September 11, 2012

Words fail me

“Wait,” said Zachary, “was it World War One or World War Two that had the Nayzeyes?”

It’s a pretty good bet when he mispronounces something that he learned about it through reading. We’ve never discussed the Holocaust with him, not being big into explaining genocide to small children. Somewhere along the line, he’d picked up the word.

Last night, I asked him what he knew about the Nazis. “Hitler was their ruler,” he replied. “They were in Germany and the United States fought them. And they put their prisoners into these suffocation rooms that spray out gas.” OK, so he’s gotten the basic points: bad guy with dinky moustache, on the other side of the war, gas chambers.

There are some holes in his background, which makes sense since apparently he pieced it together from snippets of 39 Clues and a plaque he saw on the wall of the Smithsonian. I don’t like to think of him learning about the Holocaust this way. Much as I didn’t want him to learn about sex haphazardly, I don’t want him to get wrong or scarier-than-it-needs-to-be information on the Holocaust. Especially given the biggest hole in his comprehension.

He doesn’t seem to have figured out that Hitler targeted the Jews.

I shudder to think of the nightmares that will come with that understanding, yet if he’s bound to learn it soon, I’d like it to be from us. He’s only eight, but he’s already eight. He’s at this age when we can’t control what he takes in, but maybe we can still influence how he takes it in. If only I knew the right way to handle this. I have a call in to the Education Rabbi at our synagogue to see if she has any insight. Given that she’s the Education Rabbi and all.

Anyone have any experience with this one?

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  • Reply lifeineden September 12, 2012 at 12:37 am

    No. But I’d love to hear the advice you get. I find these things so tough. These topics that are not for kids, but are so big in our social and historical records that references to them become pervasive.

  • Reply Issa September 12, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I’ve had trouble with this one. Although, hey explaining 9/11 to my 8 year old this week, wasn’t fun either.

    Morgan wanted to read a book last year, Number the Stars, mostly because it was on a list of Newbery winners. At first I wasn’t sure if I’d let her, but in the end, I re-read it and decided to let her go ahead. It touches on the Holocaust, without being so graphic. I’ve found, it let to more questions over time. Even more now.

    So I guess my advice is to find a book or something that touches on it. It’s a starting point and then they learn more over time. Which I find tends to be my favorite way to teach kids the hard things. Start small and build it up over time. It hurts to explain this stuff to kids, especially when I get into personal family stories. Then again, it is a major part of history and they do need to learn and understand.

  • Reply WendyElissa September 12, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    I shared this post with the former Education Director at our temple (she now works in St. Louis) and this is what she wrote back:

    As a parent, I am pretty honest with Sienna. I follow the theory out there about being honest with kids about the event, but not giving too much detail. So with the Holocaust, Sienna knows about Hitler and his followers who hated people because they were Jewish (and/or gay, communist, or had learning challenges) and wanted to kill them all. At 6 (this past spring), I didn’t tell her how they were killed, but she knows that Hitler and the Nazis had a system for taking all the Jews from their homes and putting them in concentration camps (careful how I use the word camp so she didn’t associate it negatively with her camp). I didn’t explain the gas chambers or the shootings, because I didn’t think she needed to be scared of the details. I also used it as an opportunity to talk about how hate, for no reason, can be something that is so destructive, and we don’t hate just because people are different. And then even if we hate (terrorists or such), there is still a difference between hating and killing.

  • Reply Lilian Nattel September 13, 2012 at 4:31 am

    It’s a tough one. I felt the same as you and have been able to shelter my kids for a surprisingly (to me) long time. I just answered their questions as honestly as I could in an age appropriate way. I emphasize that we are living in a safe place. For me there is always a tenuousness about that, which isn’t there for them because their personal lives have been safe, while mine wasn’t. So their world feels safe and secure to them, and the fact that bad things happen elsewhere is upsetting, but all they need to do is to return to their present sense of safety for grounding.

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