Unit 5 Personal Action

Overview Past and Present: the Holocaust expressed through the arts

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Ask yourself:

  • Holocaust art is unique in its portrayal of time and place. How are the paintings and drawings created in this historical moment different when compared to other eras and significant periods of history?
  • How would you engage the subject of the Holocaust artistically? What key questions would you like to answer prior to creating an artistic response to the Holocaust?
  • How does world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind memorialize the Holocaust through his monuments and museums?
Daniel Libeskind, world-renowned architect, discusses the importance of human rights monuments and memorials

In this section the Holocaust can be explored through a study of art and art history, examining how victims used artistic expression to communicate their protest, despair, and/or hope. By looking at what they reveal about life in the ghettos and camps, you can approach the works as historical evidence.

You can examine the value of arts by discovering and viewing the works of victims living in the camps, through artists commemorating the Holocaust through artistic creations, and through interpretations of the Holocaust as expressed in contemporary art by today’s students and teachers.

The Power of Holocaust Art

Art as escape from reality

Art as reaction or resistance to the structural elements of society has performed multiple functions beyond documentation. The production of works of art reaffirmed and enabled artists to bridge the existential divide enforced through dominance connecting and reconnecting the individual artist to their past creativity. Art as creative act became an escape to another world repurposing long hours of idle tedium through occupation.

Art as a means of barter

Works of art also served a functional role in relationships as exchange or barter. Often, artists were commissioned to produce portraits from photographs by camp administrators or inmates requesting paintings of their relatives. The exchange would occasionally provide the artist with more favorable food or even the opportunity to send messages through post.

"Esther Lurie: I managed to get hold of a pencil and some scraps of paper. I started to draw some of the various "types" among the women prisoners. Young girls, who had "friends" among the male inmates and who used to get gifts of food, asked me to draw their portrait. The payment—a piece of bread."

Esther Lurie

Art as a means of connection with the outside world

Art in its production and exchange played an important role for its creators offering distraction and connection while passing time and offering the possibility of small material gains. Many artists’ resistive acts were intended to reach the outside world and communicate camp conditions to the people "on the other side of the fence." This dangerous act of resistance would often lead to dire consequences, as exemplified in the lives of Karl Fleischman and Leo Haas, inmates in the Nazi’s “model ghetto” Theresienstadt.

The artists’ quarters were searched in advance of a visit by the Red Cross during the summer of 1944, to interdict the smuggling of paintings depicting the reality in the camp. The Germans sought to stem the flow of smuggled art and its shocking reality to the world outside of Theresienstadt. Haas and Fleischman were interrogated and tortured, yet resolvedly refused to communicate with their captors leading to their transfer to Auschwitz, a Gestapo prison. Fleischman would die there. Both artists exhibited resolute determination and created art that starkly challenged the public narratives of the Nazis while minimally sustaining the imprisoned artists through the abyss of isolation, exile, and isolation.

Consider, with deep care, the words of Dr. Karl Fleischman, a tireless artist and doctor in Theresienstadt:

"I too have done all kinds of things. I helped others, thereby helping myself. I took up pencil and paintbrush and used them as a springboard to enter the world of the imagination. I wanted to see the world differently, experience it differently. In all the hundreds of paintings I have produced I always painted the same world, yet also a world that changes every second. A world beyond time."

"I ignored reality. I read chronicles. I studied physics, chemistry, economics, languages and the history of art. I read books about geography and voyages to all places and at all times. I would close my eyes and still feel compelled to see everything. The doorbell rings—a threat. Crossing the road—torture. A note left on the table at lunchtime—trepidation. The door of my mother's apartment—fear and worry. This is what life is like in the twilight."

Dr. Karel Fleischmann at Theresienstadt

Subjects and style of the works of art

The majority of the works of art were stark, small, and spare. Most of these paintings and drawings were realistic and primarily in the common media of watercolor, charcoal, ink, and pencil given practicality and access to materials. Viewers and visual translators of these captivating drawings and paintings are cautioned to critically consider the artist’s depictions, use of media, and specific subject matter, while carefully holding personal interpretations in mind. Art as documentation both portrays and records for future eyes the perils of these aspects of constructed human condition beyond the frailty of words and language. In the moment of our gaze into captured time, we as viewers, and co-constructors of meaning bear witness to the appalling conditions of tens of thousands of people imprisoned and denied basic needs.

“Checking for lice” by Helga Weissová.<br/>Ink and watercolour. enlarge image
“Checking for lice”
by Helga Weissová.
Ink and watercolour.

Source: "I Never Saw Another Butterfly"

enlarge image
"Barracks" by Eva Wollsteinerová. Pencil.

Source: "I Never Saw Another Butterfly"


The comfort and solace of the beautiful landscape portrayed by many artists re-envisioned the surrounding scenery in relief beyond the imprisoning isolation of the camps. Starkly contrasting the openness, freedom, and sense of peacefulness beyond the perimeter of the camps, Karl Schwesig's painting Mount Canigou in the Snow depicted the varying degrees of imprisonment of body, mind, and soul reflected in the mountains resolutely overlooking the St Cyprien camp and its barbed wire enclosures.

One particularly stunning piece, the On the Way to the Ninth Fort for Extinction from the hand of Esther Lurie, portrays the road to death. Her idyllic image of the beautiful road marks in stark contrast, the path of murder and torture experienced by many hundreds of Jews, which included large numbers of young children in the Kovno ghetto. Her jarring description:

"A subject that I painted many times, in all seasons, was the road from the valley where the ghetto was up to the "Ninth Fort" on the top of a hill. The tall trees lining the road gave it a special character. This road going up the hill is etched in my memory as the "road of torture" along which thousands of Jews passed, Jews from Lithuania and from other parts of Western Europe, on their way to the death camps. There were days when the overcast sky created an atmosphere of darkness and tragedy, which well reflected our feelings."

Portraiture comprises a significant number of the works of art as drawings and paintings surviving from the Holocaust period. One unique feature of Holocaust art is the historical documentation written on the respective portrait either selected by the artist or commissioned. This historical documentation includes the expected name of artist and the name of the subject and uniquely, also incorporates the specific day, month and year; the location; and occasionally a dedication. One example is this Portrait of Dr. Mautner by Malva Schaleck.

These artists created a path to witness for the viewer, reader, and interpreter—you. You (and I) are invited in/to the sacred space of lives silenced and given the challenge to remember and bear witness. Each of us as readers and viewers face the opportunity to re-connect in the gallery beyond mere text and image as we enter the intimate space of family captured in such historical albums. Bearing witness is simultaneously an inward and outward journey through iterations to the connections we have with knowledge and history in the tapestry of our humanity.

  • Karl Fleischman. A Day in Theresienstadt. Theresienstadt Archives, L303 401, p.5. Translated from Czech by Rachel Har Zvi.
  • Esther Lurie. Living Testimony—Ghetto Kovno. Dvir, Tel Aviv, 1958. P.10
  • Karl Fleischman. Erich Monck—A Shadow of a Man Theresienstadt Archives, L303 401, p.5. Translated from Czech by Rachel Har Zvi.
  • Esther Lurie. "Notes of an Artist", from Notes for Holocaust Research, Second collection, February 1952, p.113
  • Karl Fleischman. Erich Monck—A Shadow of a Man, p.1

Action 1


What Have You Learned?
  • Holocaust art is unique in its portrayal of time and place. How are the paintings and drawings created in this historical moment different when compared to other eras and significant periods of history?
  • Briefly write about the important functions Holocaust art performed during the period and contrast it with the role of art as documentation drawing on examples within this collection.
  • How might you consider the values imbedded in notions of “beauty versus ugliness?” What type(s) of tension are present in aesthetic values evoked through the artwork and the nature of the tragic depictions rendered?
  • What are three of the different tensions arising in our consideration of “subjectivity” and “objectivity?” How are the tensions manifested in oppositional artistic (personal) expression and documentary (historical, factual) testimony?
  • How would you engage the subject of the Holocaust artistically? What key questions would you like to answer prior to creating an artistic response to the Holocaust?

Further Reading

Krinitz, Esther Nisenthal and Bernice Steinhardt Memories of Survival, 2005
Separated from her family and forced to find refuge in the depths of a forest, the Holocaust survivor, recalls her remarkable journey through a series of hand-stitched embroidered panels.

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 1 Creating a Holocaust Exhibit

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NEVER SHALL I FORGET that night, the first night in the camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Elie Wiesel from Night

Ask yourself:

  • What will you learn from artists interpreting the printed text as visual art?
  • How will viewers react to your visual interpretations?

Published in English in 1960, Night is Elie Wiesel’s account of the Nazi death camps, and is one of the most significant documents of, and artistic responses to, the Holocaust.

The artwork in the exhibit was created by members of the Teaching to Learn Project. It was composed of thirty teachers and adolescents who brought multiple perspectives and horizons of experience to bear on their artistic interpretations, as they grappled with the difficult themes and unspeakable horrors documented in Wiesel’s Night.

Did you know about this?


Nazis demarcated “undesirables” with badges made of triangles. Inverted triangles were an analogy for road hazard signs. Different colors of triangles were used to represent why individuals were deemed a threat to the Nazi regime: Red triangles designated political prisoners; pink, sexual offenders and homosexual men; green, criminals. Yellow triangles forming a Star of David, or two yellow triangles, combined, were used to mark Jews.

In the 1970s, gay rights advocates reclaimed the pink triangle as a form of protest and a symbol of pride. In the spirit of this activist reclamation, the artists painted triangles in colors chosen to represent diversity, solidarity, and individuality. This process included designing, cutting and painting on pages from Night. Colors for the large canvases were chosen and painted collectively. These paintings responded through color and symbol to themes in the Holocaust memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. Each painting contained nearly the entire text—96 of 113 pages— of Night. Their artistic interpretations of Night took place over the span of a year, and culminated in an art exhibit at the university.

These young people and their teachers had explored how Night could be a platform for literary and historical inquiry as well as a catalyst for social change. Wiesel (2005) himself noted that the purpose of Holocaust education is not to passively encounter the messages of survivors but rather to encourage readers themselves to become the messengers; or to paraphrase Paul Celan (2001), to act as “witnesses for the witnesses”.

This exhibition was a collective response to Wiesel’s testament of his experiences in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps from 1944 until his liberation in 1945 at 16.

One of the young artists shared her insights into the process and the symbolic and representational power of color in the After Night exhibit:

“After reading Night and completing the project, the colours used to paint the triangles are not just colours any more. The triangle that we painted blue was very interesting for me. It showed different levels in intensity in the colour (streaks) that could represent many things. It could mean the good and evil during the Holocaust. I saw it as [symbolizing] many different sides to the Holocaust. The different blotches of colour represent the different people involved, and how each person has their own story, whether they are a victim or an abuser.

Choosing the colours was more something I felt than thought of. I think for people viewing the exhibit it is the same. As there is no description of why we chose that colour or what we think it represents, it is really up to the viewers to determine what the colours mean and one way to do that would be to just feel.” As Robert Fulford said, “Trust the art, not the artist.” Like the artists themselves, middle school students who viewed After Night at the exhibit expressed a range of responses to the artwork, from the emotional and personal, to the aesthetic and historical.

Comments from Middle school observers:

"While I was walking through the exhibit, I was reminded of my great and great-great grandparents and how they died (in the concentration camps…).”
“It was probably humiliating to wear a yellow or pink triangle but at the show it was turned into a symbol of pride. The multicolored triangles represented solidarity with the victims, and became more beautiful because [they] show colors together.”
“I liked this triangle both for its aesthetics (I loved its swirliness) and because to me, this symbolizes acceptance. In my perspective, the varied colors symbolized different types of people and the big purple swirl in the centre was a new type of people, easily blended with the others. “
“The many varieties of colored triangles created by the artists brings life and brightens and teaches a lesson to those who take the time to view [it]. He described feeling moved by “What the power of many can accomplish.”

Action 1  

Think >

A. What is the role of art after the Holocaust? Are films more or less effective than visual art?

B. How does this form of interpreting history affect viewers? Artists? Students?

C. Do these types of artwork memorialize or trivialize the pain and suffering of the Holocaust?


Paintings of isosceles triangles enlarge image
Images of triangles from the exhibition After Night (2013).

Credit: Rob Simon

Paintings of isosceles triangles enlarge image
Images of triangles painted on pages from Night by Elie Wiesel (2006).

Credit: Rob Simon

Action 2  

Do >

Designing a Two-Dimensional Memorial
  • Use geometric shapes or forms to create a Holocaust memorial. Often we have emotional responses to certain shapes. For instance, if you compare several circles with a row of acute triangles, which seems more inviting? Which seems dangerous? You can also consider the position or orientation of shapes. For example, a triangle resting on its base is a very stable shape, but inverted it is unstable. A large shape leaning toward us can seem very threatening, but two shapes leaning against each other can be stable, suggesting support and even shelter.
  • Use geometric shapes to create a Holocaust memorial to be constructed through geometry. What will be the purpose or theme of your memorial? Will it be dedicated to the memory of the victims or to one of the victim groups; will it commemorate the struggle, the agony, or the resistance of the victims; or will it acknowledge the heroism of rescuers and liberators?
  • Use rulers, compasses, and a knowledge of geometry to draw and cut your shapes from a single colour of construction paper.
  • After you have cut all the forms out, glue them together and arrange them on a second sheet of contrasting colour.

Action 3  

Do >

Designing a Three-Dimensional Model of a Memorial by Drawing, Painting or Creating a Model

Three options:

A. Create a modeled (shaded) drawing:

  • Ensure there is a consistent light source and shade each of the forms to create the illusion of dimension.
  • Or use a computer graphics program to create shaded forms.

B. Design a three-dimensional structure painted with a single colour to emphasize the forms:

  • May be approached as an architectural memorial.
  • View photographs of the architecture of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Google Images).
  • Also consider the architectural memorials at Yad Vashem and visit the website of the South Florida Holocaust Memorial.

C. May be completed as an architectural rendering or as a model.

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 2 David Olère: Drawings and Paintings

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Ask yourself:

  • What can Olère's pencil sketches and colour paintings teach us about every day events in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. David Olère offers an indomitable testimony of the atrocity of the Holocaust.
  • How will his painful sketches and drawings call us in witness to the inhumanity etched in our minds through the scaring images of the crematoriums?

Olère bore testimony as the only witness present in the haunting documentary sketches and paintings. A recent book, Witness: Images of Auschwitz, combines Olère's artwork with text by his son, Alexandre Oler. Olère's artistry is truly one of the best and most important representations of the atrocities of the Holocaust.


Art as testimony

A photo of an elderly man painting a picture of a Nazi

Credit: David Olère

David Olère offers an indomitable testimony of the atrocity of the Holocaust. His painful sketches and drawings call us in witness to the inhumanity etched in our minds through the scarring images of the crematoriums. Olère bore testimony as the only witness present in the haunting documentary sketches and paintings. You and I, as contemporary witnesses, face ourselves and others while bearing the pain of the burden of history. For further information on David Olère, see The Eyes of a Witness, published by The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation in Paris in 1989, contains a three-page summary of David Olère's life and one hundred pages of his artwork. All of the text appears in both English and French. Olère's pencil sketches and colour paintings capture the everyday events in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. There are also portraits of some of the Nazi soldiers and layouts of the crematoriums. A more recent book, Witness: Images of Auschwitz, combines Olère's artwork with text by his son, Alexandre Oler. Olère's artistry is truly one of the best and most important representations of the atrocities of the Holocaust.


Artifact 1 › Destruction of the Jewish People / Destruction du peuple juif
A print of Jewish Torahs and various Christian items being burnt in a fire enlarge image
1946, 29x20 cm, Ghetto Fighters House, Israel.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

The fire consumes Torahs, phylacteries, and a tallis, as well as various Christian religious articles.

Artifact 2 › David Olère Burying the Remains of Children / David Olère enfouissant des restes d'enfants
A drawing of a man in a concentration camp with a shovel in hand, burying children’s limbs enlarge image
32x40 cm, Olère Family.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Olère's first assignment at Auschwitz was as a grave digger of bunker 2. His prisoner number, 106144, is seen both on his shirt and as a tattoo on his left arm. That number appears in many of Olère's artworks, sometimes forming a part of the signature.

Artifact 3 › Their Last Steps / Leurs derniers pas
A painting of emaciated and exhausted concentration camp prisoners, who are on their way to the gas chamber enlarge image
1946, 73x54 cm, Ghetto Fighters House, Israel.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Three Muselmänner support each other as they falter toward the gas chamber. Muselmann was the camp term for those whose physical and mental exhaustion made them candidates for "selection."

Artifact 4 › My First Dialogue / Mon premier dialogue
A drawing of a concentration camp prisoner shoveling a dead baby into a pit full of other dead children enlarge image
1949, 36x38 cm, Olère Family.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Subtitled: "They also are responsible for the war?" "Yes, that's war. "

Artifact 5 › The Oven Room / La salle des fours
A painting of dead concentration camp prisoners being put into the crematorium. A pile of dead bodies lies waiting for the same fate. enlarge image
1945, 58x38 cm, Ghetto Fighters House, Israel.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

A freight elevator in the background brought bodies up from the basement-gassing chamber of Crematorium III at Birkenau. The wet trough at the right facilitated the dragging of bodies to the ovens.

Artifact 6 › Selection for Gas Chambers / Sélection pour le gaz
A drawing of a Nazi soldier about to move a breast-feeding woman and her other naked daughter to the gas chambers enlarge image
1947, 41x51 cm, Ghetto Fighters House, Israel.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Credits: David Olère: L'Oeil du Témoin/The Eyes of a Witness. New York: The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1989 David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Action 1


Reading the Image

Pick one or two of David Olère's works. Look for photographs on the website that you think are similar to the artwork. Answer these questions for the photo and the artwork:

  • Which piece has more of an impact?
  • What kind of an impact does it have? Why?
  • What do you think is the difference between the photographer's point of view and Olère's?
  • Do both pictures have a theme?
  • How successfully does each artist carry out the theme?
  • What is the central focus of each?
  • What kind of details add to the understanding/ appreciation of what the photographer and the artist are trying to convey?
  • What similarities and differences do you see between the photo and the artwork?

Action 2


Selecting a caption

Using readings from class (Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and other diaries & memoirs) find quotes from your readings that you could use as captions for some of Olère's work.

Action 3


Narrowing my focus

Block off parts of one of the artworks. What details would you zoom in on and why? How does looking at the details change your view of the picture as a whole?

Action 4


Comparing depth

Compare the foreground, middle ground and background of a piece. What kinds of sequencing and transitions did Olère use? What point was he making by such placement?

Action 5



View the artworks by Olère in the image gallery to answer the following questions.

A. Consider the drawing "Their Last Steps."

  • What grim building dominates the landscape?
  • Does the shape of that building form a symbol that you might not expect a Jewish artist to include in a painting? What is it? Can you find examples of other twentieth century Jewish artists who have used this symbol to represent the suffering of the Jewish people?
  • What adjectives describe the physical condition of these men?
  • How has the artist suggested their loyalty to one another?

B. In "Admission in Mauthausen" there is a strong contrast in the way Olère depicted the prisoners and their captors.

  • List several ways in which this particular picture emphasizes that contrast. Consider the way the figures are grouped. Consider the men's posture.
  • Does it change your feelings about the image when you learn that this is a roll call in the wintertime?

C. Study David Olère's "Burying the Remains of Children." One of the most painful jobs assigned to Olère at Auschwitz must have been the burial of murdered children.

  • Compare the figure of Olère in the foreground with that of the SS guard in the background. How do you think each man feels about the job he has been assigned to do?
  • The artist has placed the Nazi at the center of the painting, but his own self-portrait tends to hold our attention. Perhaps this is because of the gesture that he is making with his left hand. What kinds of emotions does an outstretched hand express?
  • Notice the unburied hand to the left of the shovel. It is a realistic detail, of course, but it may also be seen as a symbol. Like Olère's hand, it is outstretched; it reaches upward even in death. What sort of thoughts do you have as you consider this lifeless hand?

D. In the woodcut, "Destruction of the Jewish People," Olère presents us with a literal image of the destruction by fire which gives meaning to the term "Holocaust."

  • Distinguish the two kinds of burning that are illustrated here.
  • What sort of variety is there among the objects that are being consumed in the foreground?
  • The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale. CD-ROM Mac/Win. An excellent resource for a high school art class. A treasure trove of background materials for a DBAE study of Art Spiegelman's illustration.
  • Degenerate Art. PBS Home Video, 1993. Video, 60 minutes. "Degenerate Art" examines the historical context of the infamous Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) exhibition mounted by the Nazis in Munich in 1937 and the far reaching effects of the Nazis' vilification of the avant-garde in Germany. The film includes archival footage of the Nazi book burnings, installation shots of the original Entartete Kunst exhibition, and interviews with historians, art critics, family members of several defamed artists, and eyewitnesses to the 1937 exhibition which lend a poignancy and immediacy to this powerful story of the Nazis' attack on modern culture.
  • Olympia. Leni Riefenstahl's two-part record of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Part one: Festival of the Nation includes the Olympic ceremonies and events. Part two: Festival of Beauty features the grace and beauty of athletes in motion.
  • Triumph of the Will. Leni Riefenstahl's powerful propaganda film.


What does Six Million Look Like?

In 1998, a group of eighth graders in Whitwell Tennessee town, set out to collect six million paper clips. The goal of the project was to help the young people of this rural town understand what diversity means. By examining what happened to the Jewish people, the educators hoped to demonstrate to these students what intolerance can lead to. The Holocaust Memorial created by the mostly white and Protestant students, is a World War II-era German railcar, welded to a small piece of railroad track in front of Whitwell Middle School. On display are millions of paper clips, each one honouring a victim of hatred and murder by the Nazis. The project is celebrated in a documentary entitled Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial.

In 2014, a 1,250-page book was published that consists of only one word. In the book: And Every Single One Was Someone, the word “Jew” appears in tiny type, printed six million times. The author, Phil Chernofsky, a former teacher, claims, “That’s how the Nazis viewed their victims, these are not people, they are just a mass we have to exterminate.” By arranging the words side by side, line upon line helps us contemplate the humanity, the commonality, the diversity and the humanity of each Jewish person who was exterminated. Point to any one of the words and you might wonder: Who was this person? Where did that person live and work? Who did that person love?

Though no names appear in Chernofsky’s book, there has been a strong effort to uncover and document the names of the victims. As pointed out in a New York Times article about the book, the Holocaust Memorial and Museum, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, has (to date) collected the names of 4.3 million Jewish victims. These identities are memorialized in a Memorial entitled “Book of Names” at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Memorials such as Book of Names, Six Million Paper Clips, and And Every Single One was Someone, serve as examples that give a realitistic perspective to the unbelievable numbers of those who died in the Holocaust.

Source: New York Times

Action 6

Think >

Considering Jewish literature
  • Some consider Chernofsky’s book a gimmick. Do you think a 1,250-page book with only the word Jew serves a purpose as a memorial to Holocaust victims?
  • If you had a copy of And Every Single One Was Someone in front of you, how might you react? What might you wonder about? How would you represent 6 million?
  • According to Avner Shalev, the director of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, over 6000 books are published each year about the Holocaust. Why do you think there are still so many publications released? How does literature—and other art forms—help generations understand what happened?

Action 7

Think >

Memorializing as an act of honour
  • What project might you consider undertaking to help document the number 6,000,000?
  • Imagine that Chernofsky provided an appendix to his book that offers a biography of each of the six million “Jews” he honours. Is it possible to create a six million-page document? Investigating the life of one of the six million Jewish victims might help you to pay tribute and memorialize his or her identity.

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 3 Museums and Monuments

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Ask yourself:

  • How do modern museums enhance and further our understanding of human rights?
  • How does the visual impact of art encourage us to further explore issues of human rights?

This chapter begins by exploring the transformation of museums from places designed to preserve the past, to institutions that ask us to look at issues of oppression of groups of people. The mandate of these exhibits is to prevent further violations of human rights. The study begins with written and visual examples of the museum at Auschwitz and provides an authentic simulation of life in the concentration camps. You will then be asked along with other students to examine why the 300 Holocaust museums located on six continents, differ from each other.

The chapter then, draws your attention to a number of newer museums devoted to specific issues of human rights. These issues include the Slave Trade, Apartheid in South Africa and the mistreatment of our First Nations people in Canada. The last section of the chapter focuses on a picture study and asks you to examine a number of memorials to determine the emotional impact they have on the observer.

Daniel Libeskind, famous architect, talks about his works devoted to specific human rights issues

Did you know?

The first known museum was established in Alexandria Egypt in the 3rd Century. Today there are more than 55,000 museums in 202 countries. For many centuries the purpose of museums was mainly to care for objects of cultural, scientific and artistic importance to the community. As well, museums were places where scholars could research the past and where the community could gain understanding of their local or national history.

Today, museums have changed along with changes in society. There is a growing belief that in addition to their original mandates, museums should now be places that foster peace, democracy and transparency and by representing our diverse society, can also promote unity and cultural understanding. In the next few pages we will look at some museums whose main focus is to promote knowledge, discussion and debate about issues of human rights.

A major example of a museum focusing on human rights, is the Museum at the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland. The Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau is located on the actual site of the concentration camp where over 1.1 million people were gassed to death by the Nazis during World War II. Of these, 90% were Jews – members of a religion and ethnic group who Hitler wished to totally exterminate. You can take a full tour of the Museum at Auschwitz at a number of Youtube sites.

At the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau the displays are mounted in the barracks in which the prisoners were held. The walls of the barracks are lined with floor to ceiling display cases that hold thousands of articles that were taken from the prisoners before they were exterminated. One display case holds over 110,000 pairs of shoes taken from the prisoners when they arrived at Auschwitz. Another overflows with over 3800 suitcases many of which have the prisoners’ names still marked on them. The visitor to this museum, looking at display cases packed full of baby shoes or filled with eyeglasses can begin to truly understand the impact of The Holocaust. This is a museum that leads to thoughts and discussions of human rights and promotes awareness and discussion of human rights among younger people. The Museum at Auschwitz and other Holocaust museums include learning centres that provide lessons and curriculum materials for classrooms across the world. http://en.auschwitz.org/m/

Elie Weisel, a Holocaust survivor and noted author wrote the following about the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau:

“Open your heart, visitor. And your mind. And your soul. As you walk through the exhibition, ‘Shoah, ’ (Holocaust) and you are enveloped by the sights and sounds of the past, hear the voices of the victims, see the drawings of the children, touch the names of the murdered, take with you a message that only the dead can give the living. That of remembrance.”

Other Holocaust Museums

There are over 300 Holocaust museums and memorials on six continents. The magnitude and cruelty of the Holocaust made it a priority for many countries to honour those who died in the Holocaust so we can better understand this calamity and to prevent it from happening again. These museums and memorials have a goal to encourage people to stand up against genocides wherever they occur. Holocaust museums are often very different from each other in size, architecture and the countries in which they are located. They are often different from each other in what they choose to include and what they choose to omit.

Action 1  


Holocaust Museums

Use the diagram below to discuss why Holocaust museums can be very different from each other. How would each of the following factors determine what artifacts and displays the curator chooses for each museum?

The country where the museum is located
The amount of money you have available
Whether your country was occupied by the Nazis
How many survivors or their families live in your community

Some Different Holocaust Museums

The ‘Shoah’( Holocaust) Foundation’s Visual Archive

The stated purpose of this video museum is to overcome prejudice, intolerance and bigotry—and the suffering they cause—through the educational use of the Foundation’s visual history testimonies. Steven Spielberg, the noted film director, believed that the best way to understand is to record the events through survivor testimonies. The Archive now includes more than 52,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. The Foundation has now completed indexing over half the testimonies as a first step in making the videos available to everyone. They hope to complete his project over the next few years. You can see a video about the Shoah Foundation on youtube.

The Holocaust Museum, Paris

A Holocaust museum noted for its architecture opened in Paris in 2005. The structure at the entrance of the museum looks like a walled fortification. The walls in front of the entrance to the museum are engraved with the names of 76,000 French Jewish men women and children who died without a grave. The crypt contains the ashes of victims collected from the camps.

Action 2  


Human Rights Museums

As you read and discuss each of the Human Rights Museums, work with a partner to make a list of five questions you have about each museum. At the end of the discussion, try to find the answers to each of your questions by referring to the website beside the name of each museum.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR)

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is the only museum in the world solely devoted to human rights awareness and education; it stands as a beacon for visitors from around the globe. As an “ideas” museum, the CMHR tells powerful stories about human rights events and champions, inviting participation in the ongoing human rights dialogue – making educational programming an important part of the visitor experience.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), Winnipeg, Canada enlarge image
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), Winnipeg, Canada

Credit: Courtesy of CMHR

The International Slavery Museum

This museum was established in 2007 on the 200-year anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. This museum covers the impact of trans-Atlantic trade but has expanded to discuss freedom and identity, underdevelopment in Africa and the Caribbean and racial discrimination in the country at large. This museum is considered of such significance that it is planning to expand into their new grand building pictured below.

A picture of a brick museum with big columns in front of the entrance enlarge image
The planned International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England

Credit: Jonathan Oldenbuck

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

This museum focuses on the First Nation Peoples of British Columbia as well as other diverse communities. Among its other exhibits, this museum provides insight into the culture of the First Nations of British Columbia. This picture is from one of their exhibits on residential schools in British Columbia.

An old black and white photo of a group of seven Aboriginal schoolgirls in front of a residential school enlarge image
Archival photo St. Michael’s Residential School.

Class picture from a residential school with the names of each student written on the photo.

Credit: Courtesy of the Audrey & Harry Hawthorn Library and Archives, UBC Museum of Anthropology

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg South Africa

This Museum opened in 2001. A Series of 22 individual exhibits takes the visitor through an emotional journey of a state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination. The museum shows how South Africa is coming to terms with its past and working toward a future that all South Africans can call their own.

Poster for the Apartheid Museum consisting of four pillars emerging from the ground with the words, “Democracy”, “Equality”, “Reconciliation”, and “Diversity inscribed on them. enlarge image
The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa

Source: NJR ZA

The pillars outside the Apartheid Museum say, Democracy, Equality, Reconciliation, and Diversity. This very large museum complex is entirely devoted to state-approved racial discrimination.

In 1948, as people the world over realized the scope, cruelty and devastation of the Holocaust, the United Nations issued The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


1. We Are All Born Free & Equal.

2. Don’t Discriminate.

3. The Right to Life.

4. No Slavery.

5. No Torture.

6. You Have Rights No Matter Where You Go.

7. We’re All Equal Before the Law.

8. Your Human Rights Are Protected by Law.

9. No Unfair Detainment.

10. The Right to Trial.

11. We’re Always Innocent Till Proven Guilty.

12. The Right to Privacy.

13. Freedom to Move. We all have the right to go where we want in our own country and to travel as we wish.

14. The Right to Seek a Safe Place to Live.

15. Right to a Nationality.

This simplified version of the thirty Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been created especially for young people.

Action 3  


A Gallery of Human Rights

After you have discussed the basic Human Rights outlined in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, organize the class in groups with three students in each.

As a group, select three categories of Human Rights that you consider to be most important to you. Discuss how each of these three is relevant to your school or community.

As a group, select one of your three choices that you feel should be the focus of its own Human Rights exhibit. Create a poster advertising the exhibit you think is important. Your poster should have the following components:

  • A clear indication of the Human Right to which your exhibit is devoted
  • A Statement of why that Right is so important
  • Visuals highlighting that right. These may include drawings, pictures, newspaper clippings, poetry, cartoons, editorials, letters and whatever visuals you feel will help others to understand the importance of that Human Right.
  • When your posters are complete; you may wish to mount them in the corridors near your classroom and invite other classes to tour your Gallery of Human Rights.
  • You may also wish to take pictures of your posters and publish them in your school newsletter or your local newspaper.

Action 4  

A Century of Genocide: Museum Exhibit

You are planning to create posters to support a special exhibit entitled, A Century of Genocide: 1915 to 2015. The purpose of the exhibit is to recognize additional historical situations from this time period that are not featured in permanent collections. The exhibit wants to see how the events and actions of people in power met the criteria of being called “Acts of Genocide”.


Creating A Museum Submission
  • Groups of three will be formed based on the following roles:
    • Team Planning Manager
      • Engages in research and writing of information
      • Ensures that the team functions in completing the task on time
      • Reports back to the teacher with any questions/needs from the team
      • Coordinates the physical assembly of the poster
    • Team Design Manager
      • Engages in research and writing of information
      • Responsible with consultation of group members for the design and layout of the poster
      • Sees that there is consistency in production of the various elements
    • Team Presentation Manager
      • Engages in research and writing of information
      • Develops the ‘talking point script’ for the gallery walk
      • Uses the talking points to educate observers on the group’s poster
  • Each group will be assigned one of the following situations to research:
    • The government of Josef Stalin in the USSR, 1932-1939
    • The government of Idi Amin in Uganda, 1969-1979
    • The government of Yahya Khan in Bangladesh, 1970-1971
    • The government of Pol Pot in Cambodia, 1975-1979
    • The government of Yakubu Gowan in Biafra, 1967-1970
    • The government of Charles Taylor in Liberia, 1989-1996
    • The government of General Suharto in East Timor, 1975-1998
    • The government of Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala, 1982-1983
    • The government of Saddam Hussein in Kurdistan, 1987-1989
    • The government of Omar al-Bashir in Darfur, 1999-2003
  • Research will be conducted by the group starting with the 5Ws: who, what, why, when and where. Additional questions will be developed by the group to help analyze the actions of the leaders, e.g., do the actions of the government meet the criteria of being called genocide?
  • The group needs to create an annotated bibliography of the 3 to 5 best sources of information. Why was this source useful?
  • The poster should be around 18 x 24 inches in size. Consider the following in creating your posters:
    • A map to show where the country is located
    • Pictures of key individuals
    • A background fact sheet: population of the country, key features of the country, events that took place during this period, and timeline
    • Pictures that might support the group's interpretation of the events
    • An organizer that helps one understand how the event researched meets or doesn't meet the criteria of being called a genocide
    • Use the feedback rubric to guide the development of your poster
    • Before final submission of your poster your group will act as ‘critical friends’ with another group. You will explain your poster and ‘your friends’ will offer suggestions on how to enhance your poster before final submission
    • The class will do a gallery walk of the posters with the Team Presentation Manager explaining the key features of your poster to the viewers
  • After the posters are submitted and posted in your classroom or designated area, each individual in your class will nominate one poster in a 150-word letter. The selected poster will become part of the permanent collection and the Centre. You cannot nominate your own entry. State the criteria you used for making this judgment and how this nominated poster meets these criteria.

See below - Feedback rubric for critical friends, was built around the achievement chart and may be used for your careful consideration.

Museum Exhibit Feedback
Name of submission: Reviewers:
Museum Exhibit Feedback
Name of submission: Reviewers:
Criteria Level 4 Level 3 Level 2 Level 1

Communication: Elements of a Poster

  • Design/Layout/Reader friendly/Use of organizer
  • Illustrations
    - Size
    - Instructs, as well as is attractive
  • Title
  • Very easily read
  • Variety of font size clearly emphasizes the key ideas and message
  • Illustrations very clearly enhance information

Knowledge: Quality and Quantity of Information

  • Clear and complete information built around key questions
  • Information is very comprehensive and connected to key questions

Thinking: Relevance of Materials Selected

  • A clear connection between criteria of a genocide and materials selected
  • Uses unique ideas in the display which interests the viewers
  • Material selected is relevant and clearly connected to criteria of genocide
  • The poster’s message was clearly and concisely presented
  • Many original ideas in materials and layout

Inquiry: Research

  • Evidence of use of multiple sources
  • Useful and complete annotated bibliography in proper form
  • Effectively uses several primary sources to develop the narrative of the poster
  • Provides complete annotated bibliography of three sources

What we really liked about this poster was……
What we didn’t understand or what we need more information about was…..
We would suggest improving your poster by…..
The thing that we will remember the most about this poster at this time is….

Signed by ‘critical friends’:

Action 5  


Memorials and our Understanding of Human Rights

While museums encourage our understanding of human rights by allowing us to spend time seeing, studying and interacting with exhibits over several hours of several visits, memorials tend to have a more immediate and dramatic impact on us. A memorial is a structure designed to honour or remember a person or event, which is important to the community. Often memorials are works of art using forms and images to relate the story they want to tell or which generate discussion the artist hopes will result from viewing it. There are hundreds of memorials across the world to commemorate those who died, with the goal of making us think of ways to ensure this does not happen again.

From the following pictures select the memorial that is the most meaningful to you and write a short paper about it:

  • Explain what you see in the memorial.
  • How does the memorial have an impact on your understanding of human rights?

A. The Last March, Jerusalem

This memorial is a bronze relief depicting the mass export of Jews to concentration camps. You will see that the memorial shows old people, children, men and women of ages. What does this memorial say to you?

A bronze plaque depicting a group of Jews looking down, being led by Nazi soldiers to a concentration camp enlarge image
The Last March, Jerusalem

Credit: Yad Vashem

B. Shoes on the Shores of the Danube, Budapest, Hungary

This memorial is made up of 60 pairs of iron shoes, each attached to the cement platform. The memorial commemorates the lives of those Jews who were shot into the Danube River by the Hungarian fascist organization called, The Arrow Cross.

Shoes were valuable possessions by 1944, close to the end of the war, so the prisoners were told to take of their shoes before they were shot into the river. This simple memorial is very powerful.

A picture of sixty pairs of iron shoes affixed to a cement platform beside the Danube River enlarge image
Shoes on the Shores of the Danube, Budapest, Hungary

Credit: Yad Vashem

C. Trains to Life, Trains to Death, Berlin, Germany

This memorial commemorates two events. As you observe the photo, the children on the left represent the 1.6 million children who died in the Holocaust. The children on the right represent the 10,000 children who were granted entry into England and thus survived the Holocaust.

A metal monument with children and an empty suitcase on one side, and school children on the other enlarge image
Trains to Life, Trains to Death, Berlin, Germany

Source: Permission granted by artist, Frank Meisler

Two Memorials in Canada by Daniel Libeskind

A new Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa was inaugurated on September 27, 2017 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The concept design is by Daniel Libeskind a world-renowned architect (Ground Zero in New York and the Jewish Museum in Berlin), Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, landscape architect Claude Cormier and U. of Toronto Holocaust scholar Doris Bergen. The design represents an elongated Star of David, and a reminder of the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.



A wooden model for the national Holocaust monument, with four Canadian flags behind it enlarge image
Model of the National Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa, by Daniel Libeskind

Credit: Canada Press
Photo: Sean Kilpatrick

Memorial to the Jews on the MS St. Louis who were turned away in 1939

Daniel Libeskind’s Wheel of Conscience in Halifax at Canada’s Immigration Museum at Pier 21, memorializes the voyage of the MS St. Louis (see Unit Three; chapter 2). Most refugees and immigrants arrived in Canada at Pier 21 from 1928 to 1971. Canada’s immigration doors were closed under the administration of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. After WWII when the exclusionary immigration policies were revised, it was reopened.

The steel memorial has four gears with interlocking teeth that enable it to be turned by a motor. The words HATRED-RACISM-XENOPHOBIA-ANTISEMITISM are shown in relief on the front. Each wheel operates at different speeds and combined, the 3 smaller gears move the largest one of ANTISEMITISM. As the gears turn they recreate the image of the ship at set intervals.

A metal and glass circular installation, consisting of different sized cogs seen through the glass in the middle, with “anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, and hatred” written on them. enlarge image
Wheel of Conscience by Daniel Libeskind

Credit: Steve Kaiser Photography
Photo Credit: Canadian Jewish Congress

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 4 The Poetry of Terezin

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Ask yourself:

  • What Holocaust images/ texts/ ideas / events have had the biggest impact on you and why?
  • Can you write a reflection (or “artist statement”) from your perspective, explaining why you created your response piece and referencing the meaning that the original material holds for you?
  • What is your relationship to the Holocaust and genocide from your particular perspective (given your own history / identity)?

This chapter offers strategies for responding to the difficult knowledge of the Holocaust, specifically, and to genocide, broadly. It focuses on engaging your own reflections about the material you are reading and researching, by providing accessible artistic forms to help frame your responses. Highlighting Terezin (Teresienstadt), the chapter uses a foundation of poetry and images to pose questions and to help make the study of history vivid. Each of the activities has been designed to include a reflective practice component to encourage your deeply thoughtful and personal responses to the Holocaust and/or to considering social justice in your own communities.

During the Holocaust, people wrote poetry for different reasons: to produce art as a form of resistance, to assert their humanity; to commemorate the victims, to serve as a form of remembrance, or to constitute a unique form of testimony. Holocaust poetry after Auschwitz—written by survivors or children and grandchildren of survivors, for example—presents powerful images, which can impact our minds and hearts. Contemporary Holocaust Education suggests that through reading poetry about the Holocaust, readers can become more reflective about what they have studied, how they treat people, and how they react to civil and human rights in their own communities and beyond (Totten).

This really happened!

Many of the suggestions included here focus on Terezin, a ghetto-labour camp, as well as a concentration and transit camp in Czechoslovakia (also known by its German name, Theresienstadt). It existed for three and a half years, between November 24, 1941 and May 9, 1945. Of approximately 140,000 Jews transferred to Theresienstadt, nearly 90,000 were deported to points further east (e.g., Auschwitz) and almost certain death. Roughly 33,000 died in Theresienstadt itself. However, despite horrible living conditions and the constant threat of deportation, Theresienstadt also had a highly developed cultural life. Outstanding Jewish artists, mainly from Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany, created drawings and paintings, some of them secretly documenting the ghetto's harsh reality. Writers, professors, musicians, and actors gave lectures, concerts, and theatre performances. Of the 15,000 children who were transported to Terezin, only 240 survived (Volavkova, xix). Like Hana Brady, of Hana’s Suitcase (who was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944), as an example, most of the children fourteen years of age or younger who were deported to the extermination camps were killed.

What is also important to know, however, is that although they were forbidden to attend school, the children did so in secret, thanks to their extraordinary teachers, like Freidl Dicker Brandeis and Valtr Eisinger. The children painted, wrote poetry, and created a weekly magazine called Vedem (In the Lead) (USHMM). The children even performed a very popular opera entitled Brundibar which was ultimately performed for the June 23, 1944 Red Cross visit. (see Brundibar from 60 Minutes on YouTube.) With the help of their teachers, the children used drawing and writing to help them cope with life under terrible conditions (see I Never Saw Another Butterfly and Vedem).

It is to these Terezin children’s poems and drawings that this unit directs you. The Works Cited list contains numerous resources to help begin a historical examination of Terezin. The goal is to provide a strong foundation on which to build a rich and deeply thoughtful unit on poetry and the Holocaust. Responding through the arts can offer another means of defining your own relationship to the Holocaust, and an opportunity to raise questions about your role as the next generation to bear the responsibility for remembrance (Hughes).

An old black and white photo of Jewish children playing together in a Czechoslovakian ghetto. enlarge image
June 23, 1944 - A group of children in Theresienstadt

Copyright © 2014 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority

Pictured here are a group of children in the Theresienstadt ghetto. The photo was taken during a Red Cross visit on June 23, 1944. Theresienstadt was a “special” ghetto that the Germans established in Terezin, Czechoslovakia in November 1941. The ghetto was actually a way-station for Jews en route to the death camps. Theresienstadt had the outward appearance of a town. The ghetto population included many artists, composers, musicians, authors, and scientists. Between 1942-1944, approximately 13,000 children were sent to Theresienstadt. The majority was deported to death camps and only a few hundred survived.

Source: Yad Vashem Photo Archives 7 FO2

A child’s drawing of Jews arriving at the Terezin concentration camp enlarge image
13 years old. Drawing titled “Terezín arrival”.

Credit: Yad Vashem

Source: “And God Saw that it was Bad” by Helga Weissova

Helga Weissova entered Terezin when she was only 12 years old. She brought a box of painting and notebook with her and drew more than a hundred paintings as instructed by her father to: “Paint whatever you see.” Here ended Helga’s childhood with the responsibility of painting everything she saw and experienced. She was one of the few survivors.

A child’s drawing of two sad children at the exit of the Terezin concentration camp enlarge image
13 years old. The last drawing of her series, made at Terezins’ exit. The children’s faces tell it all.

Credit: Helga Weissova


Poems from … “I never saw another butterfly”

The Garden

A little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses.
The path is narrow
And a little boy walks along it.
A little boy, a sweet boy,
Like that growing blossom.
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more.

Franta Bass
P. 70
Franta Bass was born on 4 September, 1930. He was deported to Terezin on 2 December, 1941, and died in Auschwitz on 28 October, 1944

Cover page of a book of children’s drawings and poems from the Terezin concentration camp enlarge image

Credit: "The Butterfly," "Terezin," "On A Sunny Evening," "The Garden," "Fear," "Homesick," and "At Terezin" from I never saw another butterfly: Children’s drawings and poems from Terezin Concentration Camp,1942-44 by Hana Volavkova, copyright © 1978, 1993 by Artia, Prague. Compilation © 1993 by Schocken Books. Used by permission of Schocken Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC.

At Terezin

When a new child comes
Everything seems strange to him.
What, on the ground I have to lie?
Eat black potatoes? No! Not I!
I've got to stay? It's dirty here!
The floor—why, look, it's dirt, I fear!
And I'm supposed to sleep on it?
I'll get all dirty!
Here the sound of shouting, cries,
And oh, so many flies.
Everyone knows flies carry disease.
Oooh, something bit me! Wasn't that a bedbug?
Here in Terezin, life is hell
And when I'll go home again, I can't yet tell.

P. 3 "Teddy" L410, 1943

On A Sunny Evening

On a purple, sun-shot evening
Under wide-flowering chestnut trees
Upon the threshold full of dust
Yesterday, today, the days are all like these.

Trees flower forth in beauty,
Lovely, too, their very wood all gnarled and old
That I am half afraid to peer
Into their crowns of green and gold.

The sun has made a veil of gold
So lovely that my body aches.
Above, the heavens shriek with blue
Convinced I've smiled by some mistake.
The world's abloom and seems to smile,
I want to fly but where, how high?
If in barbed wire, things can bloom
Why couldn't l? I will not die!

1944 Anonymous, p. 77
Written by the children in Barracks L 318 and L 417; ages 10-16 years


That bit of filth in dirty walls,
And all around barbed wire,
And 30,000 souls who sleep
Who once will wake
And once will see
Their own blood spilled.
I was once a little child,
Three years ago.
That child who longed for other worlds.
But now I am no more a child
For I have learned to hate.
I am a grown-up person now,
I have known fear.
Bloody words and a dead day then,
That's something different than bogeymen!
But anyway, I still believe I only sleep today,
That I'll wake up, a child again, and start to laugh and play.
I'll go back to childhood sweet like a briar rose,
Like a bell which wakes us from a dream,
Like a mother with an ailing child
Loves him with aching woman’s love.
How tragic, then, is youth which lives
With enemies, with gallows ropes,
How tragic, then, for children on your lap
To say: this for the good, that for the bad,
Somewhere, far away out there, childhood sweetly sleeps,
Along that path among the trees,
There o'er that house
That was once my pride and joy.
There my mother gave me birth into this world
So I could weep. . .
In the flame of candles by my bed, I sleep
And once perhaps I'll understand
That I was such a little thing
As little as this song.
These 30,000 souls who sleep
Among the trees will wake,
Open an eye
And because they see
A lot
They'll fall asleep again. . .

IX 1944
Hanus Hachenburg was born in Prague on 12 July 1929, and was deported to Terezin on
24 October 1942. He died on 18 December 18, 1943, in Auschwitz.

The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone...
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished to
kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't
live in here,
In the ghetto.

Pavel Friedmann 4.6.1942

The poem is preserved in typewritten copy on thin paper in the collection of poetry by Pavel Friedmann, which was donated to the National Jewish Museum during its documentation campaign. It is dated June 4, 1942 in the left corner. Pavel Friedmann was born January 7, 1921, in Prague and deported to Terezín* on April 26, 1942. He died in Oswiecim* (Auschwitz) on September 29, 1944.


Today the ghetto knows a different fear,
Close in its grip, Death wields an icy scythe.
An evil sickness spreads a terror in its wake,
The victims of its shadow weep and writhe.
Today a father's heartbeat tells his fright
And mothers bend their heads into their hands.
Now children choke and die with typhus here,
A bitter tax is taken from their bands.
My heart still beats inside my breast
While friends depart for other worlds.
Perhaps it's better – who can say? –
Than watching this, to die today?
No, no, my God, we want to live!
Not watch our numbers melt away.
We want to have a better world,
We want to work – we must not die!

The poem is preserved in a copy turned over to the State Jewish Museum in Prague by Dr. R. Feder in 1955. It is signed at the bottom, "12 year old Eva Picková from Nymburk". Eva Picková was born in Nymburk on May 15, 1929, deported to Terezín on April 16, 1942, and perished in Oswiecim (Auschwitz) on December 18, 1943.

Entrance to Terezin concentration camp enlarge image
Entrance to the small fortress of Terezin Camp. The gate bears the motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work makes one free.)

Credit: Jewish Virtual Library


Responding to Poems from the Holocaust

Action 1 Responding to Poems from the Holocaust


A Letter to the Poet

Select a poem about the Holocaust and write a letter to the poet. In your letter, you may write anything you wish about the poem. You may tell the poet what you like or dislike about the poem, or what you don’t understand about it. You might want to ask probing questions about the poem or offer your own interpretation and insights. The point is, you may approach it in any way you wish. It is your perspective, your point of view and your response that is important. Take 15-20 minutes to write your response to the poet

In small groups, assign one member of the group to serve as the recorder. This person will document the most important points made during the small group discussion. Have each person read his/her letter while the rest of the group listens. Once everyone has read their piece, each person should read their letter again, followed by discussion. Members of the group should ask questions and make comments about each of the letters. Do reflect on similarities and differences between the letters. Be sure to keep returning to the poem in order to substantiate and clarify your ideas. (Totten, 168-177)

Action 2


The Poets

By doing an online search, read biographical or critical work about poets who have written about the Holocaust (see sources in the works cited list, for example). In small groups create posters or website pages or murals about the poets. Select specific quotes by the poets to include in your artwork. Explain why you have selected these quotes in an “Artist Statement” and include your sources.

Action 3


Responding Through Poetry
  • Find a work of art or a poem that represents an important moment or experience in your learning about the Holocaust. Write a letter to a character in the poem or to a figure in the artwork.
    • If you could speak to the figure in the poem, what would you say?
    • If you could speak to anyone in the artwork, what would you say?
    • If you could imagine any of the subjects speaking, what do you think they would say?
  • Now, write a poem reflecting on your experience of the poem or drawing. Comment on the most important new ideas / concepts/ insights or what you may never forget after reading the poem or viewing the art. Do consider writing about what the poem reveals to you about the nature of violence, genocide, or human behavior, or you may simply wish to write a list of the questions that the poem raises for you. Notice how your list of questions becomes a poem, too.

Action 4



Postcards were sent from the concentration camp Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, but there were many very strict regulations:

Every prisoner of preventive detention is allowed to receive and send one letter or card per month. Envelopes must not be lined. Only one stamp can be added. The letters can have no more than 2 pages with 15 lines each, must be written with ink and clearly readable. Letters to prisoners who are not here anymore will not be forwarded. Letters which do not meet the instructions will neither be sent nor handed over.

Source: The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota

Create a postcard sharing an image and poem that made an impact on you, explaining how it made an impact. The postcard can have no more than 15 lines. Send the postcard to someone else with whom you would like to share your reflections about the Holocaust.

Action 5


Classroom Community

As a way of responding to the Holocaust as a classroom community, select an image or phrase from the poetry that touched you and helped you to begin to see the Holocaust in a new and unique way. Record these images on large sheets of paper around the classroom.

Action 6



In groups of three, create a series of three tableaux (frozen images) to depict the words, phrases or images that most moved you. Each person in the group will contribute one word, phrase or image and all three people will create the tableau of each word. Share with your group the source of your words and the history or narrative that accompanies the reason for your selection. You will need to create the transitions between the three tableaux, as well as titles for all three tableaux that your group creates.

Action 7


Poems and Images

You are asked to pair a photograph or painting with an appropriate poem. For example, you could pair renowned Yiddish poet, Abraham Sutzkever’s “A Cartload of Shoes” poem with a photograph of the piles of shoes left behind by the victims of the Nazis (USHMM).

Action 8


Found Poetry
  • Gather lines from all the Holocaust pieces that affected you and your classmates the most, in order to create a found poem. Select words, lines or phrases from the Holocaust material you have been studying (e.g., poetry, novels, historical or background information about the Holocaust or genocide) and transform the text into a poem. Draw on words, phrases or full quotations that are particularly meaningful or directed you toward new insights.
  • Prepare a list of 15-20 different words or phrases from your source materials so that you have lots of ideas from which to choose when composing your poems. You can trade lists and describe the themes or main ideas you see in your partner’s list.
  • You should decide on the order of the lines to create their new poem. Write all of the words and phrases on individual slips of paper, so that the words or phrases can be moved around easily until you and your classmates can solve your found poem. In small groups, you can negotiate how to rearrange the words, repeat, eliminate or add words that will help the research text transform into a poem. You can also consider the following as you create your found poems:
    • Will you use key words to start or end the lines?
    • Which phrases will have greater impact by standing on lines alone?
    • Which phrases will benefit by being stretched over two or more lines?
    Remember, you cannot add your own words when creating a found poem, but you can repeat words or phrases as often as you like. When composing your found poems, you do not need to use all of the words or phrases you previously selected. Be sure to save all your rough drafts to show the development of your ideas and to help you explain your decisions.
  • You can perform your poems as choral readings. Alternatively you can read the poems silently. Pass your poems to the left once. Each student will read the poem, write a comment (students should sign their name to their comment), and then pass the poem again to the left for another comment. Depending on how much time you have, you might allow for three or four passes, or you might have time for students to comment on all of the poems created by your classmates. When you have completed your commenting consider:
    • What strikes you about these poems?
    • What do they have in common?
    • How are they different?
    • What surprised you when reading them?
  • Group Found Poem: You collaboratively create a group found poem by having each person select one line for the collective full-class found poem. Alternately, you could have the whole class determine the words and phrases that will be used but allow each student to create his/her own arrangement of this collectively created text.
  • Write an “Artist Statement” explaining your poem and its message. How do the found texts in your poem support your message? Why is this message important to you? You can publish their poems, in printed format or on the web, as a way of sharing them with a wider audience, or by organizing a poetry reading for other classes in the school; parents can be invited to attend. Make sure to conduct a question and answer session after the reading so that your classmates have an opportunity to talk about their ideas.

Action 9


Choral Reading

In groups of five, use choral reading strategies to perform one of the Holocaust poems. Consider the following notes: What lines will be said solo? In pairs? As a group? What words, phrases or sentences can be repeated? How will you begin and end the poem? What gestures or actions can you choose to accompany your line(s) in the poem? Experiment with volume, tempo, pitch, and emotion. Try it with everyone speaking together. How can you build in voices, or gradually remove voices to communicate your intended meaning to the audience? Can you use volume in an interesting way?

Further reading

Rubin, Susan Goldman Fireflies in the Dark: the story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin, 2000

When she was sent to a concentration camp, Art teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis packed art supplies rather than personal items. Art provided sanity and an outlet to the emotions of children living in horrific circumstances.

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 5 The Arts in Action

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Literature and history are intertwined. While history provides background and context to literature, literature puts a human face on history. The activities in this section will encourage you to engage with the Holocaust and its lessons for all humanity at a visceral level. By incorporating art, music, film, and drama, as well as poetry, novels, autobiography, memoir, and primary source documents, you will grapple with the question of what it means to be truly human in a world rife with the temptation to be otherwise.

Ask yourself:

  • What does it mean to make moral choices?
  • What does it mean to accept responsibility for living a moral life and what are the challenges?
  • How do art, music, drama, and literature inform our moral choices?
  • How does language function to clarify and/or obscure our moral choices?

Action 1  


A glossary of terms

During the course of this chapter, you may encounter new vocabulary and unfamiliar terminology because they have been borrowed from other languages (e.g. – German).

A. Working with your classmates, either the whole class or a small group, create a glossary of the unfamiliar words or phrases you encountered throughout this chapter.

B. Write down the word or phrase, and its meaning (make sure that the meaning is accurate and reflects how it is used in the selection from which it is taken).

C. Where appropriate, create illustrations or use original drawings, Internet art or pictures clipped from newspapers or magazines to illustrate the meaning of the word or phrase.

D. You may alphabetize your entries or place them in the order in which you found them in the selection. Everybody in the group is invited to contribute the words and phrases that are new to him/her. Put the sheets in page protectors, assemble them in a binder, and place it in a prominent spot in the classroom for everyone to read and add to.

E. Alternately, the glossary may be created as a website to which all members of the group or class contribute and have access.

Action 2  


Identifying and Researching People

As you read Voices Into Action, you will also encounter references to people who may be unfamiliar to you. Research them to learn more about them. Create a resource of biographical sketches. Include the name of the person, a photograph if possible, the dates of his/her birth and if applicable, death. Include also where you came across the reference (title of book – page number, poem etc.) and a comment on why there is a reference to this person. This information, like the glossary (above), should be made available to other members of your class.

Action 3  


Responding to a Photograph

Warsaw boy – Old black and white photograph of a frightened little boy and his mother in the foreground, with their hands up, as soldiers point riffles at them. They are followed by a group emerging from a doorway. enlarge image

Warsaw Ghetto - Photo from Jürgen Stroop's report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943 and one of the best-known pictures of World War II. The original German caption reads: “Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs.”

Photo Credit: Yad Vashem

A. Examine this famous photograph of the little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto. What do you think is happening in this picture? Identify the different groups of people. What is the most striking image? Why do you think so?

B. Working with a group of your classmates, share your responses to the above questions. Then create a tableau (theatrical freeze frames) to represent the photograph. Present your tableau to your classmates. Explain why you arranged yourselves in the tableau as you did.

  • Who was in the foreground?
  • Who in the background?
  • Who was higher; who was lower?
  • Which people were close to one another; which ones were farther away?
  • What did the facial expressions communicate? 
  • How effectively did you replicate the photograph and communicate your understanding of it?

C. Next – create a series of three tableaux.

  • Tableau 1: illustrate what you think might have occurred in the moment before the photograph was taken;
  • Tableau 2: dissolve into your original tableau of the photograph;
  • Tableau 3: dissolve into what you think might have occurred in the moment following the photograph. 

Be sure to explain what you did and why. How effective were your tableaux in extending the story depicted in the photograph?

This photograph has inspired two poems: The Newspaper by Ralph Gustafson

Action 4  


Creating poetry from art

DEFINITION An ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired by a work of art. (See Wikipedia – Ekphrasis)

Visit one of the many on-line Holocaust art sites

A. Select a piece of art that “speaks” to you. In your journal explain why that piece stands out for you. Do a little research to learn more about the artist, what the piece is attempting to convey and what techniques the artist has used. This is particularly important if you selected a piece of abstract art.

B. Create a poem based on the piece of art you chose. You may choose whichever form of poetry you think is most appropriate. Make a copy of the art piece you are writing about. Working with the other members of your class, create a classroom exhibit of art and the poetry it inspired. Do a gallery walk through the classroom to view what your classmates produced. Discuss the art selections and accompanying poetry. Parents, administrators, other teachers and students may be invited to your class gallery.

Action 5  


Art inspired by Poetry

There are many sources of Holocaust-themed poetry. Select a poem that you find personally meaningful and create a piece of art to express what it means to you. You may paint using various media, sketch, sculpt, create a collage, etc. Be prepared to present your selected poem and explain your artistic creation, what it means, why you selected the materials and media you did, your use of line, colour, and perspective.

Additional recommended poetry

Read the poem The Hangman by Maurice Ogden.

Explain how the poem is an allegory. How does this connect with the Holocaust? What roles are assumed by the various characters in the poem? What imagery and other poetic devices does Ogden use?  Create a chart, graph, or timeline to trace the progression of the hangman and his victims.

Credit: Reprinted from the Study Guide from Durham West Arts Centre, Reading and Remembrance Project, 2006

Watch the animated film of The Hangman.  Is the film effective?  Why or why not? Comment on the following aspects of the film:  use of music; the characters – dress, demeanour, facial representations; imagery; irony; narration. How do they contribute to the overall effectiveness?

Action 6  


Comparing Poems

A. Compare/contrast The Hangman with the famous poem by Martin Niemoller, First They Came for the Jews. What similarities do you notice? Note the biographical data, in particular the note at the bottom of the page following the poem. Niemoller was himself antisemitic prior to the Holocaust. How do you account for the change in his thinking?

B. Read Riddle by William Heyen . Why does the poet call the poem Riddle?  What is the riddle in the poem?  Who were Adolf Eichmann and Albert Speer? Who do you think Fritz and David Nova, and Lou Abrahams were? Why did Heyen juxtapose the names of Eichmann and Speer with those of the Novas and Lou Abrahams? What is the answer to the riddle?  What clues does he offer as to the answer? What purpose is served by the last stanza? Is the personification of the sun, the moon and the stars effective? Why or why not? Note the poet’s use of repetition – for what effect?

Read the poem again and watch the YouTube video. List the images that accompany the lines of the poem.  What effect does the addition of the images have on the reader?  Note that the poem and the images are accompanied by a song. The Trains of No Return was written and performed by Israeli singer, Ofra Haza. Some of the verses are in Hebrew. Why is this appropriate? For the lyrics to and a translation of the Hebrew, see The Trains of No Return . How do the addition of both the images and the music affect the impact of the poem on the reader?  In your Response Journal describe your feelings about the poem, images and music.

Some additional poems to consider:

There Were Those by Susan Dambroff 
Never Shall I Forget by Elie Wiesel
Written in Pencil in a Sealed Railway Car by Dan Pagis
Night Over Birkenau by Tadeusz Borowski
Holocaust 1944 by Anne Ranasinghe
Race by Karen Gershon 
Poetry written by children in the Terezin Concentration Camp, including the following, and many others as well by Mif
The Butterfly by Pavel Friedmann; Homesick by Anonymous; Fear by Eva Pickova; The Garden by Eva Pickova; and Untitled by Anonymous

Action 7  


Holocaust Novels/Holocaust Films

Many novels have been written about the Holocaust.  See Best Holocaust Novels for suggestions.

Many popular Holocaust novels have been made into films.  Some that come to mind include The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Sarah’s Key, and The Book Thief. Can you think of any others? 

Select one of these books to read, or perhaps your teacher will assign it to the whole class. Be sure to record your reactions, questions and comments in your Response Journal. If you are reading the novel with the rest of your class and your teacher, make sure you have a good set of notes. After you complete your reading of the novel, watch the film.  You will need a Venn diagram with two interlocking circles.

VENN DIAGRAM enlarge image


A. As you watch the film, stop periodically to make notes inside your Venn diagram. The common space where the circles intersect is where you write down the things that you think are the same in both the novel and the film. In the circle on your left make notes about the novel that are different from the film. In the circle on your right, make notes about the film that are different from the novel.

  • What similarities and differences did you note?
  • Focus on the ways in which the film is different from the novel.
  • Can you account for the decisions of the film’s director to make these changes? Does the film remain faithful to the themes of the novel? To the characters?  To the author’s purpose?
  • Has the focus of the story shifted in the film? 
  • Which aspects of the novel would you represent differently in the film if you were the director – how and why?  Which did you find most effective and why? 

B. Compare your Venn diagram with that of a classmate or group of classmates.

Action 8  


Writing a letter in Role

A. Required tools: paper, pen and highlighter.

B. For this task you will have the opportunity to write a letter from a main character of a novel character to another character (from the same novel, or a different novel). For this writing activity, consider the following:

  • How will the character describe his/ her circumstances?
  • What event(s) from the novel will you highlight?
  • What feelings will the character convey?
  • What words or phrases will be used to best convey the life and feelings of this character?

C. Once completed, exchange letters with a friend. Then, write a letter back (in-role) to that person, by asking questions, offering advice, or making connections. What words or phrases had an impact on you?

Action 9  


Character collage

A. Required tools: a paper bag, scissors, markers, glue and magazines/newspapers.

B. As you read your novel, search through the magazines/newspapers (or use internet images) for images and words or phrases that represent both the way other characters in the book view the main character and the way the character feels or sees him/herself. Glue your clippings that represent how the other characters view the main character in a collage-like arrangement on the outside of the paper bag.

C. Place the clippings that represent the feelings and ways in which the main character views him/herself inside the bag.

D. Present your bag to a small group of your classmates. Explain the significance of the images and words and phrases you selected.

E. Staple or paperclip your bag to a page in your Response Journal. Make a list of the characters represented by the bags created by the other members of your group. Did some of your classmates choose the same character? How were their insights the same or different from your own? What insights into other characters did you get? What were the most striking images and words/phrases used by your group members? Why do you think so?:

Action 10  


Read the Nuremberg Laws

Discuss them as a class to ensure you understand them and the context in which they were created. These are the laws that increasingly stripped Jews of their property, their identity, and their rights. Working together as a class, prepare a Readers Theatre presentation of the Nuremberg Laws. What effect do you want to create with your presentation? How will you use the voices of your classmates to achieve this?

Source: Courtesy of Paul Leishman, Toronto District School Board

Action 11  


Reading and responding to a memoir

Read a memoir, testimonial or biography from the Holocaust. Pay careful attention to the experiences of the author. What were the major events recounted? How did they affect the author? What did the author feel or how did s/he react to these experiences?

A. Mapping an inner journey - Create a map of the author’s inner journey to parallel the events recounted. Here are some questions to consider: Using geological formations, how do you envision the author? Is s/he a continent, a country, an island etc.? Why?

What things might you find on the map of the geological formation you’ve chosen and what is their symbolic significance? E.g. – lakes, rivers, ponds, swamps, mountains, jungles, volcanoes, meadows, forests, roads, railways, cities etc. A jungle might represent confusion, or losing one’s way. Using markers, water colours, pencils or other media, create the map for the author. Be sure to label each element appropriately. When you are finished, write a guide to your map. Present your map and guide to your classmates.

B. Responding to the memoir - In your Response Journal, respond to the following questions:

  • Why do you think the author needed to recount his/her experiences?
  • What represents the moral centre of the text? The immoral?
  • Are there people in the text who may be classified as victim, perpetrator, murderer, bystander, voyeur, collaborator, advocate, rescuer? Identify them and explain why you classified them as you did.
  • If you could interview any of the people in the text, what three questions would you ask them?

 Some titles include:

  • Anne Frank Remembered (Miep Gies)
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl (Anne Frank)
  • Night (Elie Wiesel)
  • The Cage (Ruth Minsky Sender)
  • A Childhood Under the Nazis (Tomi Ungerer)
  • An Interrupted life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-1943 (Etty Hillesum)
  • Survival in Auschwitz (Primo Levi)
  • The Drowned and the Saved (Primo Levi)
  • My Life (Gerda Weissmann Klein)
  • After the Holocaust: The Long Road to Freedom (Erna Rubinstein)

Select one of the texts you have read, either a novel or a non-fiction text (biography, memoir etc.) Create a timeline for the main character, listing the major events in the text. For each, select an appropriate piece of music and record it. Consider all kinds of music as well as music originating from different places. You do not need to record the entire selection. In fact, it is more appropriate if you select the particular part of the selection that you feel reflects the mood or tone of the event e.g. – fear, despair, hope, relief etc.). You are in effect, creating a musical collage. Present your timeline and accompanying musical collage to your classmates. They should be able to identify the kind of events listed with the accompanying music. Explain the choices you made.

Action 12  


Reading a graphic novel: Maus by Art Spiegelman

Graphic novels are becoming increasingly popular. MAUS, written by American artist Art Spiegelman, is noteworthy for a number of reasons. It is a story that operates on two levels: on one level it is the story of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor; on another level it is the story of the strained relationship between father and son, thus introducing a new dynamic – the impact of the Holocaust on the children and families of those who experienced it. The story is told using animals to represent the people.

Read MAUS. Why has Spiegelman chosen the animals that he did to represent the people (e.g. – mice for Jews)?

  • What characteristics of these animals make them appropriate symbols? What themes run through the story?
  •  MAUS represents the ongoing horror of the Holocaust for its survivors. How so? Why do you think Spiegelman chose to tell his story through cartoons? Comment on betrayal and luck as motifs in the story.

Action 13  


Responding to Quotations about the Holocaust

Using the texts you have seen, studied and read during this unit, respond to one of the following quotations. Your response may take the form of a traditional essay (parameters to be determined by your teacher), a photo-essay with accompanying commentary, or an original short story (parameters to be determined by your teacher). Include the quotation to which you are responding and explain what it means to you.

1. “My story is a story of very ordinary people during extraordinary terrible times. Times the like of which I hope with all my heart, will never, never come again. It is for all of us ordinary people all over the world to see to it that they do not.” (Miep Gies)

2. “Beauty without an ethical dimension cannot exist.” (Elie Wiesel)

3. “The opposite of goodness is not evil; it is indifference to evil.” (Elie Wiesel)

4. “When I came to power, I did not want the concentration camps to become old age pensioners homes, but instruments of terror.” (Adolf Hitler)

5. “Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.” (Primo Levi)

6. “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” (Yehuda Bauer)

7. “We are alive. We are human, with good and bad in us. That's all we know for sure. We can't create a new species or a new world. That's been done. Now we have to live within those boundaries. What are our choices? We can despair and curse, and change nothing. We can choose evil like our enemies have done and create a world based on hate. Or we can try to make things better.” (Carol Matas)

8. “Fiction cannot recite the numbing numbers, but it can be that witness, that memory. A storyteller can attempt to tell the human tale, can make a galaxy out of the chaos, can point to the fact that some people survived even as most people died. And can remind us that the swallows still sing around the smokestacks.” (Jane Yolen)

9. “What I want you to take away from my life story is just how important it is to defend your freedom, at all costs. Experience has shown me that if you lose your freedom, you are condemned to fail.” (Leon Schgrin)

10. “Consider why Germany, fighting a war on two fronts, desperate for fuel and material of every sort, would bother to load millions of Jews on railroad cars and transport them hundreds, even thousands, of miles to concentration camps. Camps built specifically to house them, where they would be fed, clothed, even tattooed so they could be inventoried...just to kill them.” (Edgar J. Steele)

11. “Its [genocide] lessons of indifference, cowardice, stupidity, moral detachment, and cruelty fly in the face of who we believe we are and who we want to be.” (Source not known)

12. “The sanctity of human life is the most important moral lesson to be drawn from the Holocaust.” (Sandra Stotsky)

13. “It is through the medium of language that intolerance initially manifests itself. Language is used in propaganda and in influencing public opinion. It is basic to the development of values, the institution of laws, as well as the formation of public policy. Language has the potential to liberate or imprison.” (Grace Caporino and Rose Rudnitski)

14. “To be intolerant is to disallow the legitimacy of ‘the other’s’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours. Intolerance can manifest itself through verbal and nonverbal means and can be insidious because some intolerances are part of cultures.” (Source not known)

15. “Studying the Holocaust is a study in choices: the deliberate choices of perpetrators, the choices shunned by bystanders, the choices embraced by collaborators, and the hollow choices of victims, helpless against a fate meted out to them.” (Grace Caporino)

16. “ …other media such as newspapers, films, art, and music can be used to influence human activity. They can also be used to examine the context of a historical event and the factors that helped to shape it.” (Grace Caporino and Rose Rudnitski)

17. “Literature engages the human character. It not only evokes a response, it also helps to illuminate history because it frequently serves as a response to it. Literature responds to this human record of history and evokes further responses in readers by bringing people to life and by putting a human face on history. It also helps us see what might be.” (Grace Caporino and Rose Rudnitski)

18. “Literature resonates, helping us to see and know ourselves. It often does more, but it should not do less.” (Grace Caporino and Rose Rudnitski)

19. “To look is one thing. To see what you look at is another. To learn from what you understand is still something else. But to act on what you learn is all that really matters.” (The Talmud)

Further reading

JJoffo, Joseph A Bag of Marbles: The graphic novel, 2013
This graphic novel is an adaptation of Joffe’s 1973 memoir describing a young secular Jewish boy’s experiences in occupied France.

Kacer, Kathy We Are Their Voice: Young people respond to the Holocaust, 2012
Canadian author, Kathy Kacer (Hiding Edith) collects student responses to lessons about the Holocaust, in the form of journal entries, letters, drawings and descriptive passages.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds history, 1986 and Maus II; A Survivor’s Tale: And here my trouble begins, 1992.
A graphic story of a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe and his son, a cartoonist who comes to learn about his father’s story and history itself.


Teaching the Holocaust Using Film

The Book Thief, 2003
Based on the novel by Markus Zusak, this film tells the story of a young foster girl named Liesel who, once she learns to read, shares the books she has stolen from Nazi book burnings with her neighbours as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008
Based on the novel by John Boyne, this story examines the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of a young German child.

Defiance, 2008
Though a conventional war film, Defiance tells the story of Jews doing whatever is necessary to escape the horrors of the Nazis.

The Devil’s Arithmetic, 1999
Hannah is frustrated hearing about her relative’s experience in the Holocaust. Based on the  time-travel novel by Jane Yolen, the young teenager is transported into the past and suffers at the hands of the Nazis.

Life is Beautiful
, 1997
Depicts one man’s ability to remain strong for his child. A powerful film of resilience in the face of oppression.

Paper Clips,
2004  (documentary)
The students in a Tennessee middle school began to study the Holocaust as a way to learn about intolerance and diversity. As a result, The Paper Clip Project culminated in a unique memorial changing the lives of those who created it.

The Pianist
, 2002
A talented musician struggles to survive life in the ghetto. This story is a reminder that amidst the worst conditions, there were those who chose to fight against prejudice despite the insurmountable obstacles they encountered.

Schindler’s List,
Based on the true story of unlikely humanitarian hero, Oskar Schindler, who became concerned about the Jewish workforce In Poland after the rise of the Nazis.