A rare glimpse into the education of Jewish children during the Holocaust

Shem Olam Institute releases curriculum of schools in the Krakow Ghetto.

Arched entrance to Krakow Ghetto (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Arched entrance to Krakow Ghetto
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
As children across Israel returned to school on Tuesday, the Shem Olam Institute released documents providing a rare glimpse into the education system for Jewish children living in ghettos during the Holocaust.
While many other Holocaust commemoration organizations focus on the tragedy of European Jewry, Shem Olam – the Faith and Holocaust Institute for Education and Research – explores how people coped.
“Morality, spirituality, religious life, humanity and moral issues” are the focus of the center’s work, institute head Rabbi Abraham Krieger told The Jerusalem Post.
Among the documents was the curriculum of schools in the Krakow Ghetto, which Krieger says is the first of this kind to be found. Though the curriculum was specifically for Krakow, the document suggests what was happening in other ghettos, as did a letter sent on January 29, 1941, by heads of the Jewish community in Krakow to leaders of the Lublin Ghetto explaining how to organize education. This, Krieger explains, is “because Krakow was known as more organized and Lublin was smaller and less organized to start with.”
The authors of the letter expressed concern that the upcoming school year would not open, and suggested that due to “non-uniform desires of the parents” they opened three different types of schools to meet the needs of three different types of communities: religious, secular and Zionist.
The amount of hours dedicated to Jewish studies varied from school to school, ranging from 10 to 18 hours a week.
Alongside Jewish studies, Polish Jews were required to study general subjects such as arithmetic, geography, nature and the Polish language.
“Because this is the beginning of the school year, we thought it was important for students today to hear how much effort people put into building schools during the Holocaust,” Krieger said, expressing hope that it might help motivate youth of today and highlight the importance of education.