Return to Rivne: A Holocaust Story

Centropa’s most unusual film to date. Shelly Weiner and Raya Kizhnerman live in Greensboro, NC. But these two kindly grandmothers were born in the bustling city of Rivne—then in Poland, now in Ukraine. In 1941 20,000 Jews lived in Rivne, but when the German Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS stormed into town, they planned on murdering every Jew they could find. How Shelly and Raya survived the massacre is a story they tell themselves, not long after they visited Rivne in 2013. With old photographs and exquisite, custom-made drawings by artist Emma Flick. Motion graphics by Wolfgang Els.

Study Guides


Shelly and Raya were both born in the city of Rovno, then in Poland. The city is now located in the Ukraine, and is called Rivne. Before the war, Rivne had a population of 60,000, of which approximately 24,000 were Jews. Raya lived in Miatyn (also called My’atyn), which is southeast of Rivne. It was in Miatyn that the family hid during the war.


Poland was once home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, and was an important center of Jewish culture. Poland experienced a long period of tolerance: from the sixteenth century, around 80% of the world's Jewish population lived in Poland, where the community prospered. Read a historical overview of Jewish life in Poland, and find an article on Jewish-Polish relations here.


The Second World War began with the invasion of Poland. On the 1st of September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. As per the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany, Soviet forces invaded and occupied East-Poland two weeks later. Read about Jewish refugees in Soviet-occupied Poland here.


Rivne was liberated by Soviet forces in February 1944. In May 1945, Germany capitulated to the Allied Forces.

After the war, the Soviet Union retained the territories it had annexed in 1939. Rivne once again became part of Soviet Ukraine, as Poland and Ukraine were separated under an Allied agreement reached at the Tehran conference.

Lesson plans for this film

6 results
For grades Documents

Courageous People Project

Civic activism

Students work on the questions of “what is an act of moral courage” and “what is required to act courageously”. They explore the past and the present to discover courageous...

5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Return to Rivne

In this lesson, students will be able to analyze a documentary about two young cousins who survived the Holocaust in order to extend our understanding of what we can learn...

Diary and Memoir Project

An interdisciplinary lesson is designed to expose students to important responses to historical and social events and enable students to explore the following statement of inquiry: In times of social...
6, 7, 8

Looking back: A child’s recollections of the Holocaust through the eyes of the children of today

In this cross-cultural project, three Jewish school teachers assigned their students to read the same text using slightly different assignments. Students in all classes produced art in response to the...
10, 11, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

What We Live is History

English, History
“What We Live is History,” can be used in social studies, history, English, and other classes. This lesson challenges students to consider that their lives now will one day be...
10, 11, 12, 6, 7, 8, 9

Return to Rivne: Stations Lesson

Using Return to Rivne as the centerpiece, this lesson uses stations for students to explore the geography, pre-war life, Roma people, the family that hid Shelly and Raya, the toys...

6, 7, 8