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?

PastSellByDate Thu 02-May-13 09:47:10

Hi nevergoogle:

Not sure when is exactly the right age - 8 does seem very young - as the topic is so horrible and tragic (man's inhumanity to man) - but some 8 year olds can be very precocious and sensitive.

I can recommend a graphic novel called MAUS which portrays the Nazis as cats and the jews as mice. It brings across the cruelty somehow much more clearly.

Wikipedia has a nice summary about it here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maus

Periwinkle007 Thu 02-May-13 09:58:30

learnandsay I didn't mean that 9/11, 7/7 etc were the same as the holocaust, I meant they were the same as each other and the IRA and other such horrible events. The holocaust like some of the african genocides are in a league of their own.

however I do feel that all these things needs to be told to our young people at some point.

Pyrrah Thu 02-May-13 10:50:32

MAUS is a fantastic book - a bit like Primo Levi's 'If this is a Man', it's a book that stays with you forever after you've read it.

I'm not sure it would be suitable for younger children... 10+ with a basic understanding of the war and Holocaust would probably work better. There's a lot of stuff about depression and dealing with being a survivor of the camps - and heavily stereotypical jewish portrayals (think Maureen Lipman as Beattie type).

It did spark off some discussion with DD - I was reading it in the bath one day and she was intrigued that mummy was reading a 'comic book' and wanted to know about the story. So I explained a bit about what was on the pages I was reading about the different groups.

learnandsay Thu 02-May-13 11:35:34

I'm open to a discussion about talking to children about 9/11 and all the rest of it, but I'm not convinced. Possibly American children need to know about 9/11. If they're taught about Perl Harbour then they should perhaps be taught about 9/11 on the same day. The parallels are striking. Maybe British children studying A level history can have a module about insurgency:IRA, Mau Mau, the Mahdi & General Gordon and so on and so on. But I wouldn't teach history like that.

infamouspoo Thu 02-May-13 11:53:11

How would you teach history? I dont undertsand your point? My kids learned about 9/11 as it happened because we lived next to the Pentagon on that day. They were 9, 8, 6 and 5.

learnandsay Thu 02-May-13 13:17:35

I wouldn't teach history by topic. Part of the reason that I wouldn't do it that way is because then you misinform your pupils as much by what you leave out as by what you put in unless you include in each lesson an example list of the kinds of things which you'll not be covering. Terrorism is such a fantastically broad topic I don't even know if it's possible to do any kind of justice to it whatsoever. But the kinds of terrorism which sparked wars is an interesting sub-topic. I don't know how often the holocaust is taught as an introduction to genocide in general. But it might be worth pointing out that at one time slaughtering whole populations of cities as an act of war was considered perfectly normal. If the city didn't surrender then that's what it could expect. It's a relatively recent development that slaughtering whole populations has become proscribed. And even now it depends upon who's slaughtering whom and where.

noramum Thu 02-May-13 13:51:34

L&S but wouldn't that cause large confusion when you only tell one part without the context in which it happened?

You can't teach holocaust just as genocide. You need to teach WWII, why Hitler managed to come into power (maybe not as detailed as I learned it for A-Level in Germany). Without these information you can't understand why it was possible.

Also mix and matching various historical periods can cause confusion. You can't teach, let's say Revolutions, and set 1776 (USA-GB), English Civil War, Russian Revolution of 1917 and the French Revoluton of the 1780s next to each other. You loose too many important information just relating to one of them if you teach just the similarities.

learnandsay Thu 02-May-13 14:46:25

Agreed, I don't think teaching history by topic is a clever thing to do. I think there's an important distinction between analysing the subject and teaching it.

Although some people complain that simply covering a subject at a young age isn't always helpful and is liable to be forgotten. Teaching genocides in general might lead to interesting conclusions, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, Abdul-Hamid II, Hitler, Pol Pot, has there ever been a civilian genocidal leader?

maizieD Thu 02-May-13 16:15:15

Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, Abdul-Hamid II, Hitler, Pol Pot, has there ever been a civilian genocidal leader?

Or a female one?

learnandsay Thu 02-May-13 17:35:44

Some of these leaders actually expressed their wish to use widespread killing of a particular kind of people as a policy. I don't think I'd ever want this type of behaviour discussed with my school age child. If she went to university to study a political or historical subject, then we could discuss it or she could study it.

teacherwith2kids Thu 02-May-13 17:35:50

Responding to OP - DS did WWII in Year 3 ... meant to be the Home Front onlybut he was and remains a history nut so his reading around it expanded exponentially. I discussed the Holocaust with him at the time, in my usual parenting 'answer all questions straight, stop when you have answered the question' manner. We didn't look at graphic pictures or details because his questions didn't go that v=way, though it did often stray into questions about current day politics (another obsession).

wigglesrock Thu 02-May-13 20:06:55

My dd1 - she's in P4 (she's almost 8) and they covered WW2 last term specifically from the viewpoint of evacuees and the Belfast blitz but they did cover Anne Frank, death camps and Hitler. Their teacher was led by them in so much as he could be. Some of the kids had heard stuff from relatives, some had no idea. In the run up to it, the kids had brought in photos, family bits and pieces relating to the war so it was easier for them to relate to.

We talked at home about the Holocaust, she didn't understand why but after a few clumsy analogies on my part we were able to answer some of her questions.

learnandsay Thu 02-May-13 20:41:06

In response to the question has there ever been a female genocidal leader, at the moment I still think the answer is no. But a female minister in the Rwandan Hutu government actually instructed militia in the art of genocide and was sentenced to life imprisonment www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/22/rwandan-woman-stripped-citizenship-genocide

nevergoogle Thu 02-May-13 21:24:13

Thanks for all the responses here. The local secondary school seem to have it covered with an annual holocaust project featuring in the local newspaper.
Meanwhile in primary today they did land girls.

The right time will come around, I just don't want him to learn the way I did by just discovering graphic photographs.

Carry on the discussion, it's great to have a real (important) parenting discussion on here.

learnandsay Thu 02-May-13 21:33:38

I'm not sure if a fear of graphic photographs is the right reason for broaching the subject. There are gazillions of subjects which have provided material for graphic photographs and you can't possibly discuss all of them. I think there are holocaust levels with 1 being the Anne Frank house, without the graphic info and 10 being photos and info about experiments on dying people. Lots of people don't get to level 1. I don't think many people need to get to level 10. Why would they?

infamouspoo Thu 02-May-13 21:44:19

I think adults need to be horrified to be honest. Horror means they might stand up if there's any inkling at it happening again.

WouldBeHarrietVane Thu 02-May-13 21:53:30

Noramum for years Cambridge university had a comparative 'Revolutions' module as part of the 3rd year history syllabus.

Oh, I agree, some people are not horrified enough, by half.
But depending on child, I think the most gruesome facts are best left to late teens and even into adulthood.

As mentioned upthread, I also find the question "But there aren't any Nazis NOW, are there, mum?" difficult to answer sadangry

learnandsay Thu 02-May-13 23:34:37

I sincerely hope (we're a mixed British/German family) that we don't get around to discussing the Nazis until our girls are well into their teens. For very young children who for some unfortunate reason have been told who the Nazis were and some of what they did I believe the reply, no dear, there are no Nazis now, is adequate. The ones from the Thirties and Forties are dying of old age and the young pretenders aren't Nazis because the party no longer exists. So, give or take a little, there aren't any now.

Devora Thu 02-May-13 23:43:38

Another one here whose family were involved, and therefore the children know early.

I didn't learn about WW2 or the Holocaust at school, either primary or secondary. But I heard all about it at home, from elderly relatives (or they seemed old to me then; thinking back, my grandfather - a teenage refugee was Nazi Germany - was 43 when I was born. His father, who was in a concentration camp, would have been in his 60s).

dd1 and I first started discussing the Holocaust when she was 5. No graphic detail, obviously, and I tell her in a restrained way. Her other mother is the descendant of slaves, and we are lesbian, so in many ways her family is different and sometimes the target of prejudice, and she has to be gently prepared for that.

dd1 is now 7, and working her way through the Harry Potter books, and we've often found them helpful in discussing these issues (mudbloods etc). Recently she listened to my dp doing a talk about slavery, which was ill-advised as there was some upsetting content. Afterwards we discussed it and she said to me, "It made me feel the same as Neville Longbottom when he watches MadEye Moody do the Cruciatus curse on the spider". That was useful in telling me that she was at the limit of what she could cope with, but also that she is developing ways of understanding and managing upsetting information.

learnandsay Fri 03-May-13 09:42:45

I would be worried that a 7yo who had enough upsetting information that she had to find ways of managing it had too much and could end up having sleepless nights or worse. Why is horrible detail useful to young children? I could be wrong but I can only think that the truly nasty nitty gritty is only useful to analysts, academics or interested adults.

ZZZenagain Fri 03-May-13 11:09:29

"For very young children who for some unfortunate reason have been told who the Nazis were and some of what they did".

What unfortunate reason lies behind the transmission of important historical and human rights knowledge in your opinion? It doesn't suit you that people are aware of it perhaps but that is an entirely idiotic attitude.

There is no reason why young dc even very young dc cannot be told who the Nazis were and some of what they did. I really find your posts disturbing because you do sound as if it is all irrelevant and should be shoved away out of sight and kept from everyone but researchers and so forth. Why on earth could anyone in these day and age find that an acceptable attitude?

It is not necessary to wait until they are adults or even teenagers. I do think primary school dc can process this information as long as it is presented to them in an age -appropriate manner. There are plenty of families who have victims within their ranks and it is entirely natural - and good IMO that these families discuss what has happened. THere is no need to dwell on extremely upsetting details, to show photos of bodies piled up and people shot, etc to visit holocaust exhibitions and camps, however primary school dc can deal with the basics of the increasing discrimination leading up to and culminating in mass murder and I believe it can be helpful to access some knowledge at this point, it helps in the positive development of character IMO. Too much detail could be frightening but some knowledge is not harmful and there are plenty of good books which lead into this and are age appropriate.

In the same way, I would talk to primary school dc about terrorism, about 9/11 if it came up but I would not dwell on the suffering in detail.

We learn a great deal of things in that we at first learn a skeleton outline which is filled in with detail as we get older and acquire more knowledge or discover a real drive to learn more and follow things up. This is perfectly natural.

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infamouspoo Fri 03-May-13 12:08:44

agreeing with Zzzen. Children are remarkably resilient. After all, many jewish children actually lived through it. It is part of our history and we do talk about it and as Zzzen says, we are fortunate enough to be able to pace the details nowadays but the Holocaust is vital history.

learnandsay Fri 03-May-13 12:35:32

Because the Nazis were only one set of culprits, the biggest, maybe. But only one. Focussing on them is a bit like explaining how football works by talking endlessly about the Brazilian national team and ignoring the rest of the world.

StephaniePowers Fri 03-May-13 15:05:00

They may not be called Nazis, but there are anti-semitic racists still. There are genocides happening right now. I don't think children should be fobbed off, even if (of course) they don't need the horrific details.

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