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Lesson Overview

Essential Questions

  • What is resistance?
  • What is the value of creative expression for oppressed people?
  • Is creative expression a meaningful form of resistance?


Students will explore a little-known story of creative resistance during the Holocaust by watching the film Defiant Requiem in order to increase their general understanding of how Jews were oppressed during the Holocaust and how some prisoners used art and music to resist.


ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1: Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Getting Started

Module 1 (Social Studies I) aligns well with the following subjects/themes:

  • Social Studies: Teaching resistance during World War II and/or the Holocaust
  • English language arts: Reading memoirs or novels with themes of resistance in war or genocide
  • Art and Music: Exemplars of forms of creative expression during or in response to social injustice, political conflict, war, or mass atrocity.

Pre-teaching recommendations

Social Studies I is designed for teachers and students working at an introductory level. If your students are new to studying the Holocaust, we highly recommend using the following pre-teaching resources:

For a basic overview of the Holocaust:

For the role of ghettos within the Holocaust:

For the role of Terezin:

For resistance during the Holocaust:

For definitions of Holocaust terms, please visit Echoes and Reflections Audio Glossary

For a complete list of resources related to Defiant Requiem, please visit the Resources page.

Quick History Facts

  • Rafael Schächter was educated as a pianist, composer, and conductor in the Czech cities of Brno and Prague.
  • He was deported to the Terezín ghetto in the first transport in November 1941. *Note that the names Terezín and Theresienstadt refer to the same ghetto and can be used interchangeably.
  • In Terezín, he organized fellow prisoners to sing together.
  • He ultimately taught them to sing Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem by rote (using repetition and memorization) with a single score that he had brought with him from Prague.
  • They sang the Requiem sixteen times. The last performance was before German officials and the International Red Cross in June 1944.
  • The surviving members of the chorus recall that singing the Requiem had great meaning for them: it was a way to nourish their spirits in terrible circumstances and a powerful act of resistance against Nazi efforts to dehumanize them.
  • Immediately following the June 1944 visit of the International Red Cross to Terezín, Rafael Schächter and most of his chorus were deported to the killing center Auschwitz-Birkenau. The majority of them perished. They were among 88,000 Jews deported by the Germans from Terezín to killing centers during the Holocaust.

Lesson Sequence: Part I

1. Organize students into pairs or small groups to brainstorm what they know about the Holocaust. Write this question somewhere visible to all students: What do you know about the Holocaust?  Instruct students to work together to write down definitions, facts, dates, or other important information. (If desired, you can provide them with a chart/graphic organizer, such as a KWL, to help them organize their thoughts.)

If your students are new to studying the Holocaust, you can distribute this good general explanation (found here) and ask them to pull out key facts to share.

2. Allow pairs/groups to share aloud. The teacher or a note-taker should write information on the board. Teachers should take this opportunity to correct any misconceptions. The purpose of this activity is not to create a comprehensive explanation of the Holocaust but to ensure that everyone in the class shares basic, accurate information.

3. Give students 5-10 minutes to work individually to refine their original notes into more comprehensive bullet lists or narratives using the information compiled by the class.

4. Instruct students that as they view Defiant Requiem they will be expected to take notes on one of several key aspects of the story. Break students into groups and assign one of the following themes to each group.

  • Oppression
  • Deception
  • Propaganda
  • Resistance
  • Hope


Students should find a definition of their term and bring in 2-3 examples of it from any time period.

Part II

Explain to students that the story told in the film Defiant Requiem is one of millions that took place during the Holocaust. It teaches important aspects of the Holocaust but also contains unique dimensions that are often overlooked.

  1. Assemble students into groups according to their themes. Give them 5-7 minutes to share the definitions and examples they researched for homework.
  2. Distribute the Viewing Guide and direct students to track examples of their theme while watching the film. Remind them that they will be sharing their notes with other students after watching.
  3. View Defiant Requiem. ** Depending on your students’ level of familiarity with Holocaust history, consider stopping the film periodically to check that students are finding examples of their themes and that they are understanding the content.
  4. After viewing the film, ask students to work within their group to discuss how their assigned theme was developed throughout the film.

Part III

  1. Bring the class together for a group discussion. Ask a representative from each group to share how their theme was reflected in the film.
  2. After each group has shared, ask them to discuss the module’s Essential Questions as a group:
    • What is resistance?
    • What is the value of creative expression for oppressed people?
    • Is creative expression a valid form of resistance?
  3. As a concluding exercise, revisit the original question: What do you know about the Holocaust? 
  4. Ask each group to verbally contribute something new that they learned from watching Defiant Requiem to the description of what they know about the Holocaust. The teacher or a notetaker should add these notes to the written description on the board so that the class can see how they have added to their overall understanding of the Holocaust.