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Unit 1: Guided Reading, pp. 1-13

Introduction (p.1-2) :

Pages 1 and 2 give 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 1 and 2, 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 this page should be given in such a way as to make the students curious to continue the story.

Section 1 (pp. 2-4): 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:

  1. 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.
  2. The town - Through this chapter the students will get a sense of the town, its picturesque character and its scents, from Hannah's description.
  3. An ordinary childhood - The students will understand that Hannah, despite the title of "Holocaust survivor,” had an ordinary childhood until the outbreak of war.
  4. 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. 5-6): 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. 7-9): Transferring Jews to the Ghetto

This chapter relates to the subject of ghettos. It covers three main points:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 10-11)

This section is not discussed in this lesson plan because it deal with subjects (the synagogue, Yom Kippur, etc) that may not be relevant to non-Jewish educators and students. Feel free to skip or use these chapters accordingly.

Section 5 (pp. 12-13)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Outline: