by Inge Barth-Grözinger
About the book:
Erich Levi doesn’t quite understand why his father is so gloomy when the Nazis are elected to power. He’s too concerned with keeping his grades up, hanging out by the river with his friends, and studying for his bar mitzvah to worry much about politics.
But slowly, gradually, things begin to change for Erich. Some of the teachers begin to grade him harshly and unfairly- because he’s Jewish. They humiliate him and exclude him from sports events and celebrations. Erich puts up with bullying from the Hitler Youth boys in his class, boys made important and powerful by the uniforms they wear. Most painfully, his family friend Kurt shuns him entirely. At home, things are no better. Money becomes more scarce as his father’s cattle business suffers because no one wants to do business with Jews.
Not everyone is so cruel, though, and many of the Levis’ friends and neighbors remain fiercely loyal at great risk to themselves. With good people still around, Erich can’t believe the situation will last, and stubbornly holds on to his dreams- even as the home he’s always knows becomes a dangerous and alien place.
Inge Barth-Grözinger has brilliantly recreated the life of a Jewish family in a small German town during the Nazi era. Something Remains provides, with terrible, everyday detail, an answer to the impossible question: How could the Holocaust have happened?
About the guide:
This guide includes discussion questions and projects intended to extend the use of the novel into classrooms, book clubs, and literature circles. It should promote discussion on the themes of the novel include friendship, loyalty, betrayal, hope, and violence.
About the author:
Inge Barth-Grözinger is a gymnasium (high school) teacher in Ellwangen, German. Something Remains grew out of an eighteen-month research project she conducted with her students, tracing the Jewish community of their town and school. It was the story of one student in particular, Erich Levi, that inspired Ms. Grözinger to write this novel.
Author Interview: (I’m not sure if this is possible Angus, but I thought I’d include it)
- What documents or facts about Erich inspired you to write his story in particular?
- Was the community accepting of your research and writing of this story? Wasn’t it difficult for the community to revisit this sad history?
- What was the most difficult part of your research and writing? What has been a surprise?
- Are you working on any other books for children? Can you tell us about your project?
- What do you hope readers take away from your novel?
How much do you know about WWII and The Holocaust? Have you ever studied the time leading up to “the final solution?” What do you think you could learn by studying one boy’s story?
- At first, Erich is unafraid of being Jewish under Nazi rule. How does that change over the course of the novel? Which events do you think most change him as a person? Why?
- Many cruel events take place at school yet Erich and Max rarely share them with their parents. Why do they make this choice? Would you be able to keep these events from your family and friends?
- The changes in Erich’s treatment at school deteriorate over time. Create a timeline of events and rulings against Erich and his cousin. Which events would be the most difficult for you? What choices would you make like Erich? How would you react differently?
- How do Erich’s friends react to his growing mistreatment and alienation? Would you be willing to risk your own standing in your school and community to keep a friend? What if, like Kurt, your family was also pressuring you?
- Dr. Fetzer stands up for Erich at school with is speech on violence. He says, “violence in general and beating people up in particular were no way to solve problems… On the contrary, they create even worse problems. And most important, much that is very valuable is destroyed by violence, lost beyond recall.” What does he mean by this? Is violence ever an answer to a conflict? How is violence used to intimidate citizens throughout the novel? Do people use violence in a similar manner today?
- While studying The Holocaust in hindsight it is easy to wonder why many Jewish families did not just leave. How does this novel help your understanding of that misconception? Why did so many Jews keep hope that things would improve? What finally convinced Herr Levi to uproot his family? Can you imagine leaving America under similar circumstances?
- How do the Nazi’s finally convince Kurt of their value? Why isn’t Helmut ever persuaded by their propaganda? How do Helmut and Erich maintain their friendship even when it is too difficult to meet publicly? Would you go to this much trouble to keep a friend?
- Describe the tactics of the Hitler Youth Movement. How do they appeal to their young members? Who do you think is most susceptible to their persuasive methods? Why? Do you think the youth movement is as cruel as the adults in the story or not?
- Who is Gertraud Seidel? How does Erich feel about her? To whom is she related? What are they risking by meeting and writing letters? Would you have defied Gremm under these circumstances? In the end, what does he decide to do? Why?
- How do the events in the story change Erich’s feelings about his own father, mother, brother and even his faith? How would Erich’s life have unfolded if the Nazi’s had never taken power? What would he have studied? Who might he have married?
11. Who are the Mench’s (a Jewish word for good person) in the story? Who surprises them with their loyalty and willingness to stand up for what is right? How do these small acts give the Levi’s faith?
12. What type of propaganda did the Nazi party use to gain membership and power? Why do you think it is so successful? Do you still think this could happen again today? Why or why not?
- Discuss Erich’s mother’s remarks, “If we break with our religion and our customs, all those who despise and persecute us will triumph.” Did they triumph over Erich Levi? How does one stand against oppression?
- In the end, what finally makes the Levi’s flee their home and country? How do the rest of their family fare? What becomes of Erich and his descendents? Why didn’t his grandson accept the Sabbath plate?
- Do you think the world has changed enough that this could never happen again? Do you see scapegoats still created by others? Are whole groups of people still persecuted for their beliefs, skin color, or religion? How can the world not turn a blind eye?
Read another true account of a young person who lived during WWII in Europe. Compare their stories in a detailed Venn diagram. How were their lives similar? What were quite different?
Visit this website and learn about how the Nazi regime used music as a form of propaganda:
Write a brief journal about what you learned.
Create a piece of art that represents Erich’s experiences in the novel. It can be a sculpture, sketch, painting or any other media you prefer, but you must discuss your artistic choices of media, color and form in a journal that is also included with the art piece.
Small groups of no more than four should be assigned a topic from the Holocaust to study. Groups must produce a fifteen minute presentation about the information they learned. Each person must give part of the lesson. It can be produced as a powerpoint presentation or other format but must have at least five references as resources:
The rise of the Nazi regime.
The concentration camps
The resistance movement