Minnesota Mamaleh: Teaching Children About the Holocaust

The light flickers between us and warms the darkened room.

I look up from our just lit Memorial candle into my three children’s eyes. Each one an equal shade of engagement. Wonder. And curiosity.

Mamaleh candle 300x225 Minnesota Mamaleh: Teaching Children About the Holocaust

I’m terrified to tell them what this is all about, what’s on my mind, why we are doing this. A long time ago many, many people died in sad, scary ways. I tentatively start.

Their eyes widen, their voices silence. There are so many details that I will tell you another time. But tonight we’re lighting this candle to remember those people. I add.

Do we blow it out? Brody asks from behind his NUKy. Like a birthday candle?

No, Kayli interrupts oh-so-very wise at age seven, You don’t blow out Jewish candles.

We sit together quietly and watch the light. Inevitably, the nighttime routine ensues.

Teeth are brushed.

Books are read.

Snuggles are shared.

Repeatedly.

Two thoughts continue tugging at my heartstrings. The first is how uncomfortable I felt having this discussion. And the second is about people’s stories.

I was anxious because Holocaust details are horrific. I clearly remember being chilled by first-learned facts, statistics and numbers. They still make me cringe.

Admittedly, I don’t want my children to know that something so very ugly is a part of our story. I’d rather their hearts beat unaware.

But I know that wouldn’t be right.

The need for my children to learn about the Holocaust from me is two-fold. The generation that lived it must have their stories told. And my children, as fourth generation survivors, need support to sort through the facts and details that they will learn.

I won’t tell you how old your children should be before learning Holocaust facts. You know that best.

But I will say that they need to hear something about the Holocaust from you before they learn about it in school. At the very least, the door needs to be opened for questions. The Holocaust was part of my third grade Social Studies curriculum.

A year ago I was honored and humbled to write down my Grandmother’s survivor story.

My mother shared the details with me well into the night. She spoke, I soaked in her words.

Her thick Israeli accent and ebb and flow between English and Hebrew etched the story in my mind. When I think about my Grandmother’s story, it is my Mother’s and my Grandmother’s voices that tell it.

My children are too young to hear about abuse, hatred, experiments, and gas chambers.

But they’re not too young to start learning people’s stories. Personal narratives are, bar none, the best method for teaching history and helping children create connections and make learning meaningful.

As you contemplate the Holocaust and your children, consider narratives. Watch a movie, hear a speaker, read a book. Share it with your children. Here are a few resources to get you started.

Children of the Holocaust, from the Anti-Defamation League.

Children of the Holocaust, biographies.

Never Too Young to Remember, more stories told.

Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust, by Allan Zullo.

My Grandmother has worked for Yad VaShem, the Holocaust museum in Israel, for the majority of her life. She translated countless diaries so people’s stories will continue to be told. And heard. These stories can be found on the Yad VaShem website. Visit. Read. Remember. Tell.

028 filtered1 150x150 Minnesota Mamaleh: Teaching Children About the HolocaustGalit Breen is an Israeli freezing her tuchus in Minnesota. She’s a Mama of three currently working on her first book about teaching children spirituality outside of religion. You can find her regularly at These Little Waves or here at TCJ on the first Friday of each month.

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About Galit Breen

Galit Breen is a Minnesota writer. On any given day she can be found juggling three kids, one husband, one puggle and her laptop. Galit has had essays published in several anthologies, is the editor of Pens and Paint, a series anthology of children’s poetry and artwork and co-directs Listen to Your Mother, Twin Cities. Galit is a freelance writer for allParenting, Everyday Family, Mamalode Magazine, Soleil Moon Frye’s Moonfrye, SheKnows, and The Huffington Post blog and you can find her monthly here at TC Jewfolk. Galit blogs regularly, tweets excessively and may or may not work for dark chocolate.

Comments. Add Yours!

6 comments

  1. It would be so hard to talk to my children about the Holocaust but it is something that they should learn about. People’s stories are the best way to past down history because they have meaning.

  2. I don’t even know how i will begin to explain things like this to my child. I think putting it out there in writing and sharing stories is the best way for small children to try and grasp the understanding of it. This was so well written!

  3. Galit, I shared with my ten year old stories about my family surviving the holocaust and he was proud to hear about my grandfather saving lives. It’s a hard story to tell but it’s so important. I love your post here, and I always love your words anywhere.

  4. Galit, I was honored to read the story of your Grandmother.

    You know, I kind of think that the Holocaust fits in the same category of conversation as sex does for me in my parenting. There will not be one big conversation; it will be many small conversations over time that reveal the bigger picture.

    I also like to think that a good time to begin talking about it is right after Passover where we speak of those still enslaved and celebrate freedeom.

  5. You are right, Galit, it is hard to talk to children about it – but you provide a great list of resources and as always, an evocative description of your journey with your own children. Thank you.

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