grade students are preparing to read the book Night. This assignment
is a pre-reading activity that exposes students to a different perspective
on the Holocaust experience using the diaries of children who were writing
"in the moment." This lesson is supplemented by an outline/bibliography
and a chart of diarists. These important
materials have been generously contributed by Alexandra
Zapruder, author of Salvaged Pages.
This lesson supports standards that have been
developed by the Rhode Island Department of Education and that have been put
forth in the state's
Literacy Standards. The lesson also supports
NCTE / IRA Standards
for the English Language Arts sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English.
- Students will read examples of Holocaust literature from
several genres to build an understanding of varied dimensions of human
experience pertaining to the World War II era. They will examine texts
critically and evaluatively.
- Students will write a response to
literature and will appropriately employ different writing process elements to communicate with different audiences.
English, Language Arts
Alexandra. Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
- Zapruder, Alexandra. Outline/bibliography
(Microsoft Word Document) and chart of diarists
(PDF file) to support teachers
in use of Salvaged Pages.
Procedure / Strategy
- The class engages in a discussion of
The Diary of Anne Frank. We point out that the diaries which we are about to read
are very different from Frank’s diary. The diarists of Salvaged
Pages are directly experiencing the horror and fear of the Holocaust because they are immersed in it. We further discuss how Anne was a child in hiding, while the excerpts from the diaries we
read (Otto Wolf, Elsa Binder and the Anonymous Girl in the Lodz Ghetto) are either children on the
run or children in the ghettos. We also discuss Night as a memoir.
- The class reads some diary excerpts
together. We discuss the implications of the situations described by the children in their diaries. Students
verbalize their thoughts and feelings about what they are reading. This activity not only helps to reinforce the standard of accountable talk, it also
encourages students to reflect on their reading.
- Students are asked to write an essay response to
literature, the diary excerpts. The essay must be at least two
type-written pages and include the following elements:
- thesis statement
- brief summary of passages read
- explanation of how the diaries made the
students feel, think, respond (I tell them to feel with their gut and write with their
- examples in the form of direct
- a concluding paragraph that expresses some larger implication concerning the material.
For example, students can discuss how pain and suffering among children all over the world still continues in war ravaged
- The assignment is an exercise in compassion and empathy. Not only does it bring students closer to an understanding of how people/children experienced life during the Holocaust, it allows
students to “see it” through the words of these young writers.
essays are assessed using a state recommended
writing rubric for academic writing.
Examples of Student Work
Excerpted portions of student essays are
- The diaries of Elsa Binder, Otto Wolf, and the Anonymous Girl, in a way hit close to home. I never had to go through such a horrible experience, but my people (Liberians) went through something similar. Whenever I hear a story of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, it makes me think of the African slaves in the U.S. Now I understand that these two events are completely different topics, but people suffering anywhere is horrible. I felt sadness, and hurt when I read these children’s sad stories. I would never want to put any person through that. I am affected by these stories, in a way that any good-hearted person would be, I’m very much outraged at a man that cold be so heartless. I mean seriously if one crazed man could think of something like this, what happens when we have a group of them together?
I appreciate the right we have in his country greatly, because my mother always tells me how difficult it is in Liberia. I know that in America most people have a false sense of security. People began to see how vulnerable America is after Sept. 11, but after listening to my fellow classmates I realize they still don’t fully understand. Just like any country we can be attacked and we can be for some unknown reason be forced to leave our homes. America is a country that believes it is untouchable. America is a land of freedom, but it is a land of freedom with limits.
- At one point in history, families were uprooted from their homes and were forced to abandon their lives without choice. The event being referred to is the Holocaust. When reading the excerpts from the diaries of Elsa Binder, Otto Wolf and
the Anonymous Girl, a deep sadness came over me. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, an enormous amount of Jewish people were imprisoned in Concentration Camps. Some tried to hide, and many were killed. Their stories are overwhelming.
In the diary of Elsa Binder, she discusses every day life in the ghetto she and her family were placed in. One of the biggest problems she wrote of was food. She tells how “from time to time” they received food and how “the food mysteriously disappears, the way camphor vaporizes.” To receive food supplies from time to time, to be hungry and to not know when more supplies are coming in, is a terrible way to live. I could not imagine being so hungry that when food does arrive it disappears. Elsa also tells how people are so over worked and hungry that they cannot even get around. She says, “mom is coughing because she sleeps in an unheated room and dad holds his back.” The life described in these diaries is hard to imagine.
Another diary read was that of Otto Wolf. Otto is a boy who, along with his family, is in hiding. They are hiding in the woods in a structure of cut down trees. Otto tells how they sleep on the ground and are constantly bothered by ants. Furthermore, he mentions that his “dad is cooking the first warm meal in two days.” Living amongst the bushes in fear of being captured is not a way I would want to live, and I know they did not want to either. In the diary of the anonymous girl, fear and starvation are two main feelings described, as they were with the other diaries as well. In one entry she asks, “what is this month going to bring to us? Will there be more starvation? Will they be deporting people again? Will death prevail?” These are questions I never want to ask myself.
Men, women and children, were all rounded up to live in a concentration camp or ghetto, for no reason at all. People starving and people dying are both scenes from the Holocaust. Having not known much about the Holocaust myself, reading these diaries has been an eye opening experience. I have learned to appreciate the life, rich with opportunity, which has been given to me. Having read these diaries and understanding what happened to thousands of innocent people, I am left thinking, could this happen again?
- Today in society we can not begin to relate to the troubles, hardships and persecution that the brave young adults have felt in the diaries of Elsa Binder, Otto Wolf and the Anonymous Girl. These diaries are very deep and personal and give us insight into these people’s lives. Although most of these young men and women did not survive the war, their diaries have, and are a legacy of their short, hard lives.
The excerpt from the first diary of Elsa Binder is mainly about Elsa’s longing for liberation, and how unfair the Jewish council is in the ghetto. In the text, Elsa says that the workers in the Jewish council come each day wearing a new hairstyle or a new outfit, looking very nice. But, when the Germans visit the council they see that the workers are fairing well so the other people in the ghetto must be fairing well also. Therefore, “if one more kick won’t hurt them, will a new mass murder hurt?” This is a very saddening statement. It makes Elsa’s diary heartbreaking . . .
If I were to walk in the shoes of Elsa Binder, Otto Wolf, and the
Anonymous Girl I would be a changed person. The number one thing I would miss is food. I have a huge problem with gluttony, and I swear I am addicted to chocolate. I do not know what I would do if I could not eat a filling of food. I am hungry even when I skip breakfast, let alone breakfast and lunch! If I walked in Otto’s shoes, I wouldn’t be able to stand laying down in a bush all day, with thousands of ants crawling all over me, I can hardly stay still in a desk at school for one hour. I can not imagine lying in a bush all day and getting attacked by ants. I definitely give a lot of credit to these people; they are truly brave and courageous people.
I have learned so much from reading the excerpts from the diaries of Elsa Binder, Otto Wolf and the Anonymous Girl. Most importantly I have learned not to take the things I have for granted, and to be grateful for where I live, where I go to school, my food, and everything else that I have. I could not even begin to relate the experiences of [these children] to my life, and I think that I would be wrong and disrespectful to them if I did. My experiences are less than petty compared to the hardships of these brave men and women. They are truly amazing people.
- There were innumerable families spending days, weeks without food, and having to hide from authorities, in order to survive. In addition, many nights they had to sneak out and scurry through the blackness. The constant questions and panic flashing across their young faces, while mothers held them tight and told them everything would be okay. They did not know when the next meal was near, or when warmth and comfort would surround them again. These times were brutal, poignant and wrong. Although it was a very dismal time, it happened in the 1940’s, it is known as the Holocaust.
“I often feel useless at home, and dream of an independent life after the war is over,” said Elsa Binder, a young victim of the Holocaust in her diary. She was sad, and angered by this cruelty and want to get away. No one I know, or have ever known has had it as difficult as these victims I have read about in diaries have. Having to work 12-hur days, for almost nothing is mind- boggling. It literally made me cry to read about these lives of children my age, living a life of battle and loss.
“I am grieving more over the autumn of my parents’ life than over the spring of my own. I wish for their survival until the very end more than I wish if for myself. Since, without them, I’m not worth a thing,” says Elsa Binder, of her parents. These sufferers constantly thought about and questioned the death of themselves and the death of their loved ones. Tears roll down my cheeks to think about the hardships of these victims. I think of the soldiers surrounding every corner of the ghetto . . .watching every move they make.
These diaries of war, hardship and cruelty have changed by outlook on life. Not only have I learned to appreciate what I have, but that inappropriate things, such as name-calling or racial slurs can turn into bigger, worse things. The diary of Elsa Binder has given me a glance into what the Holocaust was really like. It is said that Elsa died during the Holocaust, and did not make it out alive. Watery eyes of mine fill when I think of her …
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