Study Guide

The Wave Memory and the Past

By Todd Strasser

Memory and the Past

Chapter 2
Ben Ross

"[Adolf Hitler] espoused the theory that the Jews were destroyers of civilization and that the Germans were a superior race. Today we know that Hitler was a paranoid, a psychopath, literally a madman. In 1932 he was thrown in jail for his political activities, but by 1934 he and his party had seized control of the German government." (2.3)

Hitler is one of history's most fascinating figures – and most people agree, one of the most evil. By studying him and how he managed to gain power, we can learn a lot about a lot – and hopefully ensure that we never find ourselves with a Hitler 2.0.

They were studying World War Two, and the film Ben Ross was showing his class that day was a documentary depicting the atrocities the Nazis committed in their concentration camps. (2.1)

You've probably had this very experience. The Holocaust is an event which continues to trouble historians and other scholars to this day. There are still lots of questions about the best way to teach it. One thing's for sure: The Wave isn't that best way.

Ben thought of telling the students that the smoke rising from the chimneys above the buildings was burning human flesh. But he didn't. Thank God man had not invented a way to convey smells through film, because the worst of all would be stench of it, the stench of the most heinous act ever committed in human history. (2.6)

Learning about the past isn't always easy.

Chapter 3
David Collins

"I didn't say I wasn't bothered by it. I just said it's over now. Forget about it. Forget about it. It happened once and the world learned its lesson. It'll never happen again." (3.61)

It's sad to say, but things like this do still happen today. Take a deep breath and read about some of these awful events. Apparently, the world has not "learned its lesson." Why not?

"Yeah, sure, as something horrible that happened once, it bothers me. But that was a long time ago, Laurie. To me it's like a piece of history. You can't change what happened then." (3.13)

What do you think about David's reaction? Is it true that since we can't change what happened, it's not really worth worrying about?

Chapter 12
Carl Block and Alex Cooper

The door of the publications office opened again and now Carl slipped in. Seeing Laurie and Alex there he smiled. "Looks like I've stumbled into Anne Frank's attic," he said. (12.47)

This passage suggests that Carl, Alex, and Laurie are familiar with the story of Anne Frank. And you know what? Anne Frank's story might have been a great place for Ben to start when he was trying to answer Laurie's question about why German civilians didn't stop the Nazis. Anne Frank's story, as you may know, doesn't even take place in Germany. It takes place in Holland, one of the many countries the Nazis were controlling during World War II. How could German civilians stop something that was happening not just in Germany, but all over Europe? Non-fiction accounts like Anne Frank's diary, and even fictional stories like The Book Thief can help answer some of the tougher questions. (We're talking to you, Teacher Ben.)

Chapter 15

He recalled those students in his own history classes who had condemned the Jews for not taking the Nazi threat seriously, for not fleeing their homes and ghettos when rumors of the concentration camps and gas chambers filtered back to them. (15.100)

Here we've got another common question about the Holocaust that gets us into all kinds of complicated and sensitive areas. First of all, many Jewish people did resist the Nazis. Second, for many Jews, there were few places to run. Much of Europe was under Nazi control, and immigration policies made it very hard for fleeing Jews to enter countries not under Nazi control. Bottom line: it's important that we do our research before judging what happened in the past.

Chapter 17

The film left Adolf Hitler and focused on the faces of the young Nazis who fought for him during World War Two. Many of them were only teenagers, some even younger than the students in the audience. (17.36)

Okay, you all remember the end of The Wave, where Ben tells his students that they've been acting like Nazis. He compares them to Hitler Youth, which, as its name suggests was made up of young people. While some young people joined Hitler Youth voluntarily, it was a mandatory program. Bottom line: Ben's kind of oversimplifies or even misleads his students about the complicated situation young people in Germany faced during World War II. We recommend that you check out Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief for a more balanced way of looking at it.

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