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, facts, and especially the images. A thoughtful approach is required when – not if – you teach your tween grandchild about the Holocaust.
There are many ways to lead into the subject at younger ages. The approach should be tailored to the child’s temperament, emotional development, how much they already know, and what is prompting them to ask questions. 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 (of the camps)” 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; as with all difficult subjects, you should be certain that you and the child’s parents are on the same page about what is appropriate.
Reading and discussing books can be a doorway into 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 younger children that explore the importance of memory, human dignity, and standing up for others. There are even picture books set in World War II-era 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 helpful resources.