- Explore background on the historical context of the film
- Introduce the film’s key themes and concepts
- Examine the relationship between the Polish people and the Jewish people before and during WWII
- Examine the questions: Who is in our universe of obligation? Who is included and excluded? How are these decisions made?
GRADE LEVEL: 9-12
ESTIMATED TIME NEEDED: 1 or 2 class periods
- Filmmakers’ “Hiding and Seeking” site
- Jewish Virtual Library
- YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
- Facing History and Ourselves
Options: You may choose to view the first part of the film in this initial class period. See lesson 2.
- “Hiding and Seeking” centers on questions about community. Before watching the film, ask your students to consider which communities they are part of. What binds those communities together? Are they defined by geography, ethnicity, religion or self-selection? Do they consider some communities more important to their lives than others?
- In her book, Accounting for Genocide, sociologist Helen Fine coined the phrase, “universe of obligation.” She defines this concept as the circle of individuals and groups “towards whom obligations are owed, to whom rules apply, and whose injuries call for [amends].” Consider the word “obligation.” What does it mean? If somebody is obligated to another, how does it influence his or her responsibility towards that person?
- Invite students to create a series of concentric circles in which the inner circle includes those people for whom they feel a strong responsibility. As the circles move outward the level of responsibility that the students feel for those people included in these outer rings decreases. After students create this pictorial response to the question of who is in their “universe of obligation,” ask the class to consider the following questions:
- Who is in your innermost circle?
- What groups are in the outer circles?
- Are there groups that may not have made the chart at all?
- How do they make these decisions?
- Directors Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky explain that “Hiding and Seeking” tells the story of a father who tries to alert his adult Orthodox Jewish sons to the dangers posed by defenders of the faith who preach intolerance of the “other” and who feel compelled to create impenetrable barriers between “us” and “them.” Read Reproducible #1 with your students to prepare them for watching the film.
- After reading the description of the film, as a class, brainstorm a list of questions they think the directors wanted to address in the film. Save this list to revisit after watching the last section of the film.
- Daum and Rudavsky write, “Unfortunately, we are witness to a resurgence of fundamentalism and religious hatred throughout the world. The greatest danger humankind now faces comes from people who claim to be religious and yet are blind to the divinity within each and every one of us.” Ask your students if they can think of recent examples of violence fueled by the kind of religious hatred that Daum and Rudavsky warn about?
It is preferable for your students to have at least a basic understanding of the Holocaust — especially a sense of the long history of anti-Semitism in Poland before and in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust — before watching the film.
Between the years 1939-1945 the Germans, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, invaded much of Eastern and Western Europe and killed millions of people, including civilian populations of men, women and children. One of the groups singled out by the Nazis for the most brutal attack were Europe’s Jews. Almost 6 million died in ghettos, concentration camps, death camps, or as forced laborers. They died of disease and starvation, but most were systematically murdered in killing operations between the years 1941-1945. One of the hardest hit countries was Poland; a country where Jews had been living for a thousand years and that had the largest Jewish population in Europe aside from the former Soviet Union.
This history is well covered in the resource books Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior and
Facing History and Ourselves: The Jews of Poland. Both books are available at the Facing History and Ourselves Campus website.
- Reproducible 2, an excerpt from the introduction to “Facing History and Ourselves: The Jews of Poland,” provides a helpful background to the history of the Jewish people living in Poland. You can use that resource as well the Jewish Virtual Library to explore the questions:
- How did the Jews of Poland interact with their non-Jewish neighbors at different periods of time?
- What are the historical circumstances that impacted these interactions?
You also may choose to create a web quest for your students in which they will explore the Jewish Virtual Library website, which gives a history of Jewish life in Poland. Students should explore the website to find answers to the questions listed above. If you do not have access to a computer lab you can print out materials from the websites for students to read and gather information.
- Facing History and Ourselves created a study guide called, “Rescuers of the Holocaust.” This study guide provides background information on this topic as well as related activities. You can download it free of charge at the Facing History website.
Reproducible 1: About the Film “Hiding and Seeking”
Note: Reproducible 1 is available as a single page PDF file (16KB).
The filmmaker Menachem Daum, an Orthodox Jew and child of Holocaust survivors, has spent much of his life trying to understand the crisis of faith that his parents suffered as a result of the Holocaust. Recently he has become increasingly concerned about the rise of intolerance in the world. Daum and his co-director Oren Rudavsky write:
Unfortunately, we are witness to a resurgence of fundamentalism and religious hatred throughout the world. The greatest danger humankind now faces comes from people who claim to be religious and yet are blind to the divinity within each and every one of us. “Hiding and Seeking” tries to present an example of how it is possible to be true to one’s deepest religious convictions and yet feel a profound sense of connectedness to every single human being.
—Arnold Zable, Jewels and Ashes, (Harcourt Brace, 1991), p 12.
Menachem’s understanding of Judaism inspired him to take his adult children on a journey to discover what he believes is central to his tradition. “I believe better no religion than a religion that does not see the godliness in every human being.” Menachem fears that his son’s practice of their faith, also influenced by centuries of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, has led them to live in an insular community where they choose to close themselves off from the non-Jewish world.
In the course of telling its compelling and dramatic story, “Hiding and Seeking” explores the Holocaust’s effect on faith in God as well as its impact on faith in our fellow human beings. It embeds these issues in a deeply personal intergenerational saga of survivors, their children and their children’s children. Filmed in Jerusalem, Brooklyn and Poland, the film focuses on the filmmaker’s attempt to heal the wounds of the past by stopping the transmission of hatred from generation to generation.
Reproducible 2: Outsiders in Eastern Europe
Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Facing History and Ourselves: The Jews of Poland
Note: Reproducible 2 is available as a single page PDF file (56KB).
Whoever we are, we are,
But Jews we are.
Whatever we do, we do,
But on the Sabbath, we rest.
— Yiddish Folksong
Jews began arriving in Poland in the 12th century. Many had been expelled from countries in Western Europe for refusing to convert to Christianity. Poland was one of the few places in Europe where they were free to enjoy the customs, traditions and beliefs that set them apart from their neighbors. There, over many centuries, they built a civilization — a way of life that still shapes our ideas of what it means to be a Jew.
Chapter 1 considered some of the factors that shape our identity. This chapter explores questions of membership and belonging by focusing on the factors that define a group’s identity. That definition has enormous significance. It indicates who holds power in a place and how individuals and groups within the larger society define their “universe of obligation” — the circle of individuals and groups toward whom it has responsibilities, to whom its rules apply, and whose injuries call for amends.
For much of history, birth determined a person’s place in a community. In a traditional society, children inherit their status from their parents. Rights, privileges, even occupations are passed from mother to daughter and father to son. Chapter 2 explores what happens to outsiders in such a society. How do newcomers make a place for themselves? How secure are those places? In reflecting on the ways his ancestors answered such questions, Arnold Zable came to realize that Jewish communities during the Middle Ages were never “entirely secure.”
Arbitrarily, a charter or privileges they had been granted could be repealed, and their function, place of residence and status redefined. There was always the threat of a sudden whirlwind, a madman on the rampage full of drink and misdirected rage, inciting the mob to join in and take out its frenzy on these peculiar people who had settled among them with their private God and the countless prayer-houses in which they worshipped Him. So [Jews] maintained their talent for movement, traveling within the prescribed boundaries as itinerants, eking out a living from limited opportunities.
By the 1700s and 1800s, ideas about membership and belonging were changing. Both centuries were a time of upheaval almost everywhere in the world. Nowhere were those changes more unsettling than in Poland. After a series of wars that tore the country apart, Poland’s name disappeared from world maps. Its land and people were divided among the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian empires. Most Jews found themselves living under Russian rule. In the past, the Russians had not permitted Jews to settle anywhere in their empire. Now they gave Polish Jews the right to live in Russia but only in the far western section of the empire, in an area known as the Pale of Settlement.
Other changes were inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment. In the 1700s, a group of thinkers in France began to emphasize reason over faith and the rights of the individual over the state. They believed that every person has a right to work out his or her own destiny. These ideas had enormous appeal for young Jews eager to escape the narrow confines of their village and explore the larger world. Suddenly birth no longer determined one’s place in the world. Talent, skill, even perseverance seemed to matter more. Religious identity was also becoming a matter of choice. There were now many more ways to be a Jew.
By the early 1800s, Eastern Europeans were also feeling the impact of the Industrial Revolution. It began in England in the 1700s with the invention of machines powered by steam. That innovation quickly led to thousands of others. The Industrial Revolution changed not only the way goods were made but also where they were made. More and more people left the countryside for jobs in urban centers. For some, these changes were so unsettling that they looked for someone to blame for all that was new and disturbing. Increasingly in the 1800s, Eastern Europeans blamed the Jews. In doing so, they drew on a long history of violence against Jews.
This chapter and those that follow do not provide a complete history of Polish or Eastern European Jews. Rather they use autobiographies, official documents, literature and other primary sources to explore the ways Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors responded to questions of difference at various times in their shared history. Those sources help us “draw conclusions from what we see to what we do not see” and “recognize ourselves in the past, on the steps to the present.”