Printable Teacher's Guide:
The Other Side of Faith

Guide Components


Credits
Teacher's Guide developed
by Margaret Walden
Coordinator of Instructional Services
Richland School District 2
Columbia, South Carolina


Suggested Grade Levels:
5th-12th


Subject Areas:

Social Studies, US and World History, Language Arts, and Character Education

Pre-Teaching Material
People
Places
Vocabulary

Timeline: Important Events of World War II
(opens in separate window)

Historical Background

Maps

Video Synopsis

Classroom Activities
Participatory Lessons
Classroom Discussion

Selected Resources
Bibliography

 

Parts of this guide are taken wholly or partially from discussion guides prepared by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for The Foundation for Moral Courage. Those parts are in italics.

The Other Side of Faith


"The Other Side of Faith" is a compelling witness to the exceptional courage of Stefania Podgorska Burzminski and her sister, Helena. The basic message imparted is that faith may also be found in the morality that transcends religious and ethnic boundaries, which we can recognize as our common humanity. For nearly two and a half years, they provided refuge for 13 Jewish men, women, and children hidden in the attic of their small home.


Pre-Teaching Material

People
(In order of viewing and/or mention)

Josef Burzminski: Escaped from a boxcar transporting him to the Belzec death camp and went to Stefania for assistance.

Stefania Podgorska Burzminski: Now married to Josef, she hid 13 Jewish men, women, and children in the attic of a small home.

Helena Podgorska: A six-year-old child who assisted her sister in this act of moral courage.

Hennick and Danuta: Josef's brother and the brother's fiancée.

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Places
(in the order viewed and/or mentioned)

Przemysl

Poland

Belzec death camp

Vocabulary
(in the order used in the video)

Ghetto

Gestapo

 

 

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Historical Background


Historical records verify that Jews have lived in Poland since the middle of the 10th century. During the Middle Ages, Poland was the only country in Europe to welcome Jews as they were expelled from England, Spain, and Portugal and fled from persecution in France and Germany. At the time of partition of Poland by Germany, Austria, and Russia in the late 18th century, there were far more Jews living within the borders of Poland than in any country in the world.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Polish Jews enjoyed a cultural and religious freedom unsurpassed anywhere. The large Jewish populations in the cities of Vilna, Warsaw, and Lodz became renowned centers for biblical studies. However, from the beginning of Poland's partition in 1878 through the end of World War I, a series of restrictive edicts and procedures made life increasingly difficult for the more than 3 million Jews living in the three occupied areas under the control of Austro-Hungary, Russia, and Prussia.

Although Poland was restored as a nation at the end of the First World War, the 20 years that followed was a time of great economic and political stress. Jewish citizens found themselves subjected to increasing governmental and social restrictions. Anti-Semitism, long an underlying reality in broad segments of Polish life, was further exacerbated by the harsh economic conditions of the time. The world was experiencing a profound economic depression; in Poland, there was a 20 percent unemployment rate. Many Poles, influenced by fascist-oriented political propaganda, blamed what they considered to be hostile Jewish influences for the economic problems of the country.

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded western Poland, which was annexed and placed under German occupation. A short time later, the Soviet Union also invaded Poland and annexed the eastern area.

Resentment over Poland's lost independence increased the anti-Semitic feelings of some Poles. The fact that some Jews were fleeing to the relative safety of Soviet-occupied Poland, and later the Soviet Union, fueled this resentment. On the other hand, some Poles, viewing their own oppression as parallel to that of the Jews, were sympathetic and supportive.

In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. In the process, all of Poland came under German control. A tragic litany of edicts issued by the German occupation authorities led to the virtual demise of Jewish life in Poland. At first, Jews were forced to wear the Star of David on their outer clothing. Jewish-owned property and businesses were then confiscated. The Jews were then forced to live in segregated areas (ghettos), which were sealed off from the rest of the population by troops and barbed wire. Living conditions in the ghettos were abominable, and thousands died of starvation and disease.

The German decree to murder all Jews—the "Final Solution"—was made official at the Wannsee Conference in Germany in January 1942. There followed a systematic deportation of Jews from Nazi-imposed ghettos to concentration camps and killing centers constructed in Poland and in other parts of Europe. Most of these places were established in Poland by the Germans. In these camps, people suffered humiliation, torture, and death by many means, including poisonous gas.

At the end of the war, 90 percent of Polish Jewry had been killed. Of the 300,000 Jews still alive, most had been saved by escaping into the USSR. Some had survived the concentration camps when the Germans had not had sufficient time to kill them. But some survived thanks to the courageous efforts of Polish people who hid and cared for them through both individual and organized efforts.

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Maps


 

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Video Synopsis


In late 1942, Josef Burzminski, son of Stefania's former employer, escaped from the train taking him to the Belzec death camp. He returned to Przemysl, and sought refuge with Stefania and her sister, Helena. Guided by her faith, Stefania was able to hide Josef and 12 other Jews in her home for two and a half years. In "The Other Side of Faith," Josef describes the secret wall he constructed in the attic, which allowed the 13 to hide in moments of danger. He shows where they were forced to lie on the floor, head to foot, like sardines, with barely enough headroom to sit up.

During this time, Stefania and Helena were in constant danger of being discovered by the Gestapo. Stefania describes how she witnessed the hanging of an entire Polish family, whom the Germans had caught hiding Jews. Yet, despite her fear of the consequences, Stefania remained steadfast in her commitment to protect the Jewish fugitives who depended on her actions for their safety.

Toward the end of the war, the Gestapo commandeered Stefania's home. She was forced to share her small living space with two German nurses and their German soldier friends, who were unaware of the Jews hidden in the attic. "My feeling was terrible," says Stefania, "and every night I prayed to God."

Liberated by the Russian army, Stefania and her sister were proclaimed heroes by the Russian soldiers. Stefania, however, maintains that she was not a hero. She says, "I just did what I thought I should do."

Stefania Burzminski has been honored by the Righteous Among the Nations program of Yad Vashem, the State of Israel's official Holocaust museum and archive. She has also been honored by Jewish and Polish organizations in America, where she now makes her home with Josef, whom she married after the war.


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Classroom Activities


Participatory Lessons

  • Before viewing, use the map handout to locate the sites mentioned in the video, review the vocabulary words, and give students the names mentioned in the program. Use the timeline and historical background to set the stage for the video. This preparation will broaden students' viewing experience.
  • Josef Burzminski tells us that 13 people lived in Stefania and Helena's small attic. Make an outline or "task list" as to what sorts of undertakings must occur everyday to care for 13 people. How does this list compare to the students' own daily "tasks"? Is being a hero always glamorous? In what everyday ways might students show individual acts of courage?
  • Designate a week when students in the class place a sticker on other students whom they witness performing an "everyday act of courage" or kindness "above and beyond."

 

Classroom Discussion

  • Define or describe heroism. Is Stefania a hero? Is Josef a hero? Do you know any heroes? Why do you think they are heroes?
  • What does the title "The Other Side of Faith" mean to you?
  • In what way did Stefania and Josef demonstrate their commitment to the "other side of faith"?
  • Do you know any people for whom faith is important in guiding their actions?

 

 

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Selected Resources

Bibliography
(specific to the Polish experience)

Adler, Morris. Jewish Heritage Reader. Taplinger Publishing Co., Inc., 1965.

Lerski, George, and Halina Lerski. Jewish-Polish Coexistence, 1772_1939. Greenwood Press, 1986.

Vishniac, Roman, and Elie Wiesel. A Vanished World. Noonday Press, 1986.

 

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