Marked today International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 76th anniversary of the liberation from Auschwitz-Birkenau. While it’s an important day for adults to remember the atrocities of the Holocaust and to honor the six million Jews killed, you may also be wondering how much – if anything – you should teach your children. Although most educators believe that the Holocaust shouldn’t be officially taught until middle school, it can show up at your home earlier, or children outside the home can find out about it and come to you with questions.
When do you start the conversation?
Developmental psychologist and author Dr. Dona Matthews writes for Psychology today Depending on your family’s history and experience, the Holocaust may become relevant to different families at different times and in different ways. But sometimes kids learn from it at school or hear details from friends before you think they are ready. As Matthews recalls:
When my grandson was in first grade, his school – a Toronto public school – celebrated Holocaust Remembrance Day by sharing terrible details, including the fact that children and entire families were taken out of their homes and sent to shower where they died. Theo is a resourceful, sensitive, and empathetic kid, and it was a long time before he stopped having nightmares.
I am very happy that educators are beginning to understand the importance of Holocaust education, but 6 is far too young for a child to understand such details. Most of the material produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is intended for ages 11 and 12, and not earlier.
However, if children come to you with questions at a younger age, it is still important Says Matthewsto answer them honestly, but age-appropriately. Ask them what they heard and confirm what is true, focusing on the fact that it was a terrible time for us to remember what happened so that we can make sure it never happens again. Make sure to ask if they have any other questions and follow their directions. Children are good at showing us how much information they want or are ready.
If you can wait until they’re a little older, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says children from sixth grade begin to process the complexities of Holocaust history. Until then, the museum website says:
Elementary school can be an ideal place to discuss the value of diversity and the dangers of bias and prejudice. These critical issues can be addressed through local and national historical events and heightened during later study of the Holocaust.
The conversations you have with your children when they are young about bias, discrimination, and the importance of inclusivity will form the basis of the discussions you have with children about the Holocaust as they get older.
Resources for families
If your child is learning about the Holocaust at school and wants more information – or you’ve decided to explore its history together – this is it US Holocaust Memorial Museum is a great place to start. It has a variety of resources for children and parents to read and look at together and a Guide for teachers This can also be helpful for parents to help define the Holocaust, use concise language, avoid generalizations, and contextualize the story. I would encourage parents to check out some Videos on the site Firstly, before watching it with your kids as there may be pictures or other content that is too difficult for some.
If your kids enjoy learning through storytelling, here are some titles for your older elementary or middle school age child (I suggest you read the books too so you can discuss them together):
1. I survived the Nazi invasion in 1944: Written by Lauren Tarshis, this is the ninth book in her popular “I survivedSeries of historical stories from the perspective of a child.
2. Number the stars: This historical story was written by Lois Lowry and follows 10-year-old Annemarie Johansen, whose family takes in her best friend Ellen Rosen to hide her when German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” Jews in Denmark.
3. Anne Frank: A young girl’s diary: 13-year-old Anne Frank kept a diary while her family and one other family were in hiding for two years during the German occupation of Holland, until they were discovered and captured in August 1944.
If you want more ideas, Common Sense Media has compiled a complete list of books on the Holocaust for young people to read.