2.2 Examples of practice: Rose Blanche

Introduction to Story 1

Roberto Innocenti is an Italian illustrator who was brought up as a child during the Second World War.  He aimed to devise a story for children based on his own childhood experience which would reflect a child's incomplete comprehension of war. 

In 1985 he published a beautiful and controversial story book with text by Christophe Gollaz.  (Rose Blanche, Red Fox ISBN 978009943950 9).  Innocenti chose as his protagonist a fictional little German girl (blonde haired and blue eyed - deliberately ‘aryan') he called Rose Blanche, a tribute to a youthful German resistance group to Hitler's regime called the White Rose Movement.  The book was swiftly translated into English and a British version was written by the famous novelist, Ian McEwan. 

Rose observes the departure from her small town of German troops heading for the eastern front against the Soviet Union.  (Hitler launched a surprise offensive, Operation Barbarrosa against Stalin's Russia in June 1941).   Children wave, soldiers smile and Rose carries a little swastika flag as one of the crowd. 

Later Rose watches as a little boy escapes from the back of a broken down vehicle only to be recaptured and returned to it by the local mayor.  The boy is clearly Jewish, although this is not referred to directly in the text.  Rose follows the lorry's track to a concentration camp on the edge of town where pyjama clad prisoners with yellow stars stand behind barbed wire (yellow stars were imposed by the Nazis on anyone deemed to be Jewish under racial laws). 

Rose secretly takes food to the prisoners day by day, even as civilian living conditions deteroriate and returning wounded soldiers indicate likely defeat.    Eventually soviet troops invade the locality (1944 or 1945) and Rose dies in crossfire.


Copyright DK Images. Reproduced by permission of DK Images.   


The last pages of the book affirm the return of spring with poppies growing in the former concentration camp and the blue flower, once held by Rose caught and withered the wire.  The book is profound because it works on several layers at once, understandable in its simplest form just by following the pictures, yet also making wider allusions to the Nazis and the Holocaust through references in the text.   For example, the Mayor's moustache is deliberately remiscent of Hitler's.  

Structure of the enquiry   The sequence of lessons are set out as enquiry questions below which use Rose Blanche as the basis for teaching Key Stage 2 pupils about the Holocaust.  Teaching about the Holocaust might normally be taught as part of the history unit  "Britain since 1930" covering details of the Second World War.  It might also form part of a cross-circular approach.   The sequence could be taught as an introduction or follow up to other work on the Holocaust. 

What would I do to help someone in trouble?   This activity is intended to get pupils thinking about the moral dilemmas facing human beings when witnessing someone in trouble.  In Holocaust Education, people alive at that time and in the midst of anti-semitic persecution are normally categorised in four ways:


Perpetrators  - this means those directly involved in the process of persecution itself

Victims           - this means those people who were made victims by persecution

Bystanders    - this means those people who observed what was going on but did nothing about it (sometimes for a variety of motivations such as fear of  reprisals, indifference etc)

Rescuers       - this means those people who were directly involved in helping victims of persecution, such as hiding them, smuggling them out of the country etc.



Historical research has shown that these categories are not so clear cut as they may appear to be at first sight, for example, individuals were capable of shifting from one category to another over time, just as Rose Blanche does in the story.  The little girl arguably moves from being a bystander, where she witnesses an act of persecution - (the little boy escaping from the lorry) towards being a rescuer (she secretly feeds concentration camp victims at grave risk to herself).

It would be simple to use the story of Rose Blanche as a straightforward case of evil Nazis, Jewish victims and a courageous German civilian.  However this does not do justice to the subtlety of the text and misses the opportunity for children to explore and develop their own values in the light of it.  It is easy to claim that modern people would have acted like Rose Blanche if we had been alive at the time but we cannot be sure of that, we were not there at the time and it is easy to condemn bystanders with the luxury of hindsight.  If pupils consider their own reactions to ordinary moral dilemmas in this activity they should bring to bear some of their reasoning to the story of Rose Blanche under the next question heading. 

Put up a numberline around the classroom from 1 to 10.  From a variety of sources, including internet searches and Youtube, put together a collection of images and film clips showing modern people in different types of trouble e.g. a starving child in Africa, someone being repeatedly hit, flood victims stranded on the roof of a flooded building etc.  Without explaining the purpose of the presentation before hand, invite suggestions towards the conclusion that it shows people in different kinds of trouble.  Give out Resource A (see attached file below) to pairs of pupils and against the clock for each image or clip, ask them to fill in each line of the table in turn in note form.  When all the tables are complete, ask different pairs to talk through their answers for a particular image or clip, inviting comments from the rest of the class and transferring agreed details on to a whole class version of the table e.g.


Clip A - What does this show?  A family on a roof.

  • - Why is/are the person/people in trouble? They are stuck in a flood.
  • - What could be done to help? A helicopter could lift them off
  • - Where might help come from? The Army.


Ask pupils to share personal stories with the class about someone helping them out of trouble e.g. they went too deep in water and someone pulled them out.  Return to some of the examples from the presentation and invite comments from pupils about:


  • a) what might have happened to the person/people involved if no help had come
  • b) what might have stopped other people helping.


Lastly build on the following statement to create a brief story of a child in trouble.


*A small child is bullied by older pupils in a school playground.  They push the child to the ground and swear at them.


Ask pupils to think about the story on their own briefly.  Reveal a notice by number one on the number line saying "I would not help", by number five "I might help" and by number ten "I would help".  Ask pupils in pairs to consider how they might react if they saw the bullying in the story going on.  Ask them to choose a number on the number line which they most agree would express their actions and stand by it.  Using the "no hands" rule probe pupil reasons for their intended actions, e.g. "I am on number five because I might not help if there was only me watching because I would be afraid on my own."  "I am a number ten because I would help by going to see a teacher".  Allow pupils to change position if they wish after hearing other pupil responses but query their reasons for doing this.

Repeat the exercise above for the following statement:


*A child goes out of their depth in a pond or river, crying for help.  No one else is around except you.


Repeat the exercise for this last statement: 


*A cat or dog is hit by a car and lies injured by the roadside.  No one is around except you.


After hearing and discussing all three stories, invite words that might describe their feelings watching the events in each story e.g. afraid, brave, confused, angry, surprised etc.  List these words and keep for later reference.  Invite reasons that might stop people helping others in trouble from the stories e.g. "I am too small", "I wouldn't know what to do", "I couldn't help because I can't swim", "I might get in trouble myself, etc."   Once again, list these and keep for future reference. 

What did Rose Blanche do to help people in trouble?

Read the story slowly to the class.  Remind pupils of the list of feelings noted down at the end of the last activity.  Explain that the story is set in Germany during the Second World War when Adolf Hitler ruled the country.  Stress that anyone who disagreed with his government could be arrested, punished and sometimes killed.  Neighbours could secretly report on neighbours to the secret police.   Refer to the first illustration of the story which shows local German soldiers being greeted by civilians as they head for the war against the Soviet Union (Russia).  Ask invited pupils to volunteer as the fat mayor, a soldier in the truck, Rose and her mother.   Bring them to the front of the class and ask them to freeze in position as these characters, with distances between the figures reflecting those in the picture.  Give the following lines for these characters to read out when you tell them.


Fat Mayor; I am a very important person.  The people in the town really look up to me.  I made a great speech.  Our German soldiers will easily beat the Russians.  Long live Adolf Hitler!

Soldier;  I am happy to be fighting for Germany.  Our army will beat the Russians.  Long live Adolf Hitler!

Rose;  I am happy today.  Our brave soldiers will beat the Russians.  It is fun waving my swastika flag.

Mother;  It is a happy day for Rose and I.  I hope our soldiers beat the Russians, but some are sure to die.  This makes me feel sad.


Move on to show the illustration of the Jewish boy attempting to escape from arrest and deportation.  In small groups ask pupils to suggest what Rose, the fat Mayor, the little boy, one of the soldiers mending the vehicle and the women at the back in the alleyway might be thinking and feeling.  Then pose some volunteers in role as the characters as before and ask them to read out the following lines.


Soldier;  I've nearly mended this engine.

Little boy;  I must escape.  I am very frightened.  Lots of Germans hate us Jews.  What will they do to us if our family are sent away?

Fat Mayor;  I am really angry. I will catch this boy.  We must send all Jews away.  They are terrible people.  Germany will beat the Russians and the Jews, all our enemies.

Women in the alleyway;  What a lot of noise from those nasty Jews.  We will be better off without them. 

Rose;  What is happening?  What is all this noise for?


Ask what was different about what groups originally suggested compared to the lines just read out.  Explain that Adolf Hitler and many Germans hated Jews and wanted to get rid of them from Germany (link this sensitively to any prior learning about judaism and the Holocaust and/or briefly explain about Jewish identity).  Families were arrested and taken as prisoners to places called concentration camps. 

Invite suggestions from pupils about how the thoughts and feelings of the fat mayor, the little Jewish boy and Rose may have changed over the next two pages (the second of the two illustrations shows the boy being bundled back into the van). 

Move onto the double page spread which shows the concentration camp prisoners behind the wire (you will need to explain that the yellow stars meant they were Jews).  In pairs ask pupils to decide on three thoughts or feelings that Rose may have experienced looking at these people.  Take examples from pairs and write them up.  Lastly turn to the two page spread which shows the population of the town fleeing towards the end of the war.  In groups, ask pupils to suggest what the following people in the picture might be thinking, the fat mayor (he is standing by the car with his swastika armband taken off), Rose's mother (she is in the foreground), a wounded soldier and the woman following the handcart.  Then pose some volunteers as the characters as in role before and ask them to read out the following lines:


Fat mayor;  I must escape.  We have lost.  I never thought it would happen.

If the Russians catch me I will be shot.  It's all the Jews fault.

Rose's mother;  Where is Rose?  Where is my daughter?  Is she dead? I can't leave without her.  What has happened?

Wounded soldier;  I can't believe we've lost.  The fighting has been terrible.  The Russians will kill us.  It's all the Jews fault.

Women behind handcart;  This is terrible.  I am leaving my house and things behind.  If I stay the Russians will kill us all.  This is all Hitler's fault.


As a plenary ask pairs to consider and then feedback through discussion the following questions in town.


*How did Rose's thinking change through the story?  What changed about her thinking?

*What danger was Rose in because of what she did?  Why did she carry on helping anyway?

*What would you have done if you were Rose?  (It is important to stress that pupils should be honest about their answers.  It is easy to give the answer that they think the teacher wants to hear).



How true is the story of Rose Blanche?

The last activities in this sequence are intended to relate the outline of events in the story to the wider historic framework of the second world war in eastern Europe between 1941 ad 1945 and to consider the notion of truthfulness in relation to the book.  While Rose Blanche is a fictional character within a fictional story, Roberto Innocenti was very careful to use accurate historical detail in his illustrations.  The activities aim to guide pupils towards the conclusion that although the story itself is untrue, the events, places and characters it depicts are firmly rooted in historical reality giving it "a ring of truth" as a work of fiction.

Begin by displaying a contemporary picture of Adolf Hitler in inspirational leadership role (there are many such images which can be downloaded from the internet by putting his name into the image function of a search engine).  Invite pairs to consider  words and feelings that Germans at the time of Rose Blanche in 1941 might have felt looking at the picture.  Take suggestions from pairs and keep a list of the words and feelings.  Explain that many Germans in 1941 at the start of the story of Rose Blanche adored Hitler.   As far as they were concerned, he was a great leader who so far had defeated all the countries Germany had attacked except Britain (make references to any prior learning about the second world war).  Explain that some Germans and all Jews in Germany would have disliked him and been afraid of him, however it was against German law to speak out against Hitler.  People might be reported, arrested, sent to a concentration camp or killed.  Display a map showing an outline of how Germany invaded Soviet Russia in 1941.

Explain that before June 1941, Hitler had said he was a friend of Russia but all the time he was secretly preparing to launch a surprise attack.  Display and distribute copies of Resource B (see attached file below) (a timeline briefly describing events in Eastern Europe between 1941 and 1945) to small groups.  Carefully explain the sequence of events in the simple terms used in the timeline. The range of dates could be displayed around the classroom allowing the teacher to descibe events moving from date to date in turn while also referring to the map already on show. Be careful not to dwell on the atrocities committed in too much detail.  However, it is essential that pupils are at least introduced to some of the figures which of course represent some of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed.  Where a teacher lacks confidence in their subject knowledge of some of the events or places mentioned or referred to in the timeline, an internet search or use of reference books can extend it.  There is no end of material on the Second World War or the Holocaust available. See the BBC World War II Site, BBC History Genocide under the Nazis Site, The Imperial War Museum, The Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Resource C (see attached PowerPoint below) is a folder of pictures, some contemporary sources and other later interpretations of historic details Roberto Innocenti uses in some way in his illustrations. 


Each source is accompanied by two boxes of text, one intended for pupil use and the other as teacher's notes.  Print off small copies of each picture and put the pupil notes text box in red on the back of the copy.  Each group in the class will need a set of the pictures (such cards last longer when they are laminated).  Instruct the groups to look carefully at each picture in turn (without reading the pupil text on the back).  They may decide:


* whether it is evidence dating from the 1940's or after the war

* whether they can link an event on the timeline to the picture or not (pupils can place pictures onto that part of the timeline)


While the discussion is taking place, the teacher will probably circulate around the groups listening, prompting and helping as necessary.  Lastly, display a large class version of each picture in turn and take suggestions from the various groups as it to its likely date and possible link with the timeline.  Take care to foster debate in an open ended way and probe the inferences pupils are making.  After debating a picture reveal a whole class copy of the pupil box so that pupils can see whether they were right or not. 

Next explain that the events in the timeline really happened and that some of the pictures helped to prove it.  However, the story of Rose Blanche was made up in 1985 by Roberto Innocenti who lived in Italy, not Germany during the Second World War.  Introduce the enquiry question "How true is the story of Rose Blanche?"  Invite pairs to discuss the question and hold an initial discussion about it (some pupils may dismiss the story as untrue because it is made up but others may say it is partly true.  A few may link remembered details from Innocenti's illustrations with some of the pictures from the folder).

Explain that Innocenti was careful to try and make sure that his illustrations were accurate so that how people dressed, what they looked like and the places they lived in seemed realistic.

Display each of Innocenti's illustrations in turn and ask groups to consider which of the pictures they have already sorted show that:


*  Innocenti might have used the picture for his illustration

*  Innocenti's illustrations are accurate i.e. people and places in 1940's Germany looked like this. 



Take suggestions from groups before revealing details from the teacher's notes from the folder in turn.  (As a form of differentiation, the number of pictures used could be reduced).

Lastly, give out Information sheet N  (see attached file below) in the folder and read through the case studies of German rescuers.   Hold a discussion about how likely Rose's behaviour was in the light of the stories. 

Contrast the illustration with Rose placing a flower on the barbed wire with the last picture showing the return of spring.  Invite suggestions from pupils about why Innocenti decided to end his book with this picture.  Was it realistic that her flower would have survived on the wire?  Why did he include it?

Lastly, return pupils to the numberline and remind them of the enquiry question "How true is Rose Blanche's story?"   Put some writing by the number which says "Its not true at all" and by the number 10  "Its totally true".  Allow some individual thinking time, discussion in pairs and then ask pupils to move by the number they must agree with.   Ask individuals their views and probe pupil reasoning e.g.  "I'm on number 6"  Why?  "because although Rose was made up a lot of the pictures in the story were from old photographs".    Allow pupils to move position during the discussion if they wish.

Attached files:

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