The so-called “Final Solution” set a goal of eliminating all European Jews. By the time Germany surrendered to the allies in 1945, 6 million of the estimated 8 million Jews in Europe had been murdered.

At first Jews were required by law to wear a yellow star, which identified them as Jews. Then they were forced to live in walled compounds within their city called “ghettos.” Eventually, though, they were sent to “re-location” camps with names like Buchenwald, Treblinka, Dacchau and Auschwitz. In some cases, these facilities were work camps. In others they were “death” camps.

The conditions were so harsh and depressing in these places that many simple gave up their will to live. But others fought for survival with one thing in mind: they wanted “to live to tell.” Their mission was to tell the world about this event, in part so something like this would never happen again.

One such survivor is Elie Wiesel, who was a teenager when he was separated from his mother and sisters and sent to Auschwitz and later Buchenwald. Since the war, Wiesel has spent his life teaching about the Holocaust and working against discrimination and racial intolerance. He has written over 50 books, the most famous of which is Night, a simple yet powerful retelling of his and his father’s experiences in the camps.

This photo shows the kind of conditions people lived in in the camps. These wooden bunks were the beds and, remarkably, this photo shows the young Elie Wiesel.

Consider these questions:
How do you think people become intolerant of races and genders?
If you were a parent of a young child, how would you raise him/her to be open-minded while at the time to have the values you think are important?

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Osama Bin Laden

Posted: May 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

Osama bin Laden was the most wanted man in the world until this past weekend. Consider the following questions:

  • How do you feel about his capture and death?
  • There is some controversy about President Obama’s refusal to release photos of the corpse of Bin Laden. Offer an argument for releasing the photos and an argument against. What do you think the right thing to do is?
  • How do you feel the existence of people like Bin Laden and his followers affect your life?

What Does It Mean To Be Rich?

Posted: April 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

J Paul Getty, a wealthy American oil tycoon, said “You’re not rich if you know how much money you have.” Cornelius Vanderbilt, another American industrial tycoon, certainly would have been rich if measured by this standard.

One of his many houses, the Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina, stands as an example of wealth and prosperity. It is the largest private home in the United States. It has 175,000 square feet and 250 rooms! A typical American residence has between 1500 and 1500 square feet and 6 to 10 rooms.

At the same time that the Biltmore was being built, many American workers were surviving on subsistence wages and were working long hours in factories.

What do you think it means to be “rich?”
Do you think truly rich people are happier than those who aren’t?
Finally, do you think its fair that there is often a huge gap between what the people who own the factories and businesses make in salary and what those who work in the same places make? Why or why not?

Working Children (Repost)

Posted: April 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

One of the more disturbing aspects of the Industrial Revolution was the extent to which children were used in the factories. A 14 hour work-day was not unusual. Loss of limbs in unprotected machinery and even deaths were common.

In spite of awareness and laws, child labor continues, especially in asia. Do a search for “child labor” and share something you learn and, more importantly, sharing your thinking about this issue.

The Blood of Tyrants 3-29-11

Posted: March 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

In the Divine Rights monarchies of Europe, people believed that God granted kings and queens the right to rule. But then, in the 1700s, a group of intellectuals suggested that governments were “instituted among men” by men and that it was the People who granted monarchs the right to rule. This was a radical departure from the established wisdom of the time.

Even more radical was the idea that the people could change or overthrow a government that ruled against the wishes of the people. Many revolutions have been inspired by that thinking, but two prominent revolutions occurred in the 18th century: one in France and the other in the 13 British Colonies.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our Founding Fathers and one of the leaders of the American revolution against England, seemed to defend the possibility of violence in changing governmental power when he wrote,

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

This quote made comeback recently when it appeared on a sign being held outside a Town Hall Meeting that US President Barack Obama was conducting. While the words were a cause for concern, the semi-automatic handgun strapped to the sign holder’s leg were of greater concern. Was this a call for violence? Was the man suggesting that Obama was a “tyrant” whose blood should “water the tree of liberty?” When asked this, the man said,

I wanted people to remember the rights that we have and how quickly we’re losing them in this country … It doesn’t take a genius to see we’re traveling down a road at breakneck speed that’s towards tyranny.

Having rights and freedoms are at the very heart of what America was founded upon. Consider and answer these questions:

What rights do you have that you think are most important?
Under what conditions do you think violence against a government is justified?
Is there any circumstance that the assassination of the US president could be morally or constitutionally justified?

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Last December, the British Royal Family announced the engagement of Prince William, the oldest son of Charles, to a woman William has dated for several years. Her name is Kate Middleton, and she is a “commoner,” which means she comes from a non-aristocratic family. After the announcement, everyone was talking about this and as of 6:53 am central time on the day after, this event was the #1 trending topic on Twitter, or sort of seismometer for interesting news.

Why do you think so many people in so many countries are interested in this event?
Under what circumstances will William become King of England?

This marriage seems to be based on romance, a fairly modern concept for Royal relationships. But the wife of the future king of England does have to meet certain qualifications. Could you identify one?

Incidentally, the engagement ring William gave Kate is the ring his mother, Princess Diana, was given by William’s father Charles. It is an 18 carat sapphire surrounded by a multitude of diamonds. William carried it around in his backpack for two weeks before he found the right moment to propose to Kate. When his father bought the ring, it was valued at around $60,000. Take a look here.

Free & Equal? (repost)

Posted: March 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

Every year December 10 is “International Human Rights Day,” as declared by the United Nations. December 10 happens to be the day that The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

That proclamation happened in 1948 and yet we still live in a world where young women’s noses and ears are cut off because they dare to claim certain basic human rights. In this case, Aisha, an 18-year old Afghan girl, chose to flee an arranged marriage and abusive in-laws. When her husband caught her, he punished her by disfiguring her face and leaving her to bleed to death. The right she was pursuing was that of reproductive and marital freedom. She had been sold to her husband by her parents at the age of 12 in order to pay a debt owed to her husband’s family. (Check out the details of her story.)

Why is it that in many places women are still not seen an equals to men?
Why do you think it took until 1920 (140 years) for women to get the right to vote in the US?
Finally, offer two rights you think all humans should have as guarantees.