Project exemple from the Netherlands

Lessons about life and survival

Six one-hour lessons were developed for years 7 and 8. There is a continuing learning line in the themes: Roosje’s younger years-exclusion-her passion for dancing-love-resistance-hiding-betrayal and survival at any cost. Every lesson starts with a reading text (including audio-visual material) for the teacher in order to provide additional information to create a minimal knowledge of the historic context and the theme of each lesson.

The interactive lessons include photographs and films and stimulate students to find answers, exchange points of view and come to a conclusion, either individually or in class groups. Especially where moral dilemmas are concerned (lesson 5 and 6), there is no emphasis on the correct or incorrect answer but on learning to listen to each other’s opinions and arguments.

The teacher introduces all the assignments to the students. All the tasks for the students are in a PowerPoint per lesson. The intention is that the teacher actively guides his students through Roosje’s history, as the passionate storyteller, who fascinates and challenges students. This requires the abillity of telling a story. The aspect of storytelling is an effective way to keep students interested and involved.

General Goals:

  • are introduced to the Second World War through aunt Roosje’s story
  • are faced with dilemmas and choices of the characters in the book
  • learn to deal respectfully with each other and people who are of a different opinion
  • realize the importance of democratic values
  • learn to work together, do research and form an opinion

 Every lesson has a similar structure: 

  • Reading test for the teacher based on aunt Roosje’s story;
  • The teacher instructs the students for class or group assignments;
  • The teacher asks questions and joins the students in their search for answers;
  • The teacher stimulates the students to empathize and form an opinion.

The lessons

Lesson 1: 1940-1945 | The Second World War
Key question: Why were the Netherlands occupied in 1940?

Lesson 2: 1914-1930 | Roosje’s youth in Kleef (Germany)
Key question What happened in Roosje’s youth?

Lesson 3: 1930-1940| 1940-1942 | Resistance and betrayal
Key question: How does Roosje resist the anti-Jewish measures?

Lesson 4: 1942 | Hiding and betrayal
Key question: Why did Roosje have to go into hiding?

Lesson 5: 1942| About life and survival in Camp Westerbork
Key question: What was life like in Westerbork and how could you survive there?

Lesson 6: 1943 – 1945| Dancing with Germans in Auschwitz
Key question: Which choices does Roosje make in order to survive?

Lesson 7: What have I learned?
Key theme: Feedback and reflection

Key didactics
Learning by ….

  • asking and solving questions. This is an important aspect of inquiry based learning; it stimulates the curious mind. Avoid correction in the early stages in their work. Give them time.
  • using illustrative material such as: a story, photographs, films and objects. These should clarify terminology.
  • making students guess at information and answers. There are no ready-made answers; the students themselves have to investigate.
  • improving creative thinking by stimulating divergent and convergent thinking. Recommending looking for more than one answer.
  • stimulating students to use their intuition, imagination and feelings, so that students experience more and improve inventivity and creativity.
  • stimulating comprehension by regularly summarizing and repeating. Ask the students to write their own log by making an assignment like: what have I learnt today?


From the lessons
From lesson 5
1942- 1943 About life and survival in Camp Westerbork

After their arrest Roosje and her mother were taken to Camp Westerbork. The Jews were led to believe that they would be sent to labour camps in eastern Europe. People were in permanent fear of being deported. The camp commanders did everything to turn Westerbork into a ‘pleasant’ camp. People could participate in sports, take courses or visit cabaret performances. Roosje immediately understands that she has to become useful in order to avoid deportation. She befriends a Dutch officer who is serving in the German army. She can work as a secretary and does everything to avoid ending up on a deportation list.

The iron train sign Westerbork-Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Westerbork.
Between 1942 and 1945 107,000 Dutch Jews were deported by the German occupier. A train leaves on Tuesday almost every week. The goods wagons carry around 1,000 people. The transport leaves 93 times. Only 5,000 of the deported people survived the war.


Assignment 3; How does Roosje survive?

The teacher tells the story:
Roosje and her mother have to find a way to survive in this new environment. Roosje knows she has to make herself useful in order to avoid deportation east. Roosje and her mother were punished for not reporting to Westerbork voluntary. This would mean they would end up on the deportation list soon. Roosje manages to get a job as a nurse so she can stay with her sick mother in Westerbork.

Reading text for students. The questions are answered individually or in pairs.

October/November 1942 – Roosje in the Schreibstube (administration)
It might seem impossible, but I managed to get a fantastic job. I’ve become the secretary to the highest ranking officer in the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service). He is a very young man and we work together all day long. The other inmates are madly jealous of me, yet they still chase me politely the entire day with a hundred-and-one requests. Imagine, I sit behind a desk with a really nice young gentleman opposite me wearing a large swastika. And he’s very kind to me. As a result of the job I’m allowed to stay here on a permanent basis and can also keep my father and mother here.
Paul Glaser, Dancing with the Enemy, Amsterdam, 2016, p. 115.

Explain whether you:

  • Can/cannot understand that Roosje becomes the secretary for.
  • Can/cannot understand the response of the camp inmates.


From lesson 6
1943-1944 | Dancing with the enemy | About life and survival in Auschwitz

On 23 February 1943 Roosje is transferred to camp Vught. This is an awful camp. She escapes and is caught and is sent back to Westerbork, this time as a punished prisoner. Punished prisoners are deported to Auschwitz immediately. She arrives in Auschwitz-Birkenau , a big complex in Poland: extermination and labour camp in one, on 16 September 1943. She survives the gruesome circumstances by dancing with the enemy. Roosje is there until December 1944. Then the death march begins.

How does Roosje survive?


Dancing with the enemy; the dancer of Auschwitz
Text to read to students:

During one of our ‘planning discussion’ I learned that the SS-officers met regularly in the evenings to pass the time. After all, they too were stuck in a camp far from home. The nights involved drinking and singing, but after a while that became a bit routine. One day I took the plunge and offered to play the piano and dance during their evening get-togethers. I knew a lot of German songs.
Kurt (the SS-officer Roosje got involved with) responded evasively, but after a few days I was told I should come along to one of the evenings. (...) Prison uniforms weren’t exactly appropriate, so he arranged for me to have different clothes and more elegant shoes. (...)
So there I was, spending an evening with the SS. (...) I was expected to dance to the music from the gramophone. I took a moment to decide what record to put on, then Kurt raised his hand. Silence fell as I introduced myself and the dance I was about to perform. It was a mazurka. First slow, then faster. I demonstrated three different dances, and after half an hour is was over. No one clapped but I was given a whole loaf of bread as a reward and was sent back to my barrack.
Paul Glaser, Dansen met de Vijand, Dancing with the Enemy, Amsterdam 2016, 178, 179, 180


Assignment 3: statement/discussion.
Roosje has to dance with the enemy in order to survive.

Students write down their own arguments and then have a group discussion. Being right is not the issue but listening to each other’s opinions, is. In case a debate has to be organized, appendix 1 may be useful. 

  • I can fully understand this because …..
  • I cannot understand this because ……
  • I could never have done this because….
  • I could have done this as well because…..

 Alternative assignment: ask the students to write and individual response to the following question: 

“Imagine you are in a concentration camp and you can increase your chance of survival by dancing with or chatting up the enemy. Would you do this?” Explain why you would/would not
Then the points of view can be presented for group discussion. Stimulate students again to listen carefully to each other’s answers and arguments and try to understand what the other means. Being right or wrong is not the issue.


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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