Suneung Test: Learning About the Holocaust?

The suneung is the college entrance exam that students need to take in order to enter a South Korean university.  The high school students take a practice version of the test every month.  A couple weeks ago I asked one of the high school English teachers if I could have a copy of the practice test.  The English section consists of a listening section and a reading section.  The reading section is a bit like the SAT and the ACT, albeit for students whose first language is not English: the students read passages and need to choose the correct word, analyze the passages for meaning, and put paragraphs in order.  I wasn’t able to do most of the questions because the directions are in Korean, but I understood the point of the questions.  The most (insert adjective here) passage I read was about the Holocaust.  There were three questions attached to the passages, one of which was to put the paragraphs in order.  I’m not sure what the other two were asking.  Here is the passage, in correct paragraph order:


Greeting people you pass, particularly on a regular basis, with a warm “Hello” or “Good morning” establishes a human connection between those who otherwise might have no link at all.  Here is a story of a rabbi who lived in Danzig in the 1930s.  Each morning he used to take a stroll, and he would greet every man, woman, and child with a  warm smile and a cordial “Good morning.”  Over the years, the rabbi became acquainted with many of his fellow townspeople, and would always greet them by their proper title and name.

In the fields near town, there was a farmer whom he would pass.  “Good morning, Mr. Muller,” he would greet him.  “Good morning, Mr. Rabbi,” the man would respond.  When World War II broke out, the rabbi’s walks stopped, while Mr. Muller left his fields and joined the SS, the Nazi special police force.  After losing his family at the Treblinka death camp, the rabbi himself was sent to Auschwitz.  One day a selection occurred during which all the Jewish inmates had to pass in front of a Nazi officer, who signaled some people to go to the left, to the gas chambers, and others to the right, to a life of slave labor.

By this time the rabbi, who had long suffered from starvation and disease, already looked like a ‘walking skeleton.’  As the line moved forward, the voice directing people to the right and to the left started to sound familiar.  Soon the rabbi could see the face of a man who was sending people to life or death.  As he stood in front of the officer, he heard himself saying “Good morning, Mr. Muller.”  “Good morning, Mr. Rabbi!” the man responded.  “What are you doing here?”

Saying nothing, the rabbi smiled faintly; seconds later, Mr. Muller lifted his baton and signaled the rabbi to go to the right, to life.  A day later he was transferred to a safer camp, and survived the war.  He would say in his gentle voice, “This is the power of a good-morning greeting.  A man must always greet his fellow man.”


— So many feeling about this article.  First, is this the first exposure that these kids have to the Holocaust?  Do they know what a rabbi is?  Do they know what Treblinka and Auschwitz are?  What the term “Death camp” means?  While high schools in South Korea vary tremendously, I know that World History is an optional class at the high school in which my middle school is attached.  Most students just take Korean History.  For South Korea, WWII was mostly about Japan’s harsh treatment of Korea.  Korean males were forced to work for Japan, both in factories and the army, and Korean woman were forced to be sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers.  Are the students learning about the atrocities committed in Europe?

— Since the Nazi swastika is all over the place here, as it is a Buddhist symbol and is thus painted on many temples, I’m guessing that the symbol doesn’t bring to mind anything other than Buddhism.  Do the students know that it has a different meaning for many people in the world?

— The point of this article is not to educate students about the Holocaust, but to explain that a greeting could save your life.  Apparently if people are friendly and say hello to people, they can survive a death camp.  Is the Suneung teaching the students to be friendlier?

— Why the hell would Mr. Muller ask the rabbi “What are you doing here?”  It’s kind of obvious.  But no where in the article does it mention that a rabbi is a Jewish person.  So the students reading this passage, the question might be legitimate.  Why would this nice guy named Mr. Rabbi suddenly be at a death camp?  I think I should survey my survey and ask them if they know what a rabbi is.


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