Frank Blaichman: Ethics in a Time of Genocide | Facing History & Ourselves
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Frank Blaichman: Ethics in a Time of Genocide

In this lesson, students explore moral and ethical frameworks in relation to teach actions of Frank Blaichman.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • History
  • Social Studies




One 50-min class period
  • The Holocaust


About this Lesson

Students will review Frank Blaichman’s personal stories from the time he began resisting the Nazis at age 16 and his transformation into the leader of his own partisan group. As a target of Nazi policy, a rescuer, and a partisan, Frank Blaichman faced profound moral and ethical dilemmas in situations where traditional rules of ethical conduct did not apply. Through Frank’s reflections, students will investigate the moral and ethical framework that his partisan unit developed during the Holocaust as they sought not only to protect themselves but also to shelter over 200 Jews in hiding.  

The activities addressed in this lesson encourage the development of critical analysis and small-group interpersonal communication skills. Through this lesson, students will develop a deeper understanding of the Holocaust through the shared experiences of partisans who chose to resist.

  • How do people develop their moral and ethical frameworks? 
  • How might those frameworks be challenged during times of mass violence and genocide?

Students will be able to:

  • Understand how Frank Blaichman’s partisan unit developed a moral and ethical framework in the context of the Holocaust
  • Identify the choices Frank’s partisan group made in order to build trust with the villagers
  • Analyze the resistance tactics Frank’s group utilized to balance its objectives and the need to survive 

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Lesson Plans


Introduce the concept that each of us has a moral and ethical framework.

  • Begin by asking students how they would define a moral and ethical framework, and then share some definitions with them. You might offer the following as a sample definition: A set of codes that an individual uses to guide his or her behavior that is influenced by many sources, such as culture, family, books, film, religious teachings, and personal experiences.
  • Use the Think, Pair, Share teaching strategy to have students reflect on their own moral and ethical framework. After students reflect on their own framework in their journals for a few minutes, have them pair up and share their responses. When the larger group reconvenes, ask pairs to report back on their conversations.  Alternatively, you could ask students to share what their partner said to focus on the development of listening skills.
  1. Before showing the video, have students form small groups and read Frank Blaichman’s Biography.

    • Following the Close Reading Protocol, ask one student in each group to read aloud while the others follow along in silence. Then ask them to read it again, this time underlining examples of how Frank resisted the Nazis as well as new skills he learned in order to do so. 
    • Have each small group list the choices Frank Blaichman made to resist the Nazi restrictions, as well as the new skills he learned in order to support his parents and siblings. Examples may include:
      • He did not wear a star and identify himself as a Jew.
      • He taught himself to acquire things to sell and rode a bicycle to other towns to do so without the proper papers.
      • He learned Polish from the customers at his grandmother’s store to pass as a Pole and not a Jew.
      • He paid someone else to assume his identity and work in the fields so he could continue selling things to make money for his family.
    • View and discuss the video “Life in the Forest," or distribute the transcript if you are unable to project the video in your classroom. Introduce the video by telling students that upon entering the forest, Frank discovered an encampment of more than 100 Jews sheltered in small bunkers dug into the sandy ground and padded with straw. In this video, Frank explains that the first months in the forest were the most difficult. After viewing, ask students:
      • What strikes you most about Frank’s description of life in the forest? During the period he describes, how has his life changed since he was a child?
      • How might living in these conditions have changed or shaped the way he thought about morality and ethics?

Tell students that you are now going to learn about Frank Blaichman’s experiences as a partisan during the Holocaust. As both a target of Nazi policy and a partisan, he faced profound moral and ethical dilemmas in a situation where traditional rules of ethical conduct did not apply.   

  • Begin by viewing and discussing the  video “Power and Responsibility” or distributing the transcript. To introduce the video, tell students that Frank explains that at first the forest seemed like a haven, but he soon realized that the encampment was in constant danger, so he began to organize a defense unit. This group trained using sticks and pitchforks, carrying them over their shoulders like rifles as if they were drilling in preparation for combat. Frank was then able to successfully pose as a Polish policeman and gather weapons. In the winter of 1942–1943, Frank’s band of partisans captured two German collaborators. The men confessed that they had killed Jews for their valuables and turned others over to the Germans. After extracting the names of other collaborators, Frank’s unit executed them, sending a message to locals that the rag-tag group of Jewish partisans was to be feared. In this video, Frank explains how things changed when his unit acquired arms. As students reflect on the video and the story of Frank’s encounter with the German collaborators, have them consider the following questions:
    • How did Frank think about the relationship between power, survival, and responsibility?
    • What was it about Frank’s particular circumstances that might have led him to equate guns with power? Why were weapons so important to his group?
    • Frank explains that he doesn’t believe his group abused their power. Why do you think Frank’s group did not consider executing the two collaborators to be unethical? What do you think? What message do you think Frank’s group was trying to send to the surrounding areas?
    • Frank’s unit struggled to develop an ethical framework in the midst of genocide. How did that influence the choices they made?
  • Knowing that they were being hunted by the Nazis, Frank’s partisan unit continued to live in the forest throughout the war. Vulnerable and uncertain of their allies, Frank’s unit had to find a way to earn the trust and respect of the local population. They learned that having power, or at least the appearance of power, was essential for survival. Have students form small groups to read Ethical Dilemmas in a Time of Genocide. Then ask them to consider how Frank’s group used weapons for power but tried not to abuse this power. Use the Close Reading Protocol to structure the activity, having one student from each group read the text out loud. In their small groups, ask students to discuss the following questions:
    • In Frank’s view, how did Nazi propaganda change the community?
    • Frank explains that his partisan group took action to change the way they were viewed by others. According to Frank, “What we did, the way we behaved, we turned things around.”
      • How did Frank’s group work to change their reputation, and why?
      • Why do you think it took two years before people recognized that Frank and his group were not bandits?
      • Why was it important to earn the trust of the villagers?
      • How may the circumstances have been different if Frank’s group had chosen to engage in violence toward the shopkeepers?
    • Given the vulnerability of Frank’s partisan unit, how did they determine what was right and wrong? What ethical framework did they use?

Before proceeding, tell students that Frank’s partisan group not only protected themselves but also chose to protect over 200 Jews who were hiding in the forest and farms.

  • Next, view and discuss the video “Protecting Jews”.
  • In small groups, ask students to discuss the following questions. Identify one student from each group who will serve as notetaker and write down the significant points of the discussion. 
    • How did Frank’s group help Jews who could not fight? Did non-Jews also help to protect the Jews under the protection of Frank’s partisan group?
    • Why do you think Frank’s partisan group may have felt responsible enough for the non-fighting Jews to put them under the group’s protection?
    • Why do you think the bandits feared Frank’s group? Was Frank’s group a legitimate fighting force before this time?
    • What role did punishment play in helping to protect those who were not able to fight?
  • Close this activity by asking students: What questions does Frank’s story raise for you about the challenges of developing and maintaining a moral and ethical framework?

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