over two thousand years, Jewish people have lived in Europe. Life was often
difficult and Jews were subjected to persecutions, expulsions and pogroms. Despite
trying circumstances, Jewish culture thrived and flourished. Jews made
important contributions to European
society. This lesson lets students explore various aspects of daily living,
music and language among European Jews prior to the Holocaust.
Middle School or High School
Social Studies or Language Arts
- You will be looking at photographs of people just like yourselves who lived
in European countries in the years prior to the Holocaust.
- From the websites suggested below, select two photos that you would like to use. For each photo, right click on it,
save it as a graphic image to your computer. Go back to the photo on the
website and record any identifying
information such as title, source, date and caption. You may copy and
paste this information into a Microsoft word document.
- Study the photos and respond to the
questions asked on the Photograph
Analysis Guide. These responses and copies of your two
selected photos will be turned into your teacher.
- Suggested websites for photos and images:
Life in Europe before the Holocaust
Photographs, artifacts, and
biographical sketches are given in this introductory section.
Search by keyword such as Eisiskes
shetl or Families (Prewar Jewish). Some lengthy
annotations are given. Access to some 10,000 historical photographs
from the Museum's collection of over 80,000 images.
Educational Program on Yiddish Culture (EPYC)
The EPYC presents the Yiddish-speaking
Jewish culture that flourished throughout Eastern Europe in the last
Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance.
I Still See Their Faces
this exhibit, subtitled Images of Polish Jews, the people pictured
are unaware of the impending crisis that will overtake their lives.
- Prior to the Holocaust, the rich European
Jewish culture included a lot of music. Most people enjoyed classical music, folk songs, theater songs and a traditional type of music found at weddings and religious functions known as
Klezmer. The "Klezmer Pioneers" combined the music of many different countries. This type of music has made a come back even today. Have you ever heard of
- Your assignment is to listen to music from
one of the websites suggested below. Once you have found this music and listened to it, please write about why you think this music was popular prior to the Holocaust?
Why might this music have evoked happy thoughts and feelings for people?
- Please comment on which website gave the best or the most material? Is this music something you would recommend to a friend? To your parents? Grandparents? Teachers?
Why or why not? Your honest thoughts are
- Yiddish was the language spoken by Eastern
European and Russian Jews. It uses the same alphabet as Hebrew but is a blend of Hebrew and several European languages, primarily German.
Although few people who still speak the language today, a renewed
interest in Yiddish has emerged on college campuses. My grandparents spoke
Yiddish. I remember hearing them talk and trying to figure out some of the words that they were speaking. Of course, in order to be assimilated in the United States very few people continued to speak this as their primary language. Can you think of any other languages that have followed similar
- You will explore some websites to learn
about the Yiddish language and then respond to the questions found on
- What is the title, identification or caption of the
When and where was it produced?
What organization or Web site is responsible for making the photograph available to us?
Who created this photograph?
Identify and describe any people or objects appearing in the photograph.
Is any action taking place in this picture? Explain your response.
Can you determine what may have happened immediately before the photograph was produced or afterwards?
What unique aspect of Jewish life before the Holocaust does this photograph capture?
What further questions are suggested by this photograph?
- Explain in what geographic regions
Yiddish was spoken and list one example of a Yiddish dialect. (Hint: See
- Give a translation for the following
Yiddish proverb: A sheyn punym kost gelt.
- Listen to some Yiddish radio on Dora
Teitelboim's website. Describe this experience in a few sentences.
- Use the Websites listed above to find definitions for the following
- in trouble - begins with the letter (a)
- coffee cake (b)
- please (b)
- Life (c)
- take it easy (c)
- Don't bother me (d)
- something (e)
- Land of Israel (e)
- eat in good health (e)
through the above Websites. Mention
several words with which
you are familiar.
- From what direction do you read Yiddish?
What other languages do this?
- Approximately how many people speak
Yiddish today and in what locales?
- Listen to the song Oyfn Pripetshik which means
"on the Hearth of the Fireplace." It tells of a rabbi or a teacher who is teaching the alphabet to young children in a safe and warm place. Who wrote this song? When was it written?
to Museum Fellowship Teaching Resources