Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Surviving Auschwitz (6-8)
Lesson 1
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework

Focus Question(s):



This lesson focuses on two young Jewish survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi death camp.  As they return to their home town and the concentration camp, they each tell their story and explain why they were willing to return to such an emotionally devastating place. Their story is replete with examples of heroism and concern for others in the face of unspeakable sorrow. 


Three Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods


The learner will:

  • define oral history, describe its advantages and disadvantages, and explain its importance to overall history.
  • evaluate the importance of the “final solution” to Hitler’s plans for Lebensraum.
  • demonstrate how countless acts of inhumanity can minimize self-esteem in the oppressed yet bring out heroic acts of selflessness toward others.
  • explain why it is important for the story of the Holocaust to be told.

Service Experience:

Although this lesson contains a service project example, decisions about service plans and implementation should be made by students, as age appropriate.
Learn more about the stages of service-learning.

Explore the injustices in the world today. There are individuals and populations who are misunderstood and mistreated (neglected, abused or bullied) in our country and around the world. Students investigate, plan, and take action to advocate for fair treatment. 


  • Overview of “Surviving Auschwitz: Children of the Shoah” (Attachment One)
  • Letter to Families/Guardians (Attachment Two)
  • Video/DVD Surviving Auschwitz: Children of the Shoah http://www.wgvu.org/tv/documentaries.cfm
Handout 1
Overview of “Surviving Auschwitz: Children of the Shoah*”
Handout 2
Letter to Families/Guardians

Teacher Preparation:

Prior to teaching this lesson, because of the sensitive nature of the topic and some of the images contained in this film, teachers are encouraged to consider sending the Letter to Families/Guardians (Attachment Two) home with the students, giving the adult family members an opportunity to preview the film and discuss it with their child.

Instructional Procedure(s):

Anticipatory Set:

Put the term “oral history” on the board or overhead. Ask the learners to define it and give examples of history that have been handed down through this medium. (During the 1930s and 1940s the oral interviews of the Federal Writers Project documented the ways ordinary people were coping with the Great Depression. Griots [gree-o] in West Africa were known as chroniclers of every event in their villages. They witnessed and mentally recorded the deeds of every person which they passed down through time to other griots as oral history.)

  • Explain that oral history includes many types of story sources, such as:
    1. recorded interviews with individuals;
    2. formal, often-told accounts of the past presented by traditional story-tellers;
    3. informal conversations about "the old days" among family members or others;
    4. printed collections of stories told about past times.

  • Ask the learners why oral history is used as a way to understand the past. What information does it provide that ordinary histories cannot?  Compare oral history to autobiographies and biographies which are other ways of learning about others.

  • It has been said that oral histories help democratize the historical record.  What does this mean?  Why is it important to view history from a broader perspective rather than just from the point of view of important people in society or the media?

  • Remind learners that the interview for an oral history is based on the memories of the narrator.  Information, at times, may not be as precise or defined as other historical accounts.  It may be limited by the age or circumstance of the person remembering the events.  Nevertheless, it is a legitimate form of history.

  • Read aloud Overview of “Surviving Auschwitz: Children of the Shoah” (Attachment One) to provide a background of the film that will be viewed.

  • Define/clarify vocabulary terms that learners will hear during the viewing (see Nieuwsma under Bibliographical References):

    • Lebensraum (breathing space)
    • ghetto (sections of a city where the Jews from the city and surrounding areas were forced to stay)
    • concentration/extermination camp
    • appell (roll call)
    • Gestapo (German secret police)
    • SS (policing unit of the Nazi party that staffed the concentration camps)
    • Sammlungsstelle (collection and sorting place for Jewish property)
    • Kinderlager (children’s camp at Auschwitz)

Video: Part One — Pre War to Slave Labor Camps (29 minute segment):

  • To focus the learners’ attention during the viewing, ask them to think about the following questions while viewing the film:
    • To return to these disturbing memories and locations of earlier life was traumatic for these women.  Why would the women return and relive their past anguish?
    • What did Hitler mean by a “final solution”? What evidences were there throughout the film of the Third Reich’s attitude toward the Jews?
    • What were the many ways the Germans used the Jews to help their war effort?
    • What did Tova mean when she said it was important for her to revisit the villages and camps to “get a reality check”?

      After viewing this section of the video, discuss the above questions.  Clarify any questions.

Reflection:  T. S. Eliot is quoted: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”   Tova and Frieda went to the camps as children the first time.  When they returned as adults, they learned to know the place for the first time.  How was this possible?

Video: Part Two — Auschwitz (32 minute segment):

  • To focus the learners’ attention during the viewing, ask them to think about the following questions while viewing the film:
    • Those who deny that the Holocaust occurred say that it was impossible to kill six million people in such a short time.  What evidence is shown that refutes that thinking?
    • Tova said that it is a tragic thing to be a mother and not to be able to protect your child.  What were the many ways that mothers tried to protect their children as best they could?
    • During her trip to the crematorium, Tova said, “Being Jewish means dying. Being a child means dying.”  How insignificant was the value of human life in the camps when a five year old child could make such a statement?

      After viewing this section, discuss the above questions.  Clarify any questions.

Reflection:  Frieda remembers January 27, 1945, when the Soviets arrived and liberated the camp, as her “second” birthday.  She said it was more important to her than her first birthday.  Why does she feel that way?

Video: Part Three — After the War (27 minute segment):

  • To focus the learners’ attention during the viewing, ask the learners to think about the following questions while viewing the DVD:
    • What conditions made a return to normal life difficult for the survivors?
    • Even as the survivors tried to begin their lives again, loss of family was a continuing sorrow.  What evidences are there in the film that the loss of family members affected them the rest of their lives?
    • Why was Tova’s mother driven by the need to tell her story?  What does re-telling one’s story to others accomplish?

      After viewing this section, discuss the above questions.  Clarify any questions.

Thinking Through the Enduring Ideas

  • The Germans imprisoned those they designated as racially or biologically inferior, those who resisted their domination and those who they judged to be politically unacceptable.  Concentration camps housed Soviet prisoners of war, German and Polish political prisoners/criminals, many Poles, Jews, Roma (gypsies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, physically disabled persons, Communists, democrats, Socialists, trade unionists, institutionalized psychiatric patients, and others considered security risks or undesirable by the Nazi state.  Debate the idea that no one is immune to violence and death when others are at risk.
  • Tova and Frieda did not just survive Auschwitz and the labor camps because they followed the rules and were “good” children.  It was only through deliberate and desperate measures that they lived to see their liberation.  There were many acts of heroism and giving (philanthropy), by those who knew them and those who did not, that kept them alive.  What were some of these examples of the giving of “time, talent and treasure” that saved their lives?

  • Tova and Frieda’s act of returning to Poland with their children was courageous and emotional. What did they hope to accomplish by returning?  Were they successful?  Think of Tova and Frieda’s mothers, and the words they might have spoken to their grandchildren about their experiences.  Put yourself in their place and write an imaginary letter from one of them to her grandchildren.  Express her thoughts about the past, her sacrifices on behalf of her own daughter, and her hopes for the future of her grandchildren.

  • Frieda closes by saying, “The world has not yet learned how not to allow the kind of violence and cruelty between people.”  What evidences are there around the globe today that she is right?  Explain why the term genocide (the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, cultural, or religious group) has been used in discussions about recent world events.  What are some recent events that have been labeled as genocide?  How are these events similar/dissimilar to the story shown in this lesson?

  • Design and display a poster that focuses on one part of Frieda and Tova’s story. Rather than the gruesome images shown in the film, create the poster as a positive image that expresses their hope for a better world for children.


Frieda said, “I hope that, in some way, this story, through its horrors, will deter some of the anger, prejudice, hatred so that no other mother or father would have to go through this with their children.  I hope that my children and grandchildren, nobody’s children or grandchildren, will ever have to go through anything like that.”  She also asks us to “pray that this does not happen to any children any more in this world.”  Reflect on Frieda’s hope and the experiences the two survivors experienced in their early years.  Evaluate the importance of Frieda and Tova’s story with those who view this film.  What attitudes and behaviors of others might be influenced through the sharing of their story?

School/Home Connection:

Because of the sensitive nature of the topic and some of the images contained in this film, adult family members are urged to preview the film, or view and discuss it with their child.  A sample letter for Families is included, Letter to Families/Guardians (Attachment Two).

Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

  • Rather than ignore behavior in the news which displays intolerance and bigotry, write a letter to the editor expressing concern and recommend action that stresses the humanity of all people.  Indicate that diversity strengthens society rather than weakening it.

  • Read the book, Surviving Auschwitz: Children of the Shoah, focusing on the lives of Tova, Frieda, and Rachel after they leave Poland.  Study their coping mechanisms for surviving and compare their experiences as they try to resume a “normal” life.

Bibliographical References:

Lesson Developed By:

Evelyn Nash
Curriculum Consultant
Learning to Give


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Overview of “Surviving Auschwitz: Children of the Shoah*”

During World War II, the Nazis killed six million Jews — men, women and children — from all over Europe.  At least one million Jews were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most notorious of Hitler’s concentration camps.  In mid-January 1945, as Soviet forces approached Auschwitz, the SS began evacuating the camp, force-marching 60,999 prisoners to Germany.  About a fourth died from starvation and exposure or were shot by the SS for falling behind.

On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz and found 7,000 prisoners alive.  Among them were two young children from Tomaszow-Mazowiecki, a town in central Poland.  Tova Friedman, 6, and Frieda Tenenbaum, 10, had not only survived the Jewish ghetto in their town but had also lived through two slave labor camps.  Now, thanks to their Soviet liberators, they even survived the Kinderlager, the children’s camp at Auschwitz, which in reality was a holding area for the gas chambers.

Using videotaped testimony from the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and other sources, [this film] documents the story of these survivors as they progressed through the Nazi system, starting with the Tomaszow ghetto, then the labor camps, and finally Auschwitz.  The program [includes] Soviet-produced archival film of their liberation from Auschwitz, as well as wartime photographs of Auschwitz, Tomaszow and other sites, plus pre- and post-war family photographs.

On-location filming at Tomaszow, the two labor camps (Starachowice and Blizyn) and Auschwitz in the program’s epilogue show the survivors revisiting these sites with their children and reflecting on the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust 60 years later.  While their story is one of tragedy and horror, their message is one of tolerance and hope.

*Shoah: “catastrophe”; the Holocaust

Handout 2Print Handout 2

Letter to Families/Guardians

Your child will be viewing Surviving Auschwitz: Children of the Shoah, a ninety minute video. The program follows the experiences of a six and a ten-year-old girl who survived the Holocaust to be liberated from Auschwitz.  The film includes on-location present-day views of their home town Tomaszow, two labor camps and Auschwitz.  The two survivors will be shown revisiting these sites with their adult children and reflecting on the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust sixty years later.  While their story is one of tragedy and horror, their message is one of tolerance and hope.

Because some of the historic footage that will be shown may be disturbing, it is possible for adult family members/guardians to preview the film with or without their student.  We encourage either of these to occur. 

If you would be interested in seeing the film before or during the time it is shown, please contact us at ___________________________________________ to make arrangements for the showing.  We look forward to working with you to make this a meaningful experience for our youth. 


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Unit Contents:

Overview:Surviving Auschwitz (6-8) Summary


Surviving Auschwitz (6-8)

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