After reading "Friedrich," a book for young people written by Hans Peter Richter, students interviewed eyewitnesses from their hometowns. Accompanied by one of the eyewitnesses, the students visited the city museum and the Jewish cemetery. The last part of the project, a trip to the Moringen memorial, focused on the persecution of young people during the Nazi era.
The official guidelines set by the state of Lower Saxony for the study of history and social studies in grades 5 and 6 require, among other things:
"Any discussions with the theme of children and youth during the Nazi period should, most of all, use examples from the everyday life of children under the National Socialist dictatorship. Appropriate children's and youth-oriented books ... should be incorporated into the curriculum. Examples from the students' own region are extremely valuable ... The inclusion of witnesses and visits to memorials should be carefully prepared for, if they are to be used in conjunction with the lessons."
After looking at a lot of children's literature, I decide to use the book "Damals war es Friedrich" ["Friedrich"] by Hans P. Richter (New York: Puffin Books, 1987) as part of our classroom instruction and our project, "Children and Teenagers under the Nazis."
The book is narrated in the first person from a child's perspective and tells the story of the brief life of the Jewish child, Friedrich Schneider. It covers his life from his birth in.1925 to age 17 in 1942, when he was thrown out of an air-raid shelter (because he was a Jew) and killed by a bomb fragment.
Hans Peter Richter's story chronologically follows the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. Almost every one of the 32 chapters contains another step towards the Jews' deprivation of their rights, their segregation and killing. It begins with curses and accusations and ends with the destruction and arrest of the Jewish population, as well as the death of Friedrich, who represents the fate and murder of millions of Jews.
The brutality and violence used against the Jews in Nazi Germany are symbolized by the experiences of Friedrich and his parents. The book includes dramatic and powerful accounts of such occurrences as: the termination of the Schneider's apartment lease (Conversation on the Stairs); the loss of employment (Herr Schneider); Nazi propaganda (The Way to School, The Jungvolk ...); humiliation at the swimming pool, the movies and in the park; the destruction of Jewish shops and homes; and violence against people.
The book is narrated from the perspective of a non-Jew, who as a child and teenager helplessly experienced the escalating persecution of the Jews.
Hans Peter Richter allows the juvenile reader to see the specifics of Jewish persecution more clearly and more forcefully than any other documentation. The reader also gains insight into Jewish life and thought.
Creating the Project
The historical background poses a special problem because students at this age level do not yet have a sense of historical time and chronology. For this reason, informational flyers, which briefly give the historical background in concise language easily understood by children, are distributed. The students read the chapters of the book together in the correct order and gain further information from the glossary and explanations in the appendices.
Work sheets are used to increase understanding and to expand upon the book contents. Many of the exercises demand that students develop an opinion, consider the statement of the problem, state their opinions and describe their feelings.
In order to avoid simply passively reading the book, reenactments of certain chapters are performed [see Documents]. This allows students to identify with specific characters in the book. The role-playing often reveals that many students are deeply moved by the book. Friedrich's life and fate affect everyone. There are spontaneous questions and emotional reactions that must receive thoughtful and patient replies.
In the chapter "The Jungvolk," Friedrich learns that he does not belong to "the chosen.".The Führer's Pimpfe take an oath against the Jews. A word game about the slogan "The Jews are our misfortune," juxtaposed with Friedrich's comment, "The Jews are your misfortune," are recorded in the students' "Triangle of Tension" worksheets [see Documents].
A 20-minute film about Die Hitlerjugend [the Hitler Youth] by the Bavarian School Television is shown. It presents clearly how children and teenagers were wooed and trained with the Nazi ideology through games and sports, mass rallies and summer camps, and the abuse of education to change happy children into compliant soldiers.
In the chapter "The Teacher," Mr. Neudorf informs his students about the history of the Jews, the most important holy Jewish writings and their relationship to Christianity. It is essential that students have some familiarity with the Bible, Torah and Talmud in order to understand the Jewish religion. The applicable worksheets are to be done in class together.
In the chapter "The Festival," students also learn something about Jewish worship, the interior of a synagogue, and the appearance and behavior of religious Jews.
Particularly eventful chapters of "Friedrich" ("The Death," "The Rabbi," "Vultures," and "The End") are read aloud by the teacher. In the chapter "Benches," Friedrich takes a liking to Helga, an Aryan girl.
The students explain Friedrich's feelings by means of a worksheet with the following assignment. They are asked to identify with Friedrich in writing a letter and to emphasize Friedrich's experiences with Helga, based on the following passage from the book:
"Do you have time for me? I want to write something to you. My father cannot understand; he never really listens. But I have to tell someone, though, or I won't be able to take it anymore!"
The chapter "In the Shelter" reveals the lack of respect for individuals expressed by the Nazis and their collaborators. But there is a bit of resistance against the measures in the air-raid shelter. The students experience Mr. Resch, the landlord from chapter one, as "Fiesling" ["bastard"], for whom Jews are less important than "mangy dogs."
Friedrich's death is handled by a lecture from the teacher and the students react with anger and sadness because the Nazis showed no pity, even for a dead Jew.
The students then read together the Johannes R. Becher poem, "The Jew."
Several videos can be shown in conjunction with the chapter. These include:
"Jugend unter Hitler" ["Youth Under Hitler"] (A program for school television from Südwestfunk Baden-Baden in cooperation with Taurus-Film Munich).
"Blut und Ehre" ["Blood and Honor"] (The four- part television series shows the lives of selected families during the years 1933-1940, their development during this time, discussions within the families, opinions for and against the dictatorship).
Visiting the Museum
After this series of lessons, the students visit the Göttingen City Museum during a project week. They receive a work sheet and are instructed to record what the Nazi era was like in their own town.
In addition, two eyewitnesses are invited to the class:
· Artur Levi, former Mayor Emeritus of Göttingen
· Jochen Pitsch, former pastor of the Göttingen Lutheran Church
The students are well prepared with questions [see Document] for these sessions and are anxious to hear the guests' replies. Together with Artur Levi, the class visits the Jewish cemetery.
Trip to Moringen
Finally the students undertake a class trip to Moringen. They visit the memorial of the former concentration camp for teenagers, which was located in the former state hospital between 1940 and 1945. Ursula Gerecht and Fokko Ukena (a student's father) are members of the memorial staff; they describe living conditions at the concentration camp and the grounds for arrest. In the memorial's entrance hall, the students are rendered silent after a presentation of the book "Paule Pizolke," by Arnulf Zitelmann, which deals with the horrific experiences of a youth arrested and sent to Moringen. A visit to the Moringen cemetery, where 55 prisoners are buried, intensifies the impact. The students then work through their impressions by writing down their thoughts, painting, or writing poetry in their spare time.
After this visit, the program is evaluated. Andreas Wedekind, a staff member of the Göttingen newspaper, "Extra Tip," who had accompanied the class on all project days, asked the students for their views and impressions. Some of the responses were:
Matthias: "I understand for the first time how horrible it must have been."
Mark Alexander: "I already had known a lot of this, but this made it more real."
Nils: "Speaking with eyewitnesses to the Nazi era is different than reading about it."
Arne: "It is unimaginable what took place then.
"Paul: "It is essential to really come to terms with this period in order to understand it."
The rest of this conversation was published in "Extra Tip" on June 18, 1995.