TO BE OR NOT TO BE, A Lesson Plan

(Reposted to this site on 1/23/2002)

pboy_lpTO BE OR NOT TO BE
A Lesson Plan Written for Peter L. Fischl’s Poster Poem:
“To the Little Polish Boy Standing with His Arms Up”by
Judy Luhme Junecko
Leesburg High School
Leesburg, Florida

Based on Peter Fischl’s 18 Page Outline
The material presented here is with the permission of Peter L. Fischl

© Peter L. Fischl, 1999

OBJECTIVES:

  1. To read the poem “To the Little Polish Boy Standing With His Arms Up.”
  2. To discuss the poem.
  3. To define “prejudice.”
  4. To compare/contrast the boy in the poster with author of the poem, Peter Fischl.
  5. To identify victims, bystanders, and perpetrators in the poster and poem.
  6. To interpret the feelings and fears of the Little Polish Boy.
  7. To analyze the author’s use of music, painting, and sculpture.
  8. To speculate about the author’s desire for revenge
  9. To explain the use of repetition in the poem.
  10. To summarize the feelings and experiences of the Little Polish Boy.
  11. To evaluate the lessons of the poem and the impact made on the individual.
  12. To write a story about Peter Fischl, the Little Polish Boy, based on information in the poem and in the procedure section below.

PROCEDURE:

  1. Before reading the poem, have the students study the Little Polish Boy pictured and write a description of him. What is he thinking and feeling? What do his eyes and expression tell you? What emotions do you think he is experiencing? How do you feel about him?
  2. Before reading the poem, ask students if they feel comfortable sharing their answers to the above questions.
  3. Read the poem aloud to the students without comments or explanation. Ask for their response and interpretations. Would they answer the question in #1 any differently now that they have read the poem? Did the poem give them a greater understanding of the poster?
  4. Explain to students that the poet was a hidden child during the Holocaust.
    A traumatic experience that marked Peter’s life before the Holocaust came at age eight when he was taken to the offices of the slaughterhouse in Budapest, Hungary, on a business trip with Tibor Fischl, his father. Peter heard the screams of the animals being slaughtered, and he wandered through the open door, straight to the slaughterhouse area, and stood on the fence watching the carnage as several hundred animals were killed. Butchers gave each animal an electric shock in the ear, and when the animal fell on its side, the butchers moved in with huge knives and saws, cutting the animal in half, cleaning out the innards, and hanging the halves on hooks. The young child stood in horror and disbelief as butchers slopped around in the animals’ blood, going from one to another in brief minutes.The last animal alive was a small calf that fought valiantly for his life. The first two butchers chased the spirited calf and slipped and fell into the pool of blood on the floor as the calf bolted to freedom. Other butchers joined forces, becoming covered with splattering blood as the calf dashed and circled, trying to escape. Peter screamed a “bravo” for the little calf that seemed to look at him, his sad eyes saying, “I’ve done my best. Farewell!!” The small boy watched in horror as seven butchers descended on the defenseless calf, finishing him in seconds. The arena was empty now. Only Peter stood at the fence crying. Little did he know that in a matter of a few years, he and his family would stand in the middle of their own “arena of death.”In March 1944, Peter was walking along a street in Budapest when the Nazi troops, the true butchers of the world, occupied his city. Knowing what had happened in Poland in 1939, Peter ran home and asked his father if they, too, could be butchered. His father answered, “Yes.”Peter became a “hidden child” by hiding in a Catholic school with 60 other Jewish children, and on November 27, 1944, his father called him from his hiding place. With the shouting and shooting by the Germans in the background, Peter was almost speechless as his father said “farewell” for the last time. That young boy has struggled his entire life with dreams of seeing his father coming home.He first saw the photograph of the “Little Polish Boy” in the late 1960s in a Life Magazine, November 28, 1960 issue, on page 106, as it was taken by the Jurgen Stroop photographers for Hitler’s birthday as a gift, by publishing the photo in the “Stroop Report” Newsletter in 1943. Shaken, he immediately identified with the “Little Polish Boy.” For four or five years he struggled with the boy in the photo, often talking to him. Early one morning, Peter went to his typewriter and wrote the poem so that millions could not remain indifferent and silent in the face of the senseless, outrageous carnage of the Holocaust.Peter Fischl lives in Burbank and his sister lives in Hollywood, California, the only survivors of their family, victims of the Holocaust, one of mankind’s most egregious crimes against humanity.
  5. Discuss with the students the poet’s use of repetition of lines for emphasis, a tool of the writer. Ask them where in literature they have seen this method used effectively before.
  6. Have students answer the following questions on paper as an assignment and then discuss:
    1. Why did the poet choose the little boy as the focus of his poem?
    2. What is happening to the boy? Why are rifles pointed at him? Compare and contrast the little boy and the men holding the rifles. If one could describe the little Polish boy as ‘innocent, harmless, helpless, and defenseless,’ how might the soldiers be described? The others portrayed in the poster?
    3. What experiences and emotions would make you want to paint a portrait of someone or write a concerto about him or her? What would be the motive for doing that? Why would the concerto include both the little boy and the world who said nothing? Wouldn’t it be sufficient to write a concerto exclusively about the little boy?
    4. Why would the author make a painting ten million miles high? Would it be possible to avoid seeing a painting that large? What message would the size of the painting convey? What effect would it have on the viewer?
    5. When the author states, “I’ll make this painting so bright that it will blind the eyes of the world who saw nothing,” is he expressing a desire to memorialize the boy as well as a desire to punish the perpetrators and bystanders?
    6. Any study of the Holocaust recognizes three elements: perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. How are they all represented in the poem? In the poster? What do you know about their contributions to the Holocaust?
    7. To whom is the author referring in the lines “the world who said nothing,” “who saw nothing,” “who heard nothing”? Why did the author repeat those lines? What effect did that repetition have on you?
    8. During the Holocaust, what actions could have been taken by individuals? By groups? By governments? How might history have been changed if more individuals, groups, and governments would have taken those actions? What actions were taken by those entities in Finland and Denmark?
    9. The author remembers vividly his World War II experiences as a child hidden in an apartment on the fifth floor — remaining alone in a dark room, totally silent, while others found refuge in the basement during Allied bombings of Budapest. In his poem, how does he reveal the child’s stark terror of being alone to face the interminable pounding of tons of bombs? In addition to the fear of being killed by a bomb, what other fears did the child suffer? What mark would that leave on the psyche and on the soul?
    10. How does the author assure the little boy that now the world will see, hear, and commiserate with his sufferings?
    11. Does the author reveal a desire to exact a pound of punishment on those who said, saw, heard, and did nothing? If so, where is that revealed in the poem?
    12. A cruel absurdity of human injustice is revealed in both the poster and the poem. The photo was taken to show how the Jews were rounded up and terminated. It was to be sent to Adolf Hitler for his birthday. How is that an unspeakably cruel irony?
    13. Are there hate groups today that preach an unforgiving message of violence and prejudice? What media do they use? Are there music groups that promote violence? Provide examples of their lyrics and effectiveness. Is violence more prevalent at some venues than at others? Are some people more predisposed than others to be affected by them? Why or why not?
    14. Define PREJUDICE. In what environments might a child learn prejudice? Who teaches him or her? Would a lack of knowledge and understanding about a person or group add to that prejudice?
    15. What are some examples of discrimination, prejudice, and racism today? What can you do to open a window of understanding and tolerance in your corner of the world?
    16. What does the author mean when he says, “I am sorry that it was you and not me”?
    17. Have you every been threatened, held hostage, or felt trapped in a life-threatening situation? How did you feel? What thoughts do you have or might you have in such a situation?
    18. How is the Little Polish Boy in the poster like the little calf that Peter Fischl cheered for in the slaughterhouse? How did the little boy and the calf fight for survival? How were the odds stacked against them?

RESEARCH TOPICS

  1. In The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon Allport proposes that prejudice can escalate from verbal abuse to genocide. Show how his analysis applied to the Holocaust.
  2. Locate and read children’s books from the era like The Poisonous Mushroom to analyze how prejudice was taught to impressionable children at home and in school.
  3. Research the actions of the people and government of Denmark.
  4. Analyze and document the use of propaganda to spread anti-Semitism through film, print, and other media in Germany, Poland, or some other European country.
  5. Research the testimonies of liberators using sources like The Liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps: Eyewitness Accounts of the Liberators, Chamberlin, B. and Feldman, M., eds.
  6. Trace and account for the steadily growing violence from the time Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany until his death.
  7. The Wannsee Conference spelled out the Final Solution. Research the testimonies and documents of that Conference. With what authority were the provisions executed?
  8. Research the actions, effectiveness, and fate of Raoul Wallenberg.
  9. Analyze how the economic, social, and political factors of the inter-war period contributed to the Holocaust.
  10. Analyze themes of racism and violence in music today.
  11. Research the Hitler Youth Movement and the League of German Girls to learn the methods used to capture their hearts, minds, and allegiances.
  12. Einssatzgruppen/ORPO’s were groups of ordinary men. Research and explain their actions and contributions to the Final Solution.
  13. Kurt Gerstein was an SS officer who developed a conscience and began taking notes while delivering Zyklon B to death camps. Learn what happened to him and to his notes.
  14. Research the Warsaw Ghetto uprising or other acts of resistance.
  15. Analyze the writings – journals, diaries, biographies, autobiographies – of the victims to learn about the period and to find any qualities/similarities in their stories or character that may have helped their odds of survival