Learning about Intolerance, Learning About the Holocaust: A Gentle Introduction

For the most part, I aim to focus on fun and engaging educational materials in this blog, to help homeschoolers add learning through laughter to their days! That’s my intention and 99% of what you’ll find here will be tailored in that direction.  However, as we all know, life is not composed solely of fun and games. It has a deeply serious, often painful side that most of us cannot escape, as much as we would like to.  Life can be brutally difficult beyond comprehension.
Max and I ran head long into a deep and disturbing subject last week, one we’ve decided to delve into just a little further at this point.  I don’t think he’s old enough yet to handle too much, so we’re scraping the surface.   Max is ten, so I have been very careful with what images he sees at this point as so much of what happened during this part of history  is raw, bitter, horrible and shocking.   I am writing here about the monstrous atrocities of the Holocaust. When he is in his middle school years, I will consider exploring this time period more thoroughly because he’ll be at a different place emotionally.  I want to be careful not to overwhelm him.
This detour started with Albert Einstein.  Last Wednesday we watched the first lecture about Albert Einstein offered by Science Jim as part of his current webcast classes. Albert Einstein is a fascinating character primarily because he never stopped wondering; he likely drove his teachers nuts with all of his questions, his doubts, his need to prove statements of fact for himself. What an active mind he had! We listened to Science Jim describe Einstein’s childhood with interest. At least I did, but then I’m in a different place than Max is because I can focus on a topic for longer than five minutes :).    It was when Science Jim described Einstein’s involvement in the making of the atomic bomb that Max’s interest level perked up.
You may or may not know that Einstein wrote a letter to FDR in the late 1930’s encouraging the US government to begin research on building an atomic bomb – he recommended the government get started as soon as possible because he wasn’t certain how far the Nazis were in any bomb development.  As often happens in homeschooling, the conversations are wide open and can go any which way on any given day.  One thing leads to another. We eventually broached the life of Anne Frank and thus landed on the Holocaust.  It was quite an interesting question/answer period. I was not planning on introducing such a heavy grief-filled subject any time soon, but I listened thoughtfully to Max’s questions and understood clearly that of course he was having a hard time grasping the answer to his main question, “WHY?”

As luck would have it, a remarkable exhibit about Anne Frank’s life and experience is currently on display in our city.  On Friday afternoon we went to learn more about Anne and her family.  We attended with a group of four of Max’s friends, all boys.  Generally they get so wrapped up in each other that the entire outside world becomes background noise.  Not this time.  Our tour guide was exceptional!  They all stood in rapt attention as the tour guide described the two years while the Frank family hid in the attic of Otto Frank’s business in Amsterdam.  They could hardly conceive of having to be quiet for eight hours a day, having to whisper, not being able to walk around, not being able to flush the toilet during the day.  As Anne’s story progressed the kids became more somber and thoughtful.  Max raised his hand and asked a few questions.  He studied on the scale model of the attic.  He gazed at the pictures of a girl not much older than him, at her smiling face.  He tried to comprehend what happened to her and why.  We also sat in on a short talk by a Holocaust survivor, a woman now seventy-two who was a hidden child during the war.  Max’s is the last generation that will get to speak to, to touch, to listen to a Holocaust survivor!  This fact sunk in deep for me.

Today we watched a truly special story about a middle school in Tennessee and how the staff and students came to forge a very unique, very moving memorial to the six million Jewish people and the five million people of other descents who lost their lives at the hand of the Nazis.  Here it is.  Click on pictures for more information:

So magnificent!  A tiny middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee, population 1600, embarks upon a project to learn about the Holocaust.  The project soon takes on a life of its own as you’ll see.  The students wish to collect 6 million paperclips from all over the world to represent the Jews who died – they end up embarking on a meaningful journey that brings a community together and helps to teach others about what happens when intolerance and prejudice goes unchecked.  Ack, I cried several times.

A version tailored to grades 6-12, though I don’t know how it differs from the original.

An accompanying book written for the 9-12 age group.

“Fifteen thousand children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp. Fewer than 100 survived. In these poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates, we see the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their hopes and fears, their courage and optimism. 60 color illustrations.”

A well-done allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting

Tailored for 9-12 year olds with lots of pictures of Anne and her family.  Also contains clear and concise text interspersed throughout the pictures.  I have not opened this book yet, so don’t know how graphic the pictures become, but am thinking the authors took precautions for this age group.

I would consider these resources to be “fairly” gentle for opening up discussions about this stand-up-and-pay-critical-attention part of history.  What an opportunity we have to begin to teach our children about acceptance, about injustice, about love and how it’s depths can turn the tide in any situation.  The movie and Anne Frank exhibit is as far as we are going for now.  The others are offered as additional resources to explore as you wish.

I’m worn out from the past few days, to be honest.  Words can’t possibly wrap themselves around what happened.  It’s the kind of thing you have to feel in your body and you must let it rest there while you process.  We’ve “seen” a lot in the past five days, but in truth have witnessed very little of what happened.  As Max grows I hope his questions continue to surface.  I hope I have some answers or directions to point him in.

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