One Survivor Remembers: Twenty Pounds

This lesson is an excerpt from the teacher’s guide of One Survivor Remembers, a teaching kit built around the incredible life story of Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein.
Grade Level

  • Students will gain an understanding of the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust
  • Students will understand the dangers of hate and extremism
  • Students will empathize having one's possessions taken away
  • Twenty pounds of flour, sugar or potatoes (optional)


In the film, Gerda Weissmann recalled being told her family had to leave their home with no more than 20 pounds of belongings, a plight shared by many Jews. On the day the lesson is introduced, 20 pounds of flour, sugar or potatoes may be presented to the class — and passed around for students to hold — as an example of what 20 pounds represents.


The One-Day Lesson

Ask students to imagine being forced to leave their homes. They are allowed 20 pounds of their most precious possessions. What would they take? What would they be forced to leave behind? How would this make them feel? On what would they base their choices? Would monetary value mean less or more than emotional/personal value? Why?

Also discuss the difference between packing for a vacation — the choices being made for a trip in which you plan to return home — compared with being forced from your home, never to return. Other examples — recent devastation by hurricanes in Florida or wild fires in California — might help students understand forced departure, but be careful to distinguish between devastation caused by nature and devastation caused by human hatred.


Extension Activity

Ask students to pose the same scenario to family members or guardians: You are being forced to leave your home and will be allowed to take only 20 pounds of personal belongings. What do you choose and why?

Have students record answers, identifying the differences and similarities between their own answers and answers from their loved ones. Then have students write a one-page paper about their family's responses. The teacher also may complete this exercise and share it with the class.

After the reports are presented, have students list the range of emotions they and their families experienced during this exercise.