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Unsung Heroes

Inspirational people of the Second World War

by Philippa Rae

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To celebrate some of the heroes of the Second World War.

Preparation and materials

Assembly

  1. The tragedy of the Second World War can never be forgotten. It began in 1939, initiated by the German leader of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler. Terrible loss of life and horrific injuries were suffered both at home and on the battlefields, but something sinister was taking place, too. Hitler's belief in a superior ‘Aryan’ race meant that certain groups, particularly Jewish people, were suffering persecution. Before long, discrimination, segregation and indifference turned into the events that have become known as the Holocaust. Millions of Jews suffered terribly and many lost their lives.
  2. However, out of this darkness, some heroes emerged. You may have heard of the story of Oskar Schindler, told in the film Schindler’s List. Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist who risked his own life to save many Jewish people.

  3. The name Oskar Schindler is well known to us, but today, we are going to hear about some other people who are less well known, but who risked their lives to help others. These people recognized the value of each life and were determined to do something to help. Often, their stories were not discovered until decades after the end of the war.

  4. One such person is Clara, who assisted her father with forging documents to help Jewish people escape.

    Play the YouTube video ‘Clara’, available at: http://tinyurl.com/h3c42kp

    In her story, Clara states that the real hero was the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued thousands of Jewish people. However, the actions of Clara and her family were vitally important. Whether they saved one life or thousands of lives, they are still an inspiration to us today.

  5. Irena Sendler was a Polish nurse and social worker whose story was unknown for many years, although later in her life, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and honoured in a number of ways. Her story only came to light in 1999, when three American students uncovered it while they were researching a school project. Since then, their play, Life in a Jar, has been performed hundreds of times in North America and Europe.

    Play the YouTube video ‘Irena Sendler - Life in a Jar’, available at: http://tinyurl.com/hnvrqda

    With the help of a few others, Irena smuggled about 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto to safety. She wrote down the names of all of the children she rescued and recorded their details. Then, she buried these records in jars under a tree in her garden so that one day, when the war was over, the children might be reunited with their families. Even when Irena was tortured and put in prison, she still remained silent. Even up to the time she died at the age of 98, she insisted that she was not a heroine and only wished she could have done more.

  6. Otto Weidt owned a small factory in Berlin that made brooms and brushes. He employed many blind and deaf people, several of whom were Jewish.

    Optional: play the YouTube video ‘Otto Weidts Workshop for the Blind’, available at: http://tinyurl.com/jgqh27s

    Otto fought to protect many disabled Jewish workers from deportation, using his workshop as a refuge where they could hide. He fought to secure their safety by falsifying documents and bribing Nazi officers. He was arrested many times, but managed to survive the war, although he died from heart failure only two years later. Today, he has been recognized for his work and has a museum to honour his name.

Time for reflection

Today, we have seen that people from different walks of life could not stand by and watch others who were in desperate need, despite the risk to themselves. Their courage was not defined by their nationality - they came from all over the world, including from within Germany itself. Clara was a young girl, Irena was a nurse and Otto ran a small factory for disabled workers. However, they all worked to help those in great need.

Through such people, we learn that everybody has a role to play in making a better society. Such stories inspire us and hopefully give us the courage to learn to stand up for what we believe is right.

Prayer
Dear Lord,
We thank you for the heroes who have, in time of conflict, given of themselves to help others.
Please help each of us to work to make our world a better place where all can live in peace.
Please help us to stand against injustice and take positive action to help those in need.
Amen.

Publication date: November 2016   (Vol.18 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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