Author Archives: Ann Moline

Ann Moline

About Ann Moline

Ann Moline is a freelance writer and journalist living in Alexandria, Virginia. She and her husband, Jack, are the parents of three children.

Teaching the Holocaust

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family and Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children, published by Golden Books.

Few topics spark greater debate and controversy than when and how to introduce the Holocaust curriculum in school. In Hebrew schools across the country, debate rages over the right time to begin instruction. Jewish day schools wonder about including the youngest children in school-wide Holocaust Memorial Day observances. In the public schools, civic-minded parents fight to have the topic included as a standard part of the high school 20th-century history curriculum, while others argue that it does not belong.

Terezin concentration camp

Why does this topic stir up so much emotion? Michael Platt, principal of Salisbury High School in Allentown, Pennsylvania, believes that parents are generally uncomfortable talking about difficult issues with their children. “To make a rather unusual analogy, talking with your kids about the Holocaust is a little like talking with your kids about human sexuality. Most parents would prefer that the schools take care of it.”

Platt says that parents want to remain an all-knowing force in their children’s lives. “When the kids ask questions for which there are no answers, like ‘Why did God let the Holocaust happen?’ parents may feel that they are diminished in their children’s eyes. That is not the case, but it is a presumption on the part of many parents.”

Another factor may be the desire to protect our children. As Jewish parents who are well entrenched in American life, we have worked hard to create an idyllic world for our children. Most are third- or fourth-generation Americans, far removed from the traumas of the immigrant experience. They lead privileged lives, knowing that their path will probably take them to college and on to graduate school or into business. They can achieve whatever they want in an environment that is largely without overt prejudice.

We are the ones who have worked to establish this world for our children. And we constantly try to ensure that nothing will puncture the safety of that world. Can it be that we are afraid of introducing the Holocaust into that picture-perfect world? Will telling our children that six million Jews died terrible deaths while the world stood by shatter the world we worked so hard to create?

Discussing the Holocaust with Children

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family and Life: Traditions, Holidays, and Values for Today’s Parents and Children, published by Golden Books.

When Charlene Schiff turned 11, she had survived three years on her own, living in a forest in the Ukraine. By night she foraged in nearby barns for food; by day she hid in shallow holes she dug, covering herself with leaves. At 11, Charlene was a veteran of the forests, maintaining a routine that ultimately saved her life. For those three years she lived by her wits, eating anything that came to hand, worrying about what happened to her family, constantly moving from one hiding place to the next in a frantic race to evade the German armies who patrolled the countryside. She forgot the sound of her own voice, for she never spoke, not even to herself.

When Jewish-American children turn 11, they stand on the threshold of independence, looking ahead with excitement to the wonders of middle school and the bar and bat mitzvah. They forage in the refrigerator for snacks, and hide from their siblings in their rooms. At 11, our children are veterans of Hebrew school and soccer fields, maintaining a routine of activities, which will ultimately be listed on college applications. They worry over changes in their bodies. They constantly move from one best friend to the next. They are in a frantic race to keep up with their own busy lives.

holocaust childrenOur children’s lives are far removed from the terrors of the Holocaust. Many of them have no firsthand knowledge of survivors. Indeed, many have never been touched directly by anti-Semitism. As Americans, our national passion is to prolong our children’s childhoods; as Jews, our natural instinct is to protect our children from the existence and history of anti-Semitism. How, then, do we address with them an event of such enormity as the Holocaust, and when do we start?

While no one set of definitive answers exists, there is a general consensus among Holocaust educators. “Teaching about the Holocaust before the age of eight is counterproductive. Children will only come away with nightmares,” says Shari Werb, an educator with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. “Even eight is very young, unless the family has first hand experience and there is a reason to talk about it.”