Lesson 1
Duration:
2 class periods

Menachem's Challenge

Overview

This lesson is the second in a series that accompanies the documentary film Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust. In this lesson, students view the first two segments of the film and consider themes of identity, universe of obligation, and rescue. Students gain an understanding of the characters in the film, and observe how each character is often shaped by his or her religion and worldviews.

Learning Goals

Students will:

  • Consider the role that religion and memory play in the way people create their "universe of obligation"
  • Explore how religion can play both a positive and a negative role within society
  • Explore how historical narratives impact our present choices and decision making

Context

It is preferable for your students to have at least a basic understanding of the Holocaust--especially a sense of the long history of antisemitism in Poland before and in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust--before watching the film. Between the years 1939-1945 the Germans, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, invaded much of Eastern and Western Europe and killed millions of people, including civilian populations of men, women, and children.

One of the groups singled out by the Nazis for the most brutal attack were Europe's Jews. Almost 6 million died in ghettos, concentration camps, death camps, or as forced laborers. They died of disease and starvation, but most were systematically murdered in killing operations between the years 1941-1945. One of the hardest hit countries was Poland, a country where Jews had been living for a thousand years and that had the largest Jewish population in Europe aside from the former Soviet Union.This history is well covered in the Facing History and Ourselves resource book, Holocaust and Human Behavior and The Jews of Poland.

  1. "Outsiders in Eastern Europe," an excerpt from the introduction to The Jews of Poland, provides a helpful background to the history of the Jewish people living in Poland. Students should use this resource to explore the following questions:

     

    • How did the Jews of Poland interact with their non-Jewish neighbors at different periods of time?
    • What are the historical circumstances that impacted these interactions?

    You also may choose to create a web quest for your students in which they will explore the Jewish Virtual Library, which gives a history of Jewish life in Poland. Students should explore the website to find answers to the questions listed above. If you do not have access to a computer lab you can print out materials from the website for students to read and gather information.

  2. Facing History's Rescuers of the Holocaust: Boston Exhibit study guide provides background information on this topic as well as related activities.

Materials

The central resource is the documentary film, Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust. It can be borrowed from any of the regional Facing History offices or purchased directly from PBS.

Additional Print Resources:

Additional Online Resources:

Activities

PART ONE: Menachem's Challenge

  1. View Segment 1 of the film - Menachem's Challenge (Minute 0- 32:20).

    This section is filled with many statements that help to illuminate the worldview of the characters in the film. As you watch the film with your students, have them capture some of the words that strike them in their notebooks. Later you may choose to return to these quotations. Have your students choose one quotation that stood out for them. It may be one with which they agree, disagree, or are even troubled by. You may have students explain their reasons for selecting the quotation in their journals and share them with partners.

  2. After watching this segment, allow time and space for students to react personally to the film. Invite students to write a response to one or more of the following questions in their journals or notebooks:

    • How does religion shape the way the people in the film view their "universes of obligation"?
    • When Menachem confronts the Rabbi about his intolerant lecture, how does the Rabbi try to justify his actions? How might you respond to him?
    • What do you think Menachem's motivation was for taking his sons to Poland?
    • Why do you think that Menachem's father-in- law does not want him and his family to go back to Poland?

     

    Invite students to share their responses with another member of the class. You may choose to open up these conversations to the whole class.

    In this segment of the film we see several instances in which people show intolerance towards "the other." What circumstances might create a feeling of distrust and fear of "the other"? Has there ever been a time in your life in which you found yourself reacting in a similar way?

  3. After students have had some time to process this segment of Hiding and Seeking, transition to a whole class discussion about Menachem's challenges. Ask your students, "What is the challenge that Menachem faces? How does he address it? And, what are the potential consequences of his approach?"

  4. Have students create an identity chart for Menachem Daum. Identity charts are a tool that many Facing History teachers use in the classroom to give students an opportunity to look at the various aspect of their identity--from membership in various groups, to hobbies and interests, to relationships with family, friends and community. To learn more about creating an identity chart, visit the Facing History lesson, Charting Identity: Building Community in the Classroom.

    In the chart students create for Menachem Daum, include both the words that they think Menachem would apply to himself as well as those that the students would add themselves. As they create this chart, have them consider what factors in Menachem's life helped shape his identity. For more background information on Menachem, invite students to read his introductory letter in the P.O.V. Discussion Guide for Hiding and Seeking.

    Menachem states at the beginning of the film, "The thing about religion is that it is so malleable. You can shape it into whichever direction you choose. And I believe, that better no religion than a religion that does not see godliness in every human being." Invite the class to reflect on the meaning of this quotation. What is their reaction to it?

    Since September 11th, 2001, issues about religion and religious tolerance have been in the headlines. How do you learn about traditions other than your own? How are Menachem's comments similar to the sentiments of Sudanese Islamic scholar, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im? Na'im says:

    There is no such thing as Christianity or Judaism in the abstract...Islam and Christianity and Judaism are what the believers make of them. They are what the believers believe and do...Religion is a resource, a powerful, profound resource that most people appreciate. But what they make of it - what moral, political and economic actions they take - is the responsibility of the believers as they struggle with the scriptural or theological discourse.1

    What is Menachem's worldview as compared to his sons'?

  5. In the film, Menachem shares the story of his first trip to Poland in which he traveled with Shlomo Carlebach, a rabbi and prominent songwriter who had a great influence on Menachem's worldview. The film includes footage of a performance in Warsaw for an almost entirely non-Jewish audience in which Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sings the following words,

    I want you to know my beautiful friends don't ever give up on the world. Don't ever give up on any human being. Because we are all of God's image. Every one of us is so holy. Everyone of us has the capacity to be so good.

    Invite students to think about Menachem's words on religion and think about how his words connect to what Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach is saying to his audience.

  6. Ask students to create an identity chart for themselves. Does their chart include religious and cultural affiliations? How do religion and culture influence the way they see the world? Before students share their responses to this personal question, remind them that while some of them may have strong religious beliefs, others may not be religious at all. This discussion is not intended for students to teach each other about their religion; rather it is to help them recognize that religious and cultural ideas impact the way people view their relationship to society.
PART TWO: The Journey through Poland
  1. View Segment 2 of the film - The Journey through Poland (Minute 32:20- 67:27)

    After watching this segment, allow time and space for students to react personally to the film. Invite students to write a response to one or more of the following questions in their journals or notebooks:

     

    • What scene stood out most for you? Why?
    • What additional information do we learn about the Daum family in viewing this segment?
    • Do you see changes in any of the characters as a result of the trip in general, meeting the Mucha family, and learning more about their past?
    • What do you think motivates some people to act courageously (risking their own lives and the lives of their families), when others stand by?

    Invite students to share their responses with another member of the class. You may choose to open up these conversations to the whole class.

  2. In the segment in which Menachem and his family begin their journey in Poland, Menachem shares the following thoughts off-camera:

    I don't know if my sons fully understand what I am trying to convey to them. I don't want them to change their way of life. I don't want them to change their ritual observance. I don't want to undermine their faith, not at all. I like the way they are living their lives. But what I am trying to do is to expand their consciousness.

    What does Menachem mean when he says that he wants to expand his sons' consciousness? Ask students if they think that after viewing the second segment of the film Menachem has achieved his goal? If so, where do you see evidence of that?

  3. One of the reasons Menachem took this trip with his sons was because he was concerned about their attitude toward non-Jews. Ask your students what they would like to say to the sons at this point in the film. What questions might they ask? What could you do if you feared that somebody close to you was becoming intolerant?

    For some people there are pivotal moments in their lives that cause them to make a shift in their thinking or their behavior. Ask students to write in their journal about a moment-an idea, an event, or a lesson-in their life where this has happened. You may invite students to share this moment with another person or open this question up to class discussion.

  4. Ask students to choose one of the people in the film and consider, "What meaning do they make of their past?"

     

    • Menachem Daum
    • Akiva and Tzvi Dovid Daum
    • Rifka Daum
    • Honorata Mucha
    • The Muchas' granddaughter
    • Kamila (the Polish historian)

You may choose to expand upon the second activity in the segment by asking your students to write an imaginary dialogue with one of these characters based upon what they know about them from the film.

Citations

  • 1 : Quoted in "Islam and the Modern World" by Christopher Reardon. Ford Foundation Report, Winter 2002, p. 22.

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