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McREL Standards Activity

Voices of Tragedy and Horror: Remembering the Holocaust

Purpose:Through contact with important works on the Holocaust, the student should understand the profound human tragedy of the Holocaust and its lingering impact on Jewish culture and European society. Students should understand the events that lead to the Holocaust and how survivors maintained their humanity in the face of extreme violence.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
World History
 Standard 41.Understands the causes and global consequences of World War II
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 2. Understands the Holocaust and its impact on Jewish culture and European society (e.g., the chronology of the Nazi "war on the Jews," and the geography and scale of Jewish deaths resulting from this policy; personal reasons for resistance to or compliance with Nazi policies and orders; the brutality of Nazi genocide in the Holocaust as revealed in personal stories of the victims)
Language Arts
 Standard 6.Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of literary texts
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 7. Understands the effects of author’s style and complex literary devices and techniques on the overall quality of a work (e.g., tone; irony; mood; figurative language; allusion; diction; dialogue; symbolism; point of view; voice; understatement and overstatement; time and sequence; narrator; poetic elements, such as sound, imagery, personification)
Language Arts
 Standard 9.Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 9. Understands how literary forms can be represented in visual narratives (e.g., allegory, parable, analogy, satire, narrative style, characterization, irony)
Student Product:Discussion followed by the creation of a movie poster that captures the major themes of the works
Material & Resources:Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl; Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale 1: My Father Bleeds History; Art Spiegelman, Maus, A Survivor’s Tale 2: And Here My Troubles Begin; Elie Wiesel, Night
Teacher's Note:This activity is intended to be taught during or immediately following a unit on World War II. Some knowledge of the Holocaust and of World War II will be necessary in order to complete this activity. "Maus" is a two-volume set, but if time is limited the second volume can stand alone if background information is provided by instructor. "Maus" is a comic book written at a level comprehensible to most mid-school students, but the themes and illustrations in "Maus" (and general terror of the Holocaust) are more appropriate for high school students. If purchasing copies of "Maus" is cost prohibitive, Elie Wiesel’s "Night" or Anne Frank’s "The Diary of a Young Girl," both of which are available in inexpensive paperbacks, can be substituted.
Background. The instructor should provide an explanation of the Holocaust and Nazi policies that lead to the "Final Solution." The chronology and the geographic location of Nazi death camps should also be provided. This may be put into the historical context of European anti-Semitism or World War II if the instructor feels that such information would be helpful. Some student knowledge of these events is assumed in this activity. Background on the readings "Maus," a graphic or comic-book novel that won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992, uses the comic-book format to tell the story of Spiegelman’s father’s experiences in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. This format makes accessible a difficult and painful episode in world history, while still maintaining the stark power of survivor narratives such as Elie Wiesel’s "Night." Elie Wiesel’s "Night" describes his experiences as a young boy in Nazi concentration camps. Though not very long, it is nonetheless a powerful and painful book to read. Anne Frank’s "The Diary of a Young Girl" is a tragic and fascinating look at the life of a teenage Jewish girl who hid in an attic only to be eventually captured by the Nazis. Her poignant story and desire to be an ordinary teenager should appeal to students. Activity. Have students read Art Spiegelman’s "Maus," Elie Wiesel’s "Night," and Anne Frank’s "The Diary of a Young Girl" in order to provide insight into the Holocaust and its impact on European and Jewish society and culture. The instructor may decide which and how many of the above works to include. He/she may even want to break the class into separate reading groups in order to cover all three works. Discussions on the works and the Holocaust can be undertaken during or after the class has completed the readings. The teacher should lead such discussions by asking relevant questions about both the events depicted in "Maus," "Night," and "The Diary of a Young Girl" and of the format author’s use. Examples of teacher-directed questions would include: "Does the comic-book format demean or belittle the Holocaust or does it make comprehensible the horror of it?" "Are the animal characterizations of ethnic groups (i.e. Jews as mice and Germans as cats) fair and appropriate?" "Speculate on the reasons and motivations behind the assertion, voiced by some people, that the Holocaust never happened. How can they hold this opinion in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary? Are some things simply too hard to believe? Are the attitudes and beliefs that lead to the Holocaust still prevalent in world society?" "How did survivors retain their humanity in the face of dehumanizing, extreme violence?" Cite examples from "Maus," "Night," and Anne Frank’s diary. "How should the Holocaust be remembered? Do "Maus" and "Night" achieve that goal?" "How are the reprecussions of the Holocaust still still being felt today? How do survivors and their families deal with the memory of the Holocaust? Cite examples form "Maus." "Do Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank remain optimistic in the face of Nazi persecution? What are their views on humanity, society, and God? The class discussion should enable students to grasp the meaning of the Holocaust and give the instructor some insight into how well the class has understood the readings, but the poster activity is intended to gauge individual understanding of the content addressed in the benchmark. After class discussion on these works and the Holocaust, have students break into groups (or work alone) to create a fictitious movie poster that captures the viewer’s attention, illustrates the important events, themes, and major ideas of the works, and, most importantly, addresses the benchmark’s criteria on the Holocaust. For readers of "Maus," the instructor may suggest that students keep their posters true to the comic book format of the novel. Display these posters in the classroom or hallway. If desired, have students from class or other classes view and critique the posters.