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August Landmesser’s Courageous Refusal

45 min
  • What is the cost of civil disobedience?
  • What is the significance of courage in a society built on democratic principles?
  • What are we willing to do in reaction to something we see as unjust when surrounded by those that are not resisting?
  • Is it reasonable to expect resistance when the cost is high? 

Students will consider the cost of courageously opposing those in power. Students will have an important discussion, based on a thought exercise of what we think about character, courage and standing up for a right. 

Educator Resources

  • Suggested Launch Activity (Teacher’s Notes pdf p. 183 H&V Version 2 © 2017)
  • August Landmesser’s Courageous Refusal Answer Key

Student Handouts

  • Courage Primary Source Analysis: The Landmesser Picture (Provide copies or project on large screen.)
  • Courage: August Lanmesser’s Courageous Refusal Essay and Discussion Guide
  • From Where I Stood to Where I Stand
  • Virtue in Action: August Landmesser’s Courageous Refusal
  • Courage Worksheet writing prompt
  • Students will need 2 different colors of pen or pencil.

  • Courage

Benz, Wolfgang. A Concise History of the Third Reich. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

In order to understand the risks that August Landmesser took, students will need some background in Nazi rule of Germany, especially as related to the race laws that existed there in 1936, the date of the photo to be examined. People were expected to turn in and inform on people who resisted Nazi rule in any way. 

Post and point out this question in the classroom: What is the significance of courage in a society built on democratic principles? 

Gather students in a hallway, a gym, or a classroom in which you can create a clear path from one side to the other. Identify one end of the hallway (or room) as “strongly agree” and the opposite end as “strongly disagree.” Describe the space between those two ends as the continuum between those two positions, and identify a defined midpoint. Explain that you are going to read a series of statements, that students will listen to each entire statement and then, on your cue (Suggested cue: Say, “Choose a position and take your stand.”), choose a position and to go stand at the spot on the continuum or on either end, that represents his or her position: “Strongly Agree,” “Strongly Disagree,”… or somewhere in between.

Read each of the following statements, allowing time for students to choose and move to a position, to note their positions in relation to the entire continuum, and for you to note their positions in relation to each other. Do not make direct comments; just read the statements and allow students time to decide on, and move to, their positions. (It is likely that many students will agree, to some degree, with each statement.) 

  • Statement 1: “Judge not, lest you be judged.”—Then the cue: “Choose a position and take your stand.” 
  • Statement 2: “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”—Then the cue to move. 
  • Statement 3: “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”—Then the cue to move. 

 Without commentary, but while acknowledging and encouraging student comments, return to the classroom and direct students to their seats. 

Activity 1. Distribute the Courage Primary Source Analysis handout or project the photo on classroom screen. Conduct a close-reading of the photo, referring to the questions below and allowing for additional discussion.  

  1. Use details in the picture, as well as what you know about history, to answer the following questions. 
  • Describe the people in the photograph. Who do you see? 
  • Observe various individuals’ posture and gestures. What does this tell you about what is happening?
  • Look at the clothing styles and hats. Identify the time period when this photograph was likely taken. 
  • Given your response to the question above, identify the general place (region, country) where you believe it could have been taken. 
  • Based on what you see in the photograph, your existing knowledge of history, and inferences based on both, identify the historical period during which this photograph was taken. 
  1. What do you already know about the historical period this photograph depicts?
  2. One person in the photograph is doing something different from everyone else. Find that person in the photograph. Describe what that individual is doing.

When students discover the location of August Landmesser, allow time for those who find it to point it out to others, and for their natural reactions and commentary. 

  1. What statement might he be making?
  2. Given your knowledge of the historical context, what risk is this person taking? Does that action,and that risk, require him to make a judgment? If so, what is your opinion of the judgment he hasmade? 
  3. How does this photograph illustrate courage?

Activity 2.  Distribute copies of August Landmesser’s Courageous Refusal. Read and discuss it in relation to the primary source analysis you completed with the photograph.  

Activity 3. Distribute copies of From Where I Stood to Where I Stand handout. 

Distribute the From Where I Stood to Where I Stand handout. Make sure each student has two different colors of pen or pencil. Have each student indicate, in one color, the “hallway position” they chose for each statement. Then, with the second color pen or pencil, have them indicate the position they would take after considering August Landmesser’s story. Discuss why students initially chose the positions that they did, and if they changed positions after considering Landmesser’s story, why they did so.  

Discuss the following: 

  • Do the first two statements mean that one should keep silent in the face of evil? Why do you think so?  
  • Does the third statement mean that we should judge the actions of others? How do you know? 
  • How, if at all, can the contradictory ideas in the previous two questions be reconciled? (That is, the idea that on the one hand, we shouldn’t ever judge others, but on the other hand, that we should take action against injustice. 
  • Are there times when judgment is required in order to take a just action? 

The real “learning moment” would come with bringing the Landmesser picture back up and discuss where students moved. Do they see a comparison between their choices and August’s choice? That if they knew moving in the “positive” direction had a personal cost, would they still take it? 

Ask students to think about these questions, but not necessarily to respond out loudWhat is the significance of courage in a society built on democratic principles? What is your personal response to situations requiring courage? 

Distribute the Courage writing prompt and have students write their personal response to Landmesser’s demonstration of courage. 

Virtue Across the Curriculum 

Below are corresponding literature and film suggestions to help you teach this  virtue across the curriculum. Sample prompts have been provided for the key corresponding works. For the other suggested works, or others that are already part of your curriculum, create your own similar prompts. 

The Avengers (2012) 

Read the dialogue below and answer the following questions: 

  • How does this scene relate to the photo of Landmesser?
  • What does the German Old Man mean by “There are always men like you”?
  • Are there, in fact, always people like the German Old Man? Explain.

The Avengers Dialogue 

Loki: Kneel before me. I saidKNEEL! 

[everyone becomes quiet and kneels before him] 

Loki: Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken 

truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom 

diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You 

were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel. 

German Old Man: [defiantly rises] Not to men like you! 

Loki: There are no men like me. 

German Old Man: There are ALWAYS men like you! 


Erika’s Story by Ruth Vander Zee 

Refer to both the text and illustrations in this picture book to answer: 

  • Who, in this story, relates to Landmesser?
  • How is courage demonstrated in this story? 



The Crucible by Arthur Miller 

Glory directed by Edward Zwick (1989) 

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson 

Henry V by William Shakespeare 

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane 

1984 by George Orwell 

Student Handouts

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