In May 2020 it will be 75 years ago that the Second World War ended. During this war more than 72 million people died, around 6 million were Jews who were killed in the Nazi’s murder factories. Among them were around 102,000 Dutch Jews.

In the Netherlands, we commemorate the dead on 4 May and on 5 May we celebrate our liberation, every year. Over the years it seems as if the liberation festivities are drowning out the commemoration ceremonies. Although we think of all the dead, in two minutes silence, at 8 pm on 4 May, the liberation festivities on 5 May are attended by a multitude of loud visitors. When we commemorate the dead, current affairs seem to disappear. ‘Never again Auschwitz!’ is justly called out, but at the same time we live in a world in which the nightmares of the past seem to be looming again.

What makes people behave the way they do? This question has been at the centre of research in many fields of study for a long time. A person’s individual character – a combination of what a person wants, feels thinks or experiences - is also highly influenced by the environment and the time in which he lives. As circumstance are becoming increasingly more extreme and social coherence is put under pressure, human nature – visible in individual behaviour- is put to the ultimate test.

Roosje Glaser’s story is an example of this. In the ever more extreme circumstances of the German occupation she is, as so many other Dutch Jews during the Second World War, betrayed. Why would you betray another person? Why would you join the resistance? Why would you decide to collaborate with the Germans?

These questions form the foundation for the lesson series which was developed around Paul Glaser’s book Dansen met de vijand. Het oorlogsgeheim van tante Roosje. Amsterdam 2016. (Dancing with the Enemy, the war secrets of aunt Roosje, Amsterdam 2016). Roosje Glaser’s exceptional life is the basis for reflection for young people today. We not only want to challenge them to think critically about the choices that were made in her time, but also about the dilemmas the young are facing today. The series intends to be an unconventional approach to teaching the Second World War. The lessons will challenge young people to think about the choices they are facing within their own lives.

Paul Glaser based aunt Roosje’s story on her diaries, notes, letters, photographs, witness statements and his conversations with his aunt just before she passed away in Stockholm in 2000. This material is available and is well documented (bi-lingually) in the form of documents, diaries, photographs and film. Part of it is available through the website of the Roosje Glaser Foundation (

Aunt Roosje – a vivacious, modern, young Jewish women- is the model for the ageless existential dilemmas with which we still struggle today. How do you deal with friends and foes? Do you welcome fugitives or should they move on? Do we still care about others or do we feel it is every man for himself? Do we still stand for human dignity or is a general indifference taking over?

Passing on to young people today

Very few people who can give an eye witness account of the Second World War, are left alive, but also today this dark period remains a moral benchmark. Major interest in the Second World War still remains but is changing in topic. All the more reason to reconsider the perspectives of the Second World War.
Today, schools are asked to teach students more than knowledge; learning to think and reflect and use these skills to be able to choose how to behave, is just as valuable. What does the Second World War tell us today?

The reason for remembering can be linked to a story like Roosje’s; it teaches that values and norms are the foundation for our democratic constitutional state. It will make students aware of the fact that those times were completely different, where freedom as we know it today was unknown.

The school is pre-eminently the place to practice, where, by trial and error, students learn to participate in their own environment and later in society. Society manifests itself to the students in its most direct form in the school. In class, in the playground and in the canteen, the student is confronted by processes, behaviour and situations which also occur in ‘real’ life such as differences of opinion, arguments, bullying and violence but also group forming, empathy, cooperation and participation. Civics is not just another subject allocated to education. Education=Civics.


Written Mention

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein (other languages). 

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