Good-bye Marianne: A Story of Growing Up in Nazi Germany by Irene N. Watts

Good-bye MarianneReading level: 5.5(ish)
Genre: Historical fiction
ELL-Friendly: Not particularly
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

As autumn turns toward winter in 1938 Berlin, life for Marianne Kohn, a young Jewish girl, begins to crumble. First there was the burning of the neighbourhood shops. Then her father, a mild-mannered bookseller, must leave the family and go into hiding. No longer allowed to go to school or even sit in a café, Marianne’s only comfort is her beloved mother. Things are bad, but could they get even worse? Based on true events, this fictional account of hatred and racism speaks volumes about both history and human nature.

Good-bye Marianne is a solid, middle level Holocaust book that I am pleased to own. It is no great work of literature, but it can be an excellent, gentle (if one can use such a term with this time period) introduction to the Holocaust. It could also be an interesting story to students who are refugees themselves.

This story is a good example of a book that needs the author’s note in the front! Historical fiction stories are much more interesting to me if I know they’re based on true events and/or an experience the author lived, as in Good-bye Marianne. Like I’ve said, I’ve studied the Holocaust for years and years, but I never learned about the Kindertransporte. To summarize, the Kindertransporte was the transportation of children out of Nazi Germany into England, organized by the British government.

Since Marianne is so young (11 years old), we feel her fear, frustration, and deceit even if she doesn’t know exactly why these horrible things are happening to her and the people she cares about. Really, the book could be about any time period in which one group of people showed intolerance toward another, because that is what this story is about at its core: how people can be so awful to each other, but how there are many good people, too. It’s also about sacrifice. Questions to get students interested might be, “Would you travel to another country by yourself to escape potential arrest and execution while leaving your family behind?” or “If someone made fun of you for your religion or family or something dear to you, could you forgive that person?”

This story isn’t leveled by Scholastic, so I’m guessing the reading level is around 5th grade. The reading level, age of Marianne, and the general simplicity of the story make this book geared towards middle schoolers. There is a decent bit of German vocabulary that might make ELLs confused, however. For example, they would need to know that Mutti means mother (I think?) and that fuhrer refers to Hitler. There are a few British English spellings, since the author is an English refugee. But otherwise, I think it’s okay for ELLs to read independently, especially if they’re around an L3 or higher or are good at not getting hung up on words they don’t know.

Good-bye Marianne is my thirtieth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

Gideon by Chester Aaron

GideonReading level: 7(ish)
Genre: Historical fiction
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

After losing family and friends, Gideon must bury religion and identity in order to survive the Warsaw ghetto and Treblinka concentration camp during World War II.

I got to about page 50 and had to stop. So bored.

However, the book has a lot of potential. It isn’t just about a concentration camp. At least the first part is about living in the Warsaw Ghetto. Later on (I’m guessing), we would have learned of uprisings, which is another topic often not written about in YA Holocaust lit.

The problem I had with Gideon is that it’s not written like a novel. It’s written like a memoir, which is fine; I like memoirs. But it’s not a memoir because it’s not true. Part of what bored me was that it reads like a history textbook (almost). If I wanted to read non-fiction about the Holocaust (which I don’t…I grew up studying it year after year), I wouldn’t have picked up a YA novel. I kept waiting for the plot show itself in full force. Maybe it does after page 50, but I didn’t stick around to find out.

That said, I will keep it and put it in my classroom library. It will have a pg-13 sticker on it due to the graphic nature of all Holocaust lit: dead bodies, violence, humiliation, drinking… From the first 50 pages, there is nothing too graphic in Gideon, but I want readers to be warned before they pick up the book anyway.

It seems to be written more for high school students but is okay for upper middle school, too. It’s not ELL friendly, not only due to Polish, German, and Yiddish? names but vocabulary in those languages as well that is not always explained. I made my best guess regarding the reading level as it is not leveled by Scholastic.

Teaching Anti-Hate: Using the Holocaust as a Lens by Liav Shapiro

I stumbled across this lesson as a Google Doc probably a few years ago, bookmarked it, and forgot about it. I’m assuming I can repost it because I found it for free on the Internet. All credit goes to Liav Shapiro. I’m always on the look-out for good lessons about the Holocaust because it’s part of my own history, and part of everyone’s. It’s not just about the killing of Jews but the intolerance and hate for people who are different.

While I did my middle school practicum, my cooperating teacher was Jewish and he told me he didn’t teach about the Holocaust. He had books about the subject (nonfiction and historical fiction), but he didn’t explicitly have a unit on it. He said there were other, more relevant instances of hate and intolerance that weren’t so far in the past. It sounded like the Holocaust was so far back in history that kids can’t understand it…or that there were just “better” examples. I’m still struggling with the teacher’s answer. It just seems like an injustice for any students who not understand the Holocaust.

At any rate, here is an excellent unit plan on the Holocaust. It would, of course, need to be adapted to one’s personal classroom depending on whether you can find a Holocaust survivor to speak to your class and who your students are. This lesson was created for a 5th grade class, and it seems to me that the subject is explored in-depth and with sensitivity for the students and the subject matter.

If you are perhaps reading this post, consider leaving a comment about whether or not you think teachers should have a unit on the Holocaust and the importance (or not) of teaching this subject at all.

Anti-Hate Campaign: Teaching Anti-Hate: Using the Holocaust as a Lens
Lessons compiled and produced by Liav Shapiro 2009

What is hate? Introducing the word HATE:

To begin our study about standing up against hate, the students and I brainstormed words and situations that we associated with the word HATE. We created a web on large chart paper that still hangs in the back of the room. From
this discussion, my students mentioned ideas around gang fights in their communities, violence on the street and bullying in school. We talked about how hate can escalate into violence and how people get involved in violent acts that
are fueled with hate.

The next day, the students were broken into groups to define vocabulary around hate and intolerance. The students created their own definitions and then created posters to depict the meanings. These posters to posted around the
classroom for reference throughout the entire unit. Vocabulary used: Intolerance, discrimination, prejudice, axis powers, allied powers, genocide, segregation, and holocaust.

Day by day: How 5th graders began to understand how hate can escalate…
Day 1: KWL Chart: What is the Holocaust?

Day 2: Read The Butterfly and add to the class KWL Chart

Day 3: Hiding: Why did people need to hide in Europe during World War II? Do we know of other events in history when a group of people had to hide from another? Students offered parallels to the Civil War, slavery in the United States, and Native American History.

Day 4: The students were challenged to make a private list of things that they hate. They were asked to refrain from using names. Students listed people, places, foods, personalities, homework, etc… I then asked the students to count
how many entries on their lists were things and then how many were people or groups of people. As the students looked around the room, noticing that many more hands flew to the sky as I asked about people or groups of people that we
hate. We did not ever share these lists. They were meant to serve purpose and teach a lesson. We talked about how we all hold prejudices and believe many stereotypes that make us add certain people and groups to our lists. The students were shocked by this discussion. They wanted to talk about why they hate certain people and groups, but I quickly made it clear that the idea behind this unit is not to justify hate; it was to bring hate to the forefront of our class conversation, bringing awareness to ourselves and our community about what hate can lead to if we don’t fight against it.

Day 5: Watch Holocaust video on and add to KWL chart

Day 6: Understanding what Jewish life was like before, during, and after WWII. Students research life in Europe prior to 1935. Students begin to understand that Jewish businesses were flourishing, freedom of religion allowed Jews to practice
without fear, relations among Jews and Germans were strong.

Day 7: Read A Picture Book of Anne Frank. Discuss how life changed for Anne’s family as Hitler rose to power.

Day 8: Watch Anne Frank Video on Students write letters to Anne Frank. They asked her questions and told her about times in their lives when they have experienced discrimination.

Day 9: Understanding what life was like in the Ghetto: Read The Cats in Krasinski Square. Discuss the purpose of ghettos, what the Nazis were trying to accomplish by forcing Jews into the ghettos. My students were eager to talk about Ghettos. They defined a ghetto as a place where African American live together for comfort, support, and unity. I asked them to research what the word ghetto means and we then changed our class definition to: A section of a city, where a large number of people that belong to one ethnic or religious group live; usually under political, economic or other hardships. The students were shocked to hear that a ghetto could be more than what they have seen and experienced.

This discussion marked a clear turning point in my classroom. The students were now extremely eager to learn about worldly events and issues. They asked questions such as: If there were ghettos with Jews in Europe during World War
II, are there ghettos anywhere else where certain groups are forced to live? How do you end up living in a ghetto? Can you ever get out?

Day 10: Refer back to Hitler Video and discuss Hitler’s Final Solution. How did Hitler plan on getting rid of so many people? Begin discussion of concentration and death camps as well as deportation.

Read: Luba story

Day 11: Understand resistance during the Holocaust and consequences for helping Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, the disabled, and anyone else being sought after by the Nazis. Refer back to The Butterfly to reference resistance and the underground. Students pointed out similarities between hiding in the Holocaust and hiding slaves in the United States.

Day 12: The Black Holocaust

At first, the students were shocked that there was a Black Holocaust Museum at all. But with further probing and conversation they began to make parallels between how hate spread in both the Holocaust in Europe and involving African Americans in the U.S.

Day 13: Racism: In my classroom we had much earlier in the year discussed the word Race and how “races” are simply social constructs that have dictated and allowed for Racial discrimination for centuries. On Day 13, we discussed in more
depth, what is racism. The students wrote in their journals, describing events and anecdotes from their own lives where they have experiences or witnessed racism or racial bias.

Day 14: Watch DVD Paperclips

After watching the film, we discussed what the paperclip symbolizes and how the Paperclip project changed the small town of Whitwell, TN.

Day 15: My class and I decided that we wanted to do something in order to make sure that something like the holocaust never happens again. The students came up with the idea to write pledges against hate and injustice. At first I modeled a
pledge I might write, then the students returned to their desks and wrote their own. They were personal and original.

Day 16: Paper Clip Ceremony: First thing in the morning, the students and I assembled ourselves into a circle in the meeting area. I began by saying that today we would all be reading our pledges aloud, and than accepting a large paperclip to wear on our shirts as a symbol. We would spread awareness around our school by wearing these paperclips everyday for a week. The students were excited! I began, by reading my pledge aloud, then placing my large golden paperclip on my collar. My 29 students each followed. They were clearly enthused and inspired. Even my most difficult students, during our ceremony, remained serious and committed to this community event.

Day 17: A Holocaust Survivor comes to visit our classroom.

On this day, an amazing woman, who survived WWII Poland, came to speak to my students. Word quickly spread around the school, and 6 out-of-classroom teachers came to join us that afternoon as well. During the survivor’s discussion, the students were engaged, respectful, and intuitive. They asked thoughtful questions and truly showed empathy. Two of my students, having been born in Poland, shared stories of they grandparents’ experiences during World War II.

After the amazing survivor left for the day, my students wrote her letters of appreciation for sharing her experiences with them. They wrote that she changed the way they think about the world, that they feel fortunate to have spoken to a
survivor, and that they understood the Holocaust so much better after her visit.

Culminating project: Advertising Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism

During the final days of our unit, the students were asked to list the themes that they felt came out of our study. They listed: injustice, justice, hate, prejudice, discrimination, equality, equity, equal rights, civil rights, freedom, etc…

I provided the students with poster paper and paint and then asked them to choose a partner to come up with a way that they could advertise for one of the above themes.

The posters were beautiful and meaningful. They were displayed in the school auditorium for the 5th grade graduation!

Multi-Media Used to Teach about the Holocaust:
The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse
Luba, the Angel at Bergen Belsen by Luba Tryszynska-Frederick
I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Hana Volavkova
Anne Frank: Behind the Diary by Rian Verhoeven, Ruud Van der Rol, Tony Langham, and Plym Peters
Paper Clips (2004) Contains multiple short animated videos that teach about
various topics such as WWII, the Holcaust, Hitler, etc…