How to talk with kids about the Holocaust
Every family has its own unique story when it comes to the Holocaust. Every child’s personality and experiences are unique, as is every parent’s. For this reason, we would like to share some tips and recommendations on how to take advantage of the 6 Million Steps community project to talk with your kids about the Holocaust in a safe and manageable environment. We invite you to take your family for a walk to honor the memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust and to talk about this complex subject.
You will find information and questions below on how to manage these discussions with your children and how to help them process and understand the events that happened during these dark times.
General tips on how to talk about Holocaust with kids
• Take a deep breath.
These are not easy conversations, but your child will need you to be calm and confident in order for them to feel safe.
• Start slowly.
Especially with younger children. Keep it brief at the beginning, listen to your child, and give them the chance to signal to you how much information they are ready to receive.
• Be honest and positive.
Affirm the hard reality, share your sadness, give your child as much information as they can process an understand, but don’t sugar-coat the truth. Your honesty will help your kid feel more secure.
• Emphasize tolerance.
The first step to Holocaust education is teaching tolerance. Think about topics familiar to your child such as bullying and inclusion in their classroom, among their peers and in their community.
• Remember that love is stronger than hate.
Validate your child’s (and your) feelings of anger and fear, then navigate the conversation toward constructive actions to combat every kind of bullying, prejudice, and hate, including antisemitism.
Elementary school students – Teach beyond the facts
We know it is difficult to talk with young children about the horrors that happened during the Holocaust. However, it is essential to begin these conversations at a young age. Remember, your child may be exposed to this topic through school, friends, TV, and/or social media. You want to be the one who is introducing this complicated matter. We recommend starting these conversations from a young age, but not too young. Most Holocaust educators recommend beginning around the age of 8. It is important to be cautious, we do not want to traumatize our children, so at this age we will not talk about the specific details and horrors associated with the Holocaust. You want your child to understand what happened, without scaring them. Try to create a distance between history and today. Tell the story of the Holocaust more like the Purim story – an evil person wanted to eliminate us, but we survived. The conversation about the Holocaust shouldn’t concentrate on dry facts but on human behavior. Talk about the Holocaust in terms of right and wrong – what is the right thing to do, when all other people are doing the wrong things.
If you have a personal family story about the Holocaust, this is a good opportunity to begin sharing your family’s history. If not, you can choose one of the stories on this website to make the conversation more personal. Elementary-age students are able to empathize with individual accounts, but they often have difficulty placing them in a larger historical context.
Middle school & High school students – Dive deeper in to the subject
We assume that at this age, your child has already been exposed to the Holocaust. Maybe they learned about it during History class, or from a personal family story. Ask them what they know about the topic and if they have any questions. With each conversation, you should try to have a more in-depth discussion about the Holocaust and the complexity of this world. Students grades six and above demonstrate the ability to empathize with individual eyewitness accounts, as well as the ability to understand the complexities of Holocaust history, including its scope and scale.
The Holocaust wasn’t one event and it did not happen all at once. It was the result of circumstances, events and individual decisions that played out over several years. At this age, we can begin talking with kids about the social and political circumstances that led to the Holocaust. Here you can discuss the dangers of exclusion, xenophobia, and turning our backs when something terrible is happening to somebody else.
You can use The Quotation by Niemöller to open the conversation:
First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Depending on your child’s age and knowledge of history, you can begin by discussing antisemitism and how Jews were excluded from many different societies. Ask your child if they faced antisemitism at school, from peers, or online.
With older children, you can talk about propaganda and how most Germans cooperated with the Nazi ideology. This is a good place to talk about the role of people who didn’t collaborate, but also didn’t do anything to stop it. They just stood by.
In addition, it is important to talk with teenagers about why it is crucial that the world does not forget the lessons of the Holocaust, and why the phenomenon of trivialization of the Holocaust and Nazi symbols is so dangerous. Ask your kid if they saw examples of trivialization. What did they think and how did it make them feel about it?
While these conversations are not easy to have, they are crucial in order to pass down our collective memory of the Holocaust and to ensure that it never happens again! We would like to thank you for participating in such an important community project.