Closer Readings Commentary

Coming of Age in the Holocaust, Coming of Age Now



The Holocaust is one of the greatest tragedies in modern history. Its enormity is difficult for students to comprehend, particularly if it is presented as a general historical event. One effective way of approaching this topic is for students to hear the testimony of individual survivors. Coming of Age in the Holocaust – Coming of Age Now is a free, interactive curriculum for middle and high-school students and their educators created by the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York in collaboration with Yad LaYeled – The Ghetto Fighters’ Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum in Israel.

The site features individual testimonies of thirteen people who were adolescents during the Holocaust and had some of the same concerns that young people today have. Students follow their stories through the survivors’ words, short video interviews, maps, pictures, a glossary, a timeline, and other instructional content. Students who read all thirteen stories will encounter the Holocaust through the eyes of youth their own age who survived it. Through these survivors they will explore the diversity of experience that took place within it.


The Coming of Age Now curriculum includes twelve stories of Holocaust survivors and one story of an individual who grew up in the British Mandate of Palestine during the same period. Each story reflects unique, individual experiences, and as a group, the stories provide a library of resources for learning about the Holocaust through personal narratives.

Students will reflect on the challenges survivors faced in maintaining their identities, responsibilities they assumed during difficult circumstances, sacrifices they made for others, and lessons they want to impart to the next generation. The curriculum was developed so that by studying the lives of survivors, students will grow in their understanding of the Holocaust and themselves, and develop a deeper sense of what it means to come of age today.


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How to Access Coming of Age for the Classroom

Coming of Age Now can be explored by individuals, but it is also designed to accommodate classes of students working as a group. Pairs of classes may also work on this curriculum together. Although the site is designed to complement a traditional Holocaust curriculum by illustrating how real people’s lives were affected by historical events, it can be easily adapted to any classroom environment. A “FAQ” page with drop-down menu items covers the most common questions or concerns.

To use Coming of Age Now to its fullest extent as a classroom resource, you will need to enroll so that you can access all the assets the site has to offer. Once you enroll, go to the “For Teachers” page, which guides you through preparing and implementing a class. Users must be signed up individually. Every teacher will register and create a username and password for each student. That way, students can be identified within Class Discussion Forums that are available when you register on the site. It is easy to add, delete, or archive individual classes.

To begin using the website with your students, choose a survivor story that meets the needs of your class. You can read summaries and recommendations for stories on the “All Stories” page. You can access a story by choosing the survivor’s name under the Survivor Stories menu, accessible from the home page and the navigation bar at the top of each inside web page. Each story contains five short chapters (about a page or two each).

Here we will explore how to use Coming of Age Now through Elli’s Story.


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A Sample Survivor’s Story: Elli

Elli was born in 1931 in Samorin, Czechoslovakia, which was later occupied by Hungary. When the Nazis invaded Hungary, they forced the Jews to live in ghettos. From the ghetto, Elli’s father was taken to a labor camp, while Elli and the rest of her family were deported to Auschwitz. Elli, her mother, and her brother survived the war. Elli ultimately became a professor at the City University of New York and wrote a book about her experience, I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust. Click on the different chapters of her story to read the text and click on the videos to watch the survivor testimonies. You can also access all the videos from a particular story in the “Video Testimonies” link.

Chapter 1 – The first chapter describes Elli’s life in Czechoslovakia before the Holocaust.

  • Artifact Exploration – Artifacts from Czechoslovakia

Chapter 2 – As the war encroaches on Elli’s town she is forced to take on work, leave school, and wear a yellow star.

  • Artifact Exploration – Yellow Stars

Chapter 3 – Elli and her family are expelled from their town and force into a Jewish ghetto.

Chapter 4 – Elli and her family are deported to several concentration camps including Auschwitz where she encounters Joseph Mengle.

  • Artifact Exploration – Forced Labor

Chapter 5 – Elli’s family is liberated at the end of the war and must live in a displaced person’s camp until they can secure visas to emigrate to the United States.


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Lesson Activities and Virtual Classroom Discussions

In addition to the thirteen testimonies, there are a number of assets to aid you in getting the most from each story. These are outlined below.

Discussion Questions (log-in required) — Once your class is set up, you can choose between two types of discussion questions in Coming of Age Now; Student answers to both types of questions are moderated by you.

  • “Think and Write” Questions (questions already in the curriculum)

To answer Think and Write questions, students simply click the “Write prompts under a question. Think and Write questions ask the students to write about their own personal identity, community, and responsibilities in relation to each story. For example, in Elli’s story, after listening to Elli describe her own confusion over learning that she is a Jew students are asked to write in response to the question “Do you think about your identity differently at different times?” Once you approve student answers, these can be viewed by all logged-in users. A link to questions is also available from each survivor’s story.

  • Customized Questions

Once logged in, you can write your own questions for students in your class by clicking on the “Discussion Topics List” page under your class name in the “Discussion Menu.”

You can view and moderate student answers to all questions through a link at the bottom of the “Discussion Topics” area. You will see the student’s comment and have the choice to approve the comment (which will post it online), edit the response, or delete it, if the students reveals any private information inappropriate language, or content. You can send messages to the class as a whole or to individual students and students can send messages to you in Coming of Age Now. However, they cannot send messages to one another.

Timeline — There is an interactive timeline of each survivor’s story. For example, you can view Elli’s by clicking on the timeline link from within her story. Scroll through the timeline and mouse over the events to learn about the survivor and the times in which he/she lived. You and your students can create your own similar timelines with images and text in the “Discussion”section by clicking on “My Profile” and “Timeline.”

Geography — A short geography activity specific to each survivor and available from her or his story is available to test the students reading comprehension and basic understanding of key European areas affected by the Holocaust.


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Extending the Lesson

Each survivor story is accompanied a selection of additional resources and project suggestions, which can be completed as an extension of the online activities. The Project Research Questions page provides a list of potential topics to explore more about the Holocaust and World War II history. The Resource section, both within the story and main menu bar, contains of a variety of subject related media including books, films, websites, maps, as well as additional project suggestions.

Coming of Age Now’s rich resources are enhanced by forming part of a carefully monitored site for teacher and their students. Answers to questions and concerns about the curriculum can be sought by contacting the site’s owners by phone or email.


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