- Identify Nazi propaganda and pressure tactics
- Analyze why certain individuals refused to cooperate with the Nazis
- Evaluate decision-making that helped individuals resist negative peer pressure
- Compare and contrast real-life choices and consequences of conforming to or rejecting destructive behavior
This lesson can be used to deepen understanding of issues raised in Chapter 6 of Holocaust and Human Behavior.
What could people have done to resist Nazi terror? What if more people had chosen not to cooperate with Nazi genocide? Using primary documents and first-person survivor testimony, this outline focuses on the difficult choices made by Jehovah's Witnesses, a group of people who adhered to their beliefs despite brutal efforts to make them conform to Nazi ways. Readings are drawn from Holocaust and Human Behavior and Facing the Lion: Memoirs of a Young Girl in Nazi Europe; additional material drawn from DVD and study guide Jehovah's Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault.
"Choice and Consequences" explores the issues of conformity and obedience through the eyes of two young Jehovah's Witnesses who, like most in their religious community, made the choice to stand firm for their beliefs. The totalitarian Nazi State sought to create a uniform society in which all looked to Hitler and his Nazi State as the supreme authority. The enormous pressure to conform presented a challenge to Jehovah's Witnesses, a group of Christians who do not believe in fighting in war. They speak or "witness" about their faith that only God (Jehovah), through his Kingdom, will bring peace and justice to the earth. Thus, they refused to accept Hitler as Germany's "savior." Thousands of Witnesses were terrorized, expelled from jobs and school, arrested, tortured, and sent to prisons and concentration camps. Hundreds of young Witnesses were taken from their parents and sent to juvenile camps, reformatories, and Nazi foster homes.
Optional: View the entire documentary DVD Jehovah's Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault (Classroom Edition-28 minutes).
Using the compare/contrast graphic organizer "Clash of Ideas" as a handout or overhead, fill in key Nazi ideas and Witness beliefs. (Italicized text is supplied below for teacher's reference.) Define the terms and compare and contrast the ideas while thinking about why the Nazis could not tolerate the Witnesses in their society.
CLASH OF IDEAS
JEHOVAH'S WITNESS BELIEFS
(the "Aryans" are the super race, and others are subhuman)
FAMILY OF HUMANITY
(all humans are brothers and sisters, so all are equal)
(Germany is the greatest country; the national anthem was "Germany, Germany Over All the World")
(country borders are manmade; no measure of superiority or inferiority)
WORSHIP OF THE "FÜHRER"
(unquestioning loyalty given to Hitler as "Führer," or Leader)
(will not take sides in war or politics of human governments)
View the video clip from Jehovah's Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault DVD in which Witness survivor Gertrud Poetzinger and French Resistance survivor Geneviève de Gaulle comment on the "Declaration."
Using the Declaration as an overhead or handout, discuss each of the agreement's five points as a group and discuss these questions:
- What does each point of the Declaration "cost" or require of the signer?
- Why do you think the Nazis offered this choice to Witnesses and not to other prisoner groups, such as Jews or Roma (Gypsies)?
- What would be the consequences for a Witness who signed the Declaration?
- Why do you think most Witnesses refused to sign the Declaration?
Optional in-class or take-home writing assignment: Your classmate has been arrested and sent to a concentration camp because she or he is one of the Jehovah's Witnesses. You have been given 15 minutes to write a one-paragraph letter to the prisoner. Compose a persuasive letter either advising the prisoner to sign or not to sign the Declaration. Use strong, logical reasons to back up your advice. Class will consider content of letters as a Think-Pair-Share activity.
Choose one of the following case studies, which detail the Nazi persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses and highlight the difficult choices made by two young Witnesses.
A. Simone Arnold Liebster: Facing the Lion
Three students read the narrative (Narrator, Simone, and the City Supervisor) After the reading, divide into small groups to discuss the following questions:
- Why did Simone choose not to give the Hitler Salute? (objected to the adoration of Hitler; did not agree with Nazi teachings of hate; thought God would be displeased)
- What might Simone's schoolmates have thought of her decision? (foolish to give up her education; wished they had her courage; angry that she did not support the Nazis)
- If you had made the same choice as Simone, how would you feel looking back years later?
- Describe a situation you faced in which it was difficult to do what you believed was right. If you faced that same situation again today, how would you respond?
NOTE: Simone's autobiography, Facing the Lion: Memoirs of a Young Girl in Nazi Europe, provides a detailed account.
B. Franz Wohlfahrt: I Stand Firm
Divide into small discussion groups. Three students read the narrative (Narrator, Franz, Nazis) in two segments. After the reading of each segment, use viewpoint questions to speculate on the dilemmas facing persons in the narrative. Each group receives one open-ended question related to the story (see Student Handout, p. 10). In 3 to 5 minutes formulate two or more possible answers, citing supporting material from the reading. One spokesperson for each group writes down the answers and shares them with the class.
Questions - Segment 1
- Since Franz's father was too sick to join the army, why would he state his view about war?
- Why might Franz's father have been happy that the family understood his choice?
- How do you think the execution of Franz's father affected the rest of the family?
- How might the execution have affected the executioner and those Nazis looking on?
- How could Franz keep so calm in a life-threatening situation?
Questions - Segment 2
- What might Franz, Maria, and Gregor have said to each other during their short visit?
- What goals do you think the Nazis had in forcing camp inmates to live in harsh conditions?
- How might residents near the Rollwald camp have reacted when they saw prisoners at work?
- Why would Franz and other Witness prisoners risk punishment just to signal each other?
- Why do you think the murder of Franz’s brother did not frighten Franz into giving up?
- What does the Nazis’ treatment of Franz’s younger brothers and sisters say about the Nazis?
- What kind of person was Commander Stumpf?
- From the way Franz tells his story, how do you think he feels now about the Nazis?
(Optional) View video clip of Franz Wohlfahrt reciting his poem in German with English voiceover at the conclusion of Jehovah's Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault. Analyze Franz’s poem. How did his religious beliefs affect his actions and the choices he made? In what ways did he "stand firm" or resist the Nazis? Describe a choice that you have made recently that you would consider as "standing firm" for what you believe is right.
Consider the long- and short-term effects Simone or Franz experienced because of listening to her or his conscience when faced with Nazi pressure. Consider the long- and short-term effects Simone or Franz could have experienced if she or he had conformed to Nazi pressure. Record your responses on the "Cause and Effect" graphic organizer (see Student Handout, p. 11). Sample answers: Simone’s Consequence Conscience
Short-term: Physical harm, social isolation, loss of freedom/education, target of intolerance
Long-term: Self-respect, no regrets, religious values intact, family reunited, clear conscience
Short-term: Accepted by peers, avoid punishment, join Hitler Youth, continued education
Long-term: Feelings of guilt, loss of self-respect, troubled conscience, not true to self
Short-term: Imprisonment, physical suffering, hard labor, target of hatred, isolation from family/friends
Long-term: Admired by others, good conscience, no guilt of joining Nazis, promoted peace, kept hope alive
Short-term: Give up religion, avoid prison, back killing of father/brother, kill or be killed in war
Long-term: Hard to look in the mirror, disappointment of family/fiancée, bad memories, gave up all he believed in
Cover the readings from Holocaust and Human Behavior: Chapter 4, Reading 14, "One Nation! One God! One Reich! One Church!" and Chapter 8, Reading 5, "From Bystanders to Resisters" and "Connections." Consider these statements in context:
1) "Only one group of Christians firmly opposed Hitler from the start….Their opposition was limited to witnessing for their faith."
2) "The Scholls are the first in Germany to have had the courage to witness for the truth….We will all of us, someday, have to make a pilgrimage to their graves, and stand before them, ashamed."
Compare and contrast the stand taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses and the White Rose student movement using these questions:
- What does the word "witness" mean as used in these readings?
- How do you measure the "effectiveness" or "rightness" of resistance by these two groups?
- Use the texts or supplemental research to compare religious versus political resistance, and armed versus unarmed resistance. Which type of resistance seems the most effective to you? Which type do you think you might have chosen? Since these acts did not stop the Holocaust or the Nazi regime, do you consider these acts to be wasteful or valuable? Explain.