Social Justice Stories

building compassion, tolerance, and responsible citizenship through social justice narratives

Journal Topics

Spriritual Resistance during the Holocaust

During the Holocaust, Jews fought to keep their humanity, many times bravely right under the noses of Nazi guards and officials. Jewish musicians, artists, and teachers continued to create, stressing the strength of the human spirit. This is called "spiritual resistance". It is defined by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as Jewish peoples' "attempts...to maintain their humanity, personal integrity, dignity, and sense of civilization in the face of Nazi attempts to dehumanize and degrade them (and)...refusal to have one's spirit broken in the midst of the most horrible degradation."

Read the quotes below by Holocaust survivors about the role of music, drama and other cultural productions and take some time to reflect upon the journal writing topics and questions that follow.

"Music meant such a lot for us because we felt like human beings again. We didn't feel like animals. You could cry, you could open your heart....For moments to forget, for half an hour to forget. We could cry there, we could be happy there. We could remember and we could hope - And all of us tried to take part. It was not so easy."
-Zuzana Podmelova

"We were not only hungry physically: we were hungry for culture. We had very few meals, but people would give their last piece of bread to get a ticket for a performance."
-Helga Weissova-Hoskova

"Culture in Terezin* taught me one thing - you can learn from history. In this case you can learn that the human spirit, if you keep it at peak activity, can help you to survive. It is incredible, but listening to Bach's 'Chaconne' can help you overcome hunger, which, when it reaches life threatening dimensions, displays all the characteristics of a deadly mental illness...."
-Dr. Herbert Mandel

*Terezin was located in Czechoslovakia, which was walled off in 1941 and turned into a ghetto called Theresienstadt, where Jews from Czechoslovakia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands were forced to live. Approximately 144,000 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt; 33,000 died in the ghetto and 88,000 were deported and murdered at Auschwitz.

Journal Writing Topics and Questions

1. What do these quotes say about the role of "cultural institutions" in the Jewish people's struggle against their Nazi perpetrators and their attempts to survive and overcome horrific surroundings?

2. Think about the following quote, "For moments to forget, for half an hour to forget. We could cry there, we could be happy there. We could remember, we could hope." What does she mean when she says, "We could remember, we could hope." What do you think Jewish prisoners would remember during these performances?

3. How do you think these performances gave prisoners hope? Why do you think any activity that gave prisoners hope would be considered a powerful form of resistance?

4. Think about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Why do you think they felt it was so important to include the right to express feelings and views, the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and the freedom to associate and assemble peacefully? How does this relate to the quotes above?

5. Think about the role of music, art, drama, or other forms of self expression in your life. Has there ever been a time in your life that it gave you hope, cheered you up, encouraged you, or helped you through a difficult time? How did it help? What was its significance?