For Bookclubs, organizations, small groups, teachers and schools:
Auschwitz 34207 – The Joe Rubinstein Story, is a powerful story to read and discuss. For groups interested in booking a Skype session with Author Nancy Sprowell Geise, or having her join you in person, please send your email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. In reading Joe’s story, what was/were the hardest part(s) for you? Why?
2. In what ways do you feel that Joe’s early years helped him survive the horrors that were to come and to find the strength to go on living?
3. Joe has never returned to Poland since the day he was taken from his home in 1942. If you were Joe, would you have returned to your country? If so, what would you be looking to gain? If not, why? What do you think has kept Joe from returning?
4. President Eisenhower said, after seeing firsthand the horrors at the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp (where Joe was held for a while) and upon its liberation, that they now knew what they had been fighting against. What do you think he meant by this?
5. Were you surprised Joe went to Germany immediately after the war? Would you have done so? Why or why not?
6. What do you think would have been the hardest part for Joe while living among the German people?
7. Joe and Irene were an unlikely pair. A Catholic girl raised in Germany during the war, marrying a young Jewish man who spent the war in captivity. What do you think has been the key to their long and happy life together? Have you ever formed a strong alliance, friendship, or marriage with an unlikely person? If so, in what ways did your differences affect your relationship? Can incompatibility actually be a strength?
8. Many events happened to keep Joe alive, including being taken in the first place, as everyone in his family who was left behind was killed. Do you believe these were miracles or random occurrences? Have you ever experienced a miracle?
9. Why do you think Joe survived when so many others perished?
10. How do you think Joe was able to continue living with joy, when everyone he knew and loved was dead?
11. How do you think you would have reacted, if you had been Joe and the gates to the concentration camp were opened and suddenly you were free, but at the same time you realized that you had no money, no home, no possessions, no country, and no one in your family living? What would you have done? Where would you have gone and why?
12. When asked about his survival, Joe says that for some reason God kept him alive. Did you see God or a great power at work in Joe’s story? If so, in what ways?
13. In many of the Holocaust photos, German soldiers are laughing amidst the atrocities they were committing. How is this possible? Were they evil people? How did they justify such evil, even to themselves? How honest do you think they were with their families about what they were doing?
14. Have you ever been ashamed of your actions against others and wished you could go back in time and redo them? How have you coped with your guilt?
15. Could anything have been done to stop the Holocaust? If so, what? Why was it allowed to happen? Was it a total breakdown in morality in a country known for great cultural contributions to the humanities?
16. Many countries, weary of WWI, did little or nothing to heed the warnings of the massive Nazi buildup. In what ways did such inaction allow the Nazis to build up their war machine? Could they have been stopped sooner? What actions could have prevented Germany’s early aggressive successes? Were other world leaders negligent in any way?
17. Hitler committed a great deal of manpower and other resources in fighting two wars—the one against the Allies and the other against the Jews. How did these two “wars” affect each other?
18. When he learned the fate of his family, Joe said, “I will never forgive them for what they did to my family.” If you were Joe, how would you relate to his feelings? How would you have coped with such feelings? Have you ever been able to forgive someone for something that you never felt you could? How vital is forgiveness in moving forward? Are some things unforgivable?
19. How much of the Holocaust can be blamed on the German people’s complacency until it was too late to fight or stop? Are we just as complacent today? Are similar things happening in the world today that we are ignoring?
20. Joe was determined not to give in to despair. Have there been times in your life when you were overwhelmed by despair? How did you get beyond it?
21. Joe said that even before he heard the news, he “knew” that his family was dead. Why do you think he felt this way? Have you ever experienced anything similar?
22. Joe witnessed a man being beaten when the Nazis kept asking him, “Who are you?” And his response was, “German.” The beating did not stop until he finally said, “Jewish.” If you had been that man, what do you think would have been your response and why?
23. In what ways have you been like Joe, able to find hope in the darkest of moments?
24. When Joe went to receive a second tattoo mark under his number, the man doing the tattooing said to him, “You don’t look Jewish to me. I’m not giving you that mark.” Have you ever experienced having to hide some part of you that you did not want revealed to others? Is it possible to look Jewish when Jewishness is not related to race, only religion?
25. When Joe was given the tattoo on his arm by the Nazis, he was marked for life. If you were Joe, how would such a mark affect you, initially and later, if like Joe, it remained even seventy years later? Would you have had it removed? Why or why not? Is being reduced to a number a dehumanization process you would never want to forget?
26. In what ways do you see the evil at work in Joe’s time happening again today?
27. If evil is a breakdown of morality, is there a solution to overcoming it?
28. What common traits do you see of those in the so-called, “Greatest Generation,” of Joe’s era that gave them the ability to overcome so much? Is such a thing a myth or a reality? Do you see such traits in the younger people of today?
29. What was the most uplifting part of Joe’s story for you? Why?
30. There is spiritual power in an authentic life such as Joe’s because his story is not a solution but more a soul condition. How would you explain the spiritual power that comes from yielding to meaning like Joe does? Despite everything, Joe saw another vision of life possible and lived it, owing much to an infusion of hope for humanity. How is this poss