While watching the students research the prewar Jewish life photos, I found it interesting that they seemed to sift through several pages of pictures—they did not take the very first photo that fit the criteria of the assignment. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at the great care students took and the scrutiny with which the students found “just the right one,” for whatever reason. As students are researching, keep in mind that they are not necessarily aware they will be looking through their own family photos at home. The teacher has the discretion to let students know ahead of time or not. I find that they will choose photos with which they identify anyway.
It is interesting to see in the student samples of work that all three chose photos which they say reminded them of their families. They focus on the smiles, the happiness, and the daily activities the photos depict. In finding their own photos to parallel, the students discuss noticing how life is no different now than it was then in terms of activities, specifically playing and gardening, and that this is evident as they looked through all of their family pictures, not just the ones they chose; apparently all of the photos looked through in researching stay in their minds.
In reflecting upon the student work here, it is obvious to the students what the goal of the assignment is as they work, and they already know what they will find: Jews were normal people who had normal lives in normal communities. Students also easily see the relevance of their own lives in comparison to that of the Jews, especially in terms of individuality. This is evident in their explanation of their parallel family photo.
Students are assessed several ways: through demonstrating the ability to choose photos according to the provided criteria concerning places and dates of Nazi control; through completing photo analysis sheets (two); through associating/seeing the parallel of their current life with their own photo that relates as evident in choice of photo(s) brought into class; through answering the questions posed in their writing assignment in an organized, thoughtful piece; and through explaining what happened to the Jewish community researched in answering the questions given.
Indicators of student understanding within these research and writing assignments are presented several ways. In their analysis of the researched photos, the level of detail given clearly suggests the amount of time taken to scrutinize them, and in turn, how well students comprehend what they see in the photos. In the written piece, student explanations of what they see in the Jewish photos about normal life, and how that relates to what they see in their own family’s photos, is a good indicator of student understanding of the lesson, particularly if a student shares some type of “story” about a family member in reference to both photos.
With respect to researching the Jewish community depicted in one of the photos, student understanding can be assessed through the details they give concerning the community’s cultural and communal life prior to Nazi invasion; it seems the fewer the details given, the less students are able to understand how “normal” each community was.
Students are also informally evaluated on this project through class discussion generated to see if they are participating and whether obvious connections were made between the photos researched, their own lives, and what the communities have in common. Clear indicators of student learning during the discussion are apparent through students’ comments comparing their own lives now or as a child to what they see in the photographs of the entire collection. For example, comments that spontaneously parallel what Jews did in their spare time to what the students do is a clear marker.
This particular project is also assessed through an essay question on the test following this unit: What was Jewish life and culture of interwar Europe like? Why is it important to consider as an aspect of the study of the Holocaust? Explain your answer using what you learned through, as well as giving examples from, the photo/research project; the video “There Once Was a Town”; The Three Gifts, by I. L. Peretz; and what we read about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Over the last couple of years that I have used this particular lesson, I have found that even if modifications are made, it is integral to the understanding of students that they find their own photo that parallels at least one of those researched. It is likely they will say, “But how am I going to be able to find one that relates 70 years after this?” To which I reply, “Just try, you’ll be surprised.” When they come to class that next day, they can’t wait to share, and as the photos are placed on the boards, a very interested but quiet perusal takes place as the students look at the photos together. It is also vital to the project that the class then discuss the collections’ similarities and differences.
While researching, some students choose to find out more about the people pictured in their photos, so certainly other assignments can grow from this one; yet, depending on time constraints, or whether students are having trouble researching, this project can be extended a few days or perhaps even shortened.
In directing this project, I must point out that the objectives of the lesson fall into place easily: it is an organized, complete, fun assignment that is highly interactive in many different ways. The biggest challenge presented in this project is helping the students find information on some of the locations where photos were taken; again, I tell them to keep searching, and ultimately, they find the answers on their own. The school librarian becomes an invaluable resource.
Students seem to know from the very beginning of this lesson what they will find: life is not any different for them than it was for the Jews of Europe, and individuals and communities who had much to offer were destroyed. Weeks down the road in class, when we are looking at photos of the ghettos or watching documentary footage of the “Final Solution” being carried out, it is obvious from student reactions, questions, and comments that the connection has been made: the photographs of life are ingrained in their minds, and therefore the ultimate loss is understood. Students remember who those people were, and then remembrance of lives lost continues.