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August Landmesser’s Courageous Refusal

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.

CENTRAL QUESTION: What is the significance of courage in a society built on democratic principles?

  1. Post the central question on the board before class. Point it out to students, and let them know they’ll be expected to write an answer to it at the end of class.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
    • “Judge not, lest you be judged.”—Then the cue: “Choose a position and take your stand.”
    • “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”—Then the cue to move.
    • “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”—Then the cue to move.
  4. Without commentary, but while acknowledging and encouraging student comments, return to the classroom and direct students to their seats. Distribute the Courage Primary Source Analysis handout. Conduct a close-reading of the photo, referring to the questions provided and allowing for additional discussion. 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.
  5. Distribute copies of August Landmesser’s Courageous Refusal. Read and discuss it in relation to the primary source analysis you completed with the photograph.

Concluding Activity – Teacher’s Notes

  1. 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. Discuss why students chose the positions that they did. Do the same with the second statement. Do the same with the third. 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, 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?
  2. Refer students back to their handout, this time inviting them to revise their positions by indicating in a second color, their revised positions and to follow the additional instructions provided.

The optional introductory activity above is designed to support you in the classroom. However, the primary narratives and photos in the section that follows can be used with or without this introduction.