Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day occurs on the 27th day of Nisan (barring Shabbat does not also occur). This is a day when we remember the six million Jews and others who perished during the Holocaust.
The Holocaust is a difficult and complex topic to approach with children, and – yet – most of us feel the urgent need to make our children aware of this part of our history. We yearn to keep our children protected from the harsh realities of our world and cushion their innocence against adult-made decisions that make no sense. Reality is such that we cannot hide the evils of the world from our children. They will hear us whispering, despite our best efforts. They will learn from other children at school. They might read something in a book.
The foundation we build for our children helps them get through and make sense of inexplicable events. Our efforts to build children with strong identities, children who are resilient, and children who are not afraid to stand on their own two feet will strengthen them and give them the capability to face the more harsh realities of the world.
There is no set age at which to begin talking about the Holocaust with children. It is the parent who knows his or her child best and what he or she can handle. Sometimes, age has nothing to do with it. Beginning to talk with a child too early or before he or she is mature enough can develop into nightmares and trauma.
Open communication is essential when educating about the Holocaust. When a child asks a question, it should be answered – though the answer should be weighted. Hear their questions through their age and through their eyes. What is it he is really asking? Is she seeking reassurance of her safety, curious about details, or expressing an anxiety she is feeling?
Do not leave Holocaust education to your religious school or day school teachers, though you should certainly turn to them for guidance. Holocaust education takes place within a multi-leveled spiral with layers upon layers. Younger children are taught and told certain things, and it is built upon in subsequent years.
Survivors, more than anyone else, tell us that we need to educate our children in order to ensure that it never happens again. This has been the motivation for many Holocaust survivors to come forward with stories that truly feel unspeakable.
Start talking with young children about topics of tolerance and acceptance, caring for others, and the worth of each individual human being. There are activities and books to reinforce these themes, and everyday situations can be used to emphasize their lessons.
As children get older, there are physical actions that can help bridge their learning. Lighting a yartzeit candle, reading children’s books, or attending a memorial event designed specifically for children. More structured and specific materials for teaching older children exist for students in sixth or seventh grade, around when children turn 11-years old.
Regardless of their age, using shock, fear, or your own anger to teach is not appropriate. You should always remain cognizant of the impact your discussion is having on your children and be able to modify the discussion when necessary.
Existing curriculums created by museums, universities, and Jewish organizations can aid you in addressing the Holocaust within your family. Books and teaching aids speaking directly or indirectly about issues related to the Holocaust are easily found in libraries, bookstores, and through Jewish institutions.
Holocaust Remembrance Day speaks to and has an impact on each of us. We have our own emotions wrapped up in this piece of history. When it comes to our children, it is important to take their personalities, curiosity, and maturity levels into account before educating them on the Holocaust.