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?

SuperScribbler Tue 30-Apr-13 12:51:16

I have talked about WW2 with DS, who is 6. He is interested in the subject and DH has a strong interest in military history so we have 100s of books on the subject in the house. That said I haven't gone into details of the mechanics of how people were murdered in the Holocaust or shown him graphic images.

A while ago DS chose a graphic novel from the library called A Family Secret by Eric Heuvel, which deals with the subject. It was produced by the Anne Frank House and although some of it went over DS's head, but it is a very good way into the subject.

learnandsay Tue 30-Apr-13 13:56:27

The school age version of the "holocaust", whether it contains any details or not, is a good example of a historical placeholder. To have a more realistic understanding of the holocaust you need to know that anti Semitism was rife throughout Europe long before the war and that in many Eastern European countries where experimentation for what later became the Final Solution took place it wasn't the Nazis who were rounding up victims. It was the local populations. All school can really do is give a child a label. It's not until much later in life that a person can get even a small understanding of what went on. In that sense a quick trip around the Anne Frank house is adequate. Label duly given.

Very interesting thread.

It sounds like most first heard about WW2/Holocaust roughly around the same kind of age - late primary school age.

I totally agree, that what exactly and how much, and what detail is told to which child and when, will depend entirely on the age.

I visited Dachau, a concentration camp near Munich, in my early 20s as a young medical student. By pure coincidence it had a special exhibition on, exploring the role of the medical profession in the Holocaust and included examples of human experiments (as an aside: a lot of what we know happens to the human body while dying of hypothermia, for instance, still stems from some of these experiments sad[no emoticon available for what I feel about that]). I was absolutely horrified and physically sick. I still feel sick when I think about it. That was 25 years ago. I have no idea how people who lived through some of the horrors and witnessed abuse, torture and death, kept going. Much sympathies to all those affected.

OTOH, I had a terrible fear of war when I was about 8 or 9. I refused to go to sleep because I was afraid an airraid would happen over night. I think this was triggered by new stories about the Cold War.

What I am trying to say, some information is traumatic at any age (if you are a person with some degree of empathy), but can certainly be given too early. And some fears will grow out of all reasonable proprotion, not necessarily because of a real/acute danger.

I think the trick for all of us is to know our own children and what they can take/process.

at what age exatly, sorry

OlyRoller Tue 30-Apr-13 16:32:08

When I was about 7 I read a book called The Endless Steppe by Esther ??? - about the author's youth, she was sent with her family to Siberia during WW2, and the hardships she faced there. I loved that book. I really recommend it. But I think that was my introduction the subject.

3MonthMaid Tue 30-Apr-13 21:03:56

The endless steppe is amazing.

It's so interesting that so many of us on here have this background.FWIW as a child of German parents in the 80s I was teased and bullied for being a "nazi". I so hope that same fate doesn't await my DD. She is so proud of being "German" at the moment...

Ps completely agree with PacificDogwood about the Austrians!

3MonthMaid Tue 30-Apr-13 21:06:14

Sorry - that. Should be HorseMadMom

suebfg Tue 30-Apr-13 21:28:32

I was only thinking about this recently as I re-watched Schindler's List this week. He may find out at school earlier but I was thinking early teens. When he is older, I do intend to take him to Auschwitz.

On similar lines, I have wondered about when to tell him about 9/11 as I was in New York that day but he is too young to understand that yet.

Sparklymommy Wed 01-May-13 09:11:28

My daughter (year 5) is currently doing WW2, however she hasn't mentioned the holocaust. That said, at her dance school we have a senior character dance group that doing a dance entitled "the Holocaust" which she has watched. It is a group that when the teacher started teaching it all the parents of the children in it were asked if they didn't want their child performing in it. The head mistress of the dance school was very careful about the subject matter and even told some children (aged under 15) that it wasn't suitable for them and choreographed a different dance for them based on the potato famine in Ireland so that they wouldn't feel left out. (I know, our dance school likes to delve into dark subjects!) we do have some happy flappy nunbers too! Lol

Periwinkle007 Wed 01-May-13 09:22:31

I remember reading The Endless Steppe too, I think I have it in the loft, along with Eva's Story (Eva Schloss), The Diary of Anne Frank and numerous others. I went through a patch of reading them when I was a young teenager.

Suebfg - 9/11, 7/7, IRA, Boston Bombings, Connecticut school shootings, Dunblane etc they are all the same and I suppose you just have to raise them when you think the time is right/relevant depending on your families experience. I wonder if I shelter our kids too much by not having the news on when they are around, I have other friends who sit and watch the news with their children, but I think there is time for them to know about these things in the future when they are more emotionally mature.

iseenodust Wed 01-May-13 09:40:35

DS yr4 is studying WW2 this term. They are using Carrie's War by Nina Bowden as one of the works of fiction.

They are going on a school trip to Eden Camp (as do many schools round here). I haven't been but am told it is well done.

I did send one ORT non-fiction on WW2 back to school when DS was in yr2 with a note saying I was not letting him read more as the next page was about 'The Final Solution' and I thought yr2 was way too young for that.

Periwinkle007 Wed 01-May-13 09:56:55

I am relieved we haven't had any books sent home on it yet. mind DD1 is only in Reception but I think they must have taken them out of the reading boxes as she is on level 10.

learnandsay Wed 01-May-13 11:00:53

Personally I don't find individual acts of terrorism and genocide similar. From the genocides that I've read about so far the leaders (and it tends to be leader doing these things to their own people) seem to have a rationale. Some international terrorists seem to have a rationale too. But some of the domestic ones don't appear to have any idea why they're doing what they're doing the Boston bomber doesn't seem to know why he did it. And of the few American school shooters who have survived I haven't yet seen a coherent account of why he (and in one or two rare cases she) did it. I'm terribly afraid that in America school shootings are fashionable (and easy) and get lots of attention. And in the case of Anders Breivik I think everyone has given up trying to understand why he did what he did, including Anders himself. Unless my daughters ask me directly about a terrorist incident I think I'm going to ignore that kind of behaviour all together. I've got a sneaking suspicion that in the end all terrorism is some kind of attention seeking. I can't get what I want so I'm going to throw my toys out of the pram. The big difference is that people get killed.

gabsid Wed 01-May-13 11:13:14

I have been thinking about this myself, as I am German and DS (8) is fully bilingual and thinks of himself as German. A while ago a boy at school said to him 'lets all be horrible to DS because he is German and the British fought the Germans in the war'. I don't think that boy had any insight though.

We had a chat about it and I explained about Hitler and what he did in very general terms. I feel he needs to know a bit more but not too much. I think literature from childrens' point of view as some suggested is the way to go now. Also, DS has a 4 1/2 old sister who listens to the same books I read to DS

gabsid Wed 01-May-13 11:21:35

I went to Dachau when I was 13 or 14, I was so shocked, I never forget it and I myself steer away from graphic information about the Holocaust

Pyrrah Wed 01-May-13 11:33:13

DD's 4 and we started discussing the Holocaust when she was about 2.5 - my husband's family are German Jewish and either escaped from Germany or died in the camps.

My husband works in Liverpool Street and the station there has the wonderful Kindertransport memorial with the children and DD loves it, especially the little girl with the teddy bear sitting on the suitcase.

Some of the family came to Britain on the Kindertransport and so we dicussed that great-aunt x was one of the little girls on the train.

DD also loves 'The Sound of Music' so I could tie the bits of that story into what she knows. She also loves 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' and asked about the bombing in the opening scenes and why the children had to leave their mummy.

I wouldn't show her graphic details of the camps until she is a lot older, but I'd like her to have a basic understanding of the whole Jewish issue in WWII before it's taught in school.

In some ways, when they are very young, it's less of a shock or upsetting to them than suddenly coming across it later. We also have a very Jewish surname so I don't want her worrying.

I'm not sure I could take her to Auschwitz, I would find it too upsetting knowing how many of her ancestors walked through those gates.

A lot depends on the individual child as to how the deal with things or not, what is the right time for one child may be too soon for another.

gabsid Wed 01-May-13 11:44:11

We do go to local museums where we often come across WWI and II, but it often is about local people and what happened to them and their towns and cities during the wars.

I feel we are drip feeding.

learnandsay Wed 01-May-13 11:53:15

WWI/II per se is a slightly different topic. But both wars/subjects are so monumental that I think drip feeding is the right approach otherwise you'd overload the poor children and probably make them hate history into the bargain.

WidowWadman Wed 01-May-13 11:56:21

It's really strange to think that when my dad was my daughter's age (4.4, too young for me to want to worry her with tales of the war yet) - he was hiding from allied bombs in the bomb shelter, and evacuated shortly after. He has memories of asking his mum whether they were going to die now.

At the same time my husband's grandma was evacuated from German bombs.

I feel very lucky to know war only from stories I've been told, books and news reports and to have the luxury to protect my daughter from this knowledge just a little bit longer.

suebfg Wed 01-May-13 18:57:40

"Personally I don't find individual acts of terrorism and genocide similar"

Not on the same scale obviously but the similarity for me is the senseless destruction of innocent people, whether that be millions in the Holocaust, thousands on 9/11 or twenty children in an American school. It's hard to explain that to any child.

StephaniePowers Wed 01-May-13 19:07:14

It came up, I forget how, when dd was 8. There are references to it all over, if your child has sharp ears. She asked questions. I answered.

So far we have not talked about the details of how people were killed and disposed of, nor of how they were chosen.

She has asked about the reasons why the Jews were singled out and that was very hard to talk about. (I do mention the other communities who were interned/killed.) I felt I was actually planting the seed of the idea that it is possible to hate an entire population of people who live among you. I had to take care to say it was absolutely awful to do that whilst trying to say that it still goes on, got tied up in knots.

I read on here once about a group of school kids going on a school trip to Auschwitz. I have visited it, there is no way any child of mine is going there aged 12. Not a chance. I got argued off that thread by a lot of well-meaning people, but I still maintain it is not ok for your average 12 year old.

learnandsay Wed 01-May-13 19:08:09

Both subjects, terrorism and the holocaust have relevant issues for today. The international criminal court is playing a significant part in one and it looks as if, in the case of school shootings, America's constitution and its gun lobby are playing a significant part in the other. My own personal feeling is that children ought to learn about the holocaust. Unless you're an American child knowing anything about school shootings, The US constitution or its gun lobby are all optional/better off ignored.

notfluffy Wed 01-May-13 19:46:15

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

There is a significant difference in my eyes between discussing a war, any war, and genocide or the Holocaust: atrocities happen in any war, people behave terribly (or in fact very honourably) and innocent people die. Many countries have been involved in wars and, I would argue, many countries have not necessarily acted honourably (if that's possible in a war).
The Holocaust is on a totally different scale, not just in terms of numbers, but in chilling calcule and organisation. That is what I find difficult to explain. Not that individuals can be cruel, but that whole governments can persue a policy of destruction - an elected government btw. And a majority of people followed...

Terrorism is hard to explain too, but the scale is so much smaller; even 9/11... And school shootings... <sigh> no idea what to say about that other than that I really don't think that arming teachers is a good idea hmm.

So, in conclusion, I shall continue to be baffled by what humanity is capable of and answer questions honestly as they come up. A trip to Auschwitz is not on the cards any time soon, that's for sure. Growing up we had a book about Auschwitz with pictures of rooms full of shoes/hair/teeth which I leafed through a fair bit - and then one day <wham> it hit me what those pictures ment. I can still remember the sick feeling in my stomach and me so wanting somebody to come and tell me that they did not mean what I had just understood them to depict sad.

ZZZenagain Wed 01-May-13 21:17:44

haven't been to Auschwitz. That would be one heck of a tough trip, for an adult. I am not sure I want to go there. We have been to a concentration camp, a smaller one which was not set up as a death camp with gas chambers etc. Obviously people suffered there greatly, were subject to medical mistreatment, shot, starved and all the rest of it. There was almost nothing left standing, just a couple of barracks, a sort of firing squad area and explanations as you went round. I found that quite tough too because you know so much more than what you see. However, I am glad we went.

One thing that really shocked me was how close the houses in the area were to the camp. It was really not out in the middle of nowhere.

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