Are you a teacher who looks to give your students a meaningful experience beyond just curriculum in what they learn?
Are you an educator who wants to utilize stories that teach lessons and positive values for your students’ lives today and for the future?
Progressive teachers have been the ones who have answered yes to these questions. They have had their students read Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust and have followed up with lively book discussions in the classroom.
These book discussions have occurred with middle school, high school, and college classes in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Phoenix area. Teachers in Social Studies, English or Language Arts, Religious Studies and Social Justice as well as any Humanities subject are the ones who have been building this experience and tradition of discussion with Marty and his special story.
Use the book and facilitate the discussion on it yourself; here are some questions to ask:
The title of the book is not Two Among the Righteous Many, as only a few people throughout Europe did the kind of rescue work in the Holocaust as Frans and Wijnakker. Why did so few people help?
If one earns the honor as Righteous Among the Nations, as mentioned in the Introduction of the book about the Wijnakkers, what does this truly mean about such a person(s)?
What were a few of the highlights or key aspects of this true story that stood out to you?
How would you describe the character of Frans Wijnakker and why?
How would you describe the character of Mien Wijnakker and why?
If you had a chance to talk live with author Marty Brounstein, what questions would you want to ask him?
What is Marty’s meaningful personal connection to this story and its heroes?
If you had a chance to talk to Marty’s wife, Leah Baars, what questions would you want to ask her?
Taking away the life and death aspects of this story, what positive lessons does it teach for your life today and for the future?
Making Book Discussions Work Under Quarantine Conditions
For the last few years Marty Brounstein has been coming to my Human Rights class to facilitate discussion with the students on his book Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust. The experience has been very worthwhile, which is why I have kept the tradition going with Marty to be part of this important class.
First off, the opportunity to periodically have a guest speaker and expert come add value to your class is very stimulating to the students. Even more so in this case where the students meet the author of the book they are reading, one that is a true story. Through the discussion Marty skillfully facilitates, the students gain insights and a deeper understanding of his book. This makes for a special learning experience, one students may never get elsewhere in their education.
In addition, Marty’s book adds great value to my course, especially with Holocaust education. In the course, we study a few different genocides, with the Holocaust certainly being a huge and important historical event to learn about. But at the same time this history is heavy and depressing. Marty’s true story of rescuers in the Holocaust brings a bright spot to this dark chapter of history. In fact, while the students often grumble at first at having to read a book for class, once they start reading the book they get into it because of its positive aspects. Then, even those students who are the less-enthusiastic types light up and engage in the book discussion when Marty comes to the class. Again, a special experience I would highly recommend to other teachers to do, and one I have benefitted from over the past few years.
Nico Sandoval Human Rights Teacher, Social Science Department Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, CA
Dear Marty, I want to thank you for the inspiring lesson you delivered with our 7th grade students. Your interactive approach and insight made the meeting both meaningful and educational. We even took a little extra time to have you address more questions because the students were so much into the story. Not often are the students willing to give up a little break time for a class lesson.
Having read your book and then by meeting you, the students were able to connect the Holocaust to reality. Your lesson was memorable and no doubt the students learned a lot and will carry it with them for a long time.
Thank you very much. Wishing you and your wife many more active and educational years.
Best wishes, Batia Horsky 7th Grade Teacher, Congregation Beth Jacob Redwood City, CA
Having a Great Time at Hamilton High School
As Marty’s winter 2020 series with the special story in the greater Phoenix area soon winds down, he is fortunate because as he comes here each winter he has built tradition with a few teachers in this area where he does book discussion in their classrooms. In this case, the students have read Marty’s book before he comes to the session in their class. On the day he comes, Marty then facilitates discussion on the book with the students who have come prepared for the discussion — highest educational impact for students.
This happened for the second year last Wednesday and Thursday, March 4th and 5th, with the A.P. U.S. History classes of Jen Pollnow at Hamilton High School in Chandler, AZ. Jen really cares about this special story and wants to give her students an experience they will remember. In each of her classes over the course of two days, five classes in total, Marty’s experience was the same with each group — highly engaging discussion. The students showed great interest in the story and offered thoughtful insights and questions. In particular, they did an outstanding job of drawing lessons from the story that can guide how they can lead their lives with quality character going forward. A big thanks to Jen Pollnow and all her wonderful students for giving Marty such a positive experience. Jen has booked Marty to return to her classes in winter 2021.
Student Reviews of Book:
Christopher High School January 2020
Another Fine Year of Tradition at St. Mary's Catholic School March 21, 2018
Here are two pictures from a 6th year book discussion on the special story with the 8th grade class with St. Mary's in Walnut Creek, CA. Not only were the students involved but parents and grandparents were on hand to participate in the discussion with Marty and Leah. Thanks to a master teacher, Jodie Russi, we had another highly engaged and impactful session. Jodie was the 1st teacher who brought Marty in to discuss the story with her students who had read the book as part of their Language Arts and History studies and has been a great supporter throughout his journey with the story.
A Wonderful Example of a Book Discussion Session
During the course of the journey, many rich and engaging book discussion sessions have occurred in middle school, high school, and college classes with Marty facilitating discussion with the students who have already read the book prior to his coming to the class. What makes these sessions have such high educational impact is not only the students themselves but also the quality teachers who have guided their students through the reading and prepared them well for the class discussion session.
A great example of this occurred at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School on March 24, 2017 with the 8th grade class of a fine teacher, Alicia Cabe-Reyes. In the rich discussion over a nearly 90-minute session, the students highly engaged and shared highlights they got from the story and offered lessons the story teaches them for their lives today and in the future. They also asked thoughtful questions to Marty and his wife Leah Baars (Chapter 11) who was on hand.
Most special was the students presented Marty and Leah with a parting gift, a scrapbook. It contained a page from each student, outlining three chapters that stood out to them and lessons for their lives they took from the story. Well written with some artwork and very insightful as well. One would have thought these pieces were written by adults for the understanding and depth shown. Below is the scrapbook cover and a few pages from this wonderful gift.
A Sampling of How Students Responded to Two Among the Righteous Few From Christopher High School, Gilroy, CA January 2018
From Gisselle; One of the highlights from the book for me was Frans interaction with the local parish priest when the priest finds out Frans is harboring Jews. That scene really captures how the common European felt about Jews during World War II. The priest shot back to Frans, “They are Jews. What are you involved in? They are Jews!” But Frans responded so calmly, “That they are. But they are human beings too.” It was shocking to me that even someone as religious as a priest could have so much prejudice. The priest, like many people, was brainwashed to believe that Jewish people were bad or evil. But Frans defends the Jews by recognizing them as people and not savages as they were often portrayed. The insight I gained from reading Two Among the Righteous Few is that being humane as well as courteous is the key to life. It is the only way to feel true happiness and satisfaction within yourself. You can’t be indifferent towards such a terrible issue like the Holocaust. Yes, it was a dangerous time, but not standing up for innocent lives that are being hurt and killed is just wrong. On page 116, “While Frans was quite busy looking for places to take in the Jewish refugees that came his way through the underground, he still had to contend with and care for the people hiding in his own home.” This showed how Frans and Mien were not selfish, that they did everything in their power to help and protect innocent Jews. An important lesson here is that any help will help no matter how small.
From Niet; I recently had the pleasure of reading Two Among the Righteous Few as an assignment for my AP English Language and Composition class. I truly enjoyed reading the book and gained insight into the lives of those “righteous few” who risked their safety and the safety of those around them to provide refuge for Jews during World War II. One of the highlights for me in the book was instead of focusing only on the actions of Frans and Mien, there was acknowledgement of those who helped them along the way, including Cok and Mies and Dr. Baptist. It was inspiring to see this small community of people, this network of selfless individuals, who despite the voices of dissenters around them found ways to do what they knew was right. One of my favorite quotes from the book is from chapter 5, when Frans is speaking to Father Simons. The priest states, “They are Jews. What are you involved in? They are Jews!” In response, Frans replies, “That they are. But they are human beings too.” This quote resonated with me because it is one of my core beliefs that we are all human, and that is reason enough to end the deep rooted hate, violence, and prejudice that continues to plague the world. This is a message that all people, young and old, need to be reminded of. That is why I am grateful for books like this written by authors such as Marty Brounstein, who is passionate regarding the necessity of acceptance and tolerance. From reading Two Among the Righteous Few, I internalized that no one is destined to be a hero. Being a hero all depends on you and your decision to choose to do something more with your life, to choose to be of service to others and to the world. Frans and Mien were heroes to not only the people they helped and saved, but they are heroes to everyone who hears their story and is inspired by the courage, the selflessness, and the will of these two ordinary people who decided to do something extraordinary with their lives. Frans could have said no to housing Freetje when he discovered she was Jewish. He could have said no to the many more who reached out for help after this first person. Mien could have said no to faking a pregnancy for a woman she barely knew. But they never did. One of the most memorable scenes in the book was in chapter 2 when Frans agrees to house a young Jewish girl for three weeks. At this point, he knows little about the persecution Jews faced in Holland, yet he did not hesitate to say yes. As stated in the book, “For many of the Dutch at that time, if someone you know asks for help, then you do so.” Frans continued to live by this principle, even though most other Dutch did not. People often live in denial out of fear, like many of those mentioned in the book who were bystanders to the gruesome reality of the Holocaust. If they had only listened and opened their hearts to helping, possibly millions of people who were facing the unimaginable threat of genocide could have been saved -- history may been rewritten. That is the most significant takeaway I found in this book -- that people have the power to write history, but only if we reach out for the pen. Frans and Mien Wijnakker were among the few who did. They did not follow the course of what was planned. They wrote their own history. I am humbled to have been able to got to know their story.
Book Discussion with the 7th Grade Class of Dolly Higgins Anser Charter School, Boise, Idaho October 2018