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January 24, 2015

Righteous Among the Nations: rescuers of the Holocaust – Lesson Plan

By Syd Golston and Paul Wieser

Syd Golston directs a Teaching American History grant for the Phoenix Union High School district. She is a former President of the National Council for the Social Studies.

Paul Wieser is a Mandel Fellow of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the former director of the Braun-Glick Holocaust Institute for the Anti-Defamation League.


During the Holocaust both Jews, as well as non-Jews were put to death as part of the final plan of the Nazi Third Reich, but many Jews and non-Jews fought back. Some were named “Righteous Among the Nations” which is an official title awarded by Yad Vashem on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. The title is awarded by a special commission headed by a Supreme Court Justice according to a well-defined set of criteria and regulations. Learn more about these brave souls who stepped up and made a difference.


History, Social Studies

Estimated Time

One class period (50 minutes) + research assignment and presentation time (optional)

Grade level 




Students will:

  • Examine the website of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.
  • Distinguish and recognize the requirements established by Yad Vashem for honoring Holocaust rescuers as, Righteous Among the Nations.
  • Research a member/s of the Righteous whom they select or have been assigned.
  • Compose an essay using the criteria established by Yad Vashem, justifying the selection of particular individuals for the designation of Righteous Among the Nations.


Using the Yad Vashem website, students will be guided into reading biographical entries from the website. They will use the entry of the person/s selected for a short essay explaining how the heroism/actions of that individual/s qualifies him/her to be designated as Righteous.


Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust established in 1953 by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Yad Vashem is located on the western slope of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. The memorial consists of a large complex containing many sites, such as the Holocaust History Museum, Children’s Memorial, the Hall of Remembrance, and an extensive research institute whose materials are largely available online.

When Yad Vashem came into being, a core goal of its founding visionaries was to recognize gentiles who, at personal risk, and without a financial or evangelistic motive, chose to save their Jewish brethren from the ongoing genocide during the Holocaust. Those so recognized by the State of Israel were awarded with the title Righteous Among the Nations.

Main Activity

  1. Share the information on Handout #1, Defining the Righteous
  2. As an example, share the story of one of the rescuers from the Yad Vashem website. Click on the “Righteous” tab and scroll down to “Featured Stories.”
  3. Using the titles found on Handout #2, Rescuers’ Stories, the teacher selects in advance the entries he/she wants the class to consider. The titles of these entries are printed out and cut into a number of slips. The students then are allowed to select from a “fishbowl” the entries they will be researching. Students then access the Yad Vashem website and locate the story they have chosen.
  4. Using specific examples from the entries they have read, students will compose an essay (no more than a page) that justifies why the individual/s they have learned about qualify for the designation of Righteous Among the Nations.

Extension Activities

  1. There have been many books written on the exploits of rescuers. (Ex. In Search of Sugihara; The Bielski Brothers) Select several compelling, age appropriate works for the students to read.
  2. Students could be assigned/select another rescuer to research but this time it must be an individual of a different gender and from another country.
  3. From the “Features Stories” list on the Yad Vashem website have the students search for individuals who have religious affiliations, i.e., priests, nuns. Discussion point: What were the responsibilities of the Christian churches towards their Jewish neighbors during the Second World War?
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