These activities can expand students' understanding of the major themes in the diary and help them explore in more depth some of the key events and issues of the Holocaust.
Listen to the Survivors
Holocaust survivors in many communities are willing to visit schools to share their memories and insights with young people. Arrange to have a visitor come and invite students' parents to visit at the same time. Prepare for the visit by gathering materials, such as a map of Europe, sample entries from students' Response Journals, and a list of questions. A team of students can create a formal written invitation, explaining what they have been studying. Be sure to tell your guest how long he or she will have to speak and take questions. After the visit, students can write individual thank-you letters.
Locate survivors through local Jewish congregations, senior citizen centers, Jewish organizations, or Holocaust centers in many large cities. Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation is Steven Spielberg's ongoing oral history project. Volunteers and workers in several countries are filming interviews with Holocaust survivors, who speak about their experiences. Because of this project, firsthand testimony about the Holocaust will be forever available even when the survivors, many of whom are elderly, are no longer alive. Some critics of the project say the subject is too overwhelming for any such attempt to be effective. Ask a team of students to research the Shoah oral history project or similar projects that local organizations are involved in.
Share Your Response Journals
Make your last entries in the Response Journal, evaluating the experience of keeping the journal. Review earlier entries and write comments on the pages reserved for that purpose. Choose some of your best entries and combine them with students' selections to create a public journal. Use a bulletin board or display case in your school to show others how you and your students used the journals to help you understand Anne's diary and the materials on the Holocaust.
Go Back to the Home Front, 1942–1944
What was it like to be a teenager in the United States in the years 1942–1944, the same period that Anne was in hiding? To find out, assign students to interview people who were teenagers in 1942 to 1944. The researchers can also use contemporary reference materials such as Life magazine for visual impressions of the period. In their reports, students can contrast the interests of American teenagers of the time with those of Anne Frank.
Using history books, newspapers, and online resources, have students investigate past and present instances of officially sanctioned intolerance and genocide. (For example, slavery in the United States, apartheid in South Africa, tribal conflicts in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and the killing fields of Cambodia.) What was the effect on the victims, the perpetrators, and those seemingly uninvolved—both individuals and nations? Throughout history, governments and individuals have imposed harsh policies just as there were times when individuals and governments could actively condemn such policies—or do nothing.
“I was just following orders.”
Many defendants during the war crimes trials at Nuremberg claimed they were “just following orders” in carrying out the policies of the Holocaust. Even recently, former Nazis living in the United States, and other countries have used that excuse for having murdered civilians during World War II. Can students explain the moral emptiness of following orders to kill innocent people? Is there a difference between what the Nazis did and what soldiers are trained to do in wartime?
The Anne Frank Center USA states that its traveling exhibit, Anne Frank in the World 1929–1945, “empowers citizens from all walks of life to initiate meaningful community dialogue on the sensitive issues of discrimination and violence and to find ways to combat hate.”
Your class can spur action by brainstorming with other students, teachers, and community members about the issues that separate people in your community. What would be the rules of conduct for a meaningful community dialogue? Whom would you invite to exchange?
What role can young people play in bringing harmony to the community? Find out more about the Anne Frank in the World exhibit by visiting the Anne Frank Center USA's website.
“What would future generations say about us ... if we do nothing?”
On December 13, 1995, Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz survivor, author, and tireless advocate for human rights, appeared with President Bill Clinton at the White House. Wiesel (wee-ZELL) supported the president's decision to send U.S. troops to Bosnia. They were sent to enforce a peace agreement reached in Dayton, Ohio. In introducing Elie Wiesel, President Clinton quoted the citation that accompanied Wiesel's Nobel Peace Prize in 1984: “Elie Wiesel ... is a messenger to mankind. He is a passionate witness to humanity's capacity for the worst, and a powerful example of humanity's capacity for the best.”
In his remarks about Bosnia, Elie Wiesel said, "We in the United States represent a certain moral aspect of history. A great nation owes its greatness not only to its military power, but also to its moral consciousness, awareness. What would future generations say about us, all of us here in this land, if we do nothing [about the bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia]? After all, people were dying, people were killing each other, day after day."
As students consider the situation in the former Yugoslavia referred to by Elie Wiesel, have them read Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic, a dramatic chronicle of a young girl and her family during the bombardment of Sarjevo by Serbia. Have students note similarities between Zlata's diary and Anne Frank's.
Could It Happen Again?
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” What do students think this means? What does vigilance mean? What does liberty mean? What does the statement mean for us today? Can we ever let down our guard where prejudice is concerned? Are there any recent events that prove or disprove this statement? Give examples of present-day vigilance against intolerance and discrimination in the United States. What protections do U.S. citizens have? Could we give up those protections as the Germans did? (They had a democratic government until Hitler came to power.)
They Fought Back
Jewish partisans, like Jenny Misuchin, escaped the ghettos of Eastern Europe and fought the Nazis from forests, swamps, and mountains. People inside the ghettos also fought back against the Germans in Warsaw, Vilna, Krakow, Kovno, and other cities. Armed revolt took place even in killing centers at Treblinka, Sobibor, and Auschwitz.
Have students work together in small groups to prepare reports on what they can find out about these resistance movements. Each report should answer these questions: Who took part? What were the connections between the Jewish fighters and the non-Jewish partisans and residents of the country? What effect did these actions have on the Nazis who were carrying out the Holocaust? Students can also consider the tradition of resistance in stories from Jewish history, such as the story of Masada and Chanukah. Think about this quotation from the Passover seder: “In every generation tyrant has risen to destroy us.”
Rescue in Denmark
With the help of the Danish resistance and thousands of ordinary Danes, 6,000 Jews, 1,300 part-Jews, and 680 non-Jewish family members were transported by boat from Denmark to neutral Sweden at the end of September and the beginning of October 1943. This united action, carried out under the noses of the Nazis, saved the overwhelming majority of Danish Jews. Assign students to discover more about the rescue of Danish Jews. Ask them to dramatize a brief scene in which a Danish bystander decides to become a participant.
Students can find some answers in the novel Number the Stars by Lois Lowry and the non-fiction book A Place to Hide: True Stories of Holocaust Rescues by Jayne Pettit.
Anne Frank's Tales of the Secret Annex
Anne's short stories and essays, written during the same period as her diary, have been published in Anne Frank's Tales From the Secret Annex. Ask for volunteers to dramatize (write a short play and then present it) one of the writings from this book.
The Nuremberg Trials
Five months after World War II ended in Europe, an international military tribunal created by the victorious Allies began the trials of leading Nazis. The tribunal was made up of two judges from each of the Allied nations—the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. On October 6, 1945, the judges officially charged 24 German civilian and military leaders with four categories of crimes. Their trials were held at Nuremberg, Germany, the site of massive Nazi Party rallies and the place where the Nuremberg Laws restricting Jewish civil rights were announced.
The categories of crimes tried by the tribunal were conspiracy, crimes against international peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The fourth category included crimes committed against Jews and others in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe: “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population [during the war] ... persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds ... whether or not in violation of domestic law of the country where perpetrated.” Categories three and four were the areas in which prosecutors were most successful in gaining convictions.
The verdicts were announced on October 1, 1946. The judges convicted 19 of the defendants. Twelve of those convicted were sentenced to death. Ten were executed two weeks later. But two men sentenced to death cheated the hangman. One, Hermann Goering, the founder of the Gestapo, commander of the air force, and one of Hitler's trusted advisers, committed suicide before his execution. The other, Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary and confidant, was not at the trial. He had disappeared in April 1945 and was tried and convicted in absentia.
Between November 1946 and April 1949, more trials, involving 185 defendants, were held at Nuremberg under the authority of the United States, one of the four powers occupying Germany.