Judith Koch: Classroom Discussions

Judith Koch (15 minutes)

Historical notes:

For many years after the end of World War II, the German people tried to forget the terrors of Nazi rule and the Holocaust, as well as the horrors they themselves had to suffer.  Denying that the Holocaust happened is quite rare in modern Germany, but it is very common to hear people say, “my family didn’t know about, wasn’t involved, didn’t have anything to do with it.”  In fact, of course, a project as enormous as the slaughter of six million Jews and five million others could never have been carried out without the active cooperation of many thousands of ordinary Germans – and most of those who didn’t take part must have looked the other way.  Since the 1970s, however, the German government has encouraged study and discussion of the Holocaust in the schools.  Judith’s generation knows a lot about the Holocaust, and teenagers today know even more.  Many older Germans are still very sensitive on the subject and will not discuss it.  This has led to generational tensions in politics, schools, churches and families.


Questions for classroom discussion:

1.  Two generations have now grown up in Germany since the war.  How much do they know about the Holocaust, and – more to the point – how much are they willing to talk about it?  What reasons could you guess for either willingness or lack of willingness to discuss this painful subject?


2.  How do you think Judith feels about the Holocaust, and about Jews?  How strong are her feelings?  Watch her closely – do you think she is being completely honest about her feelings?


3.  Referring to the Jews of pre-war Germany, Judith says, “I can’t believe Grandma when she says they all went to America.”  Why would her grandmother say this, and why can’t Judith believe her?  How do you suppose she feels about not being able to believe her grandmother?

(She has studied the Holocaust in school; knows enough to know what really happened)


4.  Today, Judith is a doctor in Germany.  Do you suppose that learning about the Holocaust had any influence on her career choice?


5.  How did the Holocaust influence today’s German culture?

(You might discuss German politics: the Greens, socialists and other liberal parties that vocally oppose racism and link it with war, aggression and/or economic inequality; attitudes toward NATO and the large-scale presence of the American military; problems that have followed the reunification of the two Germanys; prejudice against foreign workers, especially Turks; and the rise of neo-Nazism.  On another note, discuss what happens in a society where different generations have vastly different experiences, attitudes and ‘selective memories’ about the past.)


6.  Do the younger Germans of today – anyone born after 1945 – have any responsibility for the Holocaust and its legacy?

(Do you try to put the past behind you and let the wounds heal, or do you keep the wounds open so that people will remember and not let it happen again?  Students can list pros and cons of both views.)


7.  What evidence of stereotyping can you find in Judith’s remarks?

(Jews were wealthy and smart; contrast with today’s Turkish workers)


8.  Have you ever seen or experienced scapegoating?


9.  Could something like the Holocaust happen again?  Where, and under what circumstances?  What would you do to prevent it?


10.  Why is it important to hear about the Holocaust from a German?

Link to Youtube video