Lesson
Duration:
Two 50-minute class periods

Interdisciplinary: Self Expression During the Holocaust in Elisabeth Kaufmann’s Diary

Learning Objectives

In this lesson, students will explore Elisabeth Kaufmann’s written and visual record of her life as a Jewish refugee. By juxtaposing Elisabeth’s artwork with her diary entries, students will consider how different types of records offer us different insights.

Educators and students are encouraged to read the introduction to Elisabeth Kaufmann’s diary in Salvaged Pages, pages 37–41. It provides valuable information about the writer’s life and historical context for a reading of the diary.

Overview

This lesson was originally drafted by Holocaust educator, Bonnie Sussman.

Core diary entries from Salvaged Pages used in this lesson: Elisabeth Kaufmann, June 10, 1940, June 11, 1940, June 13, 1940

The desire to record one’s experience during the Holocaust was not limited to the written word. Young people expressed their fears, revealed their private thoughts, and documented their everyday lives during wartime in a variety of ways. One writer, Elisabeth Kaufmann, was also a talented artist. Her diary is both a written record and a visual portrait of life as a Jewish refugee in France.

Focus Questions:

Many creative people express themselves in more than one medium. These different records allow us to learn and understand history and the human experience in new and thoughtful ways.

  • How do different forms of self-expression communicate different information, observations, and feelings?
  • What are the differences between these mediums? How do they amplify one another? How are they distinct?
  • Why is it important to consider both the written record and the artistic expression to understand any period in history?

Activities

Opener: Read and View Elisabeth Kaufmann’s Diary Entry and Artwork

Several days before German forces occupied Paris, Elisabeth Kaufmann recorded the following thoughts in her diary:

June 10 1940 [Paris, second entry on this date]

[. . .]The Germans are said to be in St. Germain. The newspapers have stopped. All the world is leaving Paris. The streets are filled with refugees from the north.  Optimism has no place here. But I am not going to allow myself to panic. Not me. I am staying in Paris. The Germans are not in the front door yet. In any case, my bag is packed. Not all the Parisians are leaving. What are Mother and I going to do? In any case, I am going home to see what Vilma has to say about this Parisian migration.[ . . .]

June 11, 1940 (evening) [Paris]

[. . .] Vilma is leaving tomorrow morning between five and six. It would be better if she sneaked out so that the concierge would not hear her. She is leaving on foot and is carrying a white linen sack on her back in which she has all her things. She is going to look like I imagine the Jews must have [when they] wandered from Egypt . . .

Tomorrow we shall leave Paris on foot. Our intermediate destination will be Dad, who is only about one hundred kilometers from Paris.  Our final destination is the Beaufils family, who suggested that when nothing else works to take refuge with them. They are seven hundred kilometers away. The idea is fantastic—seven hundred kilometers on foot! If we walk on the average thirty kilometers a day it will be an uninterrupted march that will take twenty-three days. Not to think of it, give it no thought . . . Only away from Paris.

This afternoon I still took time to hurry though the Latin Quarter. Although excited I tried to fix everything in my mind, the houses, the plazas . . .and I asked myself for how long? Forever . . . or will it be for only a short time?1 [. . .]

Elisabeth also recorded her life as a refugee in Paris and her friendship with Vilma in her sketchbook. View Elisabeth's watercolor of her bedroom in Paris. What details do you notice? What new insights does Elisabeth’s visual record offer that is different than her written record? What information is revealed only in her written record?

Watercolor from Elisabeth Kaufmann's sketchbook, which she kept during the Holocaust, showing Elisabeth and her friend Vilma in the bedroom of her family's Paris apartment.

Main Activity: Analyzing Self Expression During the Holocaust

Recognizing and building the skills to analyze different source material is an important exercise in learning about any time period. These different sources, or historical evidence, yield different information and the opportunity to gain new insights.

When the German army invaded France in May 1940, approximately 175,000–200,000 Jews resided in Paris, many of them refugees from Germany or Eastern European nations. As the Germans advanced into Paris, tens of thousands of Parisians fled the city, including Elisabeth Kaufmann and her mother Helen. This mass escape would become known as known as L’exode, which Elisabeth documented both in her diary and sketchbook. By comparing Elisabeth’s written account with her visual record, students will have a unique opportunity to compare and consider her thoughts, feelings, and impressions by examining and discussing two different forms of self-expression and documentation.

Comparing Historical Source Material:

  1. Read aloud Elisabeth Kaufmann's diary entry from June 13, 1940, written from Rambouillet
  2. Ask students to choose several words or phrases from this entry that capture what they believe is important historical information from the diary. What  words or phrases convey Elisabeth’s emotions. What passages stand out to them? Have students share their reflections. If the class needs any additional help strengthening their understanding of what occurred, follow this activity by reading together this summary of Paris from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  3. Have students now turn to Elisabeth’s sketchings of her and her mother’s escape from Paris by viewing the gallery of watercolors (below!). View her artwork individually, in small groups, or as a class. Ask students to engage in a visual analysis and visual literacy process. The following questions may be helpful:​
    • What do you see?
    • What details do you notice in her paintings?
    • What do you notice in regard to her use of color, scale, or perspective?
    • What are some possible interpretations of the images in her art work?
    • What questions surface?
  4. After viewing the paintings, ask students to return Elisabeth Kaufmann's Diary Entry on Fleeing from Paris, June 13, 1940 and identify the corresponding diary passages. Lead the students in a small or large group discussion about Elisabeth Kaufman’s life and work. Based on what you have learned about Elisabeth Kaufmann, what may have been some of the reasons that she captured her experiences in writing and painting?
    • How do different forms of self-expression communicate different information, observations, and feelings?
    • What are the differences between these mediums? How do they amplify one another? How are they distinct?
    • Why is it important to consider both the written record as well as artistic expression to understand any period in history?

    To conclude the lesson you might want to return to the Focus Questions from this lesson. They are included in the assessment for this lesson below.

Elisabeth Kaufmann's Watercolors

View artwork by Holocaust survivor Elisabeth Kauffman.

Citations

  • 1 : Alexandra Zapruder, ed., Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust, 2nd edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015)55–56.

Assessment

Have students respond in writing to each of the following questions in concise essays. Each response should incorporate at least one reference to Elisabeth’s written and artistic record.

  • How do different forms of self-expression communicate different information, observations, and feelings?
  • What are the differences between these mediums? How do they amplify one another? How are they distinct?
  • Why is it important to consider both the written record as well as artistic expression to understand any period in history?

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