Institute News

Inside IWitness: "Personal Strength to Survive"

Inside IWitness is an ongoing series that will profile each activity in IWitness, along with a clip featured in the activity and a teacher who uses IWitness in his or her classroom.

Secondary students may hear “Holocaust resistance” and only think of aggressive violence, but as the IWitness activity Personal Strength to Survive illustrates, this was far from the only way Jews fought back. Resistance took many forms, and four testimony clips in the activity explain how many people – men, women and children – found ways to retain their humanity and subtly thwart Nazi persecution.

As explained by Yad Vashem, in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1939, Jews were systematically deprived of their personal property, civil rights, and national identity.  After World War II began, in Eastern Europe, Jews were confined to ghettos often in the outskirts of towns. In many cases the ghettos served to hold and further dehumanize Jews until they could be relocated to extermination camps. Despite Nazi efforts to dehumanize them, Jews often found ways to retain their personal identity and humanity.  These actions were conducted at great risk to individuals and families and if caught, the consequences might have included deportation and even death.

In the first clip in the activity, Roman Kent explains the “slow down” method of resistance, in which he and other factory workers purposely worked very slowly in order to limit production of Nazi supplies. Next, Frieda Aaron describes how she and other children secretly went to teachers’ homes in the Warsaw ghetto to continue their education even though school was banned. Edith Sheldon talks about attending concerts in Theresienstadt and how it helped her maintain her will to survive. Finally, Kurt Messerschmidt talks about praying secretly in an attic.

After each clip, students answer questions about the different forms of resistance during the Holocaust and how it helped the survivors maintain their humanity, values and traditions in the face of persecution. They may also collect clips of their own and create short videos about resistance to share with their classmates.