This activity features several short videos depicting the lives of Jews at different locations during the Holocaust. The videos provide an overview of the lives of Jews who were forced to fight their personal, unique battles as part of the collective battle for survival on behalf of the Jewish people.
Each of these figures have since become symbols of the struggle for survival, each for their own reasons - be it through their creative and ethical endeavors, armed resistance against the Nazis, or their desire to document and to dream in an impossible reality. Some of them also provide us with a glimpse of the communities to which they belonged, their backgrounds and fates. Thus these videos create a kind of human mosaic of events during the Holocaust.
Since some of these figures have since taken places of prominence in Holocaust memory, we have chosen to discuss their stories not individually, but in a wider context of the unfolding events of the Holocaust in time and place.
Students may watch all the videos, or focus on one or several relevant figures. After viewing, discuss the following points. The discussion can take place in the classroom, or in smaller groups, where each group focuses on one character.
- Can we learn something from these stories about the human spirit in the Holocaust period? What coping methods and mental fortitude arises in these videos?
Teacher - You may instruct the students to place a special focus on how each character, in a period of chaos and helplessness, managed to show unique expressions of courage or mental strength.
- Which human story particularly impacted you while watching? Which sections particularly “spoke” to you and why?
- Do you know any stories of inspiring people - in any context - that reminded you somewhat of the strength displayed by the people in these videos? What challenges did they face? How did they deal with them?
For the next stage, we recommend returning to a full class format, and discussing the somewhat more ambiguous picture that follows:
When we approach such a massive number like the murder of six million during the Holocaust, it is difficult to grasp, and to an extent it becomes meaningless. A personal story, by comparison creates more empathy with the listener, who then more easily connects with the character, which to an extent makes it easier to connect to the wider historical context of the Holocaust.
These videos present the stories of some people who are better known, and who occupy comparatively a more central in the general memory of the Holocaust. However, there is often a tendency to “make do” only with the better known, more iconic figures, in approaching the subject of the Holocaust. This not only narrows the topic but to an extent warps it. As educators, it is important that we present as real a picture as possible, telling the stories of the many, the “anonymous”. Knowing the stories of more victims and survivors, from a variety of locations, gives a more rounded, complex view of the Holocaust. One way of doing is this is by watching and discussing survivor testimony
The War Within the War
The Struggle of the Jews to Survive during the Holocaust
The Central Theme for Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2019
When the battles of World War I came to an end, humanity hoped that never again would another world war erupt.
That hope was crushed on 1 September 1939, when the German Army invaded Poland. Five years later, in 1944, while hiding in a town in Polish Galicia, Dr. Baruch Milch wrote in his diary, “On Friday, 1 September 1939, the day World War II broke out, my real life began to end. The events of that day, and everything that happened in the ensuing days and years, will be remembered to the world's eternal shame for as long as mankind endures. One day, when we tell our children and grandchildren what happened to us, they will find it hard to believe that human beings could endure such agonies. If such stories are true, they will think, then the world must end.”
World War II was the largest, broadest and deadliest war in human history. At its height, it raged from one end of the world to the other, traversed continents and oceans, and impacted nearly every nation on earth. Tens of millions of people died, most of them unarmed civilians. Violence and death cast their heavy shadow over humanity, diminishing its ability to recognize and deal with a heretofore inconceivable moral collapse.
It was in this battered and indifferent world that Nazi Germany sought to annihilate the Jewish people. Nazi ideology was based on an extreme racist antisemitic worldview that considered Jews a destructive race that was poisoning and undermining the very foundations of human existence. Within two years of the outbreak of war, Nazi Germany had taken control of most of Europe and North Africa. Its military achievements enabled Germany to implement the Nazi "vision" of a world without Jews. The "Final Solution" could not have been carried out other than in the context of a world war. The Nazis strove to obliterate Judaism as a religion and a culture, to eradicate the Jewish people and to wipe every Jewish man, woman and child off the face of the earth. For the Jewish people, the front lines of the war determined the boundaries of their persecution, oppression and murder.
Across occupied Europe, Jews attempted in various ways to join in the armed struggle against the German Nazis and their accomplices, including by joining partisan fighters and establishing Jewish underground groups. One-and-a-half million Jews enlisted in the Allied armies and served actively in the war.
During World War II, the Jews in the German-occupied territories had to struggle, both as individuals and collectively, for their very existence and for the survival of their family members and fellow Jews. They risked their lives in frequent acts of solidarity and aid for their persecuted brethren. The struggle for physical survival under the terror of Nazi German rule entailed hiding and escape, smuggling food, administering aid and social welfare, and providing medical care. Jews in underground movements all over Europe attempted to organize a wide range of rescue efforts, in order to save as many other Jews as possible.
All the while, they persisted in their struggle to preserve their Jewish identity, culture and religion. Jews in the ghettos initiated clandestine educational activities, published underground newspapers, and conducted extensive and varied political activities. Observant Jews fought for communal survival, whether by gathering in prayer quora (minyanim), or by adhering, even symbolically, to the rhythm and highlights of the Jewish calendar, even in concentration camps. Jewish music continued to be played in concerts organized by culture committees in the ghettos or in the forests, with musical instruments taken on the run. Drawings, songs and stories were created and hidden away for posterity. Thus, they sought to remember the past, feel the pain of the present, and dream of the future.
Remembrance through drawing, personal memoirs and documentary writing played an important role in the Jews' battle to maintain their human dignity, even on the verge of death. It was a battle for memory, a war against forgetfulness and deception. In the words of author and Holocaust survivor Aharon Appelfeld in an address at Yad Vashem on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in 1997, "The diaries written during the Holocaust are undoubtedly the most scorching outcries ever expressed by the human soul. These cries were uttered by people of different ages, and different degrees of religious faith or secularity. This was their final attempt to preserve their identity before it was seized from them.”
- Teaching the Holocaust through Literature
- "Never Shall I Forget That Night..." Elie Wiesel
- Video: Elie Wiesel: Universal Lessons of the Holocaust
- Case Studies of Two Righteous Among the Nations
- "From Where Shall My Help Come?" - The Story of Fanny Rozelaar and Betty Mayer
- The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
- Holocaust Survivors Describe the Last Months in the Warsaw Ghetto
- Defiance and Rebellion during the Holocaust: Marking 70 Years since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising