Printable Teacher's Guide:
Treason or Honor

Guide Components

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

Suggested Grade Levels:

Subject Areas:
Social Studies, US and World History, Language Arts, and Character Education

Pre-Teaching Material

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

Historical Background


Video Synopsis

Yad Vashem

Classroom Activities and Handouts
Participatory Lessons
Classroom Discussion
Yad Vashem Handout

Selected Resources
Web Sites

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.

Treason or Honor

This film is one of a series that portrays the moral courage and heroism of non-Jewish Europeans who, in defiance of the Nazi terror of the 1930s and 1940s, and at great risk to themselves, helped to save Jewish lives. The other films in this series tell the story as it happened in countries other than Germany but also under Nazi influence or occupation. This film, however, has a special meaning in that it deals with Germany itself, the heartland of the racial theories and the persecution that led to the Holocaust. It was in Germany, then, that the question of "Treason or Honor" was posed in its most chilling form. We are introduced to six German nationals who found it possible in the center of Nazi tyranny to hide and protect German Jewish fugitives. Why they accepted the risk of defying German law is as important to understand as how they rescued these people.

Pre-Teaching Material

(in the order viewed and/or mentioned)

Herbert Schroedter: Soldier on the Russian front; son of rescuers; tells the story.

Mr. and Mrs. Reich, child: Jews rescued by the Schroedters.

Mr. and Mrs. Sachs, mother: Rescued by the Schroedters.

Roswitha Baudisch: Daughter of the Schwersenskys; tells the story.

Ilse and Gerhard Schwersensky: Quakers who rescued Jews.

Lottie Katz: Rescued by the Schwersenskys.

Lorraine Jacoby: Rescued by the Schwersenskys.

Adolf Althoff: Director of the Althoff Circus; rescued the Danners.

Irene Danner, mother, and sister: Hidden in Althoff Circus.

Severin and Anastasia Gerschuetz: Took in Jewish women.

Eva Schmalenbach: Hidden by the Gerschuetzes

Irene Schmalenbach: Mother to Eva, hidden by the Gerschuetzes.

Hilmar Gerschuetz: Youngest son of rescuers; tells the story.

Berthold Beitz: Civilian engineer; hid Jews and saved them as skilled workers.

Dr. Bernd Schmalhausen: Biographer of Beitz; tells the story.

Roman Halter: Polish, Jewish forced laborer; escaped and hid at the Fuchs' farm.

Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs: Farmers who hid Halter.

Professor Yehuda Bauer: Director of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Israel; honors the rescuers.

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(in the order viewed and/or mentioned)








Auschwitz (extermination camp)



Ravensbrueck (concentration camp)

Boryslaw, Poland (now Borislav, Ukraine)


Belzec (extermination camp)


Jerusalem, Israel

(in the order used in the video)

Russian front

National Socialism


Communist Party





Deported to the East


Forced laborer

Death march

Yellow badge for "Jews"


Yad Vashem



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Historical Background

A significant Jewish community existed in Germany as early as the late Middle Ages. The history of that community is part of European history broadly defined. But, throughout the course of the political and economic evolution and upheavals of Western civilization, the Jews were virtually always treated as a separate group. They were frequently persecuted on the one hand, yet on the other hand, some were able to make valuable contributions to the societies in which they lived.

The late 18th and 19th centuries, a time referred to as the Enlightenment, saw the beginning of increased Jewish participation into modern European society. The emancipation of Jews and their integration into the broader community was also part of German history as that region moved toward unification in 1871. But anti-Semitism had by no means disappeared. Elements of German society continued to espouse racist and anti-Jewish philosophies, whether formally through political parties or within social, economic, and cultural organizations. Thus, two conflicting historical strands continued to be played out within German society: the spirit of the Enlightenment against the dark underlying currents of anti-Semitism. The polarization between the integration of Jews throughout German society and the rising tide of politically motivated anti-Semitism became strongly pronounced after World War I, with the establishment of the democratic Weimar Republic. It was during this period, in Bavaria in 1919, that the National Socialist Party was established and, with it, the formal adoption of its pernicious racial doctrines.

Initially a small radical party, the Nazis were largely ignored during the early years of the Weimar Republic. But this changed dramatically as the global economic crisis of the depression hit Germany. Thus, in 1928, the Nazi party won 3 percent of the vote for the Reichstag, the German parliament. This vote rose to 18 percent in 1930 and 37 percent in 1932, enabling the Nazis to become the largest party in the Reichstag. As the Nazi party gained strength, not only did its anti-Jewish violence increase, but the "Jewish question" became one of the central political issues in its thrust for power. The democratic Weimar regime faltered and ultimately collapsed as Germany's constitutional and economic crises intensified.

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor and the paramilitary organizations of the Nazi party quickly moved to remake Germany into a totalitarian state. Their strategy included a campaign of almost unrestrained hostility toward the Jewish population. Within a few months, the so-called "Enabling Law" was passed to give dictatorial power to Hitler and his subordinate leaders of the Third Reich.

Anti-Jewish laws and decrees, as well as acts of terrorism and incitement against Jews, quickly accelerated. This culminated in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which formally defined the racist policies of the German government and gave legal status to the course of events to follow. In 1938, Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," marked a new high point in state-sanctioned terrorism against the Jewish population, with widespread destruction of Jewish synagogues, businesses, and lives. Finally, in 1941, the "Final Solution," the Nazi-inspired program for the murder of the Jewish population in Germany and in all of Europe, began.


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Video Synopsis

"Treason or Honor" opens with a summary of the course of anti-Jewish actions taken by the Nazis as a result of their assumption of power. Archival footage illustrates the increasing drive toward implementation of their declared strategy for the annihilation of European Jewry.

At first, many Jews and others ignored or minimized the growing threat of the Third Reich. But the darkness intensified with the Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht and the consolidation of national unity supporting the policies of the regime. By 1939, half of the Jews of Germany had fled. But many others found themselves unable to escape or were turned back at border crossings. In 1941, the trains began transporting German Jews to the death camps in Germany and Poland, and the terror of the Holocaust began to unfold.

While the Jews of Germany found themselves hopelessly trapped by the stranglehold of the German government's policies, there were a few non-Jewish Germans who responded to the tragic circumstances of the time. They reached out to help—to rescue Jewish fugitives where and when they could. All Germans could have been hostile or indifferent to the plight of the Jews, but a few chose instead to do what they could to try to be helpful—even though their actions were illegal and fraught with great danger to themselves. "Treason or Honor" recounts the experiences of six such individuals and families.

An aging German tells how, as a young soldier returning from the Russian front in 1944, he found out that his parents had hidden two Jewish families for two years. Notwithstanding the warnings they had received and their constant concern over betrayal, this couple persevered in their protection of the two families until the war ended.

A Quaker family, themselves restricted by German policies, unable to find work or to move freely, nevertheless took into their small apartment two young Jewish women. Their Quaker background gave them the moral strength to resist the Nazis as best they could and to offer help to their fellow human beings.

A circus owner, gruff and commanding in personality, put a Jewish woman into a circus act to save her and her family. He somehow managed to get rid of others in his troupe who complained. He says simply that he had to do it, to save these people, although "I still don't know how I could have done it."

The son of another couple, a Bavarian family, tells how his parents took in a Jewish mother and daughter as they moved from place to place ahead of the Nazi authorities. The son explains that it was very difficult for his parents to be inwardly against their own fatherland, but they were convinced anti-Nazis and true to the church.

For a German engineer and business manager, the Nazi regime meant an assignment early in the war to a small city in Poland, where he was placed in charge of a factory and had access to a Jewish labor force. When the deportations of Jews began from this city, he realized what was happening, that they were being sent to their deaths. To save those he could, he claimed to the Nazi officials that he needed many of the Jews who were about to be deported. He also hid Jews in his office and his home as well. He said he was young and didn't worry about the risks.

Finally, an elderly woman from Dresden tells of the destruction from Allied bombing that rained down on that city during the war. In the midst of the difficulty for the local population, a young Jewish man escaped from a forced labor death march and turned to her and her husband. Help was not refused. They hid him, trusting no one, and lived in constant fear and privation.

The woman notes that the persecution of the Jews had weighed heavily on her and her husband. She sadly recalls the harsh treatment given to so many innocents. But a greater sadness and pain emerges. She then explains that her husband, at the end of the war, was killed by the Nazis. The Nazis said he was a traitor and they killed him. The widow still lives in her home near Dresden, close to where her husband is buried.

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Yad Vashem

  The Memorial of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem records the deeds of these and other non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews. Compared with the need of Jews desperate for help against the finality of the Holocaust, the actual numbers of those providing aid and rescue were small. This was especially true in Germany itself.

But as the film makes clear, those who had a chance to help people in need, in this case Jewish fugitives, faced the choice between evil and good. Something in the conscience of some of these individuals and families led them to risk their own lives to help their people— to do the right thing because it was, in fact, the right thing to do. In so doing, it is argued, they lifted themselves to the highest level of true humanity. The good in their lives is thus enshrined in the annals of Yad Vashem, where they are honored as Righteous Among the Nations and, through this film, in our own thoughts as well.


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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.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Schroedter, Ilse and Gerhard Schwersensky, Adolf Althoff, Severin and Anastasia Gerschuetz, Berthold Beitz, and Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs were rescuers of Jews threatened with death by Hitler's policies. Give the students these names prior to watching "Treason or Honor." As students watch the video, ask them to discern any similarities in the stories of the rescuers who decided to risk treason and its consequences to do the honorable thing. How were their circumstances different? Speculate on what life must have been like for the families of the rescuers and the Jews being hidden. Ask students to portray one or the other side and keep a diary for a week. Allow students to discuss their feelings shared in the diaries.
  • Auschwitz and Belzec extermination camps and Ravensbrueck concentration camp are referred to in "Treason or Honor." What is the difference between the two types of camps? Research the camps and use the map handout to locate their geographic positions. (Students should see that the concentration camps were located mainly in Germany and the death camps in Poland.) Ask students to speculate on why the camps were located as they were. (The Nazis wanted the death camps far away from western Europe.)
  • Give students the Yad Vashem handout or have them find information about the Righteous Among the Nations at Have students graph the data on the number of individuals so designated. Let individual students or small groups choose the form of graph they feel can best illustrate the data. If possible, have students use graphing software to create the graphs. Students should be prepared to explain why they chose a specific graph form. Ask them what conclusions they can draw from the graphed data.
  • Working in small groups, ask students to design a memorial for the Righteous Among the Nations. Have them hand draw their plans, create them using drawing or CAD computer software, or use modeling clay. If students cannot physically design the memorials, still let the small groups go through the process of deciding what research they would do and how they would reach consensus.
  • There are many Web sites available on WWII, the Holocaust, and rescuers. Let individual
    students or small groups choose a topic for research and prepare a multimedia presentation for the class. n Have students research recent events in which they feel someone may have acted as a rescuer in modern society. What actions would suggest that a person acted with honor?
    If there are Holocaust survivors available, especially those who lived in Germany, ask them to come speak to the class. Or, have students write letters asking about the political and social climates of Germany at this time, the availability of food and necessities, and the bravery necessary to hide Jews and the possible consequences for doing so.

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Classroom Discussion

  • There were Germans who resisted and disobeyed Nazi laws and policies and sought to
    save their Jewish neighbors and compatriots. Those who did so acted for a variety of
    reasons but, as German citizens, they took on responsibilities and risks of a special dimension.

    They acted in opposition to official, legally sanctioned persecution and genocide. As
    the title of the film notes, these individuals and families faced the ultimate question of
    whether they were prepared to act against their own government on the basis of morality.
    The film evidences answers that reflect a unique strength of character that firmly denied the dictates of their own government.

    One important issue for discussion could deal with the question of loyalty versus conscience, the dilemma that arises when an officially sanctioned system calls for immoral behavior. History notes many cases of "civil disobedience," resistance against
    immoral government policies. But history also notes cases where civil disobedience itself is morally wrong, where the state itself is called upon to enforce laws against immoral or insufferable behavior by individuals or groups.

    Nazism and the Holocaust certainly present as clear a case as possible to justify
    individual resistance to established authority. It is essential in this regard to understand
    those characteristics of Nazi policies that justified such resistance. State-mandated
    genocide and the irrational official persecution through which this policy was implemented clearly raised the issue of honor and morality in the minds of the rescuers portrayed in the film. It is important for each of us to consider what our own response would be not to a Holocaust situation but toward the everyday acts of intolerance, injustice, and prejudice to which we are each exposed.
  • For German rescuers, it would seem that the only reward for their risk was intensely personal—not to save their country or its traditions but simply to act, and mostly act alone, for there was little organized and coordinated rescue effort in Germany, as was the case in other countries.

    As rescuers, what could they have thought might have been the end of the situation in which they found themselves? How long did they think they could continue to help Jews? What did they think would happen if Germany won the war? And, finally, how can we interpret their motivation? In many ways, they were caught in the machinery of events over which they had no control, except perhaps control over their own conscience.
  • The actions of the German rescuers were not, as in other cases, to protect only former Jews who became religious converts or Jewish spouses of gentiles or political party colleagues. The motivation of these individuals seems ultimately and simply grounded in their humanity and the strength of their moral convictions.

    Thus, one thing to consider, particularly in the case of German rescuers, was the
    individual nature of actions taken. These heroes were largely isolated and, one would think, hemmed in by fear and loneliness in their inability to confide to family and friends.
    Nevertheless, they managed to avoid the herd instinct and group control that was so clearly a feature of the situation in Germany during the Nazi regime.

    This factor underscores the importance of the human relationship between people, for it has been noted that, in almost every case of German rescuers, the people involved—the rescuers and the rescued—experienced each other as individuals, as human beings,
    rather than as abstract stereotypes. In these circumstances, these rescuers acted as individual moral agents responding to those with whom they felt a human bond or connection.

    What difference might there have been in Germany if people of conscience had acted earlier and more decisively against the declared Nazi policies? At what point might German and Western society have recognized where Hitler's racist and anti-Semitic
    views would lead? His views that appeared in his earliest published writings were, after all, no secret. The question then is why there was not more organized and systematic response and resistance to the Nazi ideology from the earliest of its days? What would it have taken for German society to disavow and discredit the excesses of hatred?
  • Consider the relevance of civil disobedience as a means of drawing attention to social grievances.
  • What types and degrees of injustices do students see in their own communities? Do they do anything about such occurrences? Is there a difference between acting on the spur of the moment (e.g., I see a child in danger and act to save him/her) and knowingly risking your own and your family's safety or position in society to do the "right thing"?
  • Ultimately, the question faced by each student is how to define for him-/herself the meaning of moral courage and the importance of guiding one's life in accordance with that meaning.


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Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, was established in 1953 by an act of the Israeli Knesset. Its purpose is threefold:

  • to honor the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators,
  • to commemorate the Jewish communities destroyed in an attempt to eradicate the name and culture of Israel, and
  • to celebrate the heroism and fortitude of the Jews and the Righteous Among the Nations.

The Avenue and Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations honor those non-Jews who, according to the most noble principles of humanity, risked their lives to help Jews during the Holocaust. Almost 2000 trees, symbolic of the renewal of life, have been planted in and around the avenue. Adjacent to each tree is a plaque listing the names and countries of those being honored. The names of other non-Jews recognized by Yad Vashem as the Righteous Among the Nations are engraved on the walls in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Contact Information:
Yad Vashem
The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority
P.O.Box 3477
Jerusalem 91034

Phone: (972) 2 6443400
Fax: (972) 2 6443443

Righteous Among the Nations
Country and Ethnic Origin
Russia + Belarus
Yugoslavia (all countries)



Great Britain














Total Persons ---------------------- 17,433

From: Yad Vashem, Department
for the Righteous Among
the Nations (January 1, 2000)


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Selected Resources


Bartoszewski, Wladyslaw. The Samaritans, Heroes of the Holocaust. New York: Twayne Publishing, Inc., 1970.

Block, Gay. Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1994.

Deutschkron, Inge. Berlin Jews Underground. Berlin: Helimich KG, 1990.

Feingold, Henry. The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1970.

Fogelman, Eva. Conscience & Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

Gross, Leonard. The Last Jews in Berlin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

Handler, Andrew. A Man for All Connections: Raoul Wallenberg and the Hungarian State Apparatus, 1944_1945. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996.

Hellman, Peter. When Courage Was Stronger Than Fear. New York: Marlowe & Company & Balliett & Fitzgerald Inc., 1999.

Herf, Jeffrey. Divided Memory. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Jarrett, James L. The Teaching of Values: Caring and Appreciation. London, New York: Routledge, 1991.

Koch, H. W. In the Name of the Volk. Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1997.

Lazare, Lucien. Rescue as Resistance: How Jewish Organizations Fought the Holocaust in France. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Leboucher, Fernande. Incredible Mission. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1969.

Levine, Hillel. In Search of Sugihara: The Elusive Japanese Diplomat Who Risked His Life to Rescue 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust. New York: Free Press, 1996.

Marton, Kati. Wallenberg: Missing Hero. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1995.

Oliner, Samuel P. The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Paucker, Arnold. Jewish Resistance in Germany. Berlin: Kupijai & Prochnow GmbH & Co., 1991.

Ramati, Alexander. The Assisi Underground: The Priests Who Rescued Jews. New York: Stein and Day, 1978.

Rewald, Ilse. Berliners Who Helped Us to Survive the Hitler Dictatorship. Berlin: DruckVogt GmbH, 1990.

Rivera, Geraldo. A Special Kind of Courage: Profiles of Young Americans. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.

Schlessinger, Laura. How Could You Do That?!: The Abdication of Character, Courage and Conscience. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Silver, Eric. The Book of the Just: The Unsung Heroes Who Rescued Jews from Hitler. New York: Grove Press, 1992.

Tec, Nachma. When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

von Meding, Dorothee. Courageous Hearts. Providence: Berghahn Books, 1997.

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America and the Holocaust

Courage to Care

Holocaust Hero: A Tree for Sugihara

Memory Of The Camps

Missing Hero: Raoul Wallenberg

Primo Levi

Schindler's List

Summer Of My German

Survivors of the Holocaust

The Attic

The Cross and The Star

The Diary of Anne

The Hiding Place

The Longest Hatred

The People Next Door

The Power of Conscience: The Danish Resistance and the Rescue of the Jews

The White Rose

The Yellow Star

They Risked Their Lives: Rescuers of the Holocaust

We Were So Beloved

Weapons of the Spirit

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Web Sites

The Anne Frank Center USA:

The Anne Frank House:

The Anti-Defamation League:

The Candles Holocaust Museum:

The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (University of Minnesota):

Cybrary of the Holocaust:

Facing History and Ourselves:

Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies (Yale University):

Holocaust Guide at the Mining Company:

Holocaust Memorial Center:

Holocaust Museum Houston:

Institute for Global Communications:

Life Unworthy of Life:


Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award:


Profile in Courage Essay Contest/The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation:

Reach and Teach:

Simon Wiesenthal Center:

Story of Oscar Schindler—Rake and Saviour:


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