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At what age should I tell my children about the holocaust? And does it make a difference that I am a German living in the UK?

(35 Posts)
emkana Mon 22-Jun-09 21:40:34

They know that there was a war and that bad people were running Germany at the time, but I haven't talked about the holocaust at all yet.

They are (just) 8 and nearly six and three.

twoluvlykids Mon 22-Jun-09 21:42:39

I'd leave it to school history lessons - they touch on it in yr 6, I think, then cover it it yr 8/9.

brimfull Mon 22-Jun-09 21:43:29

maybe find out when they will learn baout it in school and discus sit before then

It may not be until secondary -can't remember when dd learnt about it

Fennel Mon 22-Jun-09 21:43:35

I have been reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit to my 9 and 7yo. It has about the holocaust, but is aimed at 9yos up, I think. By Judith Kerr who wrote the Mog series, it's based on her childhood - her father was a jouranlist, they were German, they fled the Nazis. The dds are enjoying it, it's not mostly grim but there are a couple of grim bits. They are very interested in history in general, I think they are on the young side for it but so far they want to know more.

TheProfiteroleThief Mon 22-Jun-09 21:43:45

Oo - tough one,

fwiw my dd (9) is fascinated by Anne Frank and we have bought a child's version which she has read. She also watched the BBC drama recently. Obv it is part of history and should be considered as such.

Heathcliffscathy Mon 22-Jun-09 21:46:29

I think you need to tell them in the context of everything else (firebombing of dresden, british invention of concentration camps, widespread and pernicious anti-semitism throughout europe, post versailles treaty fall out).

i think you need to tell them when they start studying this/asking.

i think you need to emphasise that war is a waste, that humanity is capable of incredible cruelty and also immense courage.

dh who has studied the second world war extensively says 'the holocaust isn't about germans'. i entirely agree with him. to make it about being german is to miss the important lesson entirely. that all of humanity is capable of the unspeakable. vis Russia during the same period.

it's about some particular germans. who happened to be aided and abetted by french people and italians etc etc etc.

when they are old enough (pretty old, i.e. at least 15, primo levi is fantastic on it). need to read a decent history of the period before that.

emkana Mon 22-Jun-09 21:55:25

That's very interesting, thank you.

I worry a bit about it being discussed in school and the children experiencing hostility from their peers due to being half German.

Heathcliffscathy Mon 22-Jun-09 21:59:43

I can't imagine that would happen emkana, not if it was taught properly.

hester Mon 22-Jun-09 22:03:55

It depends on your children; it depends on when it comes up. My family are German Jewish, and I definitely knew by 8. Obviously that was partly because questions came up sooner than they would for other children - like why are we here, where are 'missing' relations etc.

I would definitely prepare your oldest for it coming up at school - but not in detail yet. Yes they need to know that bad people were running Germany at the time, so they get comments that might be made to them (and how tedious that children are still being taught by their parents the language of playground anti-German prejudice - my commiserations). And they need to know that Jews, gay people, gypsies were particularly victimised. But gas chambers, murdering children etc? - I'd be tempted to wait till school and Anne Frank.

Good luck.

Noonki Mon 22-Jun-09 22:06:16

we talked to dss about it from about 8/9 in the context that war is terrible on all sides.

But that there have been so truely terrible acts committed. and then discuss germany as well as other countries.

The UK's history has been horrific at times during the time of the empire (and of course more recently)

horrid histories can be a good introduction to some of the ideas

Being half polish and losing family to the war meant that I was aware of the situation from a young age.

I often quote Primo levi when people are ever 'anti-german' - who was regularly asked 'do you hate germans?' and he would say not because that makes me as bad as the nazis.

ilovemydogandmrobama Mon 22-Jun-09 22:06:31

Probably too young now, but what about an exhibition like this:

anne frank

Think it's easier to grasp big events for kids if they can relate it to someone they can relate to -- i.e. another child.

weegiemum Mon 22-Jun-09 22:11:50

I don't think the "half-German" thing is as big an issue as it once was. My dh's Dad is German, born in 1945, and dh's Grandma was in the Hitler Youth etc ... Grandfather was in the Luftwaffe. Dh has a German name, we have a German surname.

Dh was teased a lot at school about it (not helped of course by his mother once sending him to a fancy dress party as Hitler shock), but even though dd1 (9) has done about Anne Frank in school, it was her that brought the German connection up in class and no-one teased her at all. I suppose she was quite interested in it all as she has visited Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam with me. She was actually quite proud of the fact that her Opa comes from Germany and just says "the war was a long time ago".

We have explained in a child-friendly way (and the Anne Frank story is quite good for that) about the Holocaust but children of that age I think are shocked but find it hard to take in. Our church also did a service which covered the story of Corrie ten Boom, which was a different perspective on it. It does have to be done in the context of the whole war, the British were hardly blameless - my dh's Aunt was born in a bomb shelter in Hamburg at the height of the bombing there.

We talked about the war with them all last year when we went to Normandy. I think the German connection gives them an extra perspective and makes them interested, but it is long enough ago that it is "history" rather than memory for everyone except Omi (great granny).

I hope you can find a way to talk to them about it which makes them proud of their heritage, even though many of the things done were so very wrong. Do they speak German? Its a great regret of mine that FIL never spoke German to dh - so my O level German is better than dh's! If they are bilingual you might be able to find some German resources to help?

Heathcliffscathy Mon 22-Jun-09 22:15:54

shock shock shock at your dh's mum weegie!!! it is quite funny (in respect of how inappropriate parents can be) if it hadn't had such awful consequences for him

weegiemum Mon 22-Jun-09 22:20:13

She even showed me the pictures (he was 8! shock)

He was, in defence, a very cute Hitler!

TheProfiteroleThief Mon 22-Jun-09 22:21:27

I think there are more contemporary 'baddies' in modern UK culture.

Of course I don't mean that I think Germans are bad - but your concern leads me to believe you know what I mean.

Do you get much chance to celebrate German culture before discussing this?

Being the last century and last millennium makes it seem like ancient history to chldren today - those who cannot remember before everyone even had a mobile phone!

weegiemum Mon 22-Jun-09 22:24:52

I think you are right Profiterole. We were watching a James Bond and ds (7) didn't know why the Russians were baddies! His only experience of German baddies is in Raiders of the Lost Ark!

TheProfiteroleThief Mon 22-Jun-09 22:27:05

Not that I encourage children to consider people as 'baddies' just that modern society is so completely different - and children mix so much more with children of different nationalities on holiday etc than children in the 40s and 50s

Yurtgirl Mon 22-Jun-09 22:31:33

I have wondered about this question too
If you ever visit london Emkana the Imperial War Museum is very interesting

There is a fantastic exhibition there atm about the holocaust, soon to close I think and suitable for over14s
There is also a great exhibition called Children at War - suitable for primary age, not scary but very interesting - and free

Maninadirndl Tue 23-Jun-09 09:06:37

I don't think the Germans will ever live this down, sadly.

Well this is a can of worms I will eventually have to open at some stage or another. I live in Germany and I am told that kids here get somewhat overloaded with this aspect of German history which sounds a bit overdone. My FiL was in the Hitler Youth but hated it, My Mil spent much of it living in a castle in north Bavaria self sufficienting.

In order to balance this tragic era I think you have to balance it when you think that Germanic countries gave us such other wonderful things such as philosophy, arguably the foundations of Western music, even the split within the Catholic Church which gave us the Potestant Revolution came from here.

MmeLindt Tue 23-Jun-09 09:25:37

Hi Emkana, long time no see.

We lived in Germany until recently, DH is German and we have 2 DC. I have not really thought about this, but it is something that we will have to talk about in the coming years as DD is 7yo.

Could you ask your eldest DC's teacher when they will start to learn about the war in school so that you can prepare your DC beforehand. I would want to do that so that if there were any comments from the other children, they were ready for them.

Is your family particularly "German" in that you practice German traditions? I think it would be good for them to have positive associations with their German heritage before hearing about the period in history that is shameful for Germany.

Sophable has a very good point about the holocaust not being just about Germany. I was stunned to learn (at age 16 or thereabouts) about the bombing of not only Dresden and Berlin, but also my DH's hometown, Würzburg. Over 5000 people died on the 16 March 1945 when between 9.25pm and 9.42pm the old town was all but destroyed. I know that this is not comparable to the systematic murder of millions of jews but it does show that there were no "goodies" and "baddies".

MmeLindt Tue 23-Jun-09 09:26:56

Oh, and when they are a bit older, the Jewish museum in Berlin is very good. There are a lot of stories about children and ordinary life as a jew in Germany before and after the war.

Fennel Tue 23-Jun-09 09:35:34

It might also help to talk about other instances of similar atrocities, for example the British invented concentration camps in South Africa, and the British Empire has done many things for our country to be ashamed of, with implications still going on in many ex-British colonies.

Also ethnic cleansing and so on in Eastern Europe, Rwanda, recently, genocides still going on across the world. None of this is nice to learn but it might help in the context of being partly German and learning about WW2 - I sometimes feel people too easily focus on the holocaust and ignore similar thigns still going on, it's easy to be indignant about the past we had no part in rather than face up to things we might be partially responsible for ourselves, at least in terms of what our country is doing, now.

kidsRTW Tue 23-Jun-09 09:38:11

ACtually, I can add a very positive experience.
My kids (German part jewish background, living in UK)obviously went therough the WW2 stuff at school who integrated their German experiences and viewpoints fantastically. The class communicated via emails with my aunt who was in the kinderlandverschickung and compared her experiences to some of the UK grandparents' with the obvious result that they recognised that everyone suffered!
We visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam etc and have discussed issues as they arose rather than making a big thing like the often planned 'birds and bees' type talk out of it.
Remember, this all is soooo far away for them - whereas I remember it all being very tagible still growning up in the Germany of the 70s and 80s. And, yes, I guess in germany kids still get a bit oversaturated with it - I remember being bored out of my brain after the third round of that particular history topic.....

weegiemum Tue 23-Jun-09 10:57:47

Dh has just insisted that I tell you he won 2nd prize when he was dressed as Hitler but his German Dad drew the swastika the wrong way round.

He had to go on the bus to the fancy dress part - on his own (this was 1978) as he lived a mile from the cubs.

MmeLindt Tue 23-Jun-09 11:09:59

Weegie
How absolutely crazy of your DH's parents. Do you remember the outcry when Prince Harry went to a fancy dress party dressed as a Nazi?

What was the prize, btw?

And <snurk> at the thought of a pintsized Hitler on the bus to the cubs.

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