Sisterhood Blog

My Son Already Knew About the Holocaust

By Frimet Goldberger

  • Print
  • Share Share

Thinkstock

One Sunday late last year, while on a biweekly library run with my children, I picked up an illustrated book about Anne Frank from the kids’ section.

“What’s that book, mom?” my son inquired, as he cleared the shelf of Franklin W. Dixon’s “The Hardy Boys.”

I quickly hid it between the stash of books in our library backpack, and pointed out that he missed one book in the “The Hardy Boys” series. I did not know what to tell him. How do you begin a conversation about something so elemental, something so close to home, something that is bound to give a child endless nightmares and shatter his sense of safety in the little bubble we created for him?

When I was around 9 or 10 years old, I discovered an English book in the wooden armoire where my mother stored all the non-Yiddish material in the home. This particular book, “Alone in the Forest,” caught my eye. The story was the memoir of a 12-year-old Jewish girl in Poland, Mala Szorer, who literally survived “alone in the forest” after her family was deported from the ghetto. She survived by foraging for food and relying on the occasional sympathetic peasant. I read it over the Sabbath, hiding out in my parents’ bathroom for long stretches of time. This girl — this little girl close to my own age — appeared in my dreams time and time again. I stared at the photo of the author in her post-Holocaust years, trying to fathom the suffering endured by her young self.

Now, I was not unaccustomed to Holocaust stories. Our bookshelves were filled with volumes of them — mostly historical and in Yiddish. What’s more, my father, a child of Holocaust survivors, would retell horror stories at the Sabbath table, and these stories became a part of my childhood. But “Alone in the Forest” had a tremendous impact on me. The fear of persecution finally registered, and it only strengthened as I continued making my way through the other materials in the closeted stash.

As a parent, I do not wish for my children to suffer such nightmares. Is it necessary for my children, who are seven and nine, to be acutely aware of atrocities at such a young age? What good will it do to teach our young about a gruesome genocide that happened not too far off in the past and to their own great-grandparents before they are ready to know the enormous truth?

When we arrived home from the library that Sunday in October, I hid the book in my night chest, thinking time would help me make the decision whether and when to introduce this part of our Jewish history. My children were blissfully unaware of the Holocaust and modern anti-Semitism in general. Or at least I thought so. In the end, my husband and I decided it best to wait a few years for him to become old enough to grasp the concept of suffering.

Then this happened: while sitting at the Sabbath table one weekend a couple months ago, and taking turns discussing our stories of the week, the books we read, and the fascinating mock trial my son and his classmates led one day during break, my son mentioned Hitler. My husband and I exchanged a quick glance of astonishment and proceeded to gently probe him of his knowledge. He knows all of it, he proclaimed matter-of-factly, from the historical books he reads. He knows that the Jews were interned in camps and starved to death; he knows of D-Day and the genius of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I asked if he ever heard of Anne Frank, the famous little girl.

“Yes, of course, I found that book in your night chest.”

I probed no further. Something in me was screaming “You shouldn’t have.” But observing my son’s rather unaffected reaction to all this, and knowing this book was only Holocaust lite, I knew he would not be haunted in the way I was.

Still, I wonder, at what age should children be introduced to the most recent and most destructive persecution in Jewish history? Should they be formally taught about it in school, at home, or not at all?

These are questions I have been grappling with recently. And as I sit at my computer watching footage of emaciated ghosts in concentration camps on YouTube — a personal tradition on Holocaust Memorial Day — I know that my children will never view these images in the way I do. Not only because they’re of the next generation, but also because the Holocaust does not loom like a dark cloud over their childhoods, as it did over mine. It is but another piece in the history of Jewish persecution — one that has not yet been written into the holy books and retold in the weekly parsha or on chagim.

As a parent, I want my children to be aware of their Jewish history — their entire Jewish history. I want them to also know of the suffering of their people, but not to invoke fear that this can happen here too — which is the message I grew up with. I want them to understand the beautiful, complex and too often horrific story of the Jewish people — a story of pride and perseverance.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: children, Holocaust, Jewish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.