Minnesota Mammaleh: 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.

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.


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.

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.

Galit 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.