The Charlottesville march of hatefulness and weapons was terrifying! Seeing and/or hearing the aggressive and vile outburst is frightening and complicated to process for our children and young people. We know this because it is a lot to process for us adults.
I think about how many parents and grandparents may want to help the children and young people in their lives to have an understanding of why the Nazis must never gain power again.
The topic of Nazism is something that parents and grandparents may find difficult to speak about with the children and young people in their lives. I offer some information here that may be helpful to you.
Stories can help young people to begin to understand a big and complex concept. This can be true for the big concept of Nazism, which is a terrifying concept to learn about. The idea that some people use power to control and seriously harm other people because of the other people’s race or religion (or for other characteristics) is more than unsettling. It is frightening.
I share with you a children’s book, Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust, by Eve Bunting because this story is both accessible and thought provoking. Also this is the kind of book you can read to children or young people of whatever age you think is appropriate.
This allegory may provide a way to begin a conversation. A dialogue is a great way to connect to individuals – old or young. This is a topic where the convener will want to appreciate, respect and honor the prior knowledge and current thinking of the young people you engage and converse with. And, by framing this as a dialogue or conversation around the discussion of this book – you are opening the door to additional interactions in the days, weeks, and months to come as you potentially return to the book. Plus, because you will have read it aloud – you can restart the conversation by just referring to the shared experience you had around to book. The dialogue may pop up weeks or months after the read aloud.
This book has the potential to open up deep thought and sharing around many topics that are of importance today. They include, and are not limited to: social injustice, bystanders, violence, spreading terror, the Charlottesville march, and/or the possibility of ‘normalizing’ something that is not normal and not appropriate.
Please think about what I am recommending and embrace the concept that you will read this book aloud. Sure, many children or young people could read it on their own and those same children or young people would likely benefit more from sitting close to you and hearing you read this story to them. And when you are the reader, it sets a tone for the dialogue you want to engage in following the story.
You might get the dialogue started by saying something like: “Wow, take a minute to think about what you just heard. What are you thinking about?” Or, “Would you like me to read it again?” – if the answer is yes – you might say. “OK and as I read it think about what you would like to talk about related to this story or what you might want to ask me about.”
And as you begin to get one or more of the listeners talking – try to keep them thinking and talking by saying to them: “Thank you, please tell me more about that thought.” Or, if you are reading it to two or more children or young people, you might ask the brother who is listening to his sister, “What do you think about your sister’s thought?”
As you listen will want to express an understanding of what was shared. You can do that by paraphrasing what the child or young person said. If one of your grandchildren said, “Grampa, I didn’t like the way the other creators said mean things about the animals that were gone? Like when the birds where gone the creatures said those birds where always so loud.” You might respond, “It sounds like you didn’t feel like it was right to talk badly about the animals that vanished. Can you tell us more about what that got you thinking about?” Or, you might respond by say, “It sounds like you really noticed that when the other creators said things – like about the squirrels ‘never sharing’ that you thought that that was kind of nasty for the other creators to say.”
And you can probe about a topic that hasn’t come up yet like the Holocaust. You might say, “Who will read the full title of this story to us and tell us why you think the word Holocaust is in it?” And if more probing may be needed, you might say, “Please listen to me as I reread the introduction found just after the author’s page.” After you have reread it, you might say, “Who wants to try to put into their own words what we just heard?” Or, “Have you heard about Nazis and the Holocaust? What do you know or what do you want to know about Nazis and the Holocaust?”
You may find that the conversation goes at a pace that is slower than usual. That is normal when a topic is serious and troubling. You may find that there is silence and a desire to hold and look at the book. There is no one way children or young people will or should react.
And, if you are looking for ideas to discuss with the children or young people you share this with you might check out online resources such as: Fighting Injustice by Studying Lessons of the Past Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting with special attention to Lesson 1. Or, Making Choices: Bystander, Perpetrator, Victim, Upstander, created for 3rd through 5th graders by the For Action Initiative. Please know that there are many, many resources on the internet and you may find other ideas that help you to create a rich and meaningful dialogue with those you read it to.
If you want to see the illustrations and hear the story read aloud and you can do so on You Tube in as a video. The video is intended for educational purposes. I really encourage you to get the book, either from your library or by purchasing it (it is currently is available as a $10.00 paperback). And, once again, I am encouraging you to read it aloud.
Below is a famous quotation/poem by Martin Niemöller. You may just want to read it as you your prepare for your dialogue. And/or you may choose to read it to the children or young people you are sharing Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust with. Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The quotation stems from Niemöller’s lectures during the early postwar period