In this challenging time, many parents and guardians are looking online for meaningful activities for their children that don’t require too much prep or too many materials. Throughout this time, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust will post learning activities geared to a range of ages that guide children how to explore heritage, history, and learning through artifacts.

Note to parents/guardians: This activity refers to the Holocaust but does not go into detail about it. Please use your judgment to decide if this activity is right for your student.

This activity builds on the skills of making observations and using the observations to draw inferences. Our educational approach is grounded in the idea that every object tells a story, and we encourage students to observe and infer to try to determine what story each object is telling.

Orphanage Keys
Gift of Rabbi W. Gunther and Elizabeth S. Plaut

Click here for a larger view of the artifact.

Have your student list objective observations of this artifact (what they can see, without making any guesses or inferences). Encourage them to deepen their observations and record things they may not have noticed upon first viewing the artifact.

Next, ask your student to make inferences: what do you think this object is? Who might it have belonged to? What story is it telling?

Jonas Plaut directed the Baruch Auerbach Institute for the Education of Orphans in Berlin, Germany from 1922 to 1939, and his wife Selma carried its keys. Established in 1838, the orphanage was one of the first modern Jewish orphanages in Europe. It was known for its progressive policies, which included making sure that the children living there had the best teachers and living conditions possible. There were substantial theater, literary, and cultural activities, as well as a synagogue on site, where the boys ran services on their own in order to build character and leadership. The Plauts treated the children like they were their own, ensuring they had a religious education, as well as sending students at the orphanage for high school and university education.

In 1937, the Plauts began to admit non-orphan boys, since Jewish students could no longer attend public school in Germany. They continued to run the orphanage as conditions worsened for Jews under the Nazis. In February 1939, the orphanage was closed, but only after arrangements were made for the children. Forty boys were sent to a home run by the Jewish relief organization Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) near Paris, France. Most of those boys were sent out of Paris in 1940 to the village of Chabbanes, where they were hidden by the local community, who were French Protestant Huguenots. The Chabbanes community risked their lives to save about 400 children after the war came to that part of France and sheltering Jews became a crime.

Fortunately, the Plauts were able to leave Germany for England, where they worked to help refugee children. In 1945, they moved to the United States to join their son Walter, who had lived in the U.S. since 1937.

Questions for students:

  1. Based on what you just learned, what values were important to the Plauts? Explain your answer with examples.
  2. Why do you think it was important for the Plauts to find places for the children to go after the orphanage was closed?

We encourage you to share a photo of your student’s work with us! Please email so that we may feature it on our Museum blog.