Teachers' Guide - Resistance and Exile

Historians today recognise that Jewish resistance to the Holocaust was widespread and took many forms. In this unit we consider different forms of resistance and the role that music can play in this enterprise.

Between 1941 and 1943, underground resistance movements developed in approximately 100 ghettos in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe (about a quarter of all ghettos), especially in Poland, Lithuania, Belorussia and the Ukraine. Their main goals were to organise uprisings, break out of the ghettos and join partisan units in the fight against the Germans. The Jews knew that uprisings would not stop the Germans and that only a handful of fighters would succeed in escaping to join the partisans. Still some Jews made the decision to resist. Some Jews fled Europe before the second world war or managed to escape Nazi- occupied Europe.

Lesson 1 - Music as a form of resistance to the Nazi regime


  • To recognise that Jewish resistance in the Holocaust was widespread and took many forms
  • To consider how music was used as a form of resistance to the Nazi regime
  • To understand how historical interpretation can change over time as new evidence comes to light


ACTIVITY 1 - Considering the term 'resistance'

Ask class to suggest ideas about what is meant by the term ‘resistance’.
Offer the following definition for consideration: ‘Resistance to the Nazis meant fighting back’.

What were the obstacles to resistance?
Conditions, scale, antisemitism, war machine, fear/threats, terror, shock, feelings of responsibility to others – reprisals/ collective punishment, starvation, rations, etc.

What were they resisting?
Forbidden to practice religion, listen to radio, Nazis aimed not just to kill, but also destroy culture, dehumanise, degrade, crush spirit, etc.

What choices did Jewish people have when considering resistance?
whether or not to go against their own moral or religious code; whether or not to risk their own or others' lives; whether their resistance would be individual or communal...

ACTIVITY 2 - Exploring music and lyrics

Divide the class into three groups and assign each group one of the following pieces:

  • Buchenwaldlied
  • Berets-Yisrael
  • A toyber hot gehert

Each group should listen to their piece of music and read the lyrics, then answer the following questions in relation to their music:

  1. Where did this song originate?
  2. What do we learn from the lyrics about the place it originated? (conditions, descriptions etc)
  3. What language is it in and what does this tell us?
  4. What is the overall feeling/mood of the piece?
  5. How is this achieved? (refer to music glossary - tempo, pitch, instrumentation, etc.)
  6. Why do you think this song became popular in … (place)?


ACTIVITY 3 - Discussion

How did music aid in concentration camp and ghetto morale and survival?
[Include music vocabulary in your answers]
Responses may include:
Feeling of togetherness, lyrics - reinforcing ideology; tempo – e.g.: upbeat, expressed shared hopes and dreams and singing together demonstrated solidarity, gave chance to think about home while singing – would have brought images to mind, helps people to remain human in face of attempts at dehumanisation.

Would you consider this piece of music to be ‘resistance’ and why?
Responses may include:
Yes – retaining their identity in any way was an act of courage and resistance; joining the partisans was dangerous and people risked their lives to fight in the underground; expressing any views against the Nazis was forbidden so singing these songs was defiant and risky, singing in Hebrew was a clear expression of hope and identification with the Jewish homeland, etc.


Research other acts of resistance, uprisings.

Lesson 2 - Partisans


  • Learn about partisan activity through listening to and interpreting partisan songs
  • Consider and present a creative response to the music and lyrics of partisan songs
  • Think about songs which are inspirational in our own lives


ACTIVITY 1 - Research

Read about the song Zog Nit Keyn Mol, read the lyrics in English translation

Read and listen:

ACTIVITY 2 - Create

Illustrate the dreams expressed in this song.
Or create a tableaux to physicalise the ideals.
Or create a dance/movement piece to represent to feelings/ideals.

ACTIVITY 3 - Discussion

Why do you think the words are so powerful?
Responses could include:
Lyrics are powerful, conjure up strong images in your mind, although they were written at and about a particular time/place, they are quite general – anyone can relate to the ideas expressed, it covers past and future, lyrics are optimistic

ACTIVITY 4 - Inspirational Songs

Are there any songs which you consider to be inspirational in your life?
What is it about the song which affects you – describe the music and/ or the lyrics (use the music glossary to help)

Ask students to share their song and reasons with a partner/in small groups/with the class.

The class could prepare an assembly presentation about inspirational music - perhaps opening with partisan song(s) and sharing some of the creative responses, then leading into songs students have chosen which share something with the partisan songs eg: inspires a feeling of solidarity; or lyrics express a strong ideal which they believe in.


Visit the Jewish Partisans website for biographies, photographs, documentary films


Lesson 3 - The contribution of exiled "degenerate" Jewish composers


  • To learn about Nazis objections to certain kinds of music/certain people
  • To learn about the situation of being in exile by exploring a case study of an exiled composer.


In this lesson the main activity involves the class playing a role exercise as exiled composer(s).

Reasons and benefits for using a case study to explore a theme:

  1. Taking a big issue down to a small scale
  2. Personalising the issue – the person has a name, you like the person, you can identify with the person
  3. Emotional connection with that person – similarities between us become clear
  4. Learning directly from someone rather than learning about someone
  5. Humanising
  6. Improving the class’s emotional literacy

ACTIVITY 1 - Class in role

Hand out the biography of an exiled composer to be read aloud by one person, or change the reader at each paragraph, then ask class questions in-role. Ask questions and encourage students to respond in the first person.  Repeat each question a number of times and take a range of responses for each question to uncover the complexity of the situation and feelings

Remember – no right or wrong answers, the class is not being asked to imagine they were actually in this situation, rather they are imagining emotions that they will relate to in some way…

Take a range of responses to understand complexity of decisions/situation/individuals and emotions – people are complex, often confused, and multi-layered – this exercise should help to reveal.

What did you leave behind?
(material possessions, home, job, family members, friends, familiar surroundings, language – being understood, family and personal history)

What are your dreams/ambitions (and why?)
(have a family, be safe, continue to write music, find a job, forget the past, never forget the past, return to Germany, practice my religion, leave my religion behind, become a famous and celebrated composer)

How did your family feel about you leaving?
(relieved that I would be safe, abandoned, hope that they will be able to follow)



You can put the class in-role as more than one character in your chosen case story in the same way to explore other perspectives on the theme.

ACTIVITY 2 - Listening to music

Listen to music excerpts of the chosen composer.

What made their music objectionable to the Third Reich?

ACTIVITY 3 - Concluding discussion

Knowing about their life and thinking about the complexity of their experience – how does that make you feel as you listen to the music? Does that affect you as an audience member?


Think about refugees today/your community – investigate their stories, campaign, befriend, fundraise… websites for more information…

Research stories of survivors who claim that music was a sustaining force in their lives through the Holocaust.

Create own music / soundscapes to …

The Mozart Question, Michael Morpurgo

SubjectKey conceptsKey process1,2,3
Historycause and consequence, interpretation

Historical enquiry, communicating about the past


Democracy and Justice

critical thinking and enquiry


Cultural understanding, critical understanding, communication

listening, reviewing and evaluating