Teaching children about hatred

I cannot remember how it came up. Maybe Kiddo#2 asked me what Nazis were. Maybe she wanted to know why countries just didn’t decide to have peace.

She’s in fifth grade. By the time I was in fifth grade, we’d done maybe ten units on the Holocaust in my school. Public school in NYC, gifted program, 90% of the class Jewish…and one teacher in my school reportedly with numbers tattooed on her arm. The teachers related just about everything they could back to the Holocaust. We read books about it and watched films. We didn’t touch much on World War II, but I left grammar school knowing everything you could about concentration camps.

But my daughter, at age ten, hadn’t heard at all about the Holocaust.

So I told her.

I told her who among her friends would have been deemed unfit to live. I told her who in our family would have been killed when the concentration camp guards sorted out the people coming off the trains. I told her what life would be like for the ones deemed fit to work, at least until they weren’t fit to work any longer.

I couldn’t think of how to give her a scope of how many people died. My Patient Husband said, “Think about when you go to New York City. Imagine someone killing every single person there.”

Kiddo#3 said, “But why didn’t they just run away?”

I said, “Where would they run?”

My Patient Husband said, “Would you run away if they said they’d shoot all the rest of us if you did?”

I said to Kiddo#2, “If your friend ### was told they’d shoot YOU if she tried to run away, would she run?”

Kiddo#2 said, “No. She wouldn’t.”

Kiddo#3 wanted to see pictures of war. The kids did not, thank God, ask to see pictures of the concentration camps. I had a book with some heartbreaking photos of what the war did to the Italian countryside and the Italian people.

They were really quiet after that. I guess I’m glad to know they find that degree of hatred incomprehensible. (Last year, Kiddo#2, when I tried to explain the concept of racism, shrugged it off with, “Well that’s dumb!”)

But it was sobering to have to explain to them the kind of world where they live.


  1. littlehouseofpenguins

    They might be at a good age for “Twenty and Ten.” Good post, though! I can’t believe that schools aren’t teaching about the Nazis anymore. We’re homeschooling, and I’m worried about the other direction–introducing some of those topics too early, before they can handle it.

    Such a great opportunity to talk about the contrast between how God wanted us to live (Garden of Eden, etc.) and what the world looks like when we let Satan into our lives.

    1. philangelus

      Fortunately I didn’t need to highlight the contrast there. I could tell they both got just how serious it was.

      I’m rather startled though and I need to ask my oldest what they taught him.

  2. whiskers09092006

    You are such good parents. Thank you.

    1. philangelus

      I don’t know about good parents. But they needed to hear this stuff.

  3. Cricket

    Little and gentle, as they ask, works for most tough topics.

    They do Diary of Ann Frank in grade 5 year, age 10. They also do Beverly Cleary and, get this — Mr. Popper’s Penguins, the original novel! Grade 7 is Dickens, with social setting.

    1. Wyldkat

      Ironically, I have never read Anne Frank. For some reason the schools in California didn’t have us reading that until middle school and I had moved by then.

    2. philangelus

      I don’t think they teach the Diary of Anne Frank in this school system. Kiddo#1 never read it. Although to be fair, I have no idea how he’d have handled it.

  4. Wyldkat

    When I was a bit older, Grade 7 I think, I read a book called “The Endless Steppe”. Auto-biograhy by Esther Hautzig’s about her life after being exiled to Siberia during WWII (partially) because they were Jewish. If you can find the book in your library and take a look at it, decide it you think the kids are ready for it.

    I havn’t read the book since then, and half the time I can’t recall the title, but the impression the book made on me has lasted over 30 years.

    1. philangelus

      I’ll see if I can find that, thanks. Kiddo#2 seems to only read books about magical cats, but I can certainly read it and encourage her to…

  5. Pat

    I don’t think we were ever taught about the Holocaust in school, either. (This would be the sixties and seventies.) Every girl in my school read Anne Frank, though. As far as I can remember, that’s all the “education” we had in the subject.

    But then, we didn’t really study “history” at all. Not relevant, doncha know.