Image: Robert Herschkowitz, age 3, May 1941 in Marsailles, after fleeing Nazi-occupied Belgium for France.  More about Robert. 


Common Core State Standards as addressed by this Overview Lesson


Europe had a rich and diverse set of Jewish cultures that had existed for generations, in some areas for over a thousand years.

In 1933, approximately 9.5 million Jews lived in Europe, less than 2% of the total European population. The Jews of Eastern Europe lived predominantly in Jewish villages called shtetls. They wore traditional clothes, spoke Yiddish, and often kept to themselves.

In Germany and Western Europe, Jews tended to assimilate. They lived in the cities, went to the same schools, and dressed and spoke like their non-Jewish neighbors. The roughly 500,000 Jews who lived in Germany made up less than 1% of the German population. More than 100,000 Jews had served in the German army during World War I, and some were decorated war heroes.

Jews in Europe could be found in all walks of life: farmers, tailors, factory hands, accountants, doctors, teachers, artists, and business owners to name a few. Some families were wealthy; many more were poor. More than 60% of the world’s Jewish population lived in Europe at the time, and in little more than a decade, two out of every three of them would be dead, killed during the Holocaust.


  1. What challenges do minorities often face in societies? How might challenges and pressures change during of periods of great stress for a nation?
  2. Can minorities protect themselves and preserve community life in these environments?
  3. How can knowledge of the events in Germany and Europe before the Nazis came to power help citizens today respond to threats of genocide and mass atrocity in the world?
  4. Consider the place(s) in the world from which you/your family came to live in this country. To “assimilate” means to blend in, become fully part of, or integrated into a group or nation. How “assimilated” do you believe you/your family are into American life? Why, or why not? What are some challenges that immigrants and/or refugees might face when entering a new country? Are there reasons why some groups of people might, or do choose not to assimilate? Why, or why not?
  5. What is the author’s most likely purpose for including the following quote: “More than 100,000 Jews had served in the German army during World War I, and some were decorated war heroes.”
  6. Consider the video testimony of survivors Magda, Frieda, Noemi and Loreen. With which survivor, or part of their testimony, do you most closely connect? Elaborate on what you believe you most have in common with that survivor.