Day 1–2: Finding photos, analysis, and town research
In class, students brainstorm a list of words they associate with "typical" or "normal" daily life, as they know it, and then we share those lists in class. Project instructions are handed out and explained, and students are asked to transfer the "brainstormed" list of words (to use as keywords in searching the archives) to the back of that paper to have at their fingertips.
Students will now spend two days during class time using computers to access and research two photos of pre–World War II Jewish life in Europe. It is important to note the locales of photos and years in which photos were taken to determine whether they depict life before the Nazi occupation of that country, and, if so, note that life was therefore "normal."
Most students will ask the teacher to help with this aspect, but they can also find out on their own; additionally, students will search through the photo archives until they find "just the right one" for themselves. Students are then to copy and paste each photo, the date it was taken, and its locale (not the caption, however) into a new document and print. After students have found and analyzed the photos using the worksheets provided, they should begin researching the town or city of one of the photos they collected by answering the following questions. Research is due on Day 3.
- How large was the town’s/city's Jewish population and how long had Jews been living there?
- What was Jewish life/culture in that town/city like prior to the German invasion?
- Where is or was that town/city located?
- When and how did the town/city come under Nazi rule (timeline)?
- What was the fate of this particular town's/city’s Jews during the Holocaust?
For homework, students are to look through their own family photos to find at least one to bring in and share with the class that relates in some way to one of the photos they have researched. I do not tell them that they will be bringing in their own photo when they begin searching for photos, so they choose photos that strike them in some way, rather than ones for which they know they may find a match at home. Also as part of their homework, students are to write an organized response to the following questions concerning their photos:
- In examining your researched photos, what evidence suggests that life was “normal” or “ordinary” for the Jews prior to the German occupation?
- What did you discover as you looked through your own family’s photos in relation to those that you had researched? Which one did you choose to share? How does it relate and why?
- What do these photos, both yours and the researched ones, tell you about Jewish life in Europe before World War II?
Day 3: All work due, in-class discussion
The entire project is due, but in stages. Usually I give the following directions, and then 15 to 20 minutes of class time for completion, before our final processing and discussion. First, students are to attach their own family photo to the prewar one it relates to, so that both can be seen. (I have also had students put their photos on one board and the Jewish life photos on a separate board to compare and contrast.)
Either way, students are to hang the collected photos (including their own) on a chalkboard or bulletin board so that it will be one large visual collection. Third, students are to mark with a pushpin on the posted classroom map the location researched during this project. Fourth, students are to staple together and turn in the remaining photo analysis sheets (two, one for each photo), writing assignment, and locale research.
After those tasks are completed, a final project synthesis takes place: first, students gather around the boards, and we look at the class photographs together and discuss the similarities and differences we notice. Then, students take their seats so that we may continue our discussion. The focus of the discussion should be on how the students and people pictured are similar to each other, and how the community of the students and those pictured are similar, as well. Discussion questions include but are not limited to the following:
- What did you find out?
- What were you surprised by?
- What was Jewish life like before the German occupation?
- What are the similarities and differences of life in both sets of photos?
- Which European Jewish communities were affected?
- How were European Jewish communities affected?
- How did the Germans gain control?
After assessing students’ understanding of the project through the previous questions, discussion should then focus on the magnitude of six million lives lost through the visual on the wall of the people in the photos. Students have already counted them for their analysis sheets, so involving the entire class by adding up the numbers then dividing into six million can be powerful; however, it can also be confusing.
Try to make a connection between the individual lives lost and the statistic of six million by gauging the space filled by the photos and number of people there, and then approximately how many walls that would be, and then rooms, floors, and so on.
Finally, emphasis in the discussion should move toward the respect for individual lives lost in the Holocaust as a way of renewing those lives, recognizing them. Focus should also be placed on the recognition of Jewish cultural and communal life in pre-occupation Europe, how diverse it was, and what was ultimately lost.