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Rosensweig: How do I teach my son about the Holocaust?

(Pixabay photo)

I can’t do it – I can’t tell my 12-year-old son about the gas chambers.

How did you teach your children about the Holocaust and at what age? Did you feel you were inundating them with scary images that would likely stay with them for the rest of their lives? How did you overcome that natural parental drive to protect your little boy or girl from the ugly truth that evil is a part of the human condition?

A friend of mine said, “Teach Noah The Diary of Anne Frank.” So I began. Now the Franks are about to go into hiding. I see my son’s face scrunch up. I see him clutching himself as a form of self-soothing.

I cannot bare his pain. I can barely listen to his young voice saying, “Daddy, I thought it would be worse.” And I had to tell him, “Honey, it’s going to get worse.” Again, that look on his face.


My son, Noah, asked: “Why would Hitler kill us just because we’re Jewish?”

“I don’t know my dear boy. Bad people hate. They hated us.” I haven’t told him that many still do.

I hold back my tears. I think about Anne Frank, a 15-year-old girl who was brimming with life and was taken away and allowed to die in a concentration camp. Why? Because she was Jewish.

And then the inevitable happened to me, just like it might have happened to you while you educated your child about the Holocaust: I began seeing Nazis in my dreams. They were coming for us. I saw those lowlifes grabbing for me, grabbing for my son (God forbid) and I couldn’t protect him. I heard him yelling, “Because we are Jewish, dad. Save me.” But I couldn’t move, let alone kill those despicably weak men showing their strength by stealing someone’s child – my child.

And while these pictures penetrated my survival filters (the ones I’ve developed to let me continue on in life knowing that such savagery exists), I became more distrustful of others. I watched happy little kids walking by a restaurant window I was sitting in and I wondered if someone would scoop them up. Eventually, I forced these thoughts away – mostly. Yet I continued to wonder if we are doing enough to fight anti-Semitism and hatred in today’s world; if I am doing enough to thwart evil. I think not.

I’m writing this on a beautiful day, but I can’t bask in the sunshine, because as I do, I think about sunny days in Auschwitz. What could have been worse? Rainy slushy days would have made sense, but not days on which the birds were singing ever so sweetly, against the backdrop of normally peaceful and soothing winds.

I ponder: how, my fellow Jews, do I impart to my beautiful, innocent son that Jews, Roma, homosexuals, physically handicapped and so many other innocent people were hurt and killed by other human beings? How do I teach my child about Jew hatred and those killers who would do away with us if democracy fell?

How am I supposed to define humankind in all of this? How do I define God? How do I teach a boy living in a blessed time, who feels guilty if he steps on an ant, about such an utterly shameful time in human history? How do I answer questions about the world’s weak response to evil today?

How do you?