Saturday, March 3, 2007

Historical relevance

Posted by: Margaret Lincoln // Category: Historical time period // 9:48 am

After last week’s excellent start to the blogging project, online discussion continues with posts focusing on historical relevance, life and religion, the power of good, and the power of evil. We look forward to your comments.

  1. How would you describe the lives of European Jews (such as the Weissmann family) before the onset of World War II?
  2. In what ways were daily lives changed following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939?
  3. What major events of World War II occurred while Gerda was in custody?
  4. What would Gerda’s reaction have been if she had known about these events?


  1. DClott

    Darryle Clott, Viterbo University, La Crosse, WI
    1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Fellow Bill Younglove and I along, with hundreds of other Holocaust educators through the years, have had the opportunity to travel to Poland and Israel with Holocaust survivor Vladka Meed, author of ON BOTH SIDES OF THE WALL. We visited three of the six death camps with Vladka in Poland; then, we visited Israel where we saw with our own eyes that the Nazis were not able to wipe out the Jews. At the conclusion of our trip, Vladka told us she wanted us to go back into our classrooms and teach about the vibrant, florishing Jewish society that existed before the Holocaust in order for students to learn about what was lost as a result. She wanted us to put names & faces on people rather than just portraying them as numbers & victims. That is why is it so important to read memoirs such as ALL BUT MY LIFE.

  2. mlincoln

    If you would like to learn more about Vladka Meed and her own heroic story, be sure to read a powerful first-person account of resistance and survival in the Warsaw Ghetto. See

  3. HarperCreekHS

    Kathi, Advanced Lit. 1st block
    Before World War II there was a huge Jewish population in Bonn, Germany, my home town. There were several synagogues and from what I heard in my history class and time witnesses who came to my school, they had a normal/nice life.
    Nowadays there’s only one rock with the Star of David left, that remembers of the Synagogue and the Jewish population in Bonn.

  4. HarperCreekHS

    Kayla, Advanced Literature, 1st block
    1. Before the Holocaust, the Jews had normal lives. They did normal things that you and I do today. They went on vacations, worked, went to school, went shopping, and spent time with their family and friends. They were able to do all of these things that we sometimes take for granted.
    2. When the Nazi’s invaded Poland, the Jews were no longer allowed to perform the daily tasks they used to. They had to struggle just to get food on their table.
    4. If Gerda would have known these events would take place before they occurred, she would never have believed it. Even when it did happen, she didn’t understand how people could treat them like this.

  5. HarperCreekHS

    Abbey, Advanced Literature, 1st block:

    I have come to learn the quote “evil prevails when good men do nothing” is very true. As for the majority of the beginning of the holocaust we, the Americans, did nothing. I hate starting statements with “what if” but in the duration of reading “All But My Life” I found myself doing so often. Asking what if we became involved earlier? How many could we have saved? The evil in the Nazis grew stronger and stronger as the good men in the world did nothing. Evil prevailed in 6 million lives that ended with silence. With books like “All But My Life” we are bringing those forgotten lives a voice, a voice saying that this will never happen again, a voice saying that good men can, and will triumph.

  6. HarperCreekHS

    L.B., Adv. Lit., 1st Block: Life in Poland changed drastically when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. I’m know many things changed in Gerda’s life, including when they were rationed food, forced to live downstairs in a wet, and moldy basement, and restricted from visiting her beloved garden. I’m sure it was also very hard for other families, including Gerda’s family.

  7. PennfieldHS

    Mrs. H, German 2

    Greetings! Good questions! Similar to ones we have been discussing in German class while reading ABML–I’m interested in reading more of the postings on Friday. We have talked about how ‘people are people’, and that we sometimes forget that with our categories of ‘german’ or ‘american’ or ‘iraqi’, etc. and that most people enjoy living peaceful daily lives. Everyone’s daily routine was changed with the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.

    On a related note, one major way in which our lives are different today is the dissemination of information, especially with the internet. We usually watch a german livestream news program, and we particularly watch for how german news reports information on their country and on America, and on Iraq. Doing that has helped us to realize how information might have been reported during WWII, of course, at a much slower rate!

    It is difficult for us to think today about how different it was during WWII to obtain reliable information, and yet it helps to unlock one of the questions many people have had about how so many Jews, scholars, and political opponents were willing to comply with Nazi requests to move during their countries occupation. Again, many people prefer to live peaceful daily lives, and fortunately, many people cannot image how unjust people can be to one another. With the forced evacuation and separation of families, the Nazis eroded support systems and took away “reliable” communication. In our discussions, we believed if GWK were aware of what was to come, then she, and many other families, would have remained with their families, enjoying whatever moments of peace they could find in their occupied countries, enjoying the familiarity of their homes, and eating what they had of their own food (and perhaps even organizing better to resist). Thanks for sharing your comments…it helps to spark more discussion in our class!

  8. BYounglove

    from Bill Younglove, California State University Long Beach: Regarding historical relevance, I like Abbey of Harper Creek High School posing one of my favorite questions, “What if…?” about this entire period of the Holocaust (primarily 1933-1945). At some point, I presume, the entire thing was “stoppable,” but at what point? Hitler subdued? Propaganda opposed? The military subverted? Bureaucrats in revolt? The infrastructure converted? Bystanders protesting? Professionals ceasing and desisting? There WERE some religious figures speaking out. There WAS the White Rose. Wives in mixed Aryan-Jewish marriages DID march. In 1944, there was AN attempt upon Hitler’s life. All too little, too late… How bad do things have to get before we act? At what point must those of us “busy living our lives” speak out?

  9. HarperCreekHS

    Kristen, Advance Lit.
    To the daily lives of European Jews, their lives were changed in a very big way. Due to the fact that people were invading their homeland, taking their belongings, and taking lives in the process. These are just some of the events that changed their lives during the war.

  10. HarperCreekHS

    Josh S, Adv. Lit, 1st Block — The daily lives of those living in Poland changed for the worst as a result of the invasion of the Nazis in 1939. The severity of Nazi cruelty grew and slowly smothered the Jewish community living there. After the initial invasion, life started normal, and gradually became tougher. In Gerda’s life this can be seen. After hearing of the Nazi invasion, Gerda and her family were worried of what would become of them. Her family began to lose rations, and was forced to live in the basement. They lost touch with the outside world, and were forced to live in isolation. I’m sure that other families at the time were going through the same thing.

  11. HarperCreekHS

    Before World War II, European Jews enjoyed the typical lifestyle all European families enjoyed. They were considered everyday citizens, and treated as such. This changed, however, as the Nazis invaded Poland and began taking away the rights and lives of Jewish people in the country. Because of this, Polish Jews lived in a constant state of fear and sorrow.

  12. HarperCreekHS

    Bryan Avd. Lit.
    Some of the major events that happened while Gerda was in the camps, were the invasion on Normandy, France, Battle at Montecito, Italy, and Berlin Air Raids. These all happened while she was in the camps. My question would be did she ever hear any of this while in the camps???

  13. HarperCreekHS

    Justin, Advanced literature, 1st Block;

    The holocaust bred many different views on religion throughout its duration. Many used the religion as a base of faith where life would get better, but many also admit to discarding their faith because a god could not allow something this inhumane to occur. What it all comes down to is manipulating your faith either into a motivation to continue on with hope, or to get a hold of a reality without faith in a higher power and put it on yourself.

  14. mlincoln

    Bryan, you mention some key historical events that took place during this period. Bill Younglove has developed a very useful chronology comparing the sequence of events in Gerda Klein’s memoir with corresponding historical events in the Reich sphere of influence. See

  15. LakeviewHS

    Jessica World At War
    1. European Jews were very close with their friends and family. Everyone talked to each other, most were very religious, and they went to church and prayed often. They lived a free life and they enjoyed everything and everyone that they came encounter with.
    2. The invasion of Poland has changed their daily lives by having to wear the star of David, having priceless items such as family jewelry taken away, food became very limited, and they couldn’t walk around the streets or even live in their houses freely anymore.

  16. LakeviewHS

    Lani- World at War

    1. The European Jews lived normal lives in their society before the Holocaust happened. They would do their everyday rituals with family and friends. They had their daily routines. After the Holocaust, all of that changed. All of the things that were once taken for granted daily were now a huge priviledge to see again.
    2. The invasion of Poland changed the Jews lives tremendously. They were not able to truly be who they were anymore. They didn’t have much of there belongings anymore that were important to them and were not able to do freely everyday anymore. Everything became hard, even putting food on the table. They were not the citizens anymore, they were slaves to power.

    -These stories from Gerda Weissmann have really opened my eyes to the trajedies and I am glad that we are able to discuss things such as this and really try and make a difference. I hope this continues for years to come so communities come together and build societies.

  17. LakeviewHS

    1. From what I’ve read and heard, before the war most of the Jewish population had jobs in high levels of society like medicine, law, and journalism. They lived the same way people do now. They cared about their families and friends. They had hopes and dreams and goals they wanted to accomplish during their lives. Of course, many never got the chance to see their dreams come true and their goals realized. It must have been extremely scary for them to all of a sudden be tossed aside and told they don’t matter in society.

  18. LakeviewHS

    2. After the Nazis arrived in Gerda’s town she and her family had to endure constant and intense fear. When the Nazis invaded Gerda’s neighbors had out flags in support of them. It was as if their friends and neighbors were turning against them. They lived in fear of being deported. Walking down the streets was an ordeal because the Nazis were everywhere. All Jews were forced out of their homes. The homes they had lived in for years were given to other people. Gerda and her family were confined to their isolating, dark basement. Gerda wasn’t even allowed to venture into her beloved garden.

    Heather- world at war

  19. PennfieldHS

    The European Jews seemed to live a very affluent life before the war, including Gerda’s family. The Nazi invasion hurt the lives of many of these people, robbing them of their most basic rights and priveleges. The breaking of the pact between the Soviets and Nazis greatly impacted her family and the war in general. The Nazis broke a big promise, and this was evidence of their evil, and it showed further that they could not be trusted.

    Wilhelm Schmidt

  20. PennfieldHS

    Charles, German II, 2nd Block:
    Gerda’s life before the invansion seemed very peaceful and tranquil. After the invasion her family’s life was very different. They were immediately cut off from many privleges, work, and had to behave much more cautiously. While Gerda was in custody the war expanded globally. If she had known this earlier she may have lost hope.

  21. PennfieldHS

    Rachel Burton, GERMAN II BABY!!

    1) The lives of Jews before the onset of the war seemed pretty normal. As mentioned in the book, Gerda’s family grew a garden. The garden can be looked as a sign of Gerda’s normal living in the lives of Jews. They akso owned a house and many of the same luxuries as non Jews had before the war.

    2) The daily lives of Jews seemed to change in the worst ways. They were forced to live in fear during the time of war. Jews were so used to having all sorts of freedoms. After the Nazi invasion of Poland those freedoms were taken away and Gerda’s family was forced to live in damp and cold conditions, always living in fear of who they might ever see again.

  22. PennfieldHS

    I would have to describe the lives of European Jews just like everyone else in that day and age. They were able to go on vacation, work and own businesses that were successful, and have many friends of different religions, without their friends feeling they would be persecuted by befriending a Jew. After 1939, however, the Jews of the European countries that were invaded became completely alienated, even in there own homes. As said in the story, Gerda and her family had auctioned everything they owned, and then were forced to live in the basement. That happened everywhere. And while this all was happening, Nazi Germany had decided to switch from just settling their governmental situation to conquering the world. They were basically the next Roman Empire, taking over the European countries around them and spreading their Anti-Semetic ideals to anyone who would listen and follow. If Gerda had known that this was the case while she was in custody, she might not have made the promise to her father that she would not commit suicide, or she may have broken that promise.
    -Branden, German 2

  23. PennfieldHS

    Jaime Probol, German II
    1.The lives of the European Jews seemed very peaceful. All were basically happy with themselves, living regular lives. Of course, this all changed when World War II struck.
    2. The war made daily life harder to get through. All of the freedom the Jews once had was instantly take out of their grasp. Life would never be the same.
    3. While Gerda was in custody, the Germans began to move out of their own country, in turn the war became much larger.
    4. If Gerda had knowledge of this event, she would be devastated. She would have lost all hope from the little she had.

  24. KCC

    Jo, Lifelong Learning
    4. I’m amazed that Gerda showed such courage and fortitude while a prisoner of the Germans. How fortunate she made that promise to her father never to give up, especially at the end of their forced march knowing that several of her close friends weren’t able to hang in there long enough to be rescued by Allied forces. No matter how many documentaries or movies I’ve seen on the Holocaust plus the visits I had to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the partially reconstructed Dachau prison in Germany, it’s beyond imagination how horribly cruel one supposedly “normal” race of human beings could treat another ethnic group of human beings and even in spite of that, so many survivors fortunately lived to tell their stories.

  25. HarperCreekHS

    Paul, Haper Creek HS

    1. European jews had a normal life style before the Nazi’s envaded. There life style was differant than most of ours here in the U.S. but pretty common where they were living loving, and carring.

  26. KCC

    Phyllis, Harper creek school district. Gerda’s life was good before the invasion. It was difficult for her and her fellow Jews to completely comprehend what Hitler was up to and consequently they did not resist/flee before it became impossible to do so. I agree with the other comments re “What If” the allies would have gotten involved much sooner. Perhaps many lives would have been saved.

  27. HarperCreekHS

    Nikki Advanced Lit. 1st block:
    1. Before WWII, the live of European Jews were….normal. They went to school, had gardens, went to work, cooked fresh home cooked meals, conversed freely with others, and could have friends that weren’t Jewish and not have to worry about there lives. They did what anyone else was doing during that time.
    2. After the Nazi invasion a lot of things changed. People who they thought were their friends were now ridiculing them and shouting hateful things at them just because they were labeled a “Jew”. Soon they lost freedoms, such as going to school and work. They couldn’t walk the streets without the fear of being picked up or beaten to death. The Jewish community was no longer people or humans but scum that needed to be cleaned off. What I don’t understand is how some of their close friends and neighbors would just turn on them in an instant.
    3. While Gerda was at Bolkenhain, working in the weaving mills, the First Warsaw Ghetto had an uprising and break out. Then Hitler ordered the liquidation of all ghettos in Poland and the USSR. Liberations started in the July 1944 and continue till her liberation day.
    4. Gerda probably would have found new hope for her own liberation and the end of the war. She might have created a plan for her own little rebellion. Of course her liberation wasn’t anywhere close yet and could bring mixed emotions to her and her friends. This might have caused a major difference in her life.

  28. PennfieldHS

    Kiley, German II, 2nd Block

    Before the War, Jews probably had normal lives, although Jews have been blamed and prosecuted for many years before the holocaust. And once the War started, life changed. Obviously it was no longer the same. Jews were being seen as the enemy and being a Jew or being friends with a Jew was a death wish. Hopefully she would still have faith in that everything would have been okay, but probably not. Knowing that death is more than likely going to come would be hard to deal with.

  29. LeggMS

    Lori Legg Middle School Adv. English

    I’m reading The Diary of Anne Frank, and it is very sad that someone can go off and kill massive amounts of people. I haven’t read Gerda’s book yet; it sounds good. I imagine that back during the Holocaust, life for a Jew must have been horrid. In the book I am reading, Anne and her family are in hiding and have regular people do errands for them. They can’t even go outside to play! Even though I haven’t read the book, I saw the movie in English class. I can’t believe that Gerda could live after being starved and living in very bad conditions. She slept in lice and never ate. I think after being through something that bad, you would be haunted with memories and nightmares for the rest of your life. I wouldn’t have the will to live after being starved to under 70 pounds. It is just sad. I don’t want something like this to happen ever again. It would just be a bad thing if that happend again.

  30. PennfieldHS

    Jaime, German II
    I really liked what Abbey from HC had to say on this topic. It is definitely true, we are constantly asking ourselves.. “what if”.. but nothing can be done about it now.

  31. HarperCreekHS

    Justin Adv. Lit.

    One of the reasons that the persecution of the Jews was so successful by that Nazis was that they withheld information about the rest of the world. If news would have been delivered then there likely would have been a greater resistance towards the end of the war.