Holocaust History: A Story of Rescue
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Holocaust History: A Story of Rescue

grades:  Middle School (6-8) 

Lesson Summary:

“A Story of Rescue” focuses on the courage and compassion of individuals who had “the courage to care.” Specifically, the lesson is based on “The Merit of a Young Priest” as told by Yaffa Eliach in her book, Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, which relates the story of a young priest in Poland who helps a couple make the most difficult decision of their lives.

Through the lesson, a variety of additional resources are suggested to introduce you to others who also exhibited courage and compassion during a time of chaos. Together, these stories give rise to an analysis of those qualities that allow individuals to stand up for what they believe in and take action to fight injustice. Furthermore, these stories help us recognize and remember the power that each person has in determining and shaping the future.

Enduring Understandings:

  • Amid the horror of the Holocaust there were people who took action against evil and injustice, risking everything, including their lives and the lives of their families, to save another. 
  • We each have a responsibility to take action against injustice.
  • We are defined by the choices we make.

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

During the Holocaust, human beings were responsible for committing the worse hate crimes imaginable. Yet, there were other human beings who stood up to the evil, and their noble deeds shined through the darkness. Although their numbers were relatively few, it is these rescuers who will be remembered for risking their own safety and that of their families, to save another. It is their stories that are beacons to us, reminding us of the courage and compassion that shape our actions.

Although the deeds of rescuers such as Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler have become legendary, the majority of rescuers were the common men and women who did what they did simply because it was the right thing to do. In addition to the individual rescuers of the Holocaust, there were pockets of combined resistance in cities, towns, and villages across Europe as well as in countries such as Denmark and Bulgaria. Had more people refused complicity in carrying out the dictates of the Nazis, the Holocaust could have been prevented or greatly reduced in scope.

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


Short Story: The Merit of A Young Priest


Clip from the documentary “Nicky’s Family” - the story of Sir Nicholas Winton

60 Minutes: Sir Nicolas Winton  

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: comprehensive summary of the Holocaust, timelines, maps, photographs, glossary, and survivor testimony 

The Holocaust Chronicle: Includes more than 800 pages of Holocaust history

The History Place: Includes a comprehensive timeline of the Holocaust and historical information 


Note to Teachers:

One of the primary concerns of educators teaching the history of the Holocaust is how to present horrific images in a sensitive and appropriate manner. Graphic material should be used judiciously and only to the extent necessary to achieve the objective of the lesson. You should remind yourself that each student and each class is different and that what seems appropriate for one may not be appropriate for all.

Students are essentially a "captive audience." When you assault them with images of hor­ror for which they are unprepared, you violate a basic trust: the obligation of a teacher to provide a "safe" learning environment.Try to select images and texts that do not exploit the students' emotional vulnerability or that might be construed as disrespectful of the victims themselves. (Studying the Holocaust Through Film and Memoir: Human Rights and Social Responsibility , Kassenoff and Meinbach, page xxiv.)

This lesson is an integral part of Holocaust Education, and while it can be taught on its own as a lesson dealing with the topic of “The Rescuer,” background knowledge of the Holocaust is indicated.

Discuss the concept of “rescue.” Create a K-W-L graphic organizer on large chart paper with three columns: “What I Know,” “What I Want to Know,” “What I Learned."  

What do students know about the non-Jewish rescuers during the Holocaust? Who were they? What did they do? Why did they do this? What do students want to know about the non-Jewish rescuers during the Holocaust?
  • Record their responses in the appropriate columns.
  • Organize the questions in the “What I Want to Know” column for use in the “after” section of this lesson. 
  • Periodically, as students learn about “Rescue During the Holocaust,” have them summarize significant findings in the “What I Learned Section” of the K-W-L chart.
Introduce the story The Merit of a Young Priest told by Yaffa Eliach. While many stories of rescue have emerged from the Holocaust, this story, based on interviews with Shachne Hiller (now Stanley Berger) and his family, is one of the most unique.

Read the “The Merit of a Young Priest” aloud or have student pairs read it, stopping when appropriate to address comments, clarify and predict to enhance understanding (this is Close Reading).

Discussion Questions:
Which person in this story did you admire most. Why?
In what ways would the phrase, “choiceless choices” often associated with the Holocaust, be appropriate?
What problems and adjustments might children such as Stanley Berger have to overcome in their new country and home?


A Discussion of Moral Dilemmas: “The Merit of Young Priest” is an excellent vehicle for a discussion of a moral dilemma. After reading the story, involve students in the following steps (based on Lawrence Kohlberg’s Discussion of Moral Dilemmas):
  • List the facts and issues presented, summarizing events, the people involved, and possible alternative actions the young priest could have taken. 
  • Individually decide which alternative you think the young priest should follow and describe (in writing) at least three reasons for your decision.
  • Find other students who have selected the same alternative as you and focus on the most important reasons for taking this position. With your entire class, discuss the various alternatives selected and the reasons for it.
  • Reevaluate your position. Think about the facts, issues, and reasons discussed and then individually record what you think the young priest should do and the most important reasons for taking this position. Compare your views now with your views before. Are there any changes? Explain
  • Have students research Pope John Paul II and his relationship to the Jews of the Holocaust. Allow time for them to share what they discovered. What qualities would they use to describe Pope John Paul II? 

“The Power of Good”
Involve students in watching a clip from the emotional documentary “Nicky’s Family, the story of Nicholas Winton" who, as a young man from Great Britain, saved 669 Czech children during the Holocaust. The clip not only reflects what Winton accomplished, but shares how his remarkable journey has inspired “all those who want to do something positive for our world.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6FlMLyf0yk

Once students have watched the video, discuss the phrase, “The Power of Good,” the title of an earlier documentary about Nicholas Winton. Encourage deeper meaning as they explore this from the perspective of the Holocaust, history and global and local current events. How does “The Power of Good” take on a life of its own?

For more about the life of Sir Nicolas Winton, view “60 Minutes” program- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0aoifNziKQ

From the Talmud
Have students create an artistic interpretation (photos, illustrations, music, drama, dance, etc.)
of the following Talmudic quote:
“Whoever destroys a single life destroys the entire world. He who saves one life, saves the world entire.” ---Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a

Questions Anyone?
Organize the questions in the “What I want to know” column from the K-W-L chart that have not yet been answered and use them as the focus for further research regarding “Rescue” during the Holocaust.


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Reflections in Writing: Add students ideas to those listed below and involved them in one or more of the following:

  •  Journal Writing: Have students write a journal entry about a time they have observed a person standing up for another (an upstander). Provide time for students to share their journals either in large or small groups. 

Researching the History: Fill your room with appropriate maps, news articles, encyclopedias, and reference books to help students in their research.
  • Research ways in which people in Eastern Europe, either individually or collectively (i.e. Raoul Wallenberg, Sugihara, the people of Denmark and Bulgaria), were rescuers during the Holocaust years. What commonalities can students find in the backgrounds, qualities, beliefs, etc. of these people? See “Literature Connections” for some outstanding sources as well as the websites listed in the “Technology” portion of this lesson. 
  • At Yad Vashem, trees have been planted to honor “righteous Gentiles,” those non-Jews who risked their lives to save others. Select one of these individuals and create a “digital story” using photographs, text, and illustration to tell their story. Share these on Youtube or other site for others to witness the courage and goodness that is possible. 
  • View one or more of the Film/Documentaries listed below, or group students having each group read one or more of the stories suggested in the books listed below. Hold a panel discussion on the topic “The Courage to Care.” Why do some stand up while others stand by? Encourage them to back up their analysis with specific references to the material read or viewed.
The Courage to Care: Rescuers of the Jews During the Holocaust
Diplomats for the Damned
The Danish Resistance: The Power of Conscience and the Rescue of Jews.
Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness

Complete bibliography and videography

Lessons for Today:
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum designated “Memories of Courage” as the theme for the 2002 Days of Remembrance, our nation’s annual commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. What memories of courage have you witnessed or learned about in your lifetime. For example, in Billings, Montana, the entire town put menorahs in their windows as Hanukkah to show solidarity with their Jewish neighbors and to send a message to the neo-Nazis in their area who had been trying to divide the community (watch video clip on this).
Create a tribute to a person or to a special community in recent times who displayed courage and compassion in the face of overwhelming odds.

Music Connectionsmore

List of All Songs

Inspiration Text

Inspiration Text:
Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. — Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a.


words and music by Debbie Friedman, debbiefriedman.com

Broken hearts, shattered visions, pieced together, one by one
Hurt another and the world is destroyed, but save a life and you will save the world

No more darkness, no more hiding, no more cryin’, no more lies
Looking for the way back home again, save a life and you will save the world

Darkness fades, the morning light appears, shadows dance and come to greet the day
The voices of angels sing
Words of comfort, whispering
Save a life and you will save the world

In the garden, voices singing, wipe your eyes, no more fears
Take my hand we’ll build the world together
Save a life and you will save the world

Morning comes, a new day has begun, see the light and come to greet the day
The voices of angels sing, words of comfort, whispering
Save a life and you will save the world

In the garden, voices singing, wipe your eyes now, no more fears
Take my hand we’ll build the world together, save a life and you will save the world (x3)


Lesson Contributors

Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff and Dr. Anita Meyer Meinbach from their book, with permission): Studying the Holocaust Through Film and Literature: Human Rights and Social Responsibility (2004 ). Christopher-Gordon, Publishers, Inc. Norwood, MA.