Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust. 2012. Doreen Rappaport. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 196pp. (excluding extensive notes)
Genre: Informational narrative, history
Ages: Grades 6 and up. Rappaport handles a delicate topic with great sensitivity and skill. The content is necessarily somber—at times horrific—but Rappaport manages to make these stories accessible to younger readers without disguising or glossing over the truth.

In her moving Introduction, author Doreen Rappaport confesses that even while growing up in a Jewish household, she was told that during the Second World War, “Jews went like lambs to the slaughter.” Was it true? Determined to find out for herself, she embarked on a rigorous investigation that included six years of personal interviews with Holocaust survivors. Her conclusion: Even deprived of resources, homes, clothing, weapons, and virtually anything to fight with save their intellect and courage, the Jews proved to be formidable opponents, outwitting Nazi extremists at every turn, and preserving their treasured culture against overwhelming odds. Deeply moved by what she had learned, Rappaport wanted to share her findings with the world, and the result is this book.

Chilling in detail, highly readable, and impressively researched, Beyond Courage reveals the personal stories of people, many in their teens or younger, who risked everything to preserve their identity. Together, facing opposition from a political machine out to annihilate them, they set up schools, devised ingenious plans for smuggling children out of harm’s way (knowing they might never see them again), sabotaged Nazi trains and weapon depositories, trained themselves to be expert forgers in order to create travel documents, established wilderness camps from which to launch more elaborate plans, and routinely plotted and conducted the most daring escapes imaginable.

Children as young as seven or eight became spies and soldiers. Women carried weapons. People of all ages and both sexes faced unthinkable persecution, prejudice, starvation, and torture, yet refused to surrender or renounce their religion. They weren’t just brave. They were unstoppable. This is their story—and it is stunning.

In the Classroom

1. Reading. As always, you’ll want to preview the book prior to sharing. While it may be long to share in its entirety, it is broken down into 20 individual chapters, each of which is fairly short. You might choose one or two to share aloud, then invite students to read the remainder of the book on their own. Or as an alternative, choose a number of individual passages to read orally. Notice that the book contains historic summaries as well as the stories of individual resistance fighters. You will want to draw from both.

2. Background. What stories have your students heard about the Holocaust or Jewish resistance and survival during the time of World War II? Have they read The Story of a Young Girl (Anne Frank’s diary), In My Hands by Irene Opdyke, Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust by Allan Zullo, The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Carolyn Tomlin—or other books detailing true stories of the Holocaust, its victims, and its survivors? What do they know about Hitler, World War II, the Nazi movement, concentration camps, or the story of Hitler’s rise to power and eventual defeat? You may wish to provide some historic background prior to sharing the book to provide a context, keeping in mind that some history of the time is recounted in the book itself. If you are familiar with literature on this topic, you may also wish to create, with your students, a reading and media list for extended learning.

3. Personal connection. Are you or are any of your students of Jewish descent? What stories have you or they heard from parents, grandparents, or other relatives about Jewish resistance during the Holocaust? Can you or they provide any personal perspectives to enrich your class’s understanding of what Jews endured and overcame during this difficult and terrifying time? Regardless of heritage, we all have traditions or beliefs we hold dear, and family, religious, or cultural ties that are sacred. Ask students to imagine how it would feel to be evicted from their homes, separated from their families and possessions, and exist in constant fear of deportation or death. Would they have the personal courage to fight back, even if their lives or the lives of their families were at stake? Write a reflective piece about this—and expand this writing after sharing and discussing the book. (Suggestion: Before they write, share with your students poet Henryk Lazowertówna’s poem, p. 82. You may wish to have them perform it aloud, individually or through choral reading.)

4. Topic. From Rappaport’s Introduction, we know the central theme of the book: to demonstrate the extent to which the Jews fought back against Nazi domination. Does Rappaport make her case? Is this a persuasive book? If so, which stories or individual incidents provide, in your students’ opinions, particularly convincing evidence of Jewish strength and courage?

5. Persuasive writing. Is fighting back always the right choice—or is it a matter of judgment or circumstance? Are there times when the price to be paid for resistance is simply too great to justify opposition? Argument: Have students make a case for resisting oppression at all costs—or for peacefully abiding by a government’s rules, even if they seem unjust. If opposition involves violence, is it still justified? Under what circumstances? Have students use examples from the book or from current events to defend their arguments.

6. Character. The Common Core Standards for Narrative remind us that characters reveal their nature through the choices they make in challenging situations. Share the chapter titled “Coffee and Tea,” the story of Walter Süskind and his elaborate plans to rescue Jewish children. Based on the information in this chapter, what sort of person was Walter Süskind? What details help us to understand him? Based on the book, would your students regard his story as unusual—or was his a typical story of those who fought back? Cite evidence to support your claim.

7. Genre. The Common Core Standards divide writing into three broad genres: narrative, informational writing, and argument. Into which category does Doreen Rappaport’s book fall—or is it an effective blend of all three? Is narrative writing often informational? And do stories often provide the basis for sound argument? Does good writing generally comprise several different genres? Discuss or write about this.

8. Organization. Take a few minutes to discuss how this complex text is organized. Read the Introduction aloud, focusing on the six years of interviews and other research Rappaport did in compiling information in which to base her book. Have students imagine what it is like to have such an overwhelming collection of details, and to try putting them into a framework readers can process in a reasonable amount of time. What challenges would a writer face in doing this? What organizational strategies does Rappaport use to make this extensive and detailed information manageable for us, as readers? (Consider, among other things, how the book is divided into five sections and then into 20 chapters. Notice also the different kinds of text: historic summaries as well as stories. You may also wish to comment on how the author keeps individual sections short. Obviously, there was more—much more—to tell. How did she decide what to include? Also notice that while some of the organization is chronological, Rappaport also brings together multiple voices. Consider other topics for which a multi-voiced organizational approach might work well.)

9. Informational writing. The story of Jewish resistance is vast, and cannot be covered in a single book, however well-researched and written. Invite students to choose one topic for further exploration: e.g., life in the Warsaw Ghetto, Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), deportation of Jewish children, wilderness camps, children who acted as spies or procurers of food, the role played by skilled forgers, modern-day perspectives on the Holocaust. Ask them to research and write about their selected topics. You may also want to spend some time discussing the nature of research: Where will they find the best information? Note that Rappaport obtained much of her information through personal interviews—in other words, from first-hand sources. How is obtaining information from a first-hand source different from visiting a library or going on the Internet? What types of sources are most dependable when it comes to accuracy? And why is it always important to incorporate more than one kind of research (e.g., site visits, interviews, films, print) when preparing to write an informational piece?

10. Comparison/Contrast. If students have read any other literature written about the Holocaust (see item 2 above), invite them to do a comparison between any other work and Beyond Courage. That comparison might feature central themes, each writer’s approach to the topic, the kind of research each writer did, writing styles, document design, or any other elements of the two works. Students should be prepared to reference specific sections of each work, and include quotations from both works.

11. Reviews. Invite students to write reviews of Beyond Courage. They should focus on the strengths of the work and the audience for whom they think this writing is most appropriate. Reviews might be presented in written form or as podcasts or PowerPoint presentations. They can also be posted online with a vendor (e.g., Amazon) that invites such reviews.

12. Voice. The Common Core Standards suggest that informational writing or argument should be written in a style that is appropriate for the topic and audience. In other words, they are asking writers in such genres to assume a professional voice. Share any passage from the book aloud—e.g., the opening to the chapter titled “Scream the Truth at the World!” (p. 81). In this chapter, Rappaport is describing people starving on a diet of 184 calories per day—and children as young as six smuggling food into hungry families in the ghetto. How would you describe the voice she uses in this (or another) passage? Is it the right voice for this book? Why? (Note that Rappaport does not try to dramatize her information—but neither does she shrink from it. She relays her information in an unflinching but decidedly restrained fashion, letting the facts speak for themselves.)

13. Presentation. What do your students notice about the overall design of the book? You might draw their attention to colors, shifts in fonts, illustrations (what sorts of photos or drawings were chosen?), and the subtle background images. What do those images convey? The photos include numerous individual portraits of Jewish fighters, rather than Nazi military personnel or war criminals. Why is this significant? Also notice the silvery gray and blue cover of the book. What do those colors suggest?

14. Beginning and ending. Beyond Courage opens and closes with the words of Franta Bass, age eleven. Read Franta’s short free verse poem aloud and discuss what it reveals about her. Why do you think the author chose this piece to both open and close her book? What does this repetition say to us as readers? One need not be Jewish to feel the kind of pride and determination Franta conveys in her stirring poetry. Invite students to write poems of their own, honoring their own culture, heritage, or family.

15. Reflections on history. By her own admission, even the book’s author believed for many years that Jews had gone submissively to their deaths during the war. What created this impression? Write about this (Suggestion: Interview people of Jewish and non-Jewish heritage prior to writing). Many Jews were told they were being “relocated,” when in fact they were being shipped to work or death camps. Would they have resisted more forcefully had they known the truth? Could this sort of deception succeed (with any people) in our own culture in the present time? Why or why not? Have students write an argumentative essay taking one side or the other, and supporting their claims with specific evidence.

16. For additional information. The author provides extensive notes suggesting sources for further research (see the back of the book for important dates, source notes, and an impressive bibliography). In addition, however, she strives to continue the journey of discovery begun by this book by posting additional resistance stories on her website: http://www.doreenrappaport.com We invite you to visit her there.

Coming up on Gurus . . .
Next up, in honor of Women’s History Month (March 1-31), Jeff reviews two picture book biographies: Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough, and Brave Girl: Glara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel. Thanks for visiting. Come often—and bring friends. Remember, for the BEST workshops blending traits, common core, workshop, and writing process, call us at 503-379-3034. Give every child a voice.