Inside IWitness: “Chance and Choice: A Survivor’s Story”

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 5:00pm

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.

Chance and Choice: A Survivor’s Story highlights the poem "Could Have" by Wislawa Szymborska and three specific survival events from Jewish survivor Lusia Haberfeld's testimony to convey the role of both individual choice as well as luck in surviving the Holocaust.

Szymborska, a Polish Holocaust survivor, illustrates the seemingly random ways in which certain people survived and others did not in his poem “Could Have,” as in this excerpt:

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. On the left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.

Students are asked to write about what they think the poem means and what factors contributed to survival.

Next, students read a brief biography of Lusia Haberfeld, who survived the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau and a death march before being liberated. They respond to the question “What kind of circumstances, beliefs, or qualities do you think it might take for a human being to survive such a prolonged, brutal ordeal as Lusia and other survivors did?”

Three clips of Haberfeld’s testimony follow, and after each one, students consider what factors led to her survival in each circumstance and what themes are present in her testimony.

The activity culminates with the option for students to create a video project that merges Lusia's testimony with their own voice, in which they collect more clips about how Lusia survived that they feel are meaningful to them and their world.