1: Asylum Talk Show
In this activity, students “role play” various real-life persons
in the case of the SS St. Louis, a German ship containing Jewish
refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution in the late 1930s.
Several western nations, including the United States, denied these
refugees access to “safe haven”, and therefore many of the passengers
were forced to return to Europe, where many later became victims
of the Holocaust.
illustrates how moral, ethical, and political issues entered into
whether these passengers should be granted asylum. It might be
helpful for the teacher to enter into a discussion with the class
about basic concepts of the Holocaust, including the plight of
refugees during the World War II era. A suggested resource for
general information about the period and the “human aspect” of
the Holocaust is the Simon Wiesenthal Learning Center. (http://wiesenthal.com/). Other resources are
also available online.
This lesson addresses the following national content standards
Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government.
Understands the essential characteristics of limited and unlimited
governments. Understands the sources, purposes, and functions
of law, and the importance of the rule of law for the protection
of individual rights and the common good. Understands the concept
of a constitution, the various purposes that constitutions serve,
and the conditions that contribute to the establishment and maintenance
of constitutional government.
What is the
Relationship of the United States to Other Nations and to World
how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how
nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding
U.S. foreign policy.
the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments
on the United States and other nations.
the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared
values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly
multi-ethnic American society.
resources for this lesson include:
of the SS St. Louis (www.us-israel.org/jsource/Holocaust/stlouis.html)
SS St. Louis
The Other Ship (http://www.iearn.org/iearn/hgp/aeti/aeti-1997/st-louis.html)
ST. LOUIS (http://www.lchr.org/refugee/herald.htm)
SS St. Louis
Exhibit from the US Holocaust Museum website (http://www.ushmm.org/stlouis/)
Web page from
US Holocaust Museum website which highlights SS St. Louis voyage
route as well as US policy towards allowing the St. Louis permission
to dock at an American port (http://www.ushmm.org/stlouis/story/voyage/index.htm)
story from the Jerusalem Post, which documents the voyage of the
SS St. Louis, as well as efforts to determine the fate of St.
Louis passengers after their return to Europe. (http://www.cdn-friends-icej.ca/antiholo/voyage.html)
of several world nations’ immigration policies regarding Jewish
refugees from Nazi persecution (including the United States)
for “Well-Founded Fear” (includes case studies, an interactive
game, information about the film and filmmakers, and other resources
on asylum policy.)
materials for the PBS/WGBH American Experience presentation
“America and the Holocaust”. Pages include information on the
film, historical evidence, a timeline, as well as teacher resources.
(Main page), and (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/filmmore/reference/primary/index.html)
it is suggested that student participants conduct their own web
or text based searches for SS St. Louis materials. Links included
in this activity were gathered primarily from two Internet search
engines, Google (http://www.google.com),
and Alta-Vista (http://www.altavista.com).
However, teachers and students can easily use other search engines
if they prefer.
Prior to the
teacher showing the program Well-Founded Fear to the class,
the students should be led on a discussion about how US immigration
and refugee policy has evolved over the course of U.S. History.
Special emphasis should be placed on the issues of refugee status
and political asylum. The purpose of the viewing is to allow
students to make a comparison between current asylum policy and
the historical evolution of that practice. The teacher might
also make comparisons to the students regarding current issues
and reasons for persons seeking asylum. (For example, what actually
constitutes a “Well-Founded Fear”? Does religious persecution
have more or less weight than political persecution, for example?
Have the students debate whether or not some of the case studies
in the program are worthy of protected status.)
change in asylum and refugee policy can be seen in the treatment
of Soviet and “post-Soviet” Jews, as well as Chinese citizens.
Other examples can be seen in current policies dealing with Central
American refugees, similar to the case of Elian Gonzalez, which
is mentioned below.
The teacher may also wish to mention and discuss the 1999-2000
case of Elian Gonzalez, a six year old Cuban boy who was rescued
during an attempt by the child and his mother to cross from Cuba
to the United States in a raft. The mother drowned. The child
then became the focus of a major custody debate between his father,
who remained in Cuba, and several relatives who live in Miami,
Florida. Teachers may be able to find information about the case
and the attempt of the “Florida relatives” to gain asylum for
the boy at the PBS News Hour index (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/),
read Congress' reactions to Elian Gonzalez grandmothers' campaign
to have Elian returned to Cuba (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/international/jan-june00/cuba_1-25.html),
or read Alexander Aleinikoff's examination of the legal battle
surrounding the custody battle over Elian Gonazlez (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/past_programs/2000/4_17_00.html).
Teachers may also be able to find information about the case via
the CNN website (http://cnn.com)
or the ABC News website (http://abcnews.go.com/),
students watch the program, and learn about the criteria for acceptable
(or unacceptable) claims for asylum, the teacher should explain
the story of the St. Louis. Two sources the teacher may wish
to duplicate are the “Tragedy of the SS St. Louis” (www.us-israel.org/jsource/Holocaust/stlouis.html),
or the SS St. Louis web page (http://www2.prestel.co.uk/blchnr/
). Both of these offer first person accounts of the voyage and
provide a sound historic basis for the events of the voyage.
students have had an opportunity to read through the material
and understand the basic idea of what happened during the trip,
the teacher could assign roles for some of the better-known persons
on board the ship. Students will then assume those roles and
discuss their positions and behavior based on the events of the
voyage. Roles suggested here were developed from the “Tragedy
of the SS St. Louis” website.
a passenger who recently had been released from Dachau concentration
camp. In order for him to gain passage on the St. Louis, his
family pooled their money together. Pozner had to leave his wife
and children behind to travel on the St. Louis.
Schroeder: captain of the St. Louis. He gave strict orders
to the crew that the passengers on this voyage were to be treated
as ordinary passengers.
crew member who was opposed to the captain’s policy that passengers
should be treated humanely. He was also a courier for the German
Secret Police who had been assigned to pick up secret documents
about the US military while in Cuba.
passenger whose husband, Moritz, a university professor, died
en route to Cuba.
Laredo Bru: president of Cuba who blocked the St. Louis passengers
from entering Cuba.
Goldsmith: director of the Relief Committee in Cuba, financed
by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Attempted
to get the Joint Committee to provide more money for refugees
already in Cuba and for those about to arrive. The committee
refused, but then realized the seriousness of the predicament,
and sent professionals to help negotiate, but they would not arrive
for 48 hours.
D. Roosevelt: President of the United States in 1939. His
administration had to make the final decision concerning granting
asylum status to St. Louis passengers.
roles may be added, or eliminated from the list above, depending
on the class size and amount of time the teacher wishes to use
on this lesson.)
to these roles, a student should also be appointed to be the “talk
show” host, who will interview the participants and ask
questions. It is suggested that audience members also be allowed
to ask questions based on affidavits created from either the web
sources listed above, or other sources. This not only would give
an incentive for the participants to know the roles, but it would
also give the audience a feeling of involvement through asking
the “talk show”: Students should be prompted that while they
may see some interesting (and sometimes outlandish) behavior on
television talk shows, inappropriate behavior should not be acceptable
in this format. The teacher may want to advise the students that
the purpose of their “appearing” on the talk show is to sway public
opinion to their point of view, and that inappropriate behavior
will only serve to turn public opinion against their character
and their view.
or area should be arranged in a manner that best fits the format.
For example, the teacher may wish to bring in a group of chairs
for the participants rather than using student desks. In addition,
if technical facilities are available, the teacher may also wish
to have the “talk show” set in a manner that the moderator might
use a microphone (preferably a wireless microphone) to allow the
audience to ask question and participants to answer those questions
in a manner similar to professionally produced shows. Also, if
facilities allow, students might also be utilized as “technical
crewmembers”, assisting in such areas as lighting, sound, continuity,
and so on. If the teacher wishes to either save the “show” in
archival form, or wishes to duplicate the assignment with several
classes, videotaping the show might be desirable.
in the show as well as the audience should be well-briefed as
to what the facts and issues of the St. Louis case concern.
Obviously, the panel guests will need to have a sufficient knowledge
of the roles they have been assigned in order to effectively convince
the audience that they “are” that character.
of assessment: the teacher will want to develop some sort
of strategy for assessing student work in this exercise. Perhaps
the best way might be to grade participants on the skills they
exhibit in actually “becoming” the character they represent in
the talk show. The teacher could also require the remaining students
to submit questions prior to the show which could be graded.
It may also
be desirable for the teacher to develop a “rubric” to allow for
easier grading and identification of criteria for assessment.
While the teacher may wish to develop their own rubric and own
criteria, a sample rubric is included below as a guideline:
Talk Show” grade sheet
of “character” (20 points): Has the student researched the
character so that they appear “believable” in the role? Did the
student need notes/prompting in order to complete the role? Did
the student use acceptable “props” (clothing, etc.) in the role?
_______________ points awarded
to synthesize information (20 points): How well does the
student “think on his/her feet?” How effectively does the student
answer questions? ________________ points awarded.
(20 points): While the student wants to make the character
believable and wants the audience to be sympathetic to the character,
the student must understand that others in the “talk show” have
a view and agenda also. The student must be able to get their
point across without being belligerent or hostile. How effective
is the student in this? _______________________ points awarded.
ability (20 points): Does the student use correct grammar
and does his/her voice “amplify” in order to be heard by the class
or audience? ____________________ points awarded.
by Michael Hutchison. He is a social studies teacher at
Lincoln High School in Vincennes, Indiana. A 22 year teaching
veteran, he has been recognized nationally for his use of classroom
technology and cable television in the classroom. In 1996
and 1997 he was named national winner of Rifkin and Associates
21st Century Teacher competition, and in 1998, he was a first
place winner in the Compaq Teacher Lesson Plan contest.
In 1999, he was named "Teacher of the Year" (Central
US region) by Technology and Learning magazine.
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