How to Teach Children About the Holocaust

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As a Messianic family that loves Israel and the Jewish people, this subject is near and dear to my heart. I’m grappling with how to teach children about the Holocaust. My boys are 14, 12, and 10, so shielding them from the atrocities is not really necessary, but obviously, we will approach the subject from an age-appropriate point of view.  But from what perspective do you teach it? There are so many facets that need to be covered and discussed, it is hard to determine the place to dive in.  How do you make this subject manageable?

How to Teach Children About the Holocaust

I have been teaching the boys about the Holocaust for many years, but this year we are trying something new.  This year we are joining our friends over at the Homeschool Roster for a field trip to see a play at Playhouse on the Square, Wendy Kesselman’s adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank. We are going to examine how the Holocaust impacted one family, and really, just one girl. A girl about the same age as my boys. A girl who also attended a Montessori school. A girl who loved the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In preparation for us seeing the play, we have started reading the Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank. As always, we purchased a Kindle version so I can share it on all of their Kindles and they can read along. However, I am reading it aloud to the entire family. (Yes, we still read to the boys!)  In order to really understand the Holocaust, our children have to see and feel Antisemitism. I think that is a hard concept to teach when it is impersonal. Teaching it from one person’s perspective makes it more “real” or identifiable. It makes it personal.  You certainly don’t have to use Anne Frank as your person  you follow, there are several biographies out there to choose from.  I have provided some of the well known biographies below that have great reviews.

 


When teaching such a difficult subject, it helps to define your objectives clearly.  For a Middle and High School homeschool, your list of objectives might look something like this:

judaism1.  Acquaint your children with basic beliefs and customs of Judaism and the roots of Christianity.  This might be accomplished by visiting a Rabbi or synagogue to discuss some of the basic rituals and beliefs of Judaism. You can also purchase a children’s book on Judaism such as Celebrate, a book of Jewish Holidays or Judaism, a DK Eyewitness Book

2.  Acquaint your children with what antisemitism is. I highly recommend you create timelines depicting the major events of antisemitism. antisemitism Because this started long before Hitler. I can guarantee that you will learn something yourself with researching this topic. I did and still do every single time I study this topic.  I am horrified at what these people have been through.

WWII Europe19143.  Define:  democracy, fascism, communism, and socialism. Have your children list countries where each of these ideologies existed during the Holocaust. As a great extension for older children, have them list countries where these ideologies exist today.  A basic google search will provide the answers for this.  You might consider creating 3×5 cards for the various characteristics for each ideology.  And create Venn diagrams on where they ideologies overlap.  Mapping the countries involved in World War II (maps for the area and time and study guides to go with the maps) and defining their ideologies as we map them.  Examine the efforts of Roosevelt and Churchill in Europe during World War II.

4.  Your children should have a basic understanding of what the end of World War I was and the Versailles Treaty.  Be sure they understand WWIthe economic, social, and political conditions in Germany from the end of WWI through 1933.  Again, a basic google search will provide these answers.  Here is a comparison chart for WWI and WWII

nazi5.  Discuss Hitler’s rise to power.  Do the same for Nazi power and the basic ideas of Nazi philosophy and their Nazi control over the German people.  Books to consider on this topic: Adolf Hitler: Wicked History, The Life and Death of Hitler, Adolf Hitler: Evil Mastermind of the Holocaust.  The Nazis, Why did the Rise of the Nazis Happen?

Apathy6.  Recognize and discuss the effects of apathy and indifference.  Discuss why Germans may have done nothing when confronted with behavior they knew was wrong. How is not acting making a choice?

propaganda7.  Discuss examples of how propaganda was used.  Discuss if propaganda is used in the United States.  Examples include television advertisers, government, foreign government, political parties, etc. How do you determine if it is propaganda?  How do you refute it? What is rumor? How does it start? Why is it believed? Why does this belief often persist? There are some great logic books that will teach how to identify fallacies.  Fallacy Detectives and The Art of Argument

8.  Finally, be sure to look for the heroes.  We always end such a horrific topic with something uplifting and encouraging.  Varian Fry, Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler, Rescue: The Story of how Gentiles Saved Jews in the Holocaust, Rescuing the Children: The Kindertransport, Luba and hundreds more.

Disclosure

Some extensions we will be doing that go along with the Anne Frank Diary

 

We are using the Journal of Anne Frank as our immersion into the Holocaust.  So, below is how we will accomplish the objectives listed above using Anne Frank as our eyes and ears.

We are Messianic, so we keep the Biblical feasts and many of the rituals the Jewish people did already.  I think that helps us more fully grasp what the Jewish people experienced because we do some of the very things Anne Frank discusses in her diary.

As part of our History studies, we have become attuned at looking at the antisemitism aspect of the period throughout history.  We will be looking at the antisemitism this time from Anne Frank’s eyes and journal.  We will document what she saw and experienced.

Create a Timeline of Anne Frank’s Life on a poster board, under it create a timeline for The War and major political events, Inventions and discoveries happening at the same time, People, arts, theater, music, film, and sports items that were happening, our family history during that time.

Mapping Anne Frank family’s moves.

I hope this has been helpful for you to consider ways to teach this subject to your children.  These suggestions really apply to upper elementary, middle and high school students.  I would not necessarily do all of these suggestions, unless you are doing this as a complete unit study and have 4 – 6 weeks dedicated to the topic.

Until next time….

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Trish Corlew

Founder and Author at Live and Learn Farm
Trish has been married to her best friend, David, for 16 years and they have three sons (aged 13, 12 and 9). Trish is from the coast of North Carolina, but they now live in rural West Tennessee on a 40+ acre farm. She has been homeschooling since 2009 and her homeschool style leans towards a Montessori approach with a heavy emphasis on hands-on learning. They also own a small business that Trish runs from home. Trish’s family is Messianic and they love studying the Scriptures, learning Hebrew and growing in their faith and walk daily. In her spare time, Trish loves to write, work in their garden and can regularly be found trying to learn something new, modeling that learning is indeed a life-long endeavor!

Comments

  1. Hi Trish-
    Way back when I was a classroom teacher, I taught units on the Holocaust for several years to kids around the same ages as yours. I do remember that part of the unit focused on propaganda and a timeline activity of the escalation of persecution. I’d suggest contacting one of the National Holocaust Museums here in the U.S. (one’s in Washington, D.C.) and seeing what teaching materials they can offer now. They had a lot of materials developed for teaching kids about the subject, and I still have a collection of excellent educational posters from them I used to hang up around the room. We used to show the film “Miracle at Midnight” too. Kept the truly terrible photos away from them- too much to take in. Elie Wiesel’s book Night might be a good read for older teens.
    Sounds like you’ve got a strong unit going!
    Lily :)

  2. We use Tapestry of Grace for our homeschool history, so we aren’t quite here yet (we are currently pre-Civil War). I appreciate your principle of finding goals to work through the tough subjects. I recognize that we all teach and focus on the things that are important to us, but I also try to teach my children that these tough moments were tough for a lot of groups, not just the Jews. Hitler killed the mentally retarded, the homosexual, and Christians. Also, I was wondering if you address the discrepancy of the total numbers of reported deaths with the lack of physical evidence emerging from this era? I still love what you do with this study and plan to incorporate it into our WWII unit study when the time comes.

    • Thank you for your thoughts and kind words about the blog. Regarding your question, I would be surprised if there was physical evidence to support the numbers … given that vast numbers of people were incinerated after they were killed. The historical documentation is a more accurate record and that does support the 6 million number. ~Trish

  3. Hi Trish, it’s Jackie stopping by from the February Let’s Homeschool High School Blog Hop.

    What a grea post about such an important part of history. I appreciate the resource links you provided and activities. My daughter and I have read The Diary of Anne Frank, but have never really gone much further, so your activities will come in handy.

    I also wanted to thank you for linking up with our Blog Hop this month. I look forward to you linking up in March.

    Joyfully,
    Jackie
    Let’s Homeschool High School Admn.
    http://letshomeschoolhighschool.com/2014/02/04/homeschool-high-school-february-2014-blog-hop/

  4. Thank you for this post! We are reading Milkweed for our book club and throughout the year many issues of the Holocaust have come up organically in our learning. I am using Milkweed to dig deeper into the socio-political issues of this era in history. I just copied the timeline you linked to as I am creating a story board and I put several of the movies your commenters recommended on my Amazon Watchlist and ordered the biography of Adolf Hitler. Your post has helped me build a more complete well rounded study.

  5. Thank you for this. It is such a sensitive subject that should be taught with love and care. you have me some great ideas to help my kids understand.

  6. My husband and I are watching an older movie about Raoul Wallenberg right now (well, we watch about an hour before bed and then continue whatever movie we’re on the next night or so). Thanks for this list of recources. I’m going to pin this for future reference to use with our boys. #BB100

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