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Classroom Activities: Resisting the Nazis

1. As an introduction to the concept of resistance (and to impress on the students how difficult the Nazis made it to resist), divide the class into four groups. Give each group a different scenario from the student handout Scenarios and Role-Plays.

2. Ask students to read their scenario, assign roles to each person in the group and prepare to present a dramatization of the scenario to the class. Give students approximately 15 minutes to prepare their presentation.

3. After the time allotted, ask everyone to join together in a whole group. Allow each group to present their role-plays. After each presentation, lead a short discussion based on the scenario around the topic of resistance. You may want to use the following questions to guide the discussion:

  • Who is the victim in this scenario? Who is the victimizer?
  • Is there anyone in this scenario who could act as an ally for the victim? Who might this ally be?
  • How could a person act as an ally in this scenario? What might a person do in this situation to support the victim?
  • What risks (if any) did the ally take by supporting the victim?
  • What risks would the victim take if he/she resisted the attack that they suffered?
  • How might the victim in this scenario resist? Is there a way to resist that is less risky?
  • Why didn’t the victim in this scenario react more quickly? What happened in this scenario that kept the victim from acting until it was too late?
  • What would have to change in this scenario so that…
    • The victim has a chance to escape or defend him/herself?
    • The bystanders might become allies?
    • The victimizer’s ability to attack is undermined or limited?

After the class has had an opportunity to discuss the scenarios, explain that they were written to illustrate, using a contemporary context, how the Nazis made resistance difficult and taxing on the Jews. It is crucial to the efficacy of this lesson that students realize how difficult it was for Jews to resist. This point can be communicated by discussing the social pressures that existed in Nazi-Occupied Europe (scapegoating and segregation), the dangers involved (Nazi persecution of Jewish allies or protectors) and the many challenges they faced (lack of munitions, food, modes of communication, news, etc).

Supporting Material: Scenarios and Role-Plays

1. Give your students an honor-system challenge. For one full day, they are not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio, or read newspapers and magazines. They may not speak to any of their friends in the hallways or during study hall or lunch. After the 24-hour period is over, ask them to think about the following questions.

  • How did you feel during this experiment (paranoid, lost, left out, confused, insecure, bored)? How did this experiment affect your mood?
  • Imagine being "blocked off" from all forms of news and communication. How would this affect your outlook towards and your involvement in the community?
  • What tasks, chores, routines were more difficult during your period of ‘silence?’ Why do you think these tasks were more difficult?
  • How might the total inaccessibility of news and communication have affected the Jews’ ability to resist Nazi domination? Explain.
  • How did this experiment help you to empathize with the Jews in the ghettos and camps of Nazi-occupied Europe? How might the lack of news and communication have affected their resistance and/or collaboration efforts?

2. Write about a time when you felt the need to act in opposition to others around you, either for moral, religious or personal reasons. How did you resist the pressure to act according to others' behavior? Why did you feel the need to resist? How did you feel while you were resisting? Afterwards? Did anyone support or aid you in this endeavor?

3. Comment and reflect on one of the following quotes:

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality." -- Dante

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of
evil is for good men to do nothing."

-Edmund Burke

4. Divide the class into four groups and assign each group one of the following research topics: spiritual or religious resistance, partisan resistance, armed resistance and cultural resistance. Ask the group to research that topic focusing on the ghettos and camps that were not examined in this lesson (Vilna, Kovno, Auschwitz, Lódz, and Lvov, to name a few). Allow each group to present their findings to the class. You might consider requiring, as part of their presentation, that the group share one piece of primary source material (a piece of art, a prayer, a first-person testimony or diary entry, a song or skit, etc) with the class.

5. Create a tapestry as a class. You can use this as an opportunity to discuss artistic symbolism with the class. Start out by asking the students to write down a theme associated with their lessons on the Holocaust thus far. Some examples of themes might be: man's inhumanity to man, resisting evil, danger, honoring differences, fear, anger, loss, freedom. Once the students have written their theme on a piece of paper, ask them to brainstorm the theme, writing down as many emotions, feelings, nouns as they can think of that relate to their theme. Then, ask that they draw small doodles next to each word that they've listed. After this preparatory activity is completed, give each student a piece of unlined paper. Using any materials they wish, direct the students to use the list of doodles that they created to make their own symbolic art. They should completely fill their paper, from edge to edge, with one or two large images or, if they prefer, a montage of the many images they doodled during the brainstorm. Each piece of paper will become a 'tile' in the class' artistic mosaic. Together, they will tell the symbolic story of the Holocaust.

6. Stage an informal debate where students, in groups or pairs, must represent one of the following perspectives from the Holocaust: ghetto dwellers, camp prisoners, civilian Nazi sympathizers, non-Jewish resisters, Jewish partisan resisters, Nazis, the Allied Countries. Some topics for debate might be:

  • "It was impossible for civilians to help the Jews."
  • "The Allied governments did everything they could do to prevent the annihilation of 6 million Jews."
  • "The Jews went like "sheep to the slaughter" and did not resist the Nazis."
  • "It was not other countries’ responsibility to get involved in Germany’s "domestic issues" and therefore it was acceptable that the US didn’t enter the war until they were attacked at Pearl Harbor."
  • "Jews should have immigrated out of Germany or resisted earlier on."

Next Page: Scenarios and Role - Play

From ADL's Braun Holocaust Institute
Questions and Answers about the Holocaust
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: A Quick Reference
For Educators: Classroom Activities
Holocaust Denial: An Online Guide
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