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The International School for Holocaust Studies

One Individual Can Make a Difference

Contemporary Lessons of the Holocaust


This e-newsletter features new lesson plans on two themes that at first glance may seem unconnected. One lesson plan focuses on the Japanese diplomat Sempo (Chiune) Sugihara. During the Second World War, he helped more than a thousand Jews, receiving the recognition of Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations. A professional diplomat of Japan operating out of distant Lithuania, he displayed precisely the qualities that we would like to instill in the young people of today’s world – a humane involvement in saving people, using the means at his disposal to ameliorate the fates of thousands despite the personal danger he faced. He in fact paid dearly after the war by being dismissed from the Japanese Foreign Service. Let it be stated that even amongst diplomats in Europe, he was in a small minority.

We also introduce three age-specific lesson plans on a second theme. These lesson plans present ideas connected with the importance of collecting Pages of Testimony by Yad Vashem that memorialize Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

They also involve the pupil directly with survivors and thus create an active connection between younger and older people in the community. The two themes are clearly different. However, the pupils' involvement in collecting names and restoring the memory of victims through their life stories can be seen as preserving the legacy of Sugihara’s brave actions during the Holocaust. Clearly, this Japanese diplomat saved whom he could and the pupils of today will, in essence, be involved in saving the memory of those who were murdered. The Pages they collect will become the symbolic tombstones of the victims. They will join the other 3.2 million Pages of Testimony already collected in Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names. These documents will be part of an 11th hour campaign to collect these testimonies from the aging generation of survivors.

The first subject explores historical events that unfolded more than sixty-five years ago, focusing on the response of one individual who dared to rescue. The second is a suggestion in real-time for pupils to gather as much information as possible from survivors about family members or friends whom they knew before the war and were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. The first lesson plan examines historical events, whereas the others look forward in an attempt to collect information by young people who learning about their own history.

An underlying theme in all of these lesson plans is the power of every individual person. Sixty-five years ago the vast majority of bystanders were apathetic toward the plight of Jews. In addition, most world governments, including democratic regimes where freedom of speech and religion was part of their national constitutions, developed policies of appeasement.

In contrast, these lesson plans enable teachers to work with pupils on historical events related to the Holocaust, while linking them to contemporary ethical values and social awareness.