Presenting the subject of the Holocaust to young students in elementary school is not simple. The emotionally heavy aspects to this historical period are difficult to grasp. Through the book I Wanted to Fly Like a Butterfly, Yad Vashem tries to discuss the subject of the Holocaust with students in a way that enables them to take in the story while becoming familiar with basic concepts relating to the Holocaust.
The book I Wanted to Fly Like a Butterfly presents readers with the story of Hannah Gofrit. Naomi Morgenstern, the author of the book, has reworked the testimony of Hannah Gofrit in accordance with Yad Vashem’s educational approach, so as to make her story accessible to third and fourth grade students.
Unit 1Unit 1
Page 3 gives Hannah's prewar childhood background: her name and her parents' names, her childhood pet name, the town where she was born in Poland and the fact that during her childhood Jews and Poles lived together in the town. This is the introduction to the book and to Hannah's character who accompanies the student throughout the story, and the background to the world she lost in the war.
This unit can also be started by reading the last page and introducing Hannah the grandmother, who lives in Tel Aviv and has two grandchildren. This method is more protective, as the students will know clearly from the beginnning that the story has a safe and familiar end, from which we can go back in time to the grueling story itself. Starting on the first page, with the world before the war, when the ending is not yet evident, is likely to offer less protection for the students.
The teacher should ask students to open the book to pages 3-5, and tell them about Hannah, who was born in the town of Biala Ravska in Poland to parents named Hershel and Zisel Hershkowitz. There were both Jews and Poles living in the town, and as a child she was called Hanechka.
The information on these pages should be given in such a way as to make the students curious to continue the story.
Section 1 (pp. 3-6): Childhood Before the War
This presents Hannah and her life in the Polish town where she lived before the war. There are four important principles in the chapter:
- The world before - Hannah grew up in an entire world which existed before the Holocaust and no longer exists. The names of the people and places that Hannah tells in the story are not familiar to us today. They are an important element: through becoming familiar with them we begin to become familiar with Hannah's world, in which these names were part of the language of the people who lived there.
- The town - Through this chapter the students will get a sense of the town, its picturesque character and its scents, from Hannah's description.
- An ordinary childhood - The students will understand that Hannah, despite the title of "Holocaust survivor,” had an ordinary childhood until the outbreak of war.
- The outbreak of war and the loss of childhood - The last sentence of the chapter is important for understanding that the war abruptly ended Hannah's happy childhood, as it did for many others during the Holocaust.
Q: What kind of child was Hannah?
A: She was an ordinary, loving, talented, and happy child.
Q: Was Hannah's childhood similar to yours?
A: There are certain similarities in the games, songs and other childhood activities that Hannah describes. At the same time, Hannah grew up in Poland among a non-Jewish population.
Q: How does she describe life in the town?
A: Family life, a picturesque town with a river and a market, and a mixed Polish and Jewish population.
Q: How does she describe relations with the Polish neighbors?
A: Poles and Jews living side by side are part of the life that Hannah describes. Her best friend Marisha is Polish.
Q: How does Hannah describe the outbreak of war?
A: War brought her childhood to an abrupt end. From that moment on, her situation changed completely. In the rest of the book we will understand why.
Section 2 (pp. 7-8): Nazi Conquest and Marking Jews with a Star
Previously, Hannah says that her world collapsed. The outbreak of war was a point of crisis in her childhood. This description is characteristic of many testimonies by children, for whom there was a split between their normal childhood and the war that shattered it.
In this chapter, Hannah discovers for the first time the concept of "the yellow star,” which her mother sews on her coat and on her father's coat. Curious, Hannah asks her mother about the star, a new concept in her life, but receives an impatient and short tempered response, and in fact does not get an answer to her questions. From the tense dialogue between Hannah and her mother, the students do not yet understand the significance of the decree regarding the star, its meaning, or the reason that the Germans ordered the Jews to wear it. This will become clear to the students later. At this stage of the story, all that they need to understand is that the term "yellow star" creates tension and uncertainty and is "bad news" for Hannah and her family. Something has changed, decrees and restrictions are imposed on Jews, and the situation that Hannah was familiar with has changed. Hannah has to start coping with a complex reality, and the picture at the end of the chapter makes it clear that there are facts that cannot be argued with, and that Hannah will not receive an answer to every question. Although we do not understand a lot of what is happening to Hannah, through the dialogue between her and her mother we begin to understand why Hannah feels that her childhood has fallen apart.
According to the age-appropriate approach, the atmosphere emerging from the dialogue between Hannah and her mother about the yellow star is sufficient and there is no need give any additional historical background. This will be studied in a higher grade.
Q: Why does Hannah's mother get annoyed at Hannah's questions?
A: Hannah's mother is anxious about the war, the star, and the future in general. She doesn't understand the exact significance of these decrees, but it is obvious to her that they are "bad news." Therefore she doesn't have any good answers to Hannah's questions, and so she reacts impatiently.
Section 3 (pp. 9-11): Transferring Jews to the Ghetto
This chapter relates to the subject of ghettos. It covers three main points:
From the story of the individual to the story of the Holocaust - so far, the main discussion has concerned Hannah and her family, but this chapter deviates somewhat from the main story because the Hershkowitz family did not live in the ghetto. This deviation is in order to familiarize the students with the concept of the ghetto. The life of the majority of Jews living in the ghetto is illustrated through the story of Hannah's extended family.
- This chapter also presents the subject gradually. First, it tells how the Jews of the ghetto were forced to sell their belongings for far less than their real worth. Later it is noted that there is very little food in the ghetto, and only at the end of the section does it say explicitly that "mother distributed the soup to the hungry Jews." This slow revealing of facts helps students cope with the subject of the ghetto and the difficulties of life there.
- Hannah's story expands the concept of the ghetto and students begin to understand its significance: the difficult conditions of most Jews, as well as the existence of mutual aid. The unique fate of Hannah's family also becomes clear through the story, and by means of the exception we can learn about the general rule.
Q: How does Hannah describe the situation in the ghetto?
A: It is forbidden to leave the ghetto, there is hunger, and a "black market" has developed. On the other hand, we see that Hannah's family, which enjoyed better conditions than most of the Jews in the town, was scrupulous about giving aid to needy Jews.
Q: Why did Hannah's family not live in the ghetto?
A: The Nazis exploited Hannah's mother's sewing skills for their own purposes, and therefore permitted the family to live outside the ghetto.
Section 4 (pp. 12-13)
Hannah's description of Yom Kippur under German occupation teaches us about the centrality of the synagogue that existed in many Jewish communities before the Holocaust, and it also describes to us the Jewish-religious identity that existed in the ghetto under German occupation. Even during this difficult period, the synagogue maintained its traditional roles in the community. It served as a connecting and strengthening force, and its very presence was an anchor of security for Hannah. She talks about walking with her father to the Yom Kippur prayers with pride and excitement.
I listened to the Hebrew prayers and songs.
I did not understand Hebrew, but I knew that it was my language, the ancient language of the Jewish people.
After a while I went around to the front of the synagogue where the other children invited me to play with them, quietly, so as not to disturb the people praying.
As Hannah describes being in the synagogue and being strengthened by the holiday atmosphere, the students will also be comforted and then prepared for the difficulties they will soon be exposed to through Hannah's story. Hannah talks about the meaning of the prayers for her, and about the times when she played with other children, just like she used to in the past when things were normal. The holiday prayers and the hours she spent in the company of other children are nice memories of the synagogue, and an important anchor for when the synagogue goes up in flames at the end of the episode.
Section 5 (pp. 14-15)
This section again puts Hannah's story in the center. Hannah reaches the age of six and goes to school on the first day of 1st grade with her Polish friend Marisha. However, as a Jew she is not permitted to enter the school and is banished in a public and humiliating manner.
The section has four main points:
- The meaning of the star - At the beginning of the chapter, we seem to have an ordinary story about a little girl starting 1 st grade. But then we see that the fact that Hannah is Jewish dictates a unique fate for her, different from that of her Polish friends, and she is prevented from going to school. The section makes clear to the students that the yellow star is meant to isolate and humiliate Jews. The injury this time is a personal injury to Hannah and not just to Jews in general.
- The bystander - The issue of the bystander is raised in this unit. Bystanders were those who witnessed the murder of Jews among the nations of the world. The janitor, whom Hannah knew from before the war, prevents her from entering the school. Hannah felt betrayed; in a normal world the adult is supposed to protect the child, whereas here the janitor hurts her in public, in front of her friends. More than that, her friends ignore her and do not come to her aid.
- The reversal of roles between Hannah and her parents - Hannah protects her parents and does not tell them about the janitor's refusal to let her into school, perhaps to spare them unhappiness. In many cases during the Holocaust, children were forced to protect their parents and sometimes even to support them, and thus, in practice, the natural order of the world, in which parents guide and protect their children, was reversed.
- The father's memory - We can find comfort in the fact that Hannah has a warm and enchanting memory of her father. Although Hannah's father does not survive, as we find out later in the story, the fact that Hannah, turned away in disgrace from the school, received warmth and an alternative educational framework from her parents leaves her with a warm childhood memory of her parents. This is especially true of her father, which will accompany Hannah throughout her life. This fact gives us comfort: the Nazis murdered Hannah's father, but they did not succeed in erasing her memory of him.
Q: How does Hannah feel when the janitor prevents her from going in?
A: Hannah feels betrayed: in a normal world, adults are supposed to protect children, but here the janitor (the adult) humiliates her in front of her friends.
Q: How does she feel when the children and Marisha run off to class?
A: Even her friends, whom she perhaps expected to stand by her, ignore her and leave her humiliated and alone.
Q: Why does Hannah not tell her parents the truth?
A: Hannah does not want to upset them. Again, the world is turned upside down: instead of her parents protecting her, she protects them.
Q: What is the significance of Hannah's declaration that "I didn't cry!"?
A: Hannah, at the age of 6, already exhibits adult-like characteristics. She protects her parents, and does not cry when she is hurt. At the same time, her parents still give her a "normal" framework and she begins to learn in a festive manner at home.
Unit 2Unit 2
Section 6 (pp. 16-17): Expulsion of Jews from the Town
This chapter again deviates from the story of Hannah's family to the general story of Polish Jewry. There are two main points:
The section tells of the expulsion of Jews to the Treblinka death camp. Hannah and her parents lose their extended family, while the Polish wagon drivers watch indifferently, collaborating with the Germans. However, this chapter does not go into details and descriptions of the death camp and the killing of Jews. We mention the concept and do not expand on it, in a way that suits the students' ability to take in the distressing story. Some teachers may feel that it is too early to mention the killings, and they can skip this chapter and continue reading the story from the next chapter. Other teachers may consider it important to give this information. We recommend that each teacher give due consideration in advance to the difficulty of teaching this chapter, and consider whether to present it to the class.
- The memory of the world that was lost - Hannah describes how photographs of Jews who had been sent to their deaths flew out of the photography store. This line leads us to discuss with our students the memory of the Holocaust and of the world that was lost. How can we commemorate Jews who died and whose photographs blew away in the wind?
Q: How do you think Hannah feels when she sees both her parents crying? Is it normal to see your parents crying?
A: It is a difficult sight for a child, and not a common one, which we usually see only at very traumatic points in a family's history.
Q: In the first chapter we saw that Jews and Poles had a good neighborly relationship. What does this chapter describe?
A: The Polish wagon drivers brought their Jewish neighbors to an unknown place. In Hannah's description we see anger and disappointment in these carters.
Q: Why does Hannah tell us about the photographs from the photography store?
A: The pictures that were lost emphasize the loss of the Jewish world. The people were murdered and no trace was left behind - no grave, no headstone, not even their photographs.
Section 7 (pp. 18-21) - Escape and Concealment
These pages return to the story of Hannah's family. They have three main points:
- The story of the Holocaust begins to affect Hannah cruelly. Until now Hannah has remained relatively protected and the story of the Holocaust hardly affected her personally, but now the situation is different. Although she is still with her parents, their ability to protect her is limited and they themselves are dependent on the kindness of strangers.
- In this chapter the situation of the Hershkowitz family begins to deteriorate. Hannah makes use of a technique used by many children coping with distress: her imagination. She does this when she hides in a sack of potatoes. Hannah encourages herself, "I am a potato, I am a potato. I mustn't move, potatoes don't move. Don't make a sound - potatoes don't speak. You must even breath silently so that they don't hear. If the Germans come - you mustn't yell. Potatoes don't talk." We see that although the situation is serious, she draws on her mental strength to help cope with her fear and the danger of the situation.
- Regarding the issues of bystanders and rescuers, it is important to emphasize that there were different responses to the predicament of Jews among the Polish population. Previously, we met the janitor and the carters, from whom it can be seen that the Polish population did not help the Jews. But here we meet a woman who helps them despite the danger to herself. She goes from being a bystander watching indifferently to extending her hand and offering help, at risk to herself and her children. It is important to emphasize to students that the punishment that this woman will face if she is caught is death. It is also important to emphasize in the discussion with the students that not many people saved Jews during the Holocaust. At the same time, every Jew who was hidden during the Holocaust was helped by a number of non-Jews, Righteous Gentiles, who put themselves in danger in order to help.
Q: Hannah tells how, at the height of the war, she receives a new dress from her mother, which makes her very happy. How can you explain this?
A: Hannah is still a child, despite the terrible reality of the war. Therefore, the dress makes her very happy and perhaps even enables her to escape for a few moments from the difficulties of her everyday life during the war.
Q: So far, we have met Poles who didn't make any attempt to help Hannah and the Jews: the school janitor and the carters who transported Jews to the east. Here, for the first time, we meet two people who try to help Hannah's family. What will happen to them if they are caught?
A: The Polish woman doesn't say so explicitly, but the punishment for hiding Jews is death.
Q: Why was it difficult to help Jews during the Holocaust?
A: Practically, saving Jews requires enlisting resources, people who will cooperate and keep the secret. Beyond that, not everyone is capable of going against the tide and extending a hand to people in need when the norm is indifference to the fate of the Jews.
Q: Hannah describes how she was forced to part from her parents and hide in a sack of potatoes. How did she feel when she was hiding in the sack? What did she do to deal with her fear?
A: Hannah was very scared. To overcome her fear, she imagined that she was a potato and in this way withstood the nerve-wracking experience until she returned to her family.
Section 8 (pp. 22-25): Parting from Daddy
- Separation from the father - The situation becomes increasingly serious and the family's situation becomes more and more dangerous. In an attempt to find a way out, they are forced to make a decision whether it is better to try and stay together at any price, or whether there’s a better chance of surviving if they split up. Hannah's parents disagree and in the end the decision is made by her father.
This is the place to note that an important way of teaching about the Holocaust is through discussing the dilemmas of the period. The discussion of these dilemmas is not intended to decide which decision is more correct, and it is necessary to avoid any note of judgment. The use of dilemmas is intended to bring the students closer to the people about whom they are learning and create an understanding and empathy towards them. The younger the students, the more caution is needed when discussing dilemmas in the classroom and the discussion must be adapted to the students' cognitive level.
- Rescuers - we meet more people who are prepared to put themselves at risk in order to help Hannah and her family.
- Reversal of roles between Hannah and her father - Hannah tries to persuade her father to stay with her and her mother, and even warns him of the dangers in the forest. Here we have a further expression of the reversal of roles between parents and children that was characteristic of the world of the Holocaust - Hannah tries to protect her father.
Q: Why does Hannah's father insist on leaving his wife and daughter and joining the Partisans in the forest?
A: Over and above the reason he gives to his wife, Hannah's father understands that they can no longer wait in hiding and that time is working against them. He also does not think that they will succeed in acquiring another false document, and therefore he decides that he has no other choice but to leave his family and try to join the partisans.
Q: How does Hannah react to the idea that her father will join the Partisans?
A: She tries to dissuade him from the idea on the grounds that it is dangerous. She tries to protect her father and look out for him.
Section 9 (pp. 26-27): Hiding in Warsaw
These pages deal with the life of Hannah and her mother in hiding in Warsaw.
- The Rescuers - The chapter describes the everyday price paid by the family which rescued Hannah and her mother. In addition to living in constant danger that they will be caught and pay with their lives for helping Jews, they pay a heavy daily price: not inviting guests to their home, not revealing the secret to anyone, and sharing their home and their food with strangers. This should be discussed with students.
- Hiding in Warsaw - Hannah describes the difficulty of living in concealment: not seeing the sun or breathing fresh air for two years, feeling like a guest in a stranger's home, and constantly being on guard in case an uninvited guest should turn up and discover Hannah and her mother.
Q: How does Hannah describe life in hiding in Warsaw?
A: Fear of being caught, many restrictions, a feeling of strangeness at home (only reading books when the girls are not there, not giving the answers to questions so as not to annoy them).
Q: How do you think the daughters in the Skovroneck family feel about the fact that Hannah and her mother are living in their home?
A: On the one hand, it is not easy to "host" strangers in your home, share your books with them, and be careful not to reveal your secret. On the other hand, there is the knowledge that you and your family are doing something very important and saving human lives.
Unit 3Unit 3
Section 10 (pp. 28-29)
Section 11 (pp. 30-31)
- The Difficulties of Living in a Hiding Place – Hannah explains that from the time they hid with the Skovronek family, she and her mother were forced to hide in the closet. Again we see that her imagination came to her aid, and helped her cope with the situation. By reading their stories, we can learn about the difficulties in hiding in a house, and how much Hannah missed nature and fresh air.
- The Rescuers – This section allows us to clearly see that the daughters in the Skrovronek family absorbed their parents’ principles. Hanka, the Skovronek’s daughter, created a “hideout within a hideout” and actually saved the lives of Hannah and her mother at a time of tremendous danger.
Q: Hannah escapes to her imagination from within the hiding place. In your opinion, what can you learn from this escape? Why did she imagine that she went to a forest?
A: We learn that Hannah misses the outside world with fresh air, trees, and nature.
Q: In the previous chapter we spoke about the girls in the Skovronek family, and we saw that they felt contradicting feelings regarding Channah and her mother. What does this chapter add on this subject? How do they feel now?
A: The Skovronek’s daughter prepares an additional hiding place for Channah and her mother without her family knowing. We learn from this that she agrees with her parents’ actions, and was ready to pay a large price to be a rescuer.
Section 12 (pp. 32-33): The End of the War
- The end of the war - The moment that Hannah and her mother waited for throughout the war arrives - the war ends and they are free. They return to their town of Biala Ravska, in the hope of finding family and friends there. But when they arrive, they discover the magnitude of the loss: her father has not survived the war, all the members of their extended family have been killed, and only a few individuals from the entire town remain. Their property has also been stolen and relations with the Polish population have collapsed. It is important to emphasize that the end of the war did not bring relief and joy as might have been expected, but instead made clear to them that they had lost their entire world. Nonetheless, they continue to try and find their place in the world.
- The place of Hannah and her mother - their brief stay in Biala Ravska makes it clear to them that this is no longer their place. They leave the town and search for a new place.
Q: How do you think Hannah and her mother feel after the war ends and they return to their home in Biala Ravska?
A: Hannah and her mother feel very bad - their entire world is lost and they remain without a home. They try to find a new life.
Section 13 (pp. 34-35): The Return to Life
The section deals with returning to life.
- Zionism - Hannah and her mother try to rehabilitate their lives in another town in Poland, and live there as Christians. But Hannah misses Judaism and even joins a Zionist youth movement. Zionism gives new meaning to the lives of Hannah and her mother.
- Establishing a family - Hannah's mother remarries and Hannah has a new brother.
Section 14 (pp. 36-38): Epilogue
Hannah tells us about her life after she came to Israel. She acquired a profession, in which she worked for many years, married and had a son, and today she has two grandchildren. In this short chapter she tells about the Skovroneck family and the fact that they were recognized as Righteous Gentiles. This detail that Hannah adds is of great significance - it is a recognition and appreciation of the family which saved her life and thanks to whom she was able to survive the war. From the fact that it appears in this very brief chapter, we can see the depth of Hannah's feeling of gratitude toward the family.
Q: Why does Hannah tell us in this final chapter about the Skovroneck family? What can we learn from this about her feelings toward them?
A: Hannah admires the family's act of charity toward her and her mother, and is grateful to them for it. She emphasizes this fact as part of the most basic details of her life.
Unit 4Unit 4
This unit is devoted to a summary of the book, and its main aim is to allow students to express themselves in creative ways and to make room for the experience of encountering Hannah and the story of her life. The time should be divided equally, half on creative work and have on discussion. It is important to ensure a calm atmosphere in the classroom, and appropriate pieces of music can be used during the first half of the lesson, while the students are working independently.
Part 1: Creative Work
The teacher should prepare a number of work corners in the room with paints, colored paper, pencils, scissors and newspaper cuttings. The students will spread out among the work corners and choose one of the three suggested activities:
- Writing a letter to Hannah Gofrit.
- Drawing or making a collage expressing their feelings after reading the book. It is worth guiding them towards drawing a single event which speaks to them more than any other.
- "Collecting" the pictures scattered in every direction in Chapter 6, when the Jews were deported to the east. In this work corner the children will create these pictures from their imagination and build up a memory of those people of whom no trace remains. It is possible to give them pictures of children and families and allow them to use them as raw material for their work (pictures can be found in the Yad Vashem archives or on the website).
Part 2: Discussion
The students will distribute their letters and art work around the classroom. Afterwards, they will look at and study their friends' work. Each student will choose one work that speaks to him or her, and think of one question to ask. The teacher will encourage dialogue on the subject of the creative work, by raising questions about the works and the creative process: Why did you choose these colors? Why did you choose this particular event? How does your letter or drawing express your feelings? etc.
It is worthwhile to encourage students also to ask each other questions, and to point out common points or differences between the work of different students, such as: I see that you have both chosen to draw the same event, or the same event has produced different feelings in each of you, and so on. The teacher should also encourage students to ask each other questions and talk to each other about the pictures they "collected" at the third work corner. The students should be guided towards questions related to the objects the figure is holding, the people with the figure, and the background in which the figure is drawn. From here, it is worth returning to Hannah's identity card at the beginning of the book and point out the similarities and differences between the children who were Hannah's friends and were killed in the Holocaust and the students themselves.
At the end of the lesson the work can be collected and used in a ceremony or exhibition to be held in the school on Holocaust Memorial Day. The work can also be sent to Hannah Gofrit, at the address given at the end of the book.
pedagogy targetspedagogy targets
This lesson plan offers the teacher two sections:
- The thinking behind the story, and its points of contact with Yad Vashem's educational approach.
- A framework for class work with the book: three units of guided reading and a summary unit inviting students to carry out creative work after the experience of reading the book.
Each teacher knows his or her own students, their emotional and cognitive capacity, their knowledge and academic standard. Therefore we recommend that teachers use the tools that we offer and adapt them to suit their own classroom.
Target group: Third and Fourth Grade Students
Method: Reading the Book, Class Discussion, Summarizing Creative Work
Duration: The unit is suitable for four 45-minute lessons. We recommend holding the lessons on three different days, and teaching units 3 and 4 consecutively.
Educational and Age-Oriented Approach to the Book
Our teaching units, including this book, are based on a spiral, age-oriented educational approach. This approach accompanies the student from a young age through to high school Holocaust studies. This spiral approach adapts each unit to the age of the students. The unit "It is because we are Jews,” which is available in the Pedagogic Center and is intended for lower grades, focuses on the individual. In this unit, the emphasis is on the family. In higher grades we deal with the community, the nation, and the historical narrative. The full story exists in each unit, adapted for each age group, but the emphasis changes according to the age of the students. This can be described schematically as follows:
|Kindergarten and Grades 1 and 2
|Higher Elementary School Classes
|Higher Elementary School Classes
|High School Classes and Above
|The Nation and the Historical Narrative
Approaching the Book: I Wanted to Fly Like a Butterfly
- The book deals with the personal and family story of Hannah Gofrit. Through the family story, we also learn about the wider story of the Holocaust, in a manner suited to the age of the students.
- Through the book, students are introduced to concepts such as the yellow star, the ghetto, the hiding place, Righteous Gentiles, deportation, and uprising. These concepts will be explained in greater depth, when they are taught in history lessons in high school. At this stage, our purpose is not to teach the history of the Holocaust but to familiarize students with the basic concepts appearing in the story.
- The book tells the story of Hannah's life. It is not necessary to teach the entire book, as there are units within the book that may be removed without effecting the narrative. We suggest that teachers choose carefully which sections to teach, based on their familiarity with their students.
- Throughout the entire story, the young reader is accompanied by the figure of Hannah the adult. In this way, readers are not left alone as they discover the dreadful story.
- The book tells the story of Hannah before, during, and after the Holocaust. The story starts before the Holocaust because Yad Vashem believes that in order to understand what was lost in the Holocaust, we must be familiar with Jewish life before the war.