Yom HaShoah

My Grandfather was arrested on Kristallnacht.

His birthday was November 11th and he turned 17. Or maybe 15 or maybe 25, because when you don’t have a country you get to create your own age.

The gates at Sachsenhausen have the words Arbeit Macht Frei inscribed in them. Work will set you free. My Grandfather did a little work, found a guard, pointed at the sign and asked, “I worked, now can I be free?” I’m not sure what set my grandfather free. It seems like it was most likely the Kindertransport. He somehow got to England and joined her army.

Update from my family: Fact- your Grandma got to England via Kindertransport and your Grandpa got to England via the Free French who transported him via small boat to the King’s shore-line. He denied having been lost in the Belgian/Dutch/French countryside but you may well recall that “navigation” wasn’t his strong suit albeit he seemed to have navigated life on his own course. He did escape Sachsenhausen (verified in person by another inmate) and, incidentally, swore to me while at our visit there that he never worked as hard for the nazi’s as he did for the Brits.

Everyone in my family has a story about how they left Germany, who didn’t make it, who stopped being Jewish.

I never know how much to tell my kids. Too much can be too much, and too little is dangerous.

Yom HaShoah, the day of the Shoah. The Holocaust.

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  2. My girls are 4, so they are too young to talk about it yet, and I’m not sure what I will say when it is time….but it’s important to tell the story.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Hi Jessica –
    This is always a conundrum. However it is never to early to let children know that the reason grandparents talk with a funny accent or may practice customs differently than you do is because “something bad happened in the country where they were born.” My brothers and I were made aware of the Holocaust because of my maternal grandmother. We probably asked where my Dad’s mom was. (She was killed at Auschwitz. (By the way when I was in Germany in 1998 I got to spend a day at Sachsenhausen – very interesting. Since it was part of East Germany you actually got to see part of World War II from the Soviet point of view. It’s now more than 10 years later so I do not know if they have changed the exhibits. But just saying…)
    Anyway friends of mine have introduced the concept of the holocaust to their children around the time of Purim. It is a natural lead in from the story of Haman to the story of Hitler -what they both hoped to accomplish by wiping out the Jewish people and yet how we survived. There are also a few age-specific children’s books that deal with the Holocaust that you might wish to find and give to them when they are the right ages. Just for what it is worth. Finally – if your children do go to a Jewish religious school (or even if not) this is something you might want to discuss with the Rabbi. Our temple in NYC did their Holocaust education modules between Yom HaShoa and Israel Independence Day. This tied in the message that even out of bad good may come…

  4. …went to Mauthausen a couple of years back – one has to walk through there to get an idea, even if only a shimmer of an idea of what transcribed there – NEVER FORGET!

  5. My oldest has been very interested and read about the Holocaust on his own. But I basically just answer his questions, rather than offering unsolicited information. I figure that if he’s old enough to ask the question, he’s old enough to hear the answer.

  6. My kids and I watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas today. I hesitated in letting them watch it with me. My 12 year old insisted on watching it. Then I thought maybe I shouldn’t let my 7 yo watch it. I only knew it was about a Jewish boy in the camp, and I wasn’t sure my 7 yo could comprehend it. The story turned out to be so much harder to stomach and comprehend because the camp was part of the “Final Solution”… The three of us sat and huddled together and hugged each other throughout the movie. We cried nonstop towards the end. My youngest kept on asking, “So what happened to the boy? What was going on here?” So I had to pause the movie and explained to him. THAT was hard. The visual was horrifying when you knew what was going on behind the closed door. And the number 6 million. He didn’t say anything. I am still not sure how he’s digesting it since it does usually take him a while to digest things with such intensity. Sometimes I wonder whether I am not protecting him enough by showing him these things before he’s ready. But then I thought, WHEN will a person be ready to learn of such things? When?

    1. This really brought tears to my ears. I’ve not seen the movie yet, I think I’ll be renting it for sure. My children are 1 and 2 so I am not sure when we’ll be having the conversation about the Holocaust. I hope when they do ask, I’ll be prepared.

  7. At the age of (almost!) 40, I am an anomoly as a Jew – I am a third generation Texan and no one in my family was lost in the Holocaust. My husband at 55 is in the same boat for the most part. His grandfather’s town was affected, but no one in the family was.

    We are THIS close to having to talk about the Holocaust with my (almost) 9 year old. She will be affected by the stories and the truth because she is a caring, sweet girl, but it will not be the same personal story others my age will tell of what happened to their families. It will be interesting to see how the discussion goes.

    It is a mitzvah that you talk about it. We ALL should talk about it.

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