Having Students Identify With Loss: The Holocaust

By Douglas Graney posted 10 days ago

By spring my U.S. history kids were learning about World War II, including the
Holocaust. I visited the Holocaust Museum in D.C. and acquired one-page bios
of some victims of the Nazis. Some survived, some did not. Lesson idea- I passed out a different
bio for each student. I told them "We're going to try something a little different. After you read your bio
put head on your desk and close your eyes.” I arranged it so two-thirds of the kids had a bio of someone who
died and one-third did not. When I saw that all students had their heads on
their desks I said, “If the person you read about lived, keep your eyes closed and
heads on your desks. If the person you read about died, please go into the hall.”
I asked the remaining kids to look up. As they did, they saw most of the
classmates were gone. I manipulated the bios so that kids that I knew were
good friends would have one live and one die. “How do you feel that you lived
and your best friend did not?” And, “Do you feel any obligation as a survivor
of the holocaust?” And simply, “What is your reaction to all this?” Responses
would include, “Why me?” That is interesting because I’ve read those who lived
through the holocaust had “survivor’s guilt.” Kids would have a tough time
putting into words what they were thinking. Students made statements along the
lines of, “We have to live for those who didn’t“ and typically a boy would say, “It
makes me want to kill some Nazis.” I reunited the kids and asked their person’s
name and what happened to him or her. Here are a few:
Moshe Finkler- Moshe and his family were deported to Auschwitz where
Moshe died at age 18.
Isabella and two of her sisters hid for two days and were
liberated by the Soviets on January 25th, 1945. They immigrated to the
United States and joined their father.
Maria Nemeth- Maria and her family were among 80 Jews in the camp
who were machine-gunned to death by retreating SS soldiers just days
before U.S. forces reached the area. Maria was 13.
Moishe Felman- On September 22, 1942 Moishe and his family were
deported to the Treblinka extermination camp. He was gassed their shortly
after arriving. He was 16 years old.
Jakob Frenkiel- After 17 months in Aushwitz, Jakob was forcemarched
to camps in Germany. Liberated in April, 1945 near Austria, he
immigrated to the United States at the age of 16.
Max Rosenblat- In August 1942, Max and his mother were deported to
the Treblinka extermination camp where they were gassed upon arrival.
Max was 3 years old.
Our recently hired social studies administrator Michelle, dropped
by for an informal observation. I had told her to stop by anytime and that day
she did. Michelle observed spontaneous teaching. I received this email from her:
Dear Doug,
Thank you so much for inviting me into your class on Tuesday. The
students were clearly moved when they took on the identity of some of the
victims and survivors of the Holocaust. This was a powerful way to bring
the Holocaust Museum to HHS. Your passion for history and your strong
rapport with the students were visible throughout the class. It was truly a
pleasure to spend the morning with you and your students.
I look forward to future visits.

You can read more about my teaching in my book American Teacher-Adventures
in the Classroom and Our Nation's Capital.