Both Maus and The Pianist are visual mediums that deal with the experiences of two different families in Poland during the Holocaust. Maus creates a visual with Art Spiegelman's black and white images of his interpretation of Valdek Spiegelman's story and The Pianist is Roman Polanski's film interpretation of Wladyslaw Szpilman's story. While each story is unique, both play a critical role in the greater narrative of the Holocaust. This narrative would include The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel's Night, which many of my students read in the 8th grade. If students are to grasp the Holocaust as a global cultural experience, they need to be able to connect the similarities and differences between the Spiegelman and Szpilman narratives and how each artist uses images to frame the story (CCSS RL 9-10 7). Hopefully they will grasp these narratives place in the complex group of stories that make up the Holocaust.
Now that the students have some general information on Warsaw during WWII and on Wladyslaw Szpilman and his family. They are ready to watch the film.
I want them to focus on the choices Jews and people living in an occupied country had to make during the Holocaust. They have to fill in the chart in The Pianist movie activity that compares and contrasts: 1. Advantages and disadvantages to joining the Jewish Police Force or the Judischer Ordnugsdienst and 2. The choices and consequences of non-Jews who helped Jews during the occupation. Finally, each student has to decide if s/he were approached to join the Jewish Police Force, what would s/he do?
Now that the movie has ended each student has to write a letter that explains the choice s/he would make regarding joining the Jewish Police force. The students can reference both movie, The Pianist, and graphic novel, Maus, in their letter to their parents (CCSS W 9-10 3).
Before, I let them write, I ask if anyone wants to share their thoughts on the movie or thoughts on The Pianist's connection to their lives. After a few students shared their ideas, they write the letter for the remainder of the time. The letter is their ticket out the door.