“That which has happened is a warning. To forget it is guilt. It must be continually remembered. It was possible for this to happen, and it remains possible for it to happen again at any minute. Only in knowledge can it be prevented.” (Karl Jaspers) 1
The lesson plans presented in the second part of this publication all deal with the problem of collaboration. After discussing resistance in the previous part, concentrating on the positive examples of people who cared, resisted in different ways and much too often sacrificed their lives, we focus on the collaborator.
Using biographies, stories of local people, that are not typically part of textbooks, the student is invited to discover history from a new perspective, one he or she can relate to.
Collaboration as defined by the English dictionary, reads
The examples in these lesson plans in most cases concentrate on the latter. But working with stories of “common people” rather than the infamous figures, so often depicted as one-dimensional villains, makes it even more important to bear in mind the works of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley:
"No man consciously chooses evil because it is evil, he only mistakes it for the happiness that he seeks." 3
We do not live in a one-dimensional world. Our realities are not black and white. It is therefore of utmost importance to promote reading literacy, critical reading and critical thinking from an early age and to make social, ethical and even political questions a part of the classroom debate.
Nowadays many people find it difficult to judge a person, a policy, an ideology. Learning to work with the information provided, forming an opinion based on facts and fostering empathy can provide useful skills.
We ask students to work with questions like “How is the Germans’ invasion, the occupation and the cooperation with the occupier presented by the press?”, “What are the motivations which push a citizen to collaborate?”, “Did they have a choice?”, “Is it important for society to put collaborators to trial?”, “Does it matter to try a person suspected of war crimes after more than 70 years?” and through analysing history and historical memory invite students to use similar questions also in everyday life thus fighting the ever growing indifference which makes us immune to injustice and suffering both past and present.
Even though this topic is highly sensitive, the lesson plans provide interesting methodology and new approaches.
“Finnish Jews’ difficult decision” is based on Paul Kendall’s shortened article: “The Jews who fought for Hitler”. It is a unique example of cooperation between Germans and Jews during WWII. Facing a Soviet threat, some Finnish Jews decided to fight for their country, Finland, alongside with Germany. The lesson plan asks questions like “What problems did they have to face?” “How did they feel being obliged to collaborate with German soldiers?”
“Collaboration cases in Greece” is based on the principles of cooperative learning and inquiry-based learning. The first part of the lesson plan introduces the topic with parts of the film “The travelling players”. The biography of Georgios Poulos is used, the concept of collaborating “Quisling Governments” is explained as well as Security Battalions. Students work in groups according to what their task is: there is a group of history researchers, files researchers, biographers and performers/drama players.
The Italian lesson plan “A story of courage: Giuseppina Gusmano, a Righteous Among the Nations” provides a positive example of collaboration to save lives in the biography of Giuseppina Gusmano who hid 15 Jewish orphans in her house.
Further, the concept of the Italian Social Republic is explained, and the example of the Risiera of San Sabba is provided to reflect on the consequences of political and military collaboration with Germany, since it was used as an extermination camp.
The Polish lesson plan “Difficult decisions” presents the biography of Moses Merin, introduces the concept of Judenräte and uses some elements of ‘open space” and “open space for dialogue and enquiry” (OSDE) methodology. Students analyse Mose Merin’s biography with the help of a decision tree method.
The Spanish lesson plan “Two Lives of Denouncement” provides a detailed historical background of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, second Spanish Republic and the Spanish civil war as well as a glossary of terms used. It centres on the biography of Ismael Chinchilla and approaches the topic from a historical, a philosophical and an ethical-moral perspective. Authentic documents, photographs as well as literary texts (Antigone by Sophocles) are used and a connection with current global issues is drawn.
Slovak “Collaboration” lesson plan uses the biography of a fictional character as well as a real-life collaborator. Tony Brtko, from the Oscar film “The Shop on the Main Street”, is an example of someone who ended up collaborating almost against his will. Ladislav Nižňanský, on the other side, provides the example of a turncoat who managed to survive every establishment and died unpunished. The concept of “Aryanization” is being explained and parallels between the past and future drawn.
The concept of collaboration is a painful topic especially in countries which collaborated in any way during the war. However, we feel that this topic needs to be addressed. Still there are those who belittle the horrors of the World War II or praise collaborators. Our society needs collaboration in the sense of working together for a better society where democracy, human rights, justice, empathy and human dignity are not only empty phrases.
We hope that the lesson plans presented in this unit will provide helpful or inspirational source material for not only history lessons, but any lessons for the present and future.
1 JASPERS, Karl: The Origin and Goal of History (Routledge Revivals). Routledge 2014, p. 149
3 Cloke, Kenneth. "Mediating Evil, War, and Terrorism: The Politics of Conflict." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: December 2005 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/mediating-evil>. [last access 8.1.2017]