Czechoslovakia & Hana’s Childhood (1925-1939)

Identity, Prejudices & The Fragility of Democracy

In 1938, Hana was a 13-year old girl living in Prague. She had a cozy childhood with her younger brother and her parents. Her father owned a children’s clothing store right on the Main Square and both sets of her grandparents lived in Kolín, a small town just an hour train ride away. During the days she went to school and by the time she was a teenager, she was fluent in French, German and her native Czech. She loved to read and spend time with her friends. When she wasn’t in school or with her family, she was dedicated to her Zionist Youth Group; the friends involved referred to themselves as the chaverim (which means friends in Hebrew). They would attend summer camp together and learn how to be pioneers, practicing stuffing mattresses and pillows with straw and using just one pot for all of their cooking and cleaning. They daydreamed of one day traveling to Palestine and helping create kibbutzim.

But in 1939, the world was becoming an increasingly scary place, especially for the Jewish people. Hitler, who was elected six years before in neighboring Germany was changing everything for the people of Europe. He was occupying land and dissolving governments and anti-semitism was growing, dramatically shifting from prejudice to discrimination and persecution. For a long time, the people of Czechoslovakia believed that it would never happen there. They believed that because their government was a democracy and because they valued arts and education and were a fairly secular society, that they would be protected. But, as history has shown, that was not true. In March of 1939, Hitler and his army marched into Czechoslovakia and Hana’s happy life disappeared; the war hadn’t even begun. Her school was shut down and stores began putting up signs saying that Jews were not allowed. Ration cards were given and groceries which were once so normal to buy, became impossible to find. Jewish families were moved into ghettos and forced to live in small quarters with one another. No one at that time could imagine what would come next.

But, Hana was one of the lucky ones. In 1939, when she was 14, she received permission to leave Czechoslovakia; it was like winning the lottery. Her and many of the chaverim would be sent to Denmark, a country that was not yet occupied. The Danish government agreed to take in the teens so they could continue learning their pioneering skills which they were so dedicated to practicing. In October of 1939, she stood on the platform of Prague’s Main Train Station and kissed her parents and younger brother goodbye. She did not know it then, but she would never see them again.

Reading #1

Family

By : Hana Dubova, written 2004

http://www.followmyfootprints.co/primary-source-family

Activity #1 : Identity Charts & Family Trees

In 1939, Hana’s identity chart would include the following :

Daughter, Sister, Cousin, Granddaughter, Great Granddaughter, Student, Friend, Zionist, Jewish, Child, Multilingual, Camper, Czech, European, Teenager (and more)

Instructions : What is your identity? Create your own identity chart describing who you are. When you finish, begin working on a family tree.

Materials Needed : Construction Paper, Markers, Picture of student to put in center of chart if available

Debrief Questions : Is your identity fixed? Will it always stay the same? How would it feel if someone decided that the only identity that mattered was “Jewish.” This is what happened to Hana and so many others throughout Europe.

Notes for Teacher : Let the students get creative with this. For family trees, they can cut out leaves for the trees and branches from construction paper or they can keep it more in the traditional format. Allow them to present their identity charts to the class and encourage them to share a family story (should draw inspiration from Hana’s essay, Family). 

Reading #2

The Beginning of the End

By : Hana Dubova, written 2004

http://www.followmyfootprints.co/primary-source-theend

Activity #2 : Agree / Disagree

Notes for Teacher : Before beginning the Agree/Disagree activity, define the word prejudice and explain its relevance in Hana’s story. Also, break the down how prejudice can lead to discrimination and persecution. For the agree/disagree activity, have the students get into the middle of the room and explain that you will say a statement and if they agree, they should go to one side and if they disagree, they should go to the other side of the room. If they feel neutral, they can stay in the middle. For those who stay neutral, they must explain why they chose that option. Start with simple statements about identity (draw inspiration from their identity charts). Then move into harder statements about prejudice (the older the group, the more challenging and controversial the statements can be). After each round of statements, allow for discussion amongst students.

Examples of Statements :

  1. I have faced prejudice before.
  2. I have been prejudice towards someone else.
  3. Prejudices are always negative stereotypes.
  4. The world as we know it did not just happen, but rather it is the result of choices made by individuals and groups through history.
  5. The smallest of decision have enormous consequences for both good & evil.
  6. It is hard to break away from stereotypes.
  7. Who we are by definition (race, economic status, religion) has nothing to do with who we are as a person.

Materials Needed : N/A

Debrief Questions : What is the risk of prejudice? How does it lead to discrimination and persecution? Where do you see prejudices in your own lives today?

Reading #3

Stepping Stones In My Life

By : Hana Dubova, written 2004

http://www.followmyfootprints.co/primary-source-steppingstones

Activity #3 : Hana’s Timeline

Instructions : Begin a timeline of Hana’s story. Mark both her travel route as well as political changes happening during her journey as a displaced person.

Materials Needed : Large paper, good for a timeline that can live in the classroom, markers, art supplies of the teacher’s choosing, pictures of the countries (can be supplied by myself upon request).

Notes for Teacher : This is an ongoing activity. Please continue it as you see fit throughout the lesson. It is an important way for students to keep track of Hana’s journey, the ongoings of the war, and the political changes and cultural differences that she had experienced.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Czechoslovakia & Hana’s Childhood (1925-1939)." (Viewed on September 23, 2021) <https://jwa.org/node/24920>.

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