The Cage Responses
Resistance and Hope Reflective Writing Project
In the fall of 2022, teens were offered the opportunity to read local author and holocaust survivor Ruth Minsky Sender’s first memoir, The Cage: A Holocaust Memoir, prior to attending Ruth’s Author Talk on December 8, 2022. Six teens responded thoughtfully to the five questions listed below:
Ruth Minsky Sender’s mantra, instilled in her by her mother, is “As long as there is life, there is hope.” What does this mantra mean, in the context of Ruth’s story? Can you apply this mantra to your life? Why or why not?
Aida, Grade 9: The mantra means that as long as you’re still alive there is a very good chance that you can and will make it to the end. This mantra took a toll on Riva and her brother’s thought system, they always brought this saying back whenever times were down and they needed something to remember that they will survive. I don’t believe that this saying applies to my life because I don’t really have anything tragic to hope for, but in another sense it does apply because as long as the people I love most are alive I’m happy.
Austin, Grade 8: Yes, I can apply this to my life because I agree that as long as you are alive there will always be an opportunity for your life situation to get better. Whether it’s you are suffering from a loss of a loved one, or a tough financial situation, or just feeling miserable, there’s always hope for a better situation.
Ellie, Grade 11: Ruth Minsky Sender’s mantra “As long as there is life there is hope” instilled by her mother is a source of encouragement to carry on and push through. The mantra is saying that as long as Riva is alive there’s hope for a better future. With everything Riva has been through, she is still alive and continues to persevere through the brutalities she has endured. This mantra can definitely be applied to my life as a reminder that through any difficulties I can persevere and know that I’ve made it this far.
Finn, Grade 8: “As long as there is life, there is hope.” In the context of ruth’s story, this mantra means that even when the family in the ghetto was starving, dying of illness, and overall leading an unhealthy life, Ruth commonly used a phrase like this or similar; and it’s that the sun shines again in the morning, the sun symbolizing the little yet determined hope that the family has. I can apply this mantra to my life, because even if I had a bad day, or am feeling sad, I know that the sun will shine tomorrow and there will be moments of happiness and love.
Holden, Grade 7: In the context of Ruth’s story, this [motto] means to never give up as long as you can keep going. No matter how hard things get, keep on refusing to stop and never stop trying. While others may have given up, she survived because she refused to let go of hope. I can apply the mantra in my life because no matter how hard something gets, I should never give up.
Maggie, Grace 11: In the context of Ruth’s story, she became a symbol of hope for other girls. She uplifted and inspired people with her poetry, and with her willingness to keep surviving and writing. After she was injured, the commander only allowed her to live because she was a symbol of hope for the girls in the camp. Even earlier in the memoir, Riva kept life present by handling the library in her own home. As long as there was a spirit of rebellion and excitement, hope survived. I can apply this mantra to my own life, because although I’ve never experienced the extent of the horrifying things Riva went through, I have had to hold onto things that brought me life in order to be able to keep hope.
While in the Lodz ghetto, Riva and her family had the opportunity to be adopted out individually to families, which would have allowed them better conditions, food, and care. They refused to be adopted, preferring to stay together as a family even if it meant more strife for them. Do you think Riva’s family made the right decision staying together? Why or why not?
Aida, Grade 9: I believe that Riva’s family did make the right decision because if they were adopted out into different families they wouldn’t have anything to live for per say. I also believe that their family held each other up and together. For example Riva’s brothers made sure she didn’t get sick even if it meant making sacrifices for themselves such as having no bread for a week. I think that Riva would have died too if she wasn’t with her family because her “parents” wouldn’t have gone to the extent that Riva’s brothers did.
Austin, Grade 8: Yes, I think Rita’s family made the right decision staying together because I think being with someone you love is worth more than being separated but receiving better conditions. You may be well physically, but you’ll suffer mentally.
Ellie, Grade 11: I believe Riva’s family made the right decision to stay together rather than being separated into good homes. This is because good conditions, food, and care wouldn’t be important or matter if they weren’t all together as a family. Risking separation from the ones Riva loved was not worth it. Sticking together as a family and going through struggles and triumphs together is more important than the safety of being separated.
Finn, Grade 8: Riva’s family made the right decision when staying together. This is because being together in the ghetto, even if it meant starvation, anger, sadness, they are still together, they can still love each other. When they got onto the bus to the camp, they still stood together, even if it meant they were going to an even worse place to be separated, spending those last few days together could have meant the world to every one of them.
Holden, Grade 7: I think they made the right decision to stay together as being together gave them strength to never give up. They stood together and that gave them hope, because no matter what happened they would have each other.
Maggie, Grade 11: I think Riva’s family made the right decision, at least in that moment. They were the only people fully supporting each other for a long time, and the bond formed between siblings, especially ones in their situation, is challenging to break. Unfortunately, the consequences of this were fatal for Laibele, who died surrounded by the love of his family. Staying together as long as they could improved their hope and resilience, so I think it was necessary.
While in the Lodz ghetto, Riva and her family commit several “sins,” including lying and stealing. When confronted with her lying, Riva reflects that her mother said “Always speak the truth. But if the truth will kill another human being, lie.” When her brother Motele steals wood to keep the family warm, Riva admonishes him, but Motele replies, “I had to do it. They may call it stealing. I call it helping my family survive.” Are there situations in which lying, stealing, and other such actions are justified? Why or why not?
Aida, Grade 9: I do believe that there are times when stealing is ok, especially in the situation that Riva’s family was in. They were going to die if they didn’t get that wood, they had used almost everything in their house and there weren’t any more resources. Also the fact that they needed to go to the extent of having to lie and steal because of how poorly they were being treated explains that they had the pass to do so.
Austin, Grade 8: I think it depends on the situation. The actions themselves – such as lying or stealing – are immoral and should be avoided if possible, but I think that the intention can be justified if it was for the righteous benefit of self or others. Taking the above passage as an example, Motele stole wood to aid in his family’s survival. I think that the stealing factor is unethical, but I think that Motele’s desire to help his family was reasonable.
Ellie, Grade 11: I believe there are situations where lying and stealing are justified. When Motele stole the fire wood he was doing it to protect his family which was necessary to ensure his family’s survival. Lying and stealing under circumstances where it is necessary to protect someone can be appropriate. It is better to lie to protect someone than to hurt them by being honest. This goes for stealing as well, if it is something someone needs, not wants, then it’s okay to steal.
Finn, Grade 8: Given the brutal, tiring and depressing state of living that the family is in, stealing wood to keep warm, I believe is justified for them. It doesn’t make it right, but in order to keep the family together they need to make decisions that have risks, yet it is ultimately for the greater good, and in the long run doesn’t hurt anyone else.
Holden, Grade 7: There are situations in which lying in stealing and other such actions are justified. One example is when you lie to protect someone else such as during the Holocaust. If someone is sheltering a Jew and a Nazi asks if you are sheltering someone, you would never answer yes. Another example is when you steal to survive. If you steal to live another day it is fine, but it also depends on who you steal from. If you take something from someone who needs it more than you, it is not justified, but if you take something to survive from someone who has what you need in abundance, it can be justified. Kind of like Robin Hood, he takes from the rich and gives to the ones who need it. This isn’t always true, but it’s true most of the time.
Maggie, Grade 11: Yes, especially in the case of stealing the wood. Stealing shouldn’t be justified in some situations, but in others, like keeping your family alive and warm, you have to weigh the moral values differently. Obviously lying shouldn’t always be justified, but if you’re lying to save someone’s life or protect someone from harm, the positives outweigh the negatives.
While in one of the concentration camps, Riva writes poetry. One of her first poems begins:
When my tormented heart can’t take any more
The grief within rips it apart;
My tears flow feely – They can’t be restrained
I reach for my notebook – my friend.
Riva saw her “notebook” (writing) as a “friend” (coping mechanism) to survive her horrendous conditions. What other coping methods have you personally used, or seen others use, to get through difficult situations? Did they work? Why or why not?
Aida, Grade 9: I personally don’t really have a good coping method that I always use but I started to write my thoughts down when I would get stressed or needed to get something off my chest and it worked for the most part. I would forget what was going on around me and live in the words for a little. Another coping strategy that I have used not often but talking to others about my problems and trying to work it out, or have closure to it.
Austin, Grade 8: Some coping methods I have used were discussing my situation with friends I trusted, calming myself down by doing things I loved like watching YouTube or listening to music, or just dealing with the problem itself. All of them were effective and worked for me, but each worked differently. When I vented to a friend, I would receive feedback from them and I would have some guidance and thoughts on my situation. When I calmed myself down, I allowed myself to think more rationally from both broad and narrow views. Lastly, when I would deal with the problem itself, I would think along the process and gain experience to ensure that if I encountered it again, I would be prepared physically, mentally, and socially.
Ellie, Grade 11: Riva using her notebook as a coping mechanism is widely used today and I have seen journaling and writing popularly used. Free writing can often be a great source of comfort and a great way to get your thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto the paper.
Finn, Grade 8: A coping method that I have personally used is to write my thoughts down, I write how I feel and why I feel that way. I have seen other people do this as well. I believe that it did work. I Was able to get my feelings out without voicing them to someone else and rather writing them down, so I learn and know how to deal with my feelings, good or bad.
Holden, Grade 7: Some coping mechanisms I have seen people use are writing it down, doing a physical activity, and many more. One I personally use is when I am upset or sad, I will go to my cat and just lay with him. It calms me and makes me feel better. They work because they help you take your mind off of other things and allow you moments of calm and peace.
Maggie, Grade 11: One coping mechanism I have used and I’ve seen others use is drawing and painting. Similar to Riva’s method, putting your emotions and thoughts down on a piece of paper can lift a weight off your shoulder and in some cases be cathartic. Coping mechanisms can range, but anything healthy that can help you translate or let off emotions into something else, like a transfer of energy, could work to alleviate stress or anger.
At the end of the memoir, Ruth speaks to her daughter Nancy, and says “If we forget the past, it could happen again. We must learn from these horrors. We must learn what happens when people remain silent while others are persecuted. We must learn, my child, not to ignore the ugly signs, the danger signs, as my family – as the people of my generation – did.” Do you believe that remembering the past helps people to learn not let similar things happen? Are we, today’s generation, doing a better job of fighting for persecuted people? Why or why not?
Aida, Grade 9: I do believe that learning of and from the past helps people to not repeat it. But I also believe that it depends on the person receiving the knowledge, because someone could get a brief history of this and go out and do the same thing, though I don’t believe something as horrible as this could ever happen again. I think that today’s generation is doing a better job at learning from the past but I think we could do an even better job. For example, we stopped slavery and segregation but there are still people out there that can’t tolerate different people. o I think we need to reflect on our actions and thoughts and put ourselves in other people’s shoes and recognize what we are doing to those people and how it’s making them feel.
Austin, Grade 8: I do believe that remembering the past helps people to learn not to let similar things happen, and I also think that we’re doing a better job of fighting for persecuted people. People have experienced horrors around the world which others have taken notice of and are taking action. Knowing of what has occurred has driven people to prevent harmful events from happening again. After the invention of the internet, information could be spread quickly to billions of people and could help raise awareness of certain situations. Consequently, the persecuted people can receive relief and aid.
Ellie, Grade 11: I definitely believe that remembering the past helps learn to not let similar things happen. Recognizing the mistakes of the past can help positively influence the future in the way of preventing those same mistakes from happening. Remembering what happened yesterday, a year ago, or a hundred years ago helps future generations not make the same mistakes and to do things differently.
Finn, Grade 8: Yes, I believe that remembering the past helps people to learn to not let similar things happen, if you remember a situation or instance that happened and regret it, you can learn and revise your mistakes, in order to make better ones in the future. And yes, I believe we are doing a better job to fight for persecuted people. An example of this would be Martin Luther King. He stood up against prejudiced laws in America and ultimately made a significant change in society, and none of the Jim Crow Laws or segregation is now being implemented in America.
Holden, Grade 7: I believe that remembering the past helps people to learn not to let similar things happen. Today’s generation is getting better at fighting for persecuted people but not nearly as good as it should be. We are getting better at publicizing when people are being oppressed, and for a while we will work towards helping the situation as a society until a new bigger news story comes around and it fades into the background. During that time we accomplish some things, but not nearly enough.
Maggie, Grade 11: Yes, because as humans we tend to follow the same patterns we did hundreds of years ago, and if we didn’t remember the bad events, it would be impossible to prevent similar things from happening today. Today’s generation is doing a better job of fighting for persecuted people, as mass genocide isn’t currently occurring as far as we know, but many groups and minorities are still fighting for rights they should’ve been granted from birth.