When and how do you discuss the Holocaust with kids?

(160 Posts)
nevergoogle Mon 29-Apr-13 15:28:58

DS1 is 8 and loves history, "especially the stuff that actually happened" he says. smile
This term he is learning about WWII at school and he's really enjoying the subject. He has complained that the teacher doesn't seem to know much and keeps talking about sweetie rations.
We went to the book shop and I found myself vetting any of the WWII books for any graphic images of the holocaust, which is sensible I think, although it got me feeling like I was enforcing some sort of holocaust denial.
So when and how do you broach this subject?

I remember being about 10 when I discovered some graphic photographs in a history book and I remember finding it very shocking so I don't know if this was too early, or just not the right way to learn about it.

For me, it's such an important part of human history so needs to be discussed at some point, but when?

I have explained our eldest about the Holocaust when he was about 8.
I am Italian and I have always known about it I think. Plus, I was born on 1970, only 25 yrs after the end of the war.

nametakenagain Mon 29-Apr-13 23:13:31

The horror is to accept that people can be so evil towards each other, and this is not restricted to WWII.

I think older might be better so that children are able to understand better.

Thinking about this makes me think about how we teach reactions to violence in fiction.

I have also 'always' known (b. 1966). I am German, my father's family was displaced during the war, he has clear memories of living in various refugee camps for a few years. My mother's family had their house requisitioned by the Russian army (who apparently behaved impeccably) and the French army (who did not. According to my v grand gran who will be 100 this year). I 'knew' about concentration camps and mass killings.
But I did not understand the scale or organisation or cold calculation behind it until I was in my teens.

I have not read the Boy in the Striped PJs because (having been told about the plot and 'twist') I just cannot bear the deliberate twaning of heart strings. Not all Germans were evil and not all Jews were good, which sod all to do with what happened.
I think there is a danger, because the Holocaust was on a different scale of awfulness, to single it out too much and forget or be less vigilant about lesser atrocities happening today.

And yes, 'our reactions to violence in fiction' - I think it is a problem. DS2(9) has an app on his iPod which shows a little chained ?gingerbread man you can 'claw' or whip or hit. He thinks it's funny, I find it quite viscerally disturbing. Maybe I should rejoice in his ignorance/innocence of such things actually happening?

milk Tue 30-Apr-13 08:23:03

This film is great and suitable for all smile

learnandsay Tue 30-Apr-13 08:30:08

It's pretty easy to explain how it happened, the Nazis started building concentration camps as soon as they came to power in the Thirties. At first it wasn't Jews in the camps but undesirable nationals of various sorts and the camps, (I think Dachau was one of the first, or even the first) was used as a SS training camp. Extreme Nazis always had dreams about sorting out the Jewish Question but for the early part of the Nazi reign nobody was clear what to do. The final solution was an unhappy accident after much barbaric experimentation. Things of a very similar nature are happening today and have a similar genesis. The difference is today we have the International Court in the Hague. It's surprising just how frightened of the court criminals like Milisovic, Karadzic and Charles Taylor are given that it doesn't have the death penalty. Without the court I'm sure we'd be looking at atrocities on a vast scale on a fairly regular basis. In the Congo/Central Africa we still are.

Gay40 Tue 30-Apr-13 08:33:23

The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas has a children's version and an adult's version - book, not film. It's not 100% technically accrate but I like the way that it gets the message across.
I teach the Holocaust to adults, but I've still found it diffiicult to explain to DD. I don't advocate pictures or anything graphic, but to talk about what happens when people hate others for being different, people getting swept up in events, how it's important to do the right thing, etc
She had read a version of Anne Frank's diary and has seen where she lived although not inside the house as she's too young.

learnandsay Tue 30-Apr-13 08:35:45

In a way you could say that the nitty gritty of how it happened is not the point. Leaders are continuously committing the same crime. The nitty gritty is a bit of a red herring. For me the question is why do different leaders from completely different backgrounds over huge expanses of time commit, or attempt to commit, the same crime over and over again?

admylin Tue 30-Apr-13 08:42:20

We live in Germany and my dc are in the German school system.

Dd is in year 8 and ds in year 9 and so far there has been no mention of the war (I or II) or the holocaust in history or any other subject. A very brief mention about persecution was given in ethics (a class that they attend instead of catholic or protestant religion lessons) when they studied the different world religions. It'll be interesting to see how it's taught here as I presume it must be coming up in year 10.

MissFredi Tue 30-Apr-13 08:43:21

My parents explained it to me when I was quite young, I'd say 6/7, because, and this is the sad part which may get me judged, I was watching 'allo 'allo with my dad and couldn't understand some bits of it. They were very vague at first, they didn't just launch into the whole graphic description of what they used to do to people. Just after that we learnt about the war at school and none of it was mentioned. Looking back at that and reading other people's posts makes me wonder what my primary school were playing at now shock we only learnt about evacuees!

The curriculum has changed here in Italy.
When I was young we did ww2 in yr 5 (we were 10), I remember reading the diary of Anne Frank and bits of Primo Levi; nowadays they are still doing the Romans! I find it rather shocking that there are 10 yrs old who don't know about ww2 (and ww1).

Bonsoir Tue 30-Apr-13 08:49:54

My DD is 8 and in the French equivalent of Y4. She recently studied the diary of Anne Frank and we watched the film of Sarah's Key on DVD as a family over a couple of evenings. She has watched several series of Land Girls and seen films that depict bombing and fighting WW2 but we haven't talked about the worst aspects of the holocaust yet. She knows her (French, Jewish) grandparents were in hiding and/ or the south during the war.

admylin Tue 30-Apr-13 08:52:23

We live in Hannover at the moment but I know that the dc's old classmates from Berlin went to the holocaust museum in year 6. I'd already been there with my dc a couple of years before when they were in year 3 and 4. It's probably a different curriculum. Maybe in Bavaria or another part of Germany it's different again.

WouldBeHarrietVane Tue 30-Apr-13 08:53:08

My grandfather escaped on a boat as a teenager and my great grandfather, his wife's mother and her sister died (in his case apparently of a heart attack in a holding camp and the sisters committed suicide to avoid capture). My family is still affected - my grandfather was understandably very traumatised and it made my mother's childhood very hard.

We will be waiting until DS is at least 10 before we give any info at all, unless he hears about it elsewhere and asks. I feel I was told too early and it really really frightened me sad

ZZZenagain Tue 30-Apr-13 08:55:29

at 8 I would not go into too much detail. If he has a basic idea, the details can be added in as he gets older. Have a look on BBC bitesize primary history. There may be class clips which are not too disturbing and would be ok for an 8 year old.

I think the first book we read about WWII was: When HItler Stole Pink Rabbit. I found it was a good place to start. You can discuss things around the issues brought up in the book. There is a lot of literature about childhood experiences during the war, including the persecution of the Jewish population - which is accessible to dc. I think photos can be more disturbing than words tbh.

My dd asked at some point if we could read something about the lives of dc in Nazi Germany because we had learned a lot about dc in Britain and in some of the occupied territories such as the Netherlands, Poland and Russia.

We read this book together: Eleanor's Story which my dd found interesting since she had been born in Berlin and knew a lot of the places mentioned in the book. It is at times a hard read, the parents I found deeply unpleasant, the book mentions (but does not describe) the rapes that took place when Berlin was taken, it mentions a neighbour shooting his own two dc because they have been covered with phosphorus and would not live without great pain. Otherwise it is not the most dramatic book about WWII but it does show another side to it and for dc from a German background or mixed German-English background, I think it would be an interesting read. My dd enjoyed it (with the exception of the more drastic scenes). It mentions little of the Holocaust which the author says she did not know about until the war ended. Below on the amazon page are links to books specifically about dc in the Holocaust.

There is a book about occupied Denmark (from where with the help of the non-Jewish Danish population luckily most Jews were able to escape to Sweden) which is not a disturbing read IMO and is also a good place to start for younger dc. Number the Stars

ZZZenagain Tue 30-Apr-13 09:00:20

How old were you wouldbeharriet?

WouldBeHarrietVane Tue 30-Apr-13 09:09:11

I'm not sure as I don't remember a time I didn't know. I'm sure I knew by 8.

Can't ask my mother because it's a very triggering subject for her, completely understandably. She was born only 4 years after the deaths in her family and in many ways it defined her childhood sad we have her family tree where a whole section is shaded in black to show that across one whole level of the tree everyone died - cousins, grandparents, great aunts.

ZZZenagain Tue 30-Apr-13 09:16:16

God, how sad.

I think you can know something about it at primary school without knowing every hurtful detail of the cruelty and evil of it all. Dd is 12 now and we went to a concentration camp 2 weekends ago. We didn't take her into the exhibition with the photos but tbh she was still too young to cope well with it. She broke down in the carpark, just sobbed and sobbed. I think for the more detailed books and so on 14 is a good age, you have the maturity to cope with it IMO.

My dd is half-Russian and I have not told her all the details of what happened in occupied Russia because I know it would be too close to the bone and hurt too much. She has some idea about Slavs being considered sub-human and so on but she doesn't know the true extent of what went on. She does know about the concentration camps, gas chambers and so on now but I haven't dwelt on it. I think we started talking about the yellow star, the increasing restrictions imposed on the Jewish population in Germany - that Jews were not allowed to sit on park benches, use swimming pools and libraries, that Jewish owned shops were boycotted and all that sort of thing. Talked about why other people didn't do more to help

horsemadmom Tue 30-Apr-13 09:23:00

To the German parents,
Germany has done so much soul searching and penance. No German child should be made to feel guilty today.
Austria is a whole other story....

DeWe Tue 30-Apr-13 09:33:51

Ds (age 5yo) is very interested in WWII and he has been very much into reading about it.
He (and his sisters) have been brought up knowing about it, we lost family on the continent-as far as we know all that side of the family was killed.
And my great aunt (by marriage) came over on kinderstransporten, as her parents were Quakers and were very vocal in opposing Hitler, so they got her out of the country. They were killed in a concentration camp. In her 70s she relearnt German and went to Germany to talk about her and her parents. Very inspirational woman.

In the children's books, Usborne does a fair number, but I haven't ever come across a photo that I think of as inappropriate. There's pictures of arrests, people arriving at concentration camps. possessions left at concentration camps. They help to make the victims people, not numbers, and the pictures of possessions gives some idea of the scale of it.

The BBC quite a good interactive time line which shows how the Jews were gently whittled away at. It didn't happen overnight. Showing that each little step was a nail in the coffin, and ordinary people wouldn't suddenly think "that's dreadful, I must protest" because each step (mostly) was quite small, until it had gone too far. That's very powerful for older ones who ask why people didn't do anything.

The photo that had all of us in tears is a little girl, must be aged about 9yo we saw on the internet one time. It's entitled "Little Girl in Warsaw". I think it was taken just before the Warsaw uprising. She's the spitting image of dd2, to the point of the way she stands and everything. Really makes you think "there but for the grace of God go I". We had family in Poland. sad

WouldBeHarrietVane Tue 30-Apr-13 09:41:30

I remember nearly being sick in the holocaust museum (won't say where as it would out me) when i went aged 14. I ran to the toilets and retched. I needed to know, though and maybe that was as good a reaction as any.

I think for the actual details of what happened you need to have a general age in mind and then also look at how sensitive your child is. Some children may be ready for full info before 14, but I would have 14-16 as the earliest age in mind.

noramum Tue 30-Apr-13 10:29:53

I think there is a difference between reading about the WWII and even knowing that millions of people were killed than knowing HOW it had happened.

While I think it is necessary to teach them I think under 10s are not mature enough to cope with gas chambers, living skeletons, medical experiments, lamps made from human skin etc.

We talked about the Blitz at home as DD got a book about London and this had a page about the Blitz. She also saw some items in the Museum of London. She got this ORT book as well and we talked about her German grandfather and one German grandmother being evacuated into the countryside, similar to English children here.

Religious tolerance and murder popped up during talks about Henry VIII and Bloody Mary, Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. So it is easy to teach them the general understanding but there is a big step to teach about the Holocaust.

infamouspoo Tue 30-Apr-13 10:45:43

funnily enough as jews its been easier to talk about the Holocaust than to mention to disabled ds that the nazi's started with disabled people. He's 10. I havent told him about T4 and Hadamar. He is bullied for being disabled today in the UK but has never encountered anti semitism.
There are no books on that one! That disabled people were killed in the Holocaust systematically and deliberately as 'useless eaters'. I think that would hit him far harder as he already feels different. So he knows about Ann Frank, he knows about the 'righteous gentiles' and other stories, as do my other children but we dont dare go anywhere else sad

DD1 did WWII last year, in year 2, so she was 6/7. She was telling me what she had learned about Hitler, I asked if she knew what he did to the Jews, she said no, so I told her. I though it important that she know since we're Jewish. I didn't go into graphic detail; just told her that Hitler didn't like the Jews and killed 6 million of us. To my shame I have realised from this thread that I didn't mention any of the other groups who suffered, and will tell her if she brings it up again.

I'm sure we will cover it in more detail soon.

My point is that there isn't really an age that's too early, and if you explain it in the context of that entire period of history and don't give graphic details when they're young, there's no reason a child shouldn't be able to understand and appropriately absorb the information.

Periwinkle007 Tue 30-Apr-13 12:05:20

I agree that you can talk to them about it from being younger in many cases but that the actual details are better kept for when they are older but it does depend like many of you have highlighted on not only the child themselves but also the family's experience of it. My kids will grow up knowing about it but not just yet. They are a mix of German and British, the German side were Jewish although we are not as they dropped it when they came over to the UK and they are apparently related to an extremely famous person who lost their life in the holocaust so they will definitely know about it all but they will also know that it wasn't all Germans etc but the Nazis. They will also be told that not everyone in an army believes in what they are made to fight for as I think that is an important detail. It is an extremely important part of history that we can't afford to forget.

NeoMaxiZoomDweebie Tue 30-Apr-13 12:11:32

I have an 8 year old DD too OP and she's also fascinated by the subject...like Pariah, I have got her The Silver Sword. She's not opened it yet but I only got it the other day...I hope she likes it.

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