Ten Gold Medals: Glory or Freedom chronicles the true story of one family’s escape from Greece during World War II and the Holocaust
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Ten Gold Medals: Glory or Freedom chronicles the true story of one family’s escape from Greece during World War II and the Holocaust

Categories Holocaust , Sports 
Tags: Greek Jewry , Olympics 
Book Title: Ten Gold Medals: Glory or Freedom

Author: Isaac Dostis

Illustrator: n/a

Book Summary:

Of the six million Jewish men, women, and children who were murdered during the Holocaust, 67,000 of them were Greek Jews. Ten Gold Medals: Glory or Freedom tells the story of Greek Jews and their fate during the Holocaust. More specifically, the book focuses on the Cohen family, and their journey from their home into hiding, recounting the incredible courage that they and their rescuers faced against insurmountable odds. The story serves as a beacon, helping students recognize the devastating effects of prejudice, indifference, and apathy and inspires them to analyze those qualities that allow individuals to stand up for what they believe.

Isaac Dostis, actor, filmmaker, educator and author, has been a pioneer in bringing attention to the Greek Jews during the Holocaust to the American public. His own family, Greek-speaking Jews who lived in some of the smaller cities in Greece during the Holocaust, suffered tremendous losses. The book, Ten Gold Medals: Glory or Freedom is based on the life of the author's uncle, Isaac Cohen, and his family.

Topic(s) Addressed:

The objectives of this lesson are:

  • to introduce students to the effects of the Holocaust on the Jewish people in Greece. 
  • to involve students in issues dealing with the major ethical and moral issues of human rights and social responsibility. 
  • to create an awareness of qualities such as courage, compassion, character, and civility and the ways in which they determine an individual s behavior and choices made on a daily basis.

Enduring Understandings:

Yad Vashem, the Center for World Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem, Israel, teaches three main lessons to be learned from the Holocaust that address moral and ethical issues. These three lessons can be connected to any aspect of life and are the threads that run through the issues explored through this reading Ten Gold Medals:

  1. Thou shalt not be a victim. 
  2. Thou shalt not be perpetrator 
  3. Thou shalt not be a bystander

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

According to the Kehila Kadosha Ioannina Synagogue and Museum, "Out of all of the countries occupied by the Nazis, Greece lost the largest percentage of its Jewish population. A larger percentage of Greek Jews were selected to die at the death camps than that of any of the other Jewish communities. 87 percent of the Greek Jewish community, numbering between 60,000 and 70,000 souls, perished in the Holocaust. Most of them were murdered at Auschwitz. There are many reasons why a larger percentage of Greek Jews perished in the Holocaust than the Jews in any other Nazi occupied country...” More information.

A study of the Holocaust is incomplete without first-person testimony. Survivors provide a rich and powerful experience and bring history to life. The best time to have a survivor speak with your class is after students have studied the novel and have been involved in the discussion/activities to provide a basis for understanding. Invite a survivor who was in hiding during the Holocaust. You can arrange to have a speaker visit your classroom by contacting your local Holocaust center. You can obtain a list of Holocaust Centers by visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


• Copies of book, Ten Gold Medals: Glory or Freedom by Isaac Dostis
• World Map, news articles, encyclopedias, and reference books


Video: ”What Kind of World Do You Want?” by Five for Fighting

Reference sites including:
Jewish Learning Matter s Holocaust Page

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum includes information concerning: background history and statistics of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; how to plan a visit to the museum; museum membership; community programs; films and lectures; conferences for educators; guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust; historical summaries; a videography for teachers; answers to frequently asked questions about the Holocaust; Holocaust Resource Centers nationwide; and a searchable database of the Research Institute s archives and library.  

The Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation includes lesson plans, guest lectures lists, and curriculum resources.  

Yad Vashem, Israel s Museum and Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust contains general information, photographs and excerpts from survivor testimony transcripts.

Facing History and Ourselves is a national educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. The site offers information about their programs and valuable classroom resources.

USC Shoah Foundation  is “dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides a compelling voice for education and action.” The Visual History Foundation created by Steven Spielberg has recorded more than 25,000 videotaped interviews with Holocaust survivors.

Sharing The Storymore

Introducing The story

If students have not had an introduction to the Holocaust prior to this lesson, you may wish to involve them in one or more of the resources above to provide a framework for understanding and learning. 

The following terms/concepts are integral to the story. Share these with students to insure they have the background knowledge necessary:

Olympic Games, 1936
Hellas (Greece)
Nazi Party
Partisans (resistance fighters)

Read the introduction of the book, Ten Gold Medals: Glory or Freedom aloud.

What do students know about the Holocaust? Create a K-W-L graphic organizer on the board or on a large piece of butcher paper to list what students "know" and "want to know" in terms of the Holocaust. As they discover answers to their questions, have them fill in the "L" portion- "What I Learned." Finally, at the end of the unit, what questions do they still have? Provide resources to help them discover the answers independently and then share with classmates…

Locate the country of Greece on a world map. What countries, bodies of water, etc. border this country? Trace the journey of the Cohen family from Greece to Palestine (now Israel) and discuss the dangers they faced along the way. 

Reading The Story

Journal Writing:
All students should keep a journal to record their reflections as they read the novel. Often, journal writing is a catharsis allowing them to sort out their feelings and express their emotions. In addition, it gives them the opportunity to search for their own meanings and draw conclusions.

While there are various types of journal entries, the double-entry journal is an excellent strategy that encourages students to reflect and as appropriate, connect what they read to their own lives. To create a double-entry journal, students divide each page into two columns. For each chapter, they can select a quote that was significant to them, write it in left column of the journal. Then, on the right side of the journal they write a reaction to the quote. Periodically, allow students to share with the class a quote they selected as well as their reaction. Follow this up with class discussion and research as appropriate.

Example: Chapter: "The Third Gold Medal"

Quote: "I have wondered for a long time what my uncle Isaac Cohen might have accomplished if he had actually entered the Olympic competitions in 1932 and especially, if he went to the 1936 Olympics that were held in Berlin, Germany... Would my uncle and his family have come to the same fate if he had competed?"

Reflection:  There are so many, “What-if’s” associated with the Holocaust. All the lives that were lost—I wonder what each might have accomplished and where their journeys might have taken them. 

Questions for Discussion:
These can be used to supplement student questions and thoughts: 
  1. What is prejudice? How does it destroy people? What can be done to stop prejudice? What other groups of people have been persecuted in the past and in today s world? 
  2. What was is like for Jewish people in Greece before the Holocaust? Why were they persecuted by the Nazis? 
  3. Why did Isaac Cohen s children find it so difficult to believe that they would have to flee their home?
  4. How did the Nazis know who was Jewish and where they lived? 
  5. How are the children in the Cohen family just like you and your friends? 
  6. What were some of the most difficult things the children had to face when they were in hiding? 
  7. Most survivors of the Holocaust had to begin a new life, in a new land. What are some of the challenges they faced? 
  8. What is your definition of "courage?" Of all the people you were introduced to in the novel, who do you believe was the most courageous? Explain. Of all the people introduced in the novel, who did you respect least? Explain. 
  9. When asked, “How did you survive the Holocaust?” many survivors said they survived because of luck. Others said it was because they never gave up hope. Many responded that they survived because of the kindness and bravery of others. Based on the various experiences described in the book, how do you think the Cohen family would respond to this question? 
  10. Why is this book an important one for students your age to read? 
  11. Think about the title of the book, Ten Gold Medals: Glory or Freedom. What importance did his father s medals have to Laiki at the beginning of the book? How did the importance of the medals change? 
  12. Perhaps the most important lesson of the Holocaust is the need to stand up against evil and work together to help others. What can you do in your own life to make this happen?

After The Story

"What Kind of World Do You Want?”
With classmates, watch the following video that uses photographs to accompany the song by Five for Fighting:

Use the question the song poses to begin a conversation: “What kind of world do you want? “What would it “look” like?

Create a class video with ideas generated and accompanying pictures. Create your original background music or select an appropriate piece from those in the public domain.*please share these with us so we can share with others- send the ink to [email protected]

“A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words”

Study the photographs included in the book Ten Gold Medals: Freedom or Glory and select one that interests you most. What questions come to mind when you look at this photograph? In small groups, discuss the pictures selected and questions they suggest. As appropriate research the photographs further to discover more.

The 1936 Olympics:

Research the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, and the treatment of the Jewish athletes as well as athletes representing other minority groups. Share your findings in a creative way-i.e. digital story. For an excellent article on this topic, visit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Introduction to the Holocaust.” 

Cartoon Creation
How did the Olympic Games in Germany support or deny the spirit of the Olympics? Create an editorial cartoon to reflect your “take-away."


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

The Olympics:
Create a version of the Olympic Games at your school. Students in your class/school can train, and compete in various events determined. Invite guests and hold your Olympics in honor of Isaac Cohen, his family, and all those who risked their lives to save them.

And the Award Goes To…..
Isaac Cohen received many medals for his skill and talent as an athlete. Think of someone in your life/community who did something special to help another and create a medal to award to this person. Hold an "Awards Banquet" at your school to honor these individuals

Starting Over
America was founded by people who risked their lives to come to a new world. Imagine that there is a new student in your classroom who has just moved to your city from another state or country. What can you do to help this person feel more welcomed and get to know his/her classmates? Brainstorm this situation and come up with several solutions. As a class, select one and create a plan of action. Then put your plan into action!

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

  • Student discussions, research, and projects reflect an understanding of the ways in which the Holocaust effected the lives of the Jewish people of Greece.
  • Student projects reflect an understanding of the ethical and moral issues posed during the Holocaust years in terms of the perpetrators, victims, bystanders, and rescuers. 
  • Through project based learning, students work reflects an awareness of qualities such as courage, compassion, character, and civility to fight prejudice and teach acceptance and understanding.


Lesson Contributors

Dr. Anita Meinbach, in memory of her grandparents, Anna and Nissim Barouch, Greek Jews
School of Education and Human Development
University of Miami