Johanna Van Schagen: Classroom Discussions

Johanna Van Schagen (28 minutes)


Historical notes:

The Netherlands, or Holland, is a small country on the North Sea just west of Germany.  It was once a world economic power, but for the last two hundred years has been peaceful, liberal and non-aggressive.  Because Holland has always been very democratic and tolerant, it had a large Jewish population before the war, many of them “Sephardic” (that is, with Spanish, Middle Eastern or North African ethnic origins.  Most European Jews are “Ashkenazic,” that is, of white European background).

Trying out their new strategy of Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war,” the Germans invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940 and quickly occupied the entire kingdom.  The government fled to London, leaving the Dutch people to deal directly with the Nazis.  Dutch farm products were confiscated for German troops and thousands of Dutch workers were deported to be used as slave labor farther east.  Ninety percent of the Jewish population was annihilated in the next five years.  However, an underground resistance movement was active throughout the war, and one of its main goals was to rescue Jews whenever possible.  Some were hidden with families like the Van Schagens and others were smuggled out of the country, usually to England.  Anyone caught aiding Jewish refugees was likely to be executed on the spot.  Everyone in Holland suffered greatly from food and fuel shortages, but some shared what they had with victims of Nazi hatred.   The worst period was the winter of 1944-45, when the Allies were fighting the Germans within the country.


Questions for discussion


1.  Albert Einstein said that the world is too dangerous to live in – not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit back and let it happen.  Why did some people let evil happen, while others like Johanna stood up against it, even at great risk to themselves and their loved ones?


2.  Why did so many people in the Nazi-occupied countries help fugitive Jews, while so few people in Germany did the same?


3.  Do you consider Johanna a hero?  Why?


4.  What were some of the hardships the Dutch people had to face during the occupation?

(Shortages of all consumer goods and services; greatly restricted freedom to move around, speak out or participate in politics; lack of information about the war or any other news; the need to find new and creative ways to take care of one’s family, etc.)


5.  What effects did Johanna’s actions have on her children?  Are there circumstances where it is okay to teach your children to lie?


6.  Discuss: you know that authority has become too powerful when it interferes with the family: encouraging children to ‘tell on’ their parents, telling parents how to raise their children.


7.  How would an experience like Johanna’s change you? Or would it?

Link to Youtube video



8.  Why is it important to hear the story of the Holocaust from someone with direct experience of it?