Book Discussion Questions
If you’re planning to include the books Surviving Hitler in Poland: One Jew’s Story or Jewish Life in Poland: The Art of Moshe Rynecki (1881–1943) in your curriculum, you may want to consider the following discussion questions:
The memoir is more of a collection of individual vignettes than a single linear story. How does this impact your understanding of the author’s experiences?
George’s refusal to stay aboard the ship The Battory meant a lost opportunity of escape for himself, but probably is what surely saved his wife and son from certain death. What role does chance play in George’s survival of the Holocaust? What role does choice play?
In the chapter “Thoughts of April 18, 1985,” George reflects upon his writing and says, “There are hundreds of books on the subject. Nevertheless, I am a Jew and I write. I’ll do it till the end of my days. If only for my granddaughter, Elizabeth, to know the truth, and not to be afraid of it. It’s funny how we are not afraid to tell the truth.” Why is George’s granddaughter such a motivating factor in his drive to complete his wartime remembrances? What might motivate you to write your memoirs?
Many stories seem to have a turning point—a point at which the reader understands that the future of the people depends upon that very moment. Is there a turning point in George’s memoir? If so, which event would you define as the turning point? Why?
In the chapter “How Come You Don’t Wear an Armband?,” George writes, “The Church was the worst. I’ll never forgive them. I would rather forgive the Germans. Never the Poles. It’s actually simple.” Why does George have more hatred towards the Polish people than the Germans?
George talks about being able to “forgive but not forget.” Do you think that he ultimately does forgive? Is it possible to achieve this goal? How does one measure this?
Note #1: in this art book under “Museum Holdings” it states that the National Museum in Krakow has 22 Moshe Rynecki paintings. It is now understood that these 22 paintings are held by the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH) in Warsaw and that the paintings were loaned to the Krakow museum for the 1989 exhibition “Zydzi – Polscy.”
Note #2: Two pages after the Introduction is a painting with the caption “Paula Rynecki, 1929.” This is, in fact, a painting of Perla Rynecki, Moshe’s wife.
Prior to the nineteenth century, painting was not an acceptable trade for Jews—it was considered to trample upon the commandment against creating graven images. Moshe chose not only to paint, but to paint scenes central to the religious life of the Jewish community. Look at paintings such as Simhat Torah and The Reader. What does the composition of the painting say about these moments? What elements do Moshe’s paintings emphasize? How does he use light, color, and texture to create a particular mood? How are these paintings similar? How are they different?
Look at any of the paintings that Moshe Rynecki did prior to the war. What kind of mood does the painting evoke? Now look at a painting that Moshe Rynecki did while inside the Warsaw Ghetto. What kind of mood do these paintings evoke?
Is Moshe Rynecki a “Jewish artist” or an artist who also happens to be Jewish? Is there a difference?
Although Surviving Hitler in Poland: One Jew’s Story is a memoir that stands on its own, it can also be seen as a companion piece to Jewish Life in Poland: The Art of Moshe Rynecki (1881–1943). In what ways does the memoir supplement your understanding and interpretation of the paintings? Are there any particular passages or vignettes that you can identify as giving insight into Moshe’s work as a whole or into certain pieces in particular?
Other Curriculum Ideas
Shemini Atzeret/Simhat Torah Project
This art related activity from A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust (College of Eduction, University of Florida) familiarizes children in grades pre-k through 12 with Jewish life, festivals and culture. It incorporates Moshe Rynecki’s piece, Simhat Torah.
LaBelle Middle School Class Project
Pam Crockett, a middle school art teacher, wrote this lesson plan and art project for her 7th grade students when they were studying the Holocaust.