Teaching a half-German child about the holocaust

(22 Posts)
MmeLindt Tue 18-Jan-11 16:30:07

The thread on teaching a 7yo about the holocaust reminded me that I need to do some research on this.

My DD will be 9yo this year, I also have a 6yo DS.

We are at present in French speaking part of Switzerland.

At some point in the coming years, they are going to be taught about the holocaust, and Germany's past.

Until now they have been proud of their German heritage (DH is German) and I don't want them to feel ashamed of being half-German.

Any ideas how to introduce this gently? And should I speak to the teacher about when they start teaching WW2 here?

OP’s posts: |
GoldFrakkincenseAndMyrrh Tue 18-Jan-11 16:40:29

I'd make it v clear to them when they learn that it was the Nazis, not the Germans, and there were Nazis of all nationalities but in Germany the Nazis were in charge of the country. There are examples of Germans who spoke out or took action that you can introduce them to as well, to help them understand it wasn't something everyone was for/happy with/proud to be a part of.

I'd also be inclined to talk to the teacher and ask them to avoid generalising Germans and emphasise the Nazi aspect.

There are periods in almost every country's history that they are (or should be) ashamed of. It just so happens that the particularly unpleasant part of Germany's past is well documented, had a global impact and had world-wide ramifications which are still very raw today.

Do you know how the subject is approached in Germany?

MmeLindt Tue 18-Jan-11 16:44:45

Good points. I will speak to the teacher about that aspect.

Not sure how it is approached in Germany, but will see if I can find out.

Complicating the problem is that we will move away from here in the next year or two. Not sure where to yet, but they will likely teach the topic differently again.

OP’s posts: |
GoldFrakkincenseAndMyrrh Tue 18-Jan-11 17:53:36

Perhaps the thing to do is to preempt any discussion at school so they dont hear it for the first time there and it come as a shockl. I'm trying to think of fiction books suitable for those ages which don't conform to the all-Germans-are-evil stereotype. Is your DD old enough for the Chalet School series? The war starts in book 16 (of 52) but all the wartime books are very pro-Germany, anti-Nazism. They are still a bit adult though and a lot of background before the war starts!

chloeb2002 Wed 19-Jan-11 00:37:08

i am a half german child and i really dont understand the stress? I have a number of german friends and the war is just a part of germanys history. No worse than teaching all english children about the many 'bad' things that the british have done? So i dont see the problem.... They will learn about it as part of history and that is where it stays?

Riven Wed 19-Jan-11 01:17:10

Kids are pretty robust

AbsentFather Wed 19-Jan-11 01:41:57

They teach English children about slavery, the Empire and bombing of German civilians in the same way that the Germans teach the Holocaust?

Also to teach that it was the Nazis and not the Germans would be wrong. The majority of Jews did not die in the Gas chambers or of starvation in the camps. That is a convenient myth that helps to hide the more worrying reality.

A reality that the majority of Jews were shot or murdered in the fields, woods or ditches close to their homes as the Axis forces occupied Europe. Yes there were SS units who went around cleansing on a large scale but there was also widespread participation by the ordinary Wehrmacht soldier.

Guys who went back to a family life (if they survived the war) and are the grandfathers and great grandfathers of todays German children.

Part of learning about the holocaust has to be accepting that the majority of the German population both civilian and military were culpable. A collective guilt for all Germans even if the Nazis were the instigators.


slim22 Wed 19-Jan-11 02:39:06

Yes I do also kids are pretty robust and they ask questions when they need clarification so don't overthink it.

That said,it might be a good idea to just acquaint them with historical timelines and the broader picture of human history and people migrations. They are at a good age for that.

My favorite book is E.H Grombich's "History of the world"
I have been reading this to my 6 yr old. Its short and simple.

Its a great introduction to a larger and deeper study of historical periods/events/people that will come at a later stage in their curriculum.
Just very broad strokes to paint the large picture. You can elaborate on anything you want from there (in you case you can insist on empires and subjugation of entire peoples, greeks, romans etc....until you get to the point).
The Holocaust is a huge event in long series of very tragic and not less significant events in their time. You can then go on to say that humans as a whole species does not learn from mistakes even if they are still very raw and brush on more recent events in rwanda etc...). The idea is to put their experience in context with other people's collective memory and let them understand that germans are not the only ones with skeletons in the closet throughout human history.

History of the World is strictly secular and fairly worldy in its representation of religion and religious views.
It brushes on Confucious, Buddha,christianity along with chapters on pre-history (preshistoric), greeks, romans, egyptians, phonecians, persians and more. As an additional plus - Persians are Persians etc... There's no a "barbarian" talk.

So basically what am trying to say is all peoples are on a same footing and germans are not worse than any other people. They were part of a tragic historical episode (albeit pretty appalling) in a long series.

gordonpym Wed 19-Jan-11 05:31:54

The first persons sent to camps were germans who fought the regime, so this example should show your daughter that a country being in war doest't mean ALL the germans were bad. Several of them died in an attempt to save and hide jews. Other germans tried to kill Hitler several times.
War is a period of death, fear and misery on both side. Any war, any time.

And, Switzerland has its own dark side related to WW2 and is to blame as well, so don't worry.
Last year, when DS1 was 6, I told my children about WW2 and the camps. We even watched together a movie about Anne Frank
We live in Spain now, and just the same I told them about the civil war here, when entire families (with babies) were thrown from bridges just because the father was a communist.

GoldFrakkincenseAndMyrrh Wed 19-Jan-11 07:56:40

I'd disagree about not making the distinction between Germans and Nazis. Yes lots of ordinary Germans were involved but why? It was because the Nazi party and its hateful ideology was in power and created a situation which played on the collective worry of the people following WWI and then their paranoia of the secret police and informers, which resulted in horrible things that ordinary people wouldn't have otherwise done. To not tell a child, any child, from the start that the Nazis were to blame is to perpetrate a prejudice against the entire German people. It's like saying 'the Jews' are responsible for the current Israeli-Palestinian situation (although that's very different because there are 2 definite sides and the Holocaust was 1 sided) - not all Jewish people are involved in or support or approve if that conflict, just as not all Germans were involved in or supported or approved of the Holocaust. And then there are very moderate, rational people who become completely unreasonable about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because they can't see straight on the issue for whatever reason, just as there were moderate, rational Germans who were affected by the mass hysteria and propoganda. Just like the war in Iraq as well - mass hysteria, propaganda, inaccurate reporting and misinformation led a lot of people to make choices they wouldn't otherwise have.

But I wouldn't want to try to explain that to a 9 year old so I'd err on the sure of saying it happened because the Nazis were in power and not because the German people are horrible. There's time for them to discover and come to terms with the role of ordinary Germans later.

People do things because of the situation they find themselves in, not because their nationality is inherently bad - which is I think what MmeLindt is trying to avoid her children interpreting it as.

MmeLindt Wed 19-Jan-11 07:56:45

Yes, children are robust, but DD is quite a sensitive wee thing.

And I am not making a fuss, Chloe, just asking advice on the best way to introduce this before it comes up in the school curriculum.

The French speaking part of Switzerland is quite anti-German - from a language point of view.

Thanks all for the advice. I will have a chat with her teacher.

Thanks for the book recommendation, will order it. Sounds great.

OP’s posts: |
ZZZenAgain Wed 19-Jan-11 08:01:00

In Germany the 9 year old would already have been taught about concentration camps at school for instance.

Bit by bit ML, take it slow I would say. How about When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit? This family leave Berlin in the early 1930s so personally don't experience the worst of what was to come but what might interest your dc is they move in exile first to Switzerland (German speaking part) and have to readjust to life there (which your dc have also done), then they move to Paris and have to pick up French (so your dc can also relate to that) , from there they move to London.

I think that is a nice, gentle way in and you can explain around it.

von Nr 67
Maybe this film which shows a working class district in Berlin, the kids who live in a HInterhof and in the Vorderhaus there is one Jewish family. You see the communist-right-wing interfighting and then the Nazis are in power and some things begin to change, in the Hof, at school, for the Jewish family and there is whole Hitler Jugend thing. My dd was quite fascinated by that film and you can see how things came about without it going too much in depth for younger kids if you see what I mean.

There is also a book about the Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt which we picked up at a German library which once again is not showing the full ofrce of the horrors yet :

is the museum

Later you can look at people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or the Weisse Rose but they do meet a nasty end of course so take your time and judge when your dc can cope with what information IYSWIM.

ZZZenAgain Wed 19-Jan-11 08:07:38

[[ http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Weidt Weidt]]

no idea why th link to the museum didn't work. I wouldn't actually bother to buy the book about him, it was a picture book really with just one or two lines of text per page. Ther is a museum in Berlin Rosenthaler strasse dedicated to him, I think the Blindenwerkstatt was located there originally.

ZZZenAgain Wed 19-Jan-11 08:07:54

ha I give up

Riven Wed 19-Jan-11 10:15:20

We started with the disabled holocaust which came first. My kids are a quarter german (cos of me) and we were home edding.
They just took it as part of history. A shocking part but history.

ZZZenAgain Wed 19-Jan-11 11:07:03

I think too a sensitive dc will be saddened and hurt to learn about something as horrific as the holocaust so I think you are right to give it some thought. Will they feel ashamed about their German heritage? I really don't know because they will be learning about it when they are a small minority in another country so that will feel very different to learning about it in school in Germany where most dc are in the same boat IYSWIM.

It might knock them back for a bit. What did your dh say it was like for him (he was of course in Germany at the time)? Sorry all my links didn't work. Annoying me that so I'll try one again:

film again

MmeLindt Wed 19-Jan-11 11:53:06

Thanks for the links Zzen.

I think that is the key - learning about it in Germany would be different.

Will ask DH how he was taught it, but that was <ahem> a few years ago.

OP’s posts: |
ZZZenAgain Wed 19-Jan-11 12:30:14

well my friend's 8 year old in German school was taught about the concentration camps, the cattle trucks, the gas chambers, the Warsaw ghetto a bit. I did think it was too much too young personally. Can't help feeling there are no prizes for swamping your dc's mind with the ugliest images at the youngest possible age. However, perhaps it would be best if they were informed to some extent before hearing about it at school, where it might be a shock for them.

Of course it is a shock for any dc regardless of heritage and in a way a loss of innocence when they hear what people can do to each other, isn't it? If you talk to them at home, the good thing is you can see their reaction and gauge how they are coping, know when they have heard enough and are not ready for more IYSWIM. Dc in the UK are leanring about life in WW2 in primary school - rationing, evacuation, the Blitz etc. So the holocaust falls into a kind of context they can more easily grasp IYSWIM. The BBC website has some things about rationing, gas masks, evacuation which are quite good

ZZZenAgain Wed 19-Jan-11 12:38:01

Emkana asked about the same thing once on here too, didn't she? She was concerned about how it would be for her dc hearing about it at schooli n the UK. I wonder what she did about it in the end and if things went well?

Try not to worry too much. I am sure that you and dh between you will be able to help them with it if they are troubled.

I do think you could speak to the teacher, why not?

slim22 Wed 19-Jan-11 13:17:57

DS is in year 2 and the first term was all about WW1, florence Nightingale and the crimean war.
He came home every night with new vocab such as "wounded" excruciating"(pain obviously) "amputation" "vermin" etc.. etc...
I was shocked! then went into the classroom and saw that the home corner had been turned into a field hospital and they were learning the "carry the night lamp" look for the suffering and care for them.
They could also try out costumes and fight each other but basically were taught horror as well as hope and resilience.

You do have to trust the schools somehow to know what they are doing and let your children come to you with questions that you will answer as honestly as possible.
We can't shield them as much as we'd like to.

WynkenBlynkenandNod Wed 19-Jan-11 13:32:25

DD is a quarter German, very sensitive and prone to nightmares. In Year 3 when they did WW2, I got her to speak to my Mum and Dad to understand their differing experiences of the War (Mum German, Dad British). Mum told her stories of how they lived in the basement and when the Americans came over the Rhine to save them as they saw it, news spread through the regulation hatches in the basements as people were too scared to say it in the street for fear of what the soldiers would do if they did. My Grandmother refused to stop going to Mass so as her punishment had to sweep the streets from dawn to dusk and they had a close shave when the Secret Police raided them as they had a radio, which luckily wasn't found. Also, that her elder sister had to go to Hitler Youth meetings then was taken straight to confession by my Grandmother afterwards.

Dad's story was very different in contrast and it highlighted in some way what was going on in war time Germany and our family's role in it. We've gradually stepped it up gradually over the years and recently she's learned a lot more about it, bizarrely from watching 'Who do you think you are' where a number of the people in the DVD episodes we've been watching have German or Jewish ancestors. She's 12 now and I'm not sure she has completely got the true horror of the Concentration camps but is getting there and has been fine about it taking it in stages.

anonymosity Sat 29-Jan-11 00:05:59

MmeLindt I understand your concern - I didn't really learn the details properly about the Holocaust until I studied it at A level. I remember my history teacher breaking down in tears over some of the questions we asked. It seemed entirely appropriate at the time. Its an emotive subject and is going to upset any child with a grain of sensitivity.

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