How to Teach our Children about the Holocaust

Two BrothersCredit: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumCredit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Children of the Holocaust

Since the Holocaust was so catastrophic and vast in scope, it is often times very difficult to capture and represent its image on film, television, theatre and literature, without trivializing the event. However, the task becomes even more daunting and challenging when dealing with representing the Holocaust to children. Children are seen as pure, innocent, happy and carefree. These emotions are a direct contrast to the feelings often associated with the Holocaust. Although some parents may not permit their children to read books on the Holocaust because they deem it to be inappropriate, there are other aspects to consider. In Representing the Holocaust in Children's Literature, Lydia Kokkola, asserts that even if children read Holocaust books, there is still that concern “that children will not recognize the factuality of what they read” (2). Despite all this, many authors have written books on the Holocaust that target young readers.

The Children We Remember

Simplicity is the driving force behind the book, The Children We Remember. The framework of the book is established around black and white photos that are placed in some kind of chronological order, giving the reader a sense of the passage of time through what is depicted in the photos. It is divided into three clear sections, which include the life of children before the Nazis, during the Nazis, and after the Nazis. The words that appear at the bottom of each paragraph serve as brief captions. It is the contents of the photos that really affect the reader, and the emotions that stem from the content that allows for the human heart to be stripped bare. Although, to a child, the message may not be as lucid, it renders and allows for some kind of retrospective look at the meaning of life.

Dear Mili

Dear Mili is another children’s book that centers on the Holocaust. Instead of depending on stark, black and white photos depicted in The Children We RememberDear Mili relies on luscious and colorful illustrations combined with a strong story that deals with a mother who sends her child to the woods in order to protect her from the atrocities of war. The child later comes back to be reunited with her mother and sees the vast changes that have taken place. In many ways, the illustrations are the strongest elements of the book because it is rich and beautiful with many depictions of trees and flowers, but at the same time contrasted by images of white bones and death. The events of the Holocaust are more implicitly implied in this book, compared to The Children We Remember.

Things to Consider 

Since they are written for the purpose of children viewing, both books approach the subject matter of the Holocaust carefully, avoiding to dwell at the actual core of the event. In Sparing the Child: Grief and the Unspeakable in Youth Literature about Nazism and the Holocaust, Hamida Bosmajian writes, “picture books reveal unintentionally the adult’s struggle with Holocaust language and imagery and, by reducing the disaster into simple tales of the mythos of ‘eternal return’ or historical linearity, they reveal the pathos inherent in the adult’s struggle to communicate the unspeakable to a child” (221). It is very difficult to represent the Holocaust into a form that is acceptable for children, and how it should be done is open to contention.