Jewish life in Europe in the early twentieth century was comprised of diverse individuals and communities connected to each other by history, beliefs, and a vibrant culture. This lesson explores some of the richness that defined Jewish life in Europe during these years. It also looks briefly at how antisemitism in the early twentieth century distorted the richness and diversity of European Jewish life and used lies and stereotypes to marginalize Jews. The lesson touches on an important theme expressed in our pedagogy: the connection and conflict between an individual’s identity and the identities of (or stereotypes about) groups to which the individual belongs—a phenomenon commonly experienced in the lives of the adolescents we teach.
A variety of extension activities and resources are listed at the end of this lesson that teachers may use to extend their class’s exploration of religious identity, the history of race and antisemitism, and the role of music in pre-war Jewish identity. We highly recommend these activities if the necessary class time is available.
Learn More about Individual Jewish Musicians
Using the Biopoem strategy to create poems based on Jewish musicians in pre-war Europe can help students gain a deeper understanding of the impact that Nazi policies had on musicians during this time. This activity can also help students learn more about how group identity and membership shaped the way individuals from this period viewed themselves.
Assign each student a musician to research on the internet. Musicians you might assign include the following:
Once students have gathered information, have them use the template included with the Biopoem strategy to create a poem for their assigned musician. In their poems, students should be sure to include words and phrases that describe how conceptions of identity and group membership may have changed for their musician during this time. This activity might be used as an assessment for the lesson.
Explore the Role of Religion in Identity
Share the reading Religion and Identity with students in order begin a deeper discussion about the role that religion plays in many people’s lives. Use the connection questions at the end of the reading to help guide the discussion.
Go Deeper into the History of Antisemitism
After exploring these resources, lead a class discussion that focuses on the themes of this lesson: Why have Jews been treated as “the Other” throughout history? How have myths and lies been used to raise questions about whether or not Jews belong in the societies in which they have lived?
To learn more about the history of anti-Judaism, race science, and the emergence of antisemitism in the nineteenth century, share with the class the following resources:
Analyze Antisemitic Nazi Propaganda
For further analysis of the antisemitic stereotypes and images that the Nazis used to marginalize Jews in German society, consider showing students the Nazi propaganda image The Eternal Jew. Have students analyze this image using the Analyzing Visual Images teaching strategy. Then have them contrast the imagery spread by the Nazis with the photographs of pre-war Jewish life they studied earlier in the lesson.
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