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.