Unit

Teaching Who Will Write Our History

History
European History

Essential Question

Why does it matter who tells your story?

Introduction

Who Will Write Our History tells the extraordinary story of the Oyneg Shabes, a clandestine organization composed of sixty Jewish leaders, artists, and intellectuals living in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi German occupation of Poland. Creating an archive that was discovered only after the war, the Oyneg Shabes collected diaries, essays, jokes, poems, and songs—anything that would counter Nazi propaganda and help the world understand life in the Ghetto from the perspective of its Jewish inhabitants. As the war progressed, the Oyneg Shabes’ role changed from preserving culture to documenting atrocity: they began to collect evidence of Nazi mass murder and send reports to London via the Polish underground. All but two of the members of the Oyneg Shabes were murdered by the Nazis, but their buried archive survived, and it provided a window into Jewish experience, resistance, and resilience that would fundamentally alter the scholarship and legacy of the Holocaust.  

Facing History’s two lesson plans for Who Will Write Our History support students to be thoughtful, reflective viewers of the film, and guide them to explore the profound courage and resistance of a group of people who seized control of their own narrative even as they faced certain death. While acknowledging the singularity of their story, students will consider key questions raised by the example of Oyneg Shabes: What story about my community should I preserve for future generations? Whose story do I tell, and how do I tell it? 

Learning Goals

Students will: 

  • Be thoughtful, emotionally engaged viewers of Who Will Write Our History
  • Explore deeper themes of the film, including why it matters who was documenting and telling the stories of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto for future generations
  • Reflect on dominant narratives about their own communities, and consider how to tell their community’s story in a more just and equitable way

Watch Who Will Write Our History (educational version)

This version of the film is meant to be shown within a single class period and contains only footage which is appropriate for middle and high school students.

Lessons

Lesson 1 of 2
Holocaust

Watching Who Will Write Our History

Students view the film, analyze a primary source from the Oyneg Shabes archive, and consider why it matters who tells the stories of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Lesson 2 of 2
Holocaust

Telling Our Histories

Students connect themes from the film to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's concept of “single stories," and then consider what it would take to tell more equitable and accurate narratives.

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