Life in Shadows lesson plans

Children's home Etterbeek, Belgium after war
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.

“Let me sing a carefree song once more:” Poetry of Hidden Children
Laura Pritchard Dobrin
Nansemond-Suffolk Academy
Suffolk, Virginia




Students will read and discuss four poems dealing with hidden children: “Singing in the Sun” by Yala Korwin, “In Hiding” by Helen Degan Cohen, “1980” by Abraham Sutzkever, and “Cast out” by Karen Gershon. As Samuel Totten writes in “Incorporating Fiction and Poetry into a Study of the Holocaust at the Secondary Level” (in Teaching and Studying the Holocaust. eds. Samuel Totten and Stephen Feinberg. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001:164-165) “…the most powerful poetry about the Holocaust also causes one to ponder long and hard about the fact of genocide, including the human and inhuman proportions of it. Furthermore, ‘poetry encourages us to view the human and natural scene with a fresh eye, uncontaminated by the clichés of customary speech.’” Reading poems gives the students a different perspective and insight into the experiences of hidden children than diaries and memoirs. The above poems are included as an attachment to this lesson.


  • Students will read poetry dealing with the topic of hidden children and answer questions analyzing them
  • Students will engage in small group discussions of the poem
  • Students will make decisions in the small group as to who will read the poem and who will discuss and answer which question
  • Students will lead a class discussion on their particular poem
  • Students will participate in a class discussion
  • Students will write a poem based on or in response to hidden children

Time Required

Two days (based on 50 minute class lengths)

Grade Level

Grades 10-12

Curriculum Fit

This lesson focuses on skills associated with reading, analyzing, and discussing literature. This lesson should only be taught in conjunction with a unit on the Holocaust so that students understand the historical context of the works.

Procedure / Strategy

Day 1

Teacher reviews poetry terms (poetry, diction, metaphor, simile, imagery, rhyme, speaker, tone, symbolism, denotations, connotations) and topics dealing with hidden children (this topic has already been introduced to the students beforehand).

The teacher then hands out the poems to the students. Tell them they will all read the poems, answer the questions, and discuss them, but each poem will have one group as a “specialist” who will lead the class in discussion tomorrow. Divide students into groups of 5-6 students per poem. Students read the poem, then analyze and prepare to lead a discussion on the poem in class. One student will read the poem to the class. The student should practice reading the poem and be able to pronounce all the words and read it with emotion. All group members are responsible for leading the discussion.

For homework students should read and answer questions for all four poems.

Poems and guiding questions

“Singing in the Sun”

  • List and describe the images in the poem. Do the images have anything in common?
  • What emotions appear? Are there conflicting emotions? Explain.
  • What does the title symbolize?
  • What is the mood of the poem? 
  • List and explain the poetic devices that are used. 

“In Hiding”

  • Paraphrase the poem.
  • List and describe the images in the poem. Do the images have anything in common?
  • Explain the lines “…beside the child I was…”
  • Give examples of unusual word choices that the author chose to use (calling the sleigh “lenient” for example, or “sleepweaving”). Why do you think the author chose those particular words. What other words could you substitute (a lazy sleigh instead of lenient, for example)? Are they as effective? Why or why not?
  • What is the mood of the poem?
  • Describe the speaker.


  • What is the significance of 1980?
  • What is the rhyme scheme of the poem?
  • What connotations do “pilgrim” and “savior” have?
  • Describe the speaker.
    The line “I planted a sapling” may refer to the trees planted at Yad Vashem in honor of the Righteous Among Nations who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Not anyone can be so honored; it takes many forms, testimonies, and documents, not to mention many years to complete the process. Why does the speaker feel “it doesn’t suffice”? What could the speaker do that would suffice?
  • Explain the last two lines. Has the speaker made his pledge? How?

“Cast Out”

  • Why would it have been easier for the speaker to die?
  • What is “the hardest Jewish fate”?
  • Describe the speaker.
  • How has the speaker been cast out?
  • Why was the speaker cast out? If she had not been cast out, what would have happened to her?
  • Why is she “burdened” by being cast out?
  • Why does she feel guilty?
  • Explain what ‘what’ is in “what as a child I valued most.”
  • How is the speaker lost?

Day 2

The teacher will review poetry terms and topics related to hidden children.

Each poem will be discussed. The student reader will read the poem; this will be followed by the student-led discussion. The teacher acts as facilitator. The teacher may ask additional questions (for example, based on other readings the class has studied, or if the different backgrounds of the poets makes a difference in the poems).

After the class had finished discussing the poems, for homework the students are to write an original poem. It may be based on or a response to one of the poems, one of the other readings (if students read selections from diaries or memoirs of children in hiding), or on the Life in Shadows exhibition. The poem is due the next class day, and maybe read aloud or otherwise published.

Materials / Resources

Brown, Jean E. et al. Images of the Holocaust: A Literature Anthology. Lincolnwood, Illinois: NTC Publishing Group, 1997. See attachment.

  • “Singing in the Sun” by Yala Korwin
  • “In Hiding” by Helen Degan Cohen

  • “1980” by Abraham Sutzkever

  • “Cast out” by Karen Gershon

Alexander Zapruder’s Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust (Yale University Press, 2002) is another invaluable resource.

Evaluation / Assessment

Students will be assessed by participation in the class discussions and their original poem.


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