Lesson Plan

Custodian of Memory

Read excerpts from Elie Wiesel’s Day of Remembrance addresses. Students will have a discussion about commemoration and remembrance.

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Enduring Understanding

Holocaust remembrance is important to ensure that the story of those who lost their lives does not go forgotten. The hope is that by teaching the Holocaust and preserving the memory we can keep history from repeating itself.

Essential Question

  • 1What does it mean to be a custodian of memory?


15 Min
Teacher's Note
This story brings up Hasidism (a Jewish movement founded in the 18th century), and characters from Jewish teachings, which may be unknown to your students. You should explain that the story comes from Jewish teachings, but ensure that they do not need to know the characters in order to understand the message.

Start off by reading this story to the class:

When Rebbe Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, saw the Jewish people were threatened by tragedy, he would go to a particular place in the forest where he lit a fire, recited a particular prayer, and the miracle was accomplished, averting the tragedy.

Later, when the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple the Maggid of Mezrich had to intervene with heaven for the same reason, he went to the same place in the forest, where he told the Master of the Universe that while he did not know how to light the fire, he could still recite the prayer, and again, the miracle was accomplished.

Later still, Rebbe Leib of Sasov, in turn, a disciple of the Maggid of Mezrich, went into the forest to save his people. “I do not know how to light the fire,” he said to God, “and I do not know the prayer, but I can find the place and that must be sufficient.” Once again, the miracle was accomplished.

When it was the turn of Rebbe Israel of Rizhyn, the great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezrich who was named after the Baal Shem Tov, to avert the threat, he sat in his armchair, holding his head in his hands, and said to God: “I am unable to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story. That must be enough.” And it was enough.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author, and professor, used this story to explain how someone who has little to no connection with the past, can still be a custodian of memory. Wiesel said that, “Like the Rebbe of Rizhyn, we may not know how to light the fire, we may not know the prayer, and we may not know the place in the forest. Our connection to the past is weak; it may be distant, at a remove. All we can do is tell the story, and we must. But in order to tell the story, we must first hear the story.”

Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger (Pg. 31-32)


5 Min

Direct students to the resource, Elie Wiesel: Days of Remembrance Excerpts, from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Divide the class into groups of three. Assign each group an excerpt from one of the years: 2001, 2002, 2003, or 2004. It is fine that groups will have repeat excerpts.


30 Min

As students get together with their groups, provide them with the instructions below. Give students 15-20 minutes for this.

  1. Read through the excerpt you have been assigned with your group.
  2. Rewrite the passage in your own words.
  3. Choose one line that resonates with you the most. Why is it so powerful?

Reconvene as a class and open the class to a discussion with the questions below:

  1. Why is it important to remember the Holocaust?
  2. Think back to the story from the beginning of the class. What does it mean to be a custodian of memory?

Wisconsin Academic Standards

This lessons meets the following Academic Standards required by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

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