In the Lead
Subject: Social Studies
Grade Level: 9 through 12
Sunshine State Standards:
- Reflect upon questions of guilt and hatred in the context of the Holocaust.
- Compare/contrast the meaning of loyalty or patriotism during the Holocaust and today.
View all Sunshine State Standards
- Grades 9-12
- SS.A.1.4.3, 3.4.9, 3.4.10, 5.4.2, 5.4.4, 5.4.5, 5.4.6, 5.4.7
- SS.C.1.4.1, 2.4.4
Vedem ("In the Lead") was the secret magazine published by a group of boys held captive in the Terezín ghetto. The weekly issues from December 18, 1942, to July 30, 1944 are collections of articles, reviews, poetry, plays and other writings by the boys. Many of the pieces reflect the attitudes and thoughts of their 13- to 15-year-old authors and lend themselves to class discussion.
One article by Valtr Eisinger, the boys' teacher, raises questions also suitable for discussion. The article was written before the Jewish New Year, a time for contemplation of one's actions of the past year. Eisinger found himself instead contemplating the actions of those around him. He did this not because he thought he was free from sin, but because he felt his own sins were minuscule compared to what was going on around him at the moment.
Valtr Eisinger was a teacher/mentor whose qualities included an uncommon tolerance, inner strength, tremendous altruism, and the ability to touch and inspire those with whom he came in contact. As a teacher, his greatest talent lay in his use of the Socratic method. In his article he says that he does not want to give the boys ready answers. His goal was for the students to construct their own knowledge. He forced his young charges to think and draw their own conclusions. In light of the sea of war crimes swirling around them, Eisinger posed these questions to his young readers:
- How should one behave toward the perpetrators of that war?
- Is the German nation as a whole guilty?
- Should our hatred, our just rage and our judgment come down on them all, without distinction?
- Do we want to reciprocate with the same unjust hatred that we are suffering under at the moment?
Eisinger concluded his article with a quotation from Goethe.I often think of my novel Wilhelm Meister, where the idea is expressed that all people make up the sum total of mankind, and that we are worthy of respect only insofar as we respect mankind as a whole.
I like observing foreign peoples, and I would advise everyone to do the same. National literature has nothing to say. The epoch of world literature has begun and everyone must try to advance it.
The poet loves his country as a man and a citizen, but the land of his poetic power and his poetic acts is goodness, nobility and beauty, which are bound to no particular region and to no particular country. In this he is like the eagle who, with vision free, soars above all countries. What then do love of one's country and patriotism mean? They mean fighting against all harmful prejudices, eliminating narrow-minded views, enlightening the spirit of one's own nation, purifying its taste and ennobling its thoughts and sentiments. Can anyone do better than that? Does acting patriotically mean anything else?
- Have students discuss their own answers to Eisinger's four questions. Then share with your students the fact that only 15 of the 100 boys who went through Eisinger's class survived the Holocaust. Ask the students if their answers would be the same if they were among the 15 survivors.
- Discuss Goethe's definition of love of country and patriotism. How does it compare with Nazi ideology?
- In light of the above discussion, have students answer the question: What does it mean to act patriotically as an American?
Marie Rút Krízková, Kurt Jirrí Kotouc, and Zdenek Ornest (eds.), We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine by the Boys of Terezín. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1995.
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.