Abraham H. Foxman's Story: A Life Saved, A Life of Service
The purpose of this lesson is to create an opportunity to increase middle and high school students' knowledge of the Holocaust and their understanding of individual stories of loss, survival and rescue during that time. The lesson also increases students' recognition and commitment to moral decision-making and to the role of the individual in combating bias and hate.
1. Students will examine the story of survival of Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, as a Hidden Child during the Holocaust.
2. Students will learn about the experiences of Hidden Children and the unique legacy of this experience.
3. Students will learn about forms of resistance and rescue by individuals during the Holocaust.
4. Students will explore the concept of moral decision-making and social activism by examining the life of Abraham Foxman after World War II and through his adulthood.
5. Students will explore ways in which they can commit to social activism and combat hate in their own lives.
National History Standards met for Grades 5-12
Materials: The following handouts are all electronically linked to this lesson:
Additional materials required include chart paper and markers or chalkboard and chalk.
Time: Two to three class periods
Techniques and Skills: Reading for information, small and large group work and discussion, grouping information and webbing, critical thinking, listening skills, understanding chronology of events,
Part I: Rescue and Survival
1. Begin by sharing with students that this lesson will be exploring one aspect of the Holocaust by examining the story of one man's survival during that time and his life following the end of World War II. Explain that one of the challenges of studying about the Holocaust is that its magnitude, at times, can make it easy to forget the individual people - millions of whom were children and young adults - whose lives were lost or forever affected by their experiences.
[Note: If students have little understanding of the Holocaust, it is important to spend time providing some context for them before proceeding with this lesson. Consider the following links on the ADL website to assist in this endeavor:]
2. Prior to distributing the About Hidden Children handout, ask students if they have ever heard about the concept of "Hidden Children" during World War II. Some students might be familiar with the story of Anne Frank, who was hidden with her family. Explain that there are thousands of other stories of children who were hidden or protected during the war.
3. Distribute the About Hidden Children handout and have students read the information aloud as a group activity. Emphasize that in many cases, the stories of survival of children during the Holocaust occurred as a result of the actions of a few brave people who risked their lives to save others. Although rescuers represented only a very small number of people in Nazi-occupied Europe, they could be found everywhere. Most countries had special sections of their underground resistance movements devoted to saving Jewish children. But, most often, those who helped acted as individuals. Ordinary people risked horrifying punishment and the safety of their families to rescue Jewish children. Whatever their reasons for helping -- out of friendship, religious conviction, patriotism, or for money -- they risked execution or deportation to a concentration camp for doing so.
4. After reading the handout, distribute Part I of Abraham H. Foxman's Story: A Life Saved, A Life of Service about his life and experiences as a hidden child. Allow students to read this essay silently and encourage them to write down thoughts and questions as they read the material.
5. Conduct a large group discussion using some or all of the following questions.
- How did reading this personal story make you feel?
- How do you think the little boy that was Mr. Foxman felt during this experience?
- Can you imagine doing what Mr. Foxman's parents did in leaving their child? Explain your thinking.
- Can you imagine doing what Mr. Foxman's nanny, Ms. Kurpi, did? Explain.
- How do you define the word "hero"? Do you see Ms. Kurpi as a hero? Explain.
- Before her death, Mr. Foxman's mother shared many of the struggles that she and her husband faced with Ms. Kurpi during the war, with demands of money and Ms. Kurpi's erratic behavior towards them. After the war, as Mr. Foxman describes, there were custody battles between his parents and Ms. Kurpi. Does this information affect how you perceive Ms. Kurpi's actions in sheltering and adopting Abraham? Explain.
- Discuss some of ways in which Mr. Foxman shares that his own identity was affected by his experiences. What impact do you feel this may have had on him and the choices he made as an adult? Describe how his parents assisted him after the war in dealing with this experience.
1. Share with students that they will have an opportunity to read three other stories about children hidden during the war. Place students in small groups of 6-8.
Part II: A Commitment to Making A Difference
2. Distribute Beyond Secret Tears,Krystyna's Story, and My First Kaddish handouts to students. If need be, redistribute and reread Mr. Foxman's story. Allow plenty of time for the students to read and discuss the stories in their small groups.
3. Conclude this segment of the lesson with a large group discussion using some or all of the following questions.
- In each of the four stories, what were the specific incidents or acts of discrimination; who was involved, and what happened as a result?
- What were the acts of kindness? Who was involved? What happened as a result?
- Despite differences in age, what characteristics did the four children profiled in the stories share in common?
- How did each child attempt to cope with his or her circumstances and the problems he or she faced?
- Why do you think the people who helped to save the lives of the children in these stories made the choices that they did? Why do you think so many thousands of others did not make the same choice to help others?
- What are some of the differences between rescuing someone you know and saving a stranger? What are some of the differences between refusing to rescue someone you know and refusing to save a stranger?
- After the war, when they became adults, what do you think were some of the common emotional reactions of children who survived the experience?
1. Write on the chalkboard or on chart paper, "To save a life is to save the world." Ask students to share ideas about what this expression mean to them.
Alternative and Extension Activities:
2. Referring back to examining an individual experience, share with the students that Abraham H. Foxman has often asked, as do many survivors, "Why me? Why was I saved when so many others died?" As an adult, Mr. Foxman made choices and decisions about how he would live his saved life and give it meaning. Distribute Part II of Abraham H. Foxman's Story: A Life Saved, A Life of Service to the students, as well as the Biography of Abraham H. Foxman. Allow time for students to read the material.
3. Draw a circle in the center and write Abraham Foxman's name in the center. Ask students to identify aspects of Abraham's identity (e.g, personal characteristics, professional activities, religious belief, etc) in circles that spoke out from the center circle. (See example below).
4. After reviewing the completed diagram, ask students some or all of the following questions.
- What did you learn about Mr. Foxman's life from reading the second part of the essay?
- How do you think Mr. Foxman's experiences as a child affected his choices about family, religion, profession, and activism?
- In the essay, Mr. Foxman talks about Hidden Children finally "breaking their silence" in 1991. Why do you think it took so long for this to happen?
- In a scene from Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hank's character says that Private Ryan, for whom several soldier's lives were lost trying to save, had better go on "to find a cure for cancer." Do you think the level of risk taken or loss experienced in saving another's life should affect how the person saved then chooses to live his or her life? Explain.
- In the essay, Mr. Foxman also talks about the need to study the "goodness of humankind" even in the face of leaning about the "bestiality" of people? Do you agree with this? Explain.
- Mr. Foxman talks about his wish to create a "vaccine" for prejudice. Do you think this is possible? What do you feel could serve as a "vaccine" for hate in our society?
5. Tell students that the final part of this activity will ask them to consider the ways that each person has a role to play in combating hate and bias. While none of the acts of resistance or rescue during the Holocaust prevented it from happening, the number of deaths might have even been greater were it not for the efforts of Jews and non-Jews. While relatively few Christians rescued Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, the fact remains that some did. Most rescuers deny doing anything heroic; rather, they believe they only did what was right. Introduce the quote by Ervin Staub, a historian of the Holocaust:
"Goodness, like evil, begins in small steps. Heroes evolve, they are not born. Very often the rescuers [during the Holocaust] make only a small commitment at the start - to hide someone for a day or two. But once they had taken that step, they begin to see themselves as differently, as someone who helps. What starts as mere willingness becomes intense involvement." 
6. Explain that most people, fortunately, are not faced with choices of the magnitude of those during the Holocaust. However, we each make many small choices, which may seem insignificant at the time, but that form the fabric of who we are and the pattern of who we will become.
7. Distribute the Roles People Play handout to each student. Have students count off to form groups of four students each. Ask students to write their responses to each of the four questions.
8. Once completed, ask students to share their responses with the others in their small group. Once they have had the chance to discuss their responses, invite the students to discuss and be prepared to share their responses to two additional two questions:
- When you interrupted an act of bias or prejudice, what motivated you to do so?
- When you witnessed an act of bias and did not intervene, what motivated you not to intervene?
9. Ask the small groups to discuss their responses to the last two questions. Using a web chart, connect common themes or ideas about the reasons why students intervened. Create a second web to connect themes regarding why students did not intervene. Ask students which is easier to do -- interrupt or stand by? Why? What are the potential consequences - positive and negative -- of either action?
10. Explain to students that learning to interrupt acts of hate and bias is difficult. There are no easy answers, but it is important to understand that each person plays a role in combating bias or allowing it to continue. Ignoring bias allows the act to go unchecked, allowing it to escalate to possibly more harmful and dangerous levels, as is seen in the study of the Holocaust.
11. Distribute with students Quotations on Participation handout. Invite them to read the quotes aloud and discuss the relationship of the quote to the lesson.
12. Distribute the Personal Contract handout to each student. Have students complete this form silently. When all students have completed the contract, ask them to find a partner and discuss the personal commitment that they have made. Instruct students to sign and witness the contract for their partner.
1. Collect the personal contracts from the students and submit them to the ADL Website.
Additional Resources on the Holocaust and can be found on the following sites:
2. Have students research and write essays on the lives of other Hidden Children during the Holocaust.
3. Have students research and write essays on the lives and actions of the people quoted on the Quotations on Participation handout.
4. Have students participate in Resistance Role Plays, a follow-up lesson excerpted from the Braun Holocaust Institute Secondary Curriculum on ADL's website.
5. Invite a Holocaust survivor to speak to the class about his/her experiences. The ADL's Hidden Child Foundation can assist in finding a speaker for your class. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
6. Have students research Righteous Christians during the Holocaust.
7. Have students research other groups of people who were persecuted by the Nazis in addition to Jews.
8. Have students prepare a dramatic presentation representation of the 1945 quote by Pastor Martin Niemoeller:
"In Germany, the Nazis came for the Communists and Jehovah's Witnesses and because I was not a Communist or a Jehovah's Witness I did not speak up. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up."
[Note: There are several versions of this quote; some include additional groups of people who were victims of Nazi persecution.]
 Quoted in Damiel Goldman, "Is Altruism Inherited?" Baltimore Jewish Times, 12 April 1985, 70.