Unit Plan for Supplementary Jewish Schools


The Facing History and Ourselves Jewish Education Project provides teachers in Jewish educational settings with training, support and resources designed to help educators teach the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum as effectively as possible. Through one-day seminars, two-day workshops and week-long seminars, Facing History provides content and pedagogy applicable to Jewish educational settings. Below is a sample teacher journey (with possible activities) for teaching a Facing History curriculum based on The Jews of Poland in a supplementary school. 

If you would like more information please feel free to contact Shira Deener or Leora Schaefer.

Suggested grade level: 
  • This course is designed for 7th grade and up; it can be made more complex for older students.
Duration of activity: 
  • This unit outline is designed for a 12 to 15 week course at one hour per week. Several lessons can be expanded upon if there is more time.



Identity: How does identity influence the way we see ourselves in relation to others? What does it mean to be a Jew in the Diaspora?

This section of the unit begins with questions of the individual and society, especially the social and personal elements leading to formation of identities. It also raises the complex questions about what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora - both the challenges and the opportunities.

Suggested duration: 2 weeks (2 class hours)

See the list of questions of page 2 of The Holocaust and Human Behaviorand page 1 of The Jews of Poland

  • How can we as Jews find a voice in the Diaspora?
  • What are some of the tensions between "Jewish" and being "American"? What responsibilities does being Jewish and being American entail? When are they complementary? When do they conflict?
  • When do you find being Jewish the most challenging? When do you find it the most rewarding?


Holocaust and Human Behavior

  • Chapter 1: The Individual and Society. "The Bear that Wasn't," "Little Boxes," "The 'In' Group"
  • Chapter 2: We and They. "Harrison Bergeron "

The Jews of PolandChapter 1: In Search of Identity Videos:

First Week: 

1. Class B'rit: Create a "covenant" with the students detailing both your responsibilities and their responsibilities.

2. Place several quotes posted in large letters around the room, without attribution. Have students stand in front of the one that expresses their opinion of human behavior. In front of "their" quote, have the students develop an explanation as to how that expresses their view of humanity and human behavior. What does it mean about people in general? About themselves in particular? 

3. Have the students write about their names - how do they feel about them? What is origin of their name?Second Week:

1. Have students construct an identity chart for themselves. How do they see themselves? What words would they use to describe themselves? Then have them read "The Bear that Wasn't" and selected identity readings from Chapter 1 of The Jews of Poland (if using The Jews of Poland, you may want to break the students into groups, and have each group read one reading). Have the students create identity charts for the people described in the readings. What do they wrestle with in terms of their identity? Please refer to the Teaching Strategies section to see how other teachers have used identity charts in their classrooms.

2. Have students think-pair-share about inclusion and exclusion. Have students write about a time they were excluded from a group they wished to be a part of, and a time when they excluded someone from a group they were already in. What were the circumstances? Why did they act the way they did? How did they feel? Then pair up the students so that they each share their experiences with another student. Conclude by reading and discussing "The ‘In Group'" - what role does peer pressure play in inclusion and exclusion? How does the desire to be popular influence behavior? Please refer to the Curriculum Planning section for a lesson that combines "The 'In' Group" with traditional Jewish Texts

3. Have students complete the sentence, "Being Jewish means..." What helps students create their Jewish identity? What to them is the essence of being Jewish? Show the first few minutes of "The Jews of Boston", where different people explain what being Jewish means to them.

4. Show a clip from "Yidl in the Middle" and have students discuss what being Jewish is like in their own community. Do they feel the tension that Marilyn does between being "Jewish" and being "American"? Why or why not? Artist Glenn Ligon has created a painting repeating the phrase, "I feel most colored when thrown against a sharp white background." Discuss with your students what this quote means. When do they feel that their Jewish identity is most pronounced? View the painting.

We and They: 

We and They: How does a group or nation define its identity? Historically, how have Jews "fit in" in Europe and America?

This section of the unit moves to questions of the "universe of obligation" - to whom do we feel responsible? It asks the historical question of how "the other" has been defined in different contexts, but most especially regarding the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and America.

  • What are the implications of seeing "us" as individuals and "them" as indistinct members of a group?
  • What role does power play in creating racism and antisemitism?
  • How did Jews in Europe and America see themselves, and how did the world at large view Jews?
  • What is the relation between antisemitism and other forms of hatred?

Suggested duration: 1-2 weeks (1 - 2 class hours)

The Jews of Poland

  • Chapter 2: Outsiders in Eastern Europe, "Strangers in a New Land"


Other Resources: 
"We and They" by Rudyard Kipling 

1. Have students explore the term "universe of obligation": for a related lesson outline, click here

2. Show either "The Eye of the Storm" or the prison sequence from "A Class Divided" (each is approximately 20 minutes). How can Jane Elliot, the teacher, create division in such a short space of time? What role do the "superior" students play? What affect does an "us" and "them" mentality have on how the students feel about themselves and others?

3. Show the first 20 minutes of "The Longest Hatred" and discuss how Christian anti-Judaism evolved into Nazi antisemitism. Be sure to conclude by discussing where Christian-Jewish relations are now, especially by looking at the Second Vatican Council and the Lutheran Council of Churches.


Life Before the War: What was Jewish life like in Poland before World War II?

This section of the unit is designed to ensure that students do not see the Holocaust as the only event in European Jewry, this segment focuses on the complex and variegated Jewish community in Poland before World War II. It aims to give students a sense of the immense culture that was lost in the Holocaust, and to show that there was no "formula" for survival when Hitler came to power. This is an excellent section to utilize art, music and literature in the classroom.

  • What were the varieties of Jewish life that existed in Poland before World War II?
  • What circumstances determined whether Jews stayed in Poland or left?
  • How did specific Jewish lifestyles determine how Jews adapted to living in Poland during the 1920's and 1930's?

Suggested Duration: 1-2 weeks (1 - 2 class hours)

Jews of Poland

  • Chapter 2: Outsiders in Eastern Europe, "The Pull of Hasidism", "The Lure of the Modern World," "Separated," "Hatred"
  • Chapter 3: At the Crossroads, "Winds of Change," "A Yearning to Belong"

The Five Cities 
Image Before My Eyes

Other resources:
"If Not Higher" (I. L. Peretz)

Short stories: "The Yom Kippur Scandal," Sholom Aleichem; "Under the Shade of the Chestnut Tree,"Benjamin Tene; "In My Father's Court" (Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Purim Gift).
Stories available through Facing History

1. Click here to see a two-day lesson plan on Life before the War, created within the Online Campus. 

2. Show one of the films of The Five Cities (Warsaw may be appropriate, because The Jews of Polandconcentrates the most on Warsaw). What was life like in Poland on the eve of World War II? What were the varieties of Jewish life? Since the intention of the filmmaker was to promote tourism to Poland by American Jews, how did that influence what the filmmaker chose to shown and not show in the film? Based on this film, what does life seem like for the Jews?

3. Compare and contrast the rural and urban life in Jewish Poland, especially by using the works of Sholom Aleichem and Under the Shade of the Chestnut Tree, or through the pictures in Roman Vishniac's The Vanished World.

4. After the students read "The Pull of Hasidism," have them read "If Not Higher." How did Hasidism's opponents view it? What were some of the points of argument between the hasidim and the mitnagdim?

5. Read Abraham Lewin's quote on p. 107 of The Jews of Poland. What would make people want to stay in Poland? Why would they want to leave? What factors affected their decisions?

How did the Nazis use fear and propaganda to consolidate their power? Why did so many Germans obey?

This section of the unit focuses on the small steps that led to the dismantling of democracy and the creation of a totalitarian state. This section builds an understanding of the consequences of the choices that people made in the 1930's. This segment also examines how the Nazi regime used propaganda and education to build a racial state by dehumanizing the "other."

  • How did the Nazis dismantle democracy in the 1930's?
  • What choices did people make in Germany in the 1930's and what were the consequences of those choices?
  • How did the Nazis use propaganda and violence to build a racist state?
  • Why was there so little resistance on the part of ordinary Germans and the international community?
  • What was the Jewish community's response to the Nazi rise to power?

Suggested duration: 2-3 weeks (2 - 3 class hours)

The selections below in Chapters 4-6 of Holocaust and Human Behavior provide a historical background to the rise of the Nazis in Germany. 

This section of the unit should focus on how the steps the Nazis took in the mid 1930's led to an increasing isolation of Jews and other minorities within Nazi Germany. During this period, there was a narrowing range of options for those deemed "outside" the accepted norm. 

Holocaust and Human Behavior

  • Chapter 4, "Targeting the Jews," "No Time to Think," "Pledging Allegiance," "Do You Take the Oath?," "Defining a Jew (Nuremburg Laws)," "People Respond"
  • Chapter 5, "Propaganda," "A Substitute for Religion," "Schools for Barbarians," "Racial Instruction," "A Lesson in Current Events," "Belonging"
  • Chapter 6,"Appeasing Hitler", "Night of the Pogrom", "Taking a Stand", "The Narrowing Circle", "The Failure to Help"



1. Ask students to define the word totalitarianism. Then brainstorm the various aspects of life that a totalitarian regime could control (i.e. religion, laws, courts, education, marriage, press, etc.) Students then divide into small groups, choose an aspect of life and spend one to two class periods investigating how the Nazis took control over that area of life, using the Holocaust and Human Behavior and other references. The task of each expert group is to teach the rest of the class about the small yet profound steps the Nazis took to achieve total control. While students are researching their expert group assignments on totalitarianism, they can also begin referencing material for their exhibitions and or monuments. 

2. As a class, they read "Targeting the Jews," "Legalizing Racism," "Defining a Jew," "The Night of the Pogrom," and "The Narrowing Circle." Students sit in pairs and record the major laws the Nazis passed between 1933 and 1939 in the shape of ever decreasing circles. The outline on the board, to aid students, will be concentric circles: students will draw a large circle and record on it the first new law the Nazis passed after seizing power in 1933. Next, they will draw a smaller circle within this one to record the next law. They will continue this exercise until all major laws are noted on their paper.. The smallest and last circle in the middle should be entitled "The World of German Jews, 1939." This last circle will eventually become the literal encirclement of a ghetto. 

Extension Activity

Life in the Ghetto: What was life like in the Jewish Ghettos during World War II?

This section of the unit outline emphasizes the tremendous difficulties Jews had while living in the ghettoes. Its aim is to show how Jews attempted to maintain a sense of normality, and to examine the excruciating choices facing the Jewish leadership in the ghettoes.

Stripped of their freedom, how did Jews respond to the situations they were forced into?
What were the challenges to maintaining a Jewish life? How did Jews cope with these challenges?
What were some of the difficult and tragic choices that the Jewish leadership was forced to make in the ghettoes?

Suggested Duration: 1-2 weeks (1 - 2 class hours)

Readings and Resources

The Jews of Poland

  • Chapter 5: The Warsaw Ghetto, "No Exit," "Hunger," "In the Heart of Europe," "The Rush for Papers"

A Day in the Warsaw Ghetto: A Birthday Trip in Hell
The Warsaw Ghetto

Other resources: Documents surrounding the dilemmas of Chaim Rumkowski and Adam Czerniakow, available through the Facing History resource center. 

Suggested Activities 

1. Chaim Rumkowski and Adam Czerniakow were the heads of the Jewish ghettoes in Lodz and Warsaw, respectively. Rumkowski wanted Lodz to be as productive a ghetto as possible, in the hopes that the Nazis would not liquidate it, and in fact, Lodz was the last ghetto to meet that fate. But Rumkowski's plan involved "cutting off the limbs to save the body" - i.e., turning the children over to the Nazis. In contrast to Rumkowski, Czerniakow could do nothing to stop the deportation of the Warsaw Jews, and on July 23, 1942, the day after the Jews were deported, he committed suicide. Facing History has copies of both Rumkowski's speech asking parents in the Lodz ghetto to turn over their children, and Czerniakow's last diary entry on the day of the deportation. Have the students examine both sources, and then discuss the "choiceless choices" both men faced. Under what conditions did they make their choices? How do you view their actions? In those circumstances, what did "morality" mean in that world?

2. If students have viewed "A Day in Warsaw" compare the images from that film with images in either "A Birthday Trip in Hell" or "The Warsaw Ghetto." What changes, both subtle and drastic do you see in the span of about three years? 

The Holocaust: How was it possible for genocide to occur in the heart of 20th century Europe?

This section of the unit outline deals with the Holocaust itself. The readings and activities here can help students place the Holocaust into the larger context of Jewish history. In addition, an examination of the death camps should reveal their role as the final dehumanization of the Jews as "the other". Within this context, the Holocaust can be seen as industrialized murder.

  • How does the Holocaust impact Jewish life today?
  • How does the Holocaust connect to other events in Jewish history?

Suggested Duration: 1 week (1 class hour)

The Jews of Poland

  • Chapter 5: The Warsaw Ghetto, "Treblinka Means Death"


(Please note that the last two videos on this list may not be appropriate for middle school students due to graphic content) 

1. Arrange to have a Holocaust survivor speak to your class. Make sure you budget time not only for the speaker, but also for a briefing and debriefing of the speaker and students' questions. Click here for a teaching strategy for debriefing a survivor visit. Explain to the students that they will be meeting a witness to this history, and have them formulate questions that only a witness might be able to answer. In addition, there may be a variety of reactions to the speaker, and the students' reaction is not always a clear indication of what the students are actually thinking. 

2. Both You Are Free and Genocide contain graphic images that may be inappropriate for middle school students, so for 7th and 8th graders, Daniel's Story or Camera Of My Family may be more appropriate films. When showing one of them, discuss with students the question of how this could have happened, especially in the center of Europe in the mid-20th century.

3. An activity that can be done after a speaker or a video is a "chalk talk," where students begin responding in writing on a blackboard or large piece of paper. For students to be fully reflective, it is important the class be silent. As students write their responses, other students may add comments of their own thinking or responses to other students' comments. The goal is to create a "silent dialogue" that gives students a chance to reflect on both what they have witnessed and the context it has been placed in.

Extension Activity

Jewish Resistance: What did resistance mean in a world of diminished choices?

Essential Questions and Key Themes

This section of the unit outline examines the complexity of Jewish resistance, both physical and spiritual. When teaching this segment, it is essential to remember what Elie Wiesel said: "The question is not why all the Jews did not fight, but how so many of them did. Tormented, beaten, starved, where did they find the strength - spiritual and physical - to resist?"

  • How, in the face of so much evil and tyranny, were so many Jews able to resist?
  • Why did resistance occur where and when it did?
  • What forms did resistance take?

Suggested Duration: 1 week (1 class hour)

Readings and Resources

The Jews of Poland

  • Chapter 6: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, "Finding Common Ground," "On the Eve of Passover," "The Ghetto in Flames"


Suggested Activities

1. Have students define the word "resistance". What are some examples of resistance movements throughout history? What were the motivations? How was resistance in the Holocaust similar or different? These questions are designed to help students dispel the notion that they had limitless choices during the Holocaust. Resistance in occupied Europe meant death - when resistance occurred, it was often a matter of choosing how to die. Once students understand this, show the film "Resistance" or the clip of Helen K. from "Challenge of Memory". 

2. After reading "Finding Common Ground", have the students debate whether to resist or not. What were the issues? What would be arguments for resisting? Against it? What actions should be taken?

Judgment, Memory and Legacy: 

Bystanders and Rescuers: What caused some people to rescue, and what caused others to standby while the Holocaust was happening?

Rationale: This segment should focus on the factors characterizing those who rescued victims of the Holocaust. The question of what it means to have the 'courage to care' can be examined as part of an attempt to understand the nature of altruism. Finally, students should be ready to examine the consequences of becoming an accomplice to a crime, either by silence or inaction.

  • Why did some people save others at the risk of their own lives?
  • How do we participate in alleviating the plights of others?

Suggested Duration: 1-2 weeks (1 - 2 class hours)

The Jews of Poland

  • Chapter 7: Legacies, "Let the World Know!," "The World is Silent"

So Many Miracles
The Courage to Care
The Hangman
Weapons of the Spirit

1. Have students think of a time when they "stood by idly". What were the circumstances? What motivated them not to say anything? How did they feel afterwards? What were the consequences? Then show the film,The Hangman, and discuss what motivated those characters to stand by. What were the consequences there? Finally, how do both lessons connect to the reading, "The World is Silent." What steps could these countries have taken during the Holocaust? What were the circumstances causing them to stand by? And what were the consequences?

2. Have students think of a time when they stood up to fight an injustice. What were the circumstances? What motivated them to say something? How did they feel afterwards? What were the consequences? Then show a film about rescue, such as Courage to CareSo Many Miracles or Weapons of the Spirit. What motivated these people to rescue others? What are some of the characteristics that lead people to take such action? Where does courage come from?

Choosing to Participate: 

Legacy: What is the legacy of the Holocaust for us as Jews and as human beings?

Beginning with the questions of how we remember a painful piece of Jewish history, this segment discusses how we can turn it into an impetus for active, every day participation in combating hatred. It aims to remind us that a human being is not in what he or she is, but in what he or she is able to become.

  • What moral choices can we make to prevent events such as this from ever happening again?
  • Has faith been affected by the events of the Holocaust? If so, how?
  • How does the legacy of the Holocaust influence the ways we lead our lives today?

Suggested Duration: 1-2 weeks (1 - 2 class hours) 

The Jews of Poland

  • Chapter 7: Legacies, "And You?," "Monuments and Memorials," "The Importance of Not Coming Too Late," "Education and the Future"


1. Have students read "Monuments and Memorials." What is the purpose of monuments? For what kinds of events are they created? Have students create their own monuments. 

2. After the students read "And You?", ask students to pick an object that they feel would represent their legacy at this point in their lives? Why?

3. View Not in Our Town. What is the power of community when fighting hatred? What is the importance of not coming too late? 

4. Have students interview survivors of the Holocaust, and ask specifically about their lives after the war, and the rebuilding process. A booklet of these memories can be created and as a class project. 

Geoff Mitelman

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