How do I teach my 12-year-old grandchild about the Holocaust?

Answered by
Stephanie Fink, MAJCS, RJE

The Holocaust is an important topic not only in Jewish history, but in the history of humankind. The topic is disturbing, and it is appropriate to feel uncomfortable and upset by the stories, the facts, and especially the images. The topic requires a thoughtful approach to how – not if – your tween grandchild should be taught about the Holocaust.

There are many ways to lead into the subject at younger ages, depending on the child’s temperament and emotional development, how much the child already knows, and what is prompting the question. There is general agreement that parents and educators should be cautious about how much explicit detail children are exposed to before middle school, but that isn’t to say you should avoid the topic altogether.

In the field of Jewish education, the general guideline is to teach topics “up to the gates” until fifth grade. Yad Vashem - The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel requires visitors to its main exhibits to be at least 10 years old. Of course, parents know their own kids best – and as with all difficult subjects, it is best to be sure that you and the child’s parents are on the same page about what is appropriate.

Reading and discussing books together can be a doorway into topics related to Holocaust history. In some public schools, students read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars in 4th grade and The Diary of Anne Frank in 5th or 6th grade. There are developmentally appropriate books for even younger children that explore the importance of memory, of human dignity, of standing up for others, as well as picture books set in that historical time period in Europe. For additional book suggestions, we recommend searching the titles curated by PJ Library® and PJ Our Way®.

I encourage you also to reach out to the rabbi, cantor, or educator at your synagogue (and if you don’t yet belong to a synagogue, you can find one through our directory). This is an area in which they are likely to have some expertise, and they should be able to provide some helpful resources.