Mama Madison: Talking with kids about the Holocaust

Works of art are a helpful entry point

Growing up in a predominantly Jewish suburb of Washington, D.C., discussions of the Holocaust permeated many aspects of my life. The Shoah was definitely a major touchpoint of my formal religious education; in Hebrew school, I learned of Hitler's atrocities not only from textbooks and lectures, but also from interactions with the survivors who regularly visited classes to share their painful, personal stories. Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank were heroes in our house; Night and Frank's diary were prominently displayed on both my parents' and grandparent's bookshelves. And even on the most banal of home front issues, Nazi war crimes weighed heavy. To this day, my father has refused to buy either a German made car or dishwasher.

My choice of childhood reading was also influenced by a hatred of Hitler. A favorite book in fifth grade was Judy Blame's classic, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself . And while I didn't, as did the book's title character, grow up fearing Nazi war criminals could be lurking around every corner, I sympathized with Sally's borderline obsession with exposing Mr. Zagorsky's supposed homicidal past.

But as huge a shadow as the Holocaust cast over my youth, I've struggled with the best ways to introduce the incredibly difficult theme to my own children. I want them to know about, honor and to remember the six million victims, but I haven't wanted them to be feel scared, or worse yet, scarred. Shock and fear no longer seem like the best teaching tools for ensuring, the idea of "never again."

And while I am certainly no expert when it comes to the best way to talk with kids about the holocaust, I do know the arts have definitely been a powerful part of helping me to comprehend the tragedy. I am pretty sure I was still in elementary school the first time I saw the 1959 Anne Frank film starring Millie Perkins. In eighth grade we viewed the deeply disturbing Night and Fog, an early Holocaust documentary, as a part of a religious school retreat. And even as an adult, movies like Sophie's Choice and Schindler's List have left their indelible impressions.

So it was with great hope that I took my 10-year-old daughter to the Children's Theater of Madison's production of And Then They Came For Me, this past weekend at the Overture Center. I was looking to the theater to serve as an entry point from which to launch an age-appropriate discussion on one of the darkest events of the 20th century.

The production, a multimedia work by playwright James Still, interweaves documentary-style interviews with survivors Ed Silverberg (aka Helmuth, or "Hello") and Eva Geiringer Schloss with live actors recreating scenes from their lives under Nazi occupation in Europe. Both Hello and Eva were friends of Anne Frank in Holland, and the narrative allows us to bear witness to such events as Hello's daring escape from the Nazis and subsequent border crossing to Belgium. And we watch as two actresses--portraying 15-year-old Eva and her mother--reenact the horrifying and dehumanizing process of being sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in May of 1944. The play, which runs through this weekend, is moving and thought provoking, forcing members of the audience, many as young as my daughter, to grapple with the question of how this could have happened.

That question is perhaps best answered by the quote that inspired the title of the play. The words, written by German clergyman Martin Niemoller and included in the program, have haunted me from my youth. They are the same words that hung on the bulletin board of my father's studio for as long as I can remember.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

I am thankful this play gave me the ideal opportunity to begin the Holocaust dialogue with my daughter. Because no matter how hard things may be to talk about, keeping silent is never the answer.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Helping your kids stick with music lessons

Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.

A summer camp quiz for parents

If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.

Mama Madison: Lessons in dining out

I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.

Mama Madison: Natural vs. un-natural parenting

It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.

Mama Madison: Theatrical talent close to home

Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.

Mama Madison: Race to shame

I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.

Hancock Center addresses bullying through body movement

It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.

Mama Madison: Get in the picture

Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.

Mama Madison: Welcome to the Parenting Olympics

Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.

Mama Madison: Facebook's instant nostalgia fix

Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.

Mama Madison: The kindness question

Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.

Toddlers take to tablets

Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.

Mama Madison: Science or study hall?

This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.

Mama Madison: MTV provides a teachable moment

In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.

Mama Madison: Planning for the MLK holiday

In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.

Mama Madison: The long vacation

It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.

Mama Madison: Cheating 101 at Middleton High School

Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.

A mindful way to parent: Keep it in the moment, and take a deeeeep breath...

Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.

Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!