Sunday, June 12, 2011

Talking Genocide With My Son

Buchenwald Slave Laborers
 I took a few days for me to reflect whether or not to write about this. Why? Well, you'll have to read on.

I don't know when Jewish kids are told about the Holocaust. I'm not aware when black children understand slavery. For that matter, I don't know when white kids grasp either topics. What I do know is that many Americans do not understand history very well. (A buddy of mine overheard some high schoolers say that the Germans fought with the Allies against the Russians in World War Two).

I have higher standards for my kids.

The anniversary of D-Day was just last week.  I was chatting with a buddy of mine who is in the Army and about to go over to Iraq. He was telling me about a soldier in his outfit who didn't know what D-Day all. The sergeant commended this fellow's grasp of history with having him do a multitude of push ups. Perhaps not the best teaching technique, but the private is sure to remember what D-Day was.

On the anniversary, I was sitting around the kitchen table with Will, 9 years old, and Ali, 6 years old. I turned to Will, "You know that today is the anniversary of D-Day."

He just looked at me. At his developmental stage if the conversation isn't about Pokemon then interest fades quickly. I sent Ali out of the room. The upcoming conversation could easily sail into waters where I felt a six year old shouldn't go.

I grabbed pencil and paper and hastily drew a map (my apologies to cartographers everywhere) somewhat like this.

*As an aside, I find using a visual aid helpful while describing things to the kids. I once used my closed fist to explain white light and rainbows. When the white light goes through water droplets - I quickly opened my hand - all the colors of the rainbow can be seen. I wasn't unhappy with that explanation. But I digress.

"The Germans had taken over most of Europe."  I colored in the path of the Wehrmacht's conquests.

"D-Day," I continued, "was when America, Canada, and Britain invaded Europe because the Germans had taken the place over." I drew little arrows from Britain to Normandy.

"What about here?" He pointed to Italy.

"Italy was on the German side for most of the war."

He seemed satisfied with the mini tutorial.

I decided to push.

The Germans were engaging in genocide - the Holocaust."

"What's that?"

I drew another picture.
"You have two groups of people, right?"


I altered the picture a bit.
We locked eyes.

"Genocide is when one group of people kill another group of people."

His hands shot up to his ears. "I don't want to hear about it!"

That's a reasonable response, I thought.

"OK, that's all I wanted to tell you. You can go play." He scampered out of the kitchen.

I'm happy to report he doesn't seem to have been traumatized by our discussion (no nightmares, etc.). And that's the reason why I was a bit reticent about writing this post. I didn't want to come off as traumatizing Will. Religious parents do such things to their young kids all the time with the horrors of the crucifixion, and I don't want to play in their league, so to speak.

But certain topics need to breached.

This is Purgatory.

1 comment:

  1. I think what you did was great. It's important for our children to understand the reality of the world in which we live in. Not just fearing what comes after.


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