Once We Were Brothers Discussion Questions

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

'Once We Were Brothers' is a historical fiction novel by Ronald H. Balson about two former best friends who find themselves on opposing sides during the Holocaust. This asset offers ideas for discussion about this novel.

Once We Were Brothers

During war, people tend to adopt the attitude that their side is righteous and the other side is evil. Otherwise, why fight? However, the reality is typically more complicated. Ronald H. Balson's Once We Were Brothers is a fictitious novel that illustrates how Otto, a young German boy, feels that he has no option but to join the Nazi army despite his affection for his Jewish best friend, Ben, whose family helped care for him. Students will learn about the Holocaust and examine themes of regret and forgiveness. The following questions support classroom discussions about this novel.

Before the War

  • Describe the Solomon family. What motivates this family to support Otto? How would you feel if your parents brought home someone your age to live with your family?
  • Describe the relationship between Ben and Otto. In what ways are they more like brothers than friends? Who are some people in your life that you are so close to that they feel like family? What would you sacrifice for these people?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe Otto's mother? Why do you think Otto's mother wants her son to join the Nazis? What would you have done?

The War

  • What are Otto's intentions when he agrees to return to Germany? How is reality different from his ideals? Think of a time that your good intentions did not work out as planned.
  • What advice does Otto give to the Solomon family? Why don't they listen to the advice? What are some warnings about the future that you hear from modern scientists, religious figures, and politicians? How do you choose what to believe and how to react?
  • How does becoming a Nazi soldier change Otto? What were his options? How can you guard yourself from being negatively influenced by outside events?

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