Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More on Revenge after the Shoah

Last night I saw a preview of a new play by Daniel Goldfarb - "The Retributionists". The story is loosely based on history - you can read the background at this article in the Jewish Week.

(excerpt below from 8/25/09 Jewish Week)

"Cohen’s book “The Avengers: A Jewish War Story” tells a revenge tale more fully, while also noting the consequences: Jewish acts of vengeance made Zionists uneasy since they knew it would hurt the cause of statehood. He focuses on partisans Abba Kovner, Ruzka Korczak and Vitna Kempner as they escape from the Vilna ghetto and form a paramilitary group that fought alongside the Lithuanian and Russian armies. After the war, several wanted to take justice into their own hands and formed a Nazi-hunting group called Nokmim, Hebrew for “the avengers.”

The group planned to poison the water supply of several German towns, but was thwarted by someone suspected of being a Zionist informant. Kovner was arrested by the British military before the plan went through, but the group’s backup plan eventually succeeded: a partisan disguised as a baker snuck into a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp where he rubbed arsenic on 3,000 loaves of bread. He then fled, anxiously awaiting the result. It remains unknown how many died, but The Associated Press reported days later, on April 26, 1946, that “nineteen hundred German prisoners of war were poisoned by arsenic in their bread early this week in a United States camp and all are ‘seriously ill.’”

You may want to examine this incident in more detail with your high school students.

One can also see this play through the lens of today's world - a world in which some people wish to right what they understand as historical wrongs through revenge against those they hold responsible, others seek to look ahead to plan positively for the future.

Big Idea:
  • After the Shoah ended, those who survived had differing responses to the tragedy.
  • The world continues to be a place in which some groups suffer at the hands of others.
  • We face a challenge in deciding on appropriate responses to wrongdoing.

Essential Questions:
  • What does Jewish wisdom tell us about response to evil?
  • What does Jewish wisdom teach us about punishment of wrongdoers?
  • What can we do about injustice in the world today that is aligned to Jewish thought?
Activities for Learning:
  • Read about Jewish social action here
  • Mazon, a group dedicated to fighting hunger in the world, has the following list of text sources on its website. Incidentally, the website also has quotations from every parashah along with suggestions for social action projects associated with each.
  • is a site you may or may not want to visit. It includes an article about a joint Jewish/Moslem effort to fight anti-semitism and Islamophobia.
  • There was a symposium in 2005 entitled "Freeing the Captives; The Jewish Response to Human Trafficking. After reading the brochure, you or your students may want to contact one or more of the presenters for more information about this massive problem.
  • There are many Jewish organizations devoted to fighting injustice. Teams of students may research some of them: American Jewish World Service, Jewish Funds for Justice, The Jewish Service Corps, Hazon, Tzedek, Mechon Hadar, Uri L'Tzedek.
  • On1Foot is "an open-source online database of Jewish texts on social justice." It is a wonderful resource for planning learning.
  • Create with your students a plan for activities in pursuit of social justice in your community. Research needs, available services, population, etc. and decide how your efforts can be most productive. Be sure to include study of texts in planning and executing your activities.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very nice format for beginning an important discussion. I particularly like the big ideas.