaust, and the context in which it occurred. Finally, the lesson will introduce students to individuals who chose to risk their lives to save others.
This lesson considers the experience of children who were hidden during the Holocaust and survived, as well as those who hid the children. This lesson offers a more personal approach by introducing students to individuals who took risks, and who were saved by the risks that others took. Students will also learn about the qualities shared by all those who made a choice to resist the Nazis' efforts.