Institute News

Inside IWitness: "New Beginnings - Journey to America"

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.

Most students are probably familiar with the iconic image of an immigrant sailing into New York Harbor under the welcoming arms of the Statue of Liberty. The activity New Beginnings – Journey to America introduces students to real people who did just that, or may as well have. It provides a fascinating account of six Holocaust survivors’ experiences leaving Europe and arriving in America for the first time.

The activity begins with a short video about the history of post-World War II emigration from Europe. President Truman’s immigration quotas allowed many Jewish refugees into the United States, but it took about three years for these quotas to be increased in order to accommodate the huge demand among European Jews to live in America. Along with Palestine (and after its founding in 1948, Israel), America was the most popular destination for refugees and Holocaust survivors after the war.

Students write short responses to questions including “Describe President Truman's position on post-war immigration to the United States” and “What challenges do you think people might face when they immigrate to a new country?”

Six survivors then describe what it was like for them to come to America. The testimony clips reveal culture shock and exhilaration, sadness for family who hadn’t survived and determination to make a better life. Erna Anolik talks about meeting her future husband on the ship that took her to New York while Sidonia Lax describes her fond memories of navigating the foreign Chicago streets. Others, like Martin Aaron and Tom Lantos, share how excited they were to experience the excesses of America, like seeing hundreds of cars and receiving generous portions of food.

Students choose one of the clips and construct a word cloud about it. The word cloud is made up of words students feel represent the topics and themes in the clip they have chosen, such as emotions, people, places, and events. The size, color and placement of each word should convey a relationship among the words. To end the activity, students write briefly about how they chose their words and constructed their word cloud.