1 Jewish Life in Europe Before WWII

This exercise contains a fact sheet and videos that will introduce you to the diversity of Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust. By the end of this activity you will have developed your understanding of its local, regional and national history and memory. You will also have gained deeper knowledge about the vibrant variety of Jewish communities in Europe by comparing stories and aspects of personal and cultural life.

What to do?

Read the text and then do the exercises that follow.


Life was often hard for Jewish minorities in the Middle Ages. They were frequently discriminated against in a number of ways such as through laws that limited where they were allowed to live and what they were allowed to work with.

After the so-called Emancipation during the 18th and especially 19th centuries, Jews in above all Central and Western Europe were given increased rights and greater opportunities to participate in society on an equal footing to others.

In Eastern Europe, with the Russian Empire in control of the largest area, including regions that are today separate countries, there were still anti-Jewish laws in force.

In 1939, there were roughly ten million Jews in Europe, which was less than two percent of Europe’s total population. Most of these Jews lived in either the western parts of the Soviet Union,  Poland or Romania. In these areas, the Jewish population made up between three and ten per cent of the total population.

In Germany, there were around half a million Jews representing just 0.75 per cent of the population.

Jewish population in Europe before the war (circa 1933).

Members of a soccer team in Bitola pose in the goal of a sports field. 14 August 1928.

In many villages and smaller towns in Eastern Europe, Jews had—like their non-Jewish neighbours—lived the same way for hundreds of years. Many Jews were religious and observed traditional lifestyles. Some were well-off but most were poor.

In medium to large towns, more and more Jews were swept up in rapid modernisation, and many left their traditional lives behind them and sometimes even their religious identities. In Central and Western Europe, more and more Jews became assimilated, which is to say that that they started living in the same way as the majority around them. In other words, life for Europe’s Jews varied a lot depending on where they lived.   square.jpg


Task 1

After reading the introductory text, choose two different places and watch the clip(s) about Jewish life in those specific places by clicking the links below. Then compare those two places and write down similarities and differences in the Venn diagram distributed by your teacher. When you are done, discuss your findings with a classmate and, based on what you have learnt from the testimony, give him or her an overview of Jewish life in your chosen places. Then compare your Venn diagrams.

Download Venn diagram handout        |     If you are a registered user, fill in this Venn diagram online >>

Jewish life in Lodz, Poland.

Jakob Ringart about his school years in Lodz, Poland.

Listen to more clips from this testimony >>

Jewish life in Sighet, Hungary/Romania.

Livia Fränkel about her childhood in Sighet, Hungary/Romania.

Listen to more clips from this testimony >>

Jewish life in Mezőcsát (near Miskolc), Hungary.

László Keller about his school years in Mezőcsát, Hungary.

Listen to more clips from this testimony >>

Jewish life in Mistelbach, Austria.

Grete Stern about her childhood in Mistelbach, Austria.

Listen to more clips from this testimony >>


Task 2

Answer the question:

  • 1-2a Do you think it is important to learn about different places? Explain why or why not.

  Online Venn Diagram (task 1)

square.jpg   Differences

  • 1-1a Write all the differences in the Venn Diagram concerning the first place you have studied.

square.jpg   Similarities

  • 1-1b Write all the similarities in the Venn Diagram concerning both of the places you have studied.

square.jpg   Differences

  • 1-1c Write all the differences in the Venn Diagram concerning the second place you have studied.

Next Section: 2. Nazi Ideology
2.1 Totalitarianism