Key Lessons and How to Implement Them

Key Lessons

Once we begin to teach the Holocaust based on our ancestors’ narrative, four key lessons pop out.

  • These people, our ancestors, were living people with lives and stories that need to be told. They were not simply victims.
  • The Nazis tried to take away our humanity, but they failed.
  • The Holocaust is something that happened to us, but it does not define us as Jews. However, understanding how our ancestors held onto their Judaism enriches our Judaism.
  • Age-appropriate education is key and needs to be carefully thought out.

Here are some hints on how to implement these lessons in your classroom.

Teaching through Individual Stories

Much of Holocaust education has been focused on trying to understand the scale of the disaster, the huge number of people lost. Numbers like this have little meaning. Numbers do not tell us about the actual depth of the disaster. And numbers perpetuate the dehumanization of our ancestors.

Telling the stories of individuals can give us a much more complex and compelling story than trying to fathom the meaning of more than six million murders.[1] The victims of this atrocity were real people with real stories, and we can teach all the pieces of the story of the Holocaust by telling individuals’ stories.

Here are some hints about how to use the stories and curriculum you find here to teach about the Holocaust.

  • As much as possible, always use people’s names.

Using people’s names is one of the ways we give them back their humanity and rescue them from being just one in a pile of bodies. Real names also make the stories more powerful and salient to our students.

  • Remember that they were regular people.

The Jews in the Holocaust were as varied as Jews are today. In spite of the image that many of us have, they were not, for the most part, shtetl Jews living Fiddler on the Roof lives. Some were religious, some were not. Some lived in the city, some in the country. They spoke many different languages: Yiddish, German, Polish, Dutch, Russian, French, Greek, even Arabic. They were doctors and lawyers, scientists and shopkeepers, musicians and poets. They did all the same sorts of things we do – went to school, went to work, played sports, went on vacation.

  • Do not get ahead of yourself in the story.

The people whose stories we are telling did not know where the story was going. In 1939, they did not know that in 1942 they would be sent to camps and gas chambers. Even the Nazis did not know. There was no master plan from the beginning; the Nazis were making it up as they went along.

It is essential that we do not layer our knowledge of what was to come onto their actions. They were acting with the knowledge they had, not with the knowledge we have.

There is one exception to this, however: when talking to children, especially young children, always start the story at the end, with the survivor all grown up and happy. This allows the children to listen to stories of scary things happening without worrying about what will ultimately happen to the child in the story. What age is old enough to switch, to allow the ending to be a surprise? That will depend on your students, but may not be until high school.

  • Be sure to start before the war.

To understand anyone’s story, we must know who they are and what sort of life they lived before the trouble started. This puts their story in context.

  • Don’t end the story at the end of the war.

The period of recovery immediately after the war is a critical part of the story. Understanding how the survivors responded to what had happened is essential to understanding their lives.

The period after the war needs to be divided into two parts: 1) returning home, often to find that home no longer existed; and 2) finally being able to look forward and rebuild life. As Lea Roshkovsky, our instructor at Yad Vashem, likes to say: Instead of getting revenge, they got married. Survivors often say that grandchildren are the best revenge.

When we end our Holocaust education with 1945, then we also miss that anti-Semitism continued after the war. When we stop with 1945, we give our students the idea that the Holocaust was a great anti-Semitic catharsis, after which the Jews could live in peace. We must remember the Kielce Pogrom of 1946, which drove many survivors back to what had been concentration camps and were now displaced persons camps. We must remember the many Jews who opted not to go home at all, knowing that they would still find violent anti-Semitism there. We must remember, and teach our students to recognize, that anti-Semitism continues even today.

  • Don’t forget to talk about the perpetrators and bystanders. Remember that they, too, were regular people.

It is easy to dismiss the perpetrators of this atrocity as inhuman monsters the likes of which have not been seen since. This perspective fails to recognize that like the victims, the perpetrators were regular people with regular lives. We must recognize that these terrible things were done by people, not by monsters, so that we can learn from them.

The bystanders were regular people with regular lives too. Bystanders fell into three categories: 1) those who joined the perpetrators; 2) those who did nothing; and 3) those who helped the victims (called by Yad Vashem the “Righteous among the Nations”). We must help our students to understand what makes a bystander a perpetrator, why most people did nothing (and why it often made sense to do nothing), and why some people risked everything to help strangers. These are lessons our students can apply to modern life.

When does a bystander become a perpetrator? Some cases are clear. When “bystanders” participate in physical abuse or murder, they become perpetrators. However, there are many ways for a bystander to become a perpetrator beyond actually participating in the violence. When people stand by and cheer as the violence occurs, they are collaborating in that violence. When people go to rallies and cheer as the speaker talks about hate, about isolating communities, or about committing violence, they collaborate in the violence that arises out of that hate speech. During the Holocaust, when people reported their neighbors to the police, knowing that the police would arrest them for being Jewish, they were perpetrators too. We must teach our students to recognize all the ways that “bystanders” participate and collaborate with the perpetrators of violence.

What can or should you do if you witness others subjected to unfair treatment? Witnessing bullying and racial hatred, unfortunately, is a situation in which our students may find themselves. In most cases, we want to encourage them to see how they can help. However, we must also recognize that during the Holocaust, in many cases it made sense to do nothing. Are you required to risk your life to help someone in need? If helping a stranger means risking your family, is it worth the risk? These are difficult questions that we must discuss with our students.

Many people during the Holocaust did choose to help, even at the risk of their lives and their families. Many people were saved because strangers chose this more difficult path. The people who chose to help did not all come from the same walk of life. They did not all have power. They did not all feel protected from the Nazis because of their position. Many were not – many lost their lives. And they did not all help for the same reasons. Some helped because they knew someone. Some helped because they felt sorry for someone who came to their door and chose to hide them rather than send them away. Some helped because they simply felt it was the right thing to do. By understanding the breadth of people who were willing to help, our students can understand how they might find the courage to help someone in such need.

[1] Throughout this website, we focus on the experience of the Jews and the treatment we received simply for being who we were. However, we must never forget the mixed multitude that died with us simply for being who they were: the Roma, gays, the disabled, and many others.

Emphasizing Strength, not Victimization

There are recurring themes that can be seen in the stories we read here. These themes include continuing to educate their children, to make music and art, and to celebrate their Judaism, and to continue to do so in the face of chaos, terror, and laws that forbid all of these actions. There are, of course, stories of physical resistance, but the physical resistance started as spiritual resistance. Even the stories of physical resistance start with stories of not allowing themselves to be turned into something less than human, of not allowing the Nazis to take away their Judaism.

When we teach from the perpetrators’ perspective, our students learn about all the things we were forbidden to do. When we teach from our ancestors’ perspective, our students learn, as it says in the diary of Chaim Kaplan, teacher and educator in the Warsaw ghetto, In these days of our misfortune, we live the life of Marranos. Everything is forbidden to us, and yet we do everything.

In a world of chaos, our ancestors tried to maintain normal life as much as possible. When their children were forbidden to attend school, they found ways to keep teaching them. They home-schooled them or formed hidden schools in the ghettos. In spite of laws making the practice of Judaism punishable by death, every ghetto had services in hiding. Many ghettos had theaters and orchestras, where, in spite of laws to the contrary, musicians continued to play the music of non-Jews such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach.

In the face of grave deprivation, our ancestors asked their rabbis what to do and found ways to continue to practice. The questions and responses from the rabbis in the ghettos are fascinating. When you can’t get candles, you can turn on an electric light and say the Shabbat candle-lighting blessing over it. If you can’t get wine, you can use sweet tea to celebrate Passover. 

Skarzysko-Kamienna Shofar

The Skarzysko-Kamienna Shofar, made in a labor camp in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah 5704 (1943).

Even in the camps, services continued in hiding, quietly. Stories are told of poetry discussions in the bunkers at Auschwitz. Survivor Moshe Winterter tells a terrifying and uplifting story about making a shofar in the labor camp of Skarzysko-Kamienna in Poland, at the request of his Rabbi. 

There is no question that some people lost all hope under the pressure of the chaos and terror. Everyone who survived came out scarred both physically and emotionally. But many people found ways to live, and even to hope, in spite of the chaos and fear. Focusing on the strength of our ancestors, rather than the power of the victimization, gives our students a compelling story from which they can learn.

Enriching our Judaism

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching the Holocaust is helping our students to understand how to integrate it into their own lives. Can you maintain your faith in the world, in G-d, in Judaism, in the face of the Holocaust? To say, as we have for so long, “You must be Jewish for the millions who died,” fails to recognize that each individual must be Jewish for themselves and in their own way.

Chanukah in Westerbork

They fought for their Judaism: Chanukah in the Westerbork transit camp, Holland, 1943.

Emphasizing strength, rather than victimization, can help us, and our students, find ways to integrate this story into our own faith and lives. For two generations, we have let this story define us as victims. Defining themselves as victims is a difficult idea for young Jews, especially American Jews, to integrate into their own lives. They do not feel like victims, and they do not want to be victims. Therefore, do not say, “Jews are victims.” Say, rather, “During the Holocaust, the Jews were the victims.” This is a very different statement, and one that we and our students can easily integrate into our understanding of ourselves.

But even during the Holocaust, our ancestors did not simply roll over and let the Nazis tell them what to do. Many Jews responded with an inner strength that held fast, even in the face of terror. Survivor Rivka Wagner has a wonderful answer for when people insist she should have lost her faith in G-d because of what happened to her: “Our faith was the one thing they could not take from us.” We can enrich our own Judaism by understanding how our ancestors fought for and held onto their Judaism, and how their Judaism served to help them hold onto their sanity and even to some hope.

Making Education Age-Appropriate

Age-appropriate lesson plans require careful thought.  Here are some critical ideas for developing age appropriate Holocaust lesson plans.

  • Have their usual teacher teach the lesson.

In many programs like this, it is tempting to bring in a specialist. Teachers are often uncomfortable with the material and sometimes there is one person in an organization who has specialized training, or a person may be brought in from the outside, from a Holocaust museum for instance. For the purpose of teaching the Holocaust, changing teachers is not a good idea.

The implications of what students hear in a Holocaust class may take them time to work through. Students may also go home and discuss these matters with parents, siblings, or friends. They may hear additional aspects of the story that were not covered in class. They may think of additional questions as they mull over what they have learned. It is essential that they can come back and ask the teacher about what they learned and talk about what they feel.

When their usual teacher, rather than an outsider, teaches the Holocaust lessons, the students feel that they have a resource to come back to when they have additional questions.

  • Work within your
    students’ attention spans.

The Holocaust is heavy material that can take a lot of focus. Know the limits of your students’ attention spans. Expect that these lessons will take multiple classes to cover. In each class, plan to use one block of your class’ attention span for your Holocaust lesson and then move on to other things.

  • Maintain age-appropriate safety nets.

How we present the stories to the children can make a big difference in how much difficulty they have with the lessons of the Holocaust. Here are some safety nets that Yad Vashem recommends to prevent trauma among younger students.

The first safety net is to emphasize that this is something that happened a long time ago. It is over now.

The stories for elementary school children are all about survivors. The children in these stories survived these experiences and grew up: most are grandparents now. To emphasize this idea, you should actually start at the end of the story, introducing the protagonist as an adult who wants to tell them a story that happened when s/he was a child.

With the youngest students (grades K-2), emphasize that this happened a long time ago, in a faraway land. This perspective adds some distance and reduces the likelihood that the children will become fearful that something similar could happen to them.

The second safety net is the recognition that for children, safety is not in homes but with families. An intact family and loving parents makes an enormous difference to the security of a child. Therefore, we emphasize that

The children in the stories for the younger students (grades K-4) still had intact, loving families. Although one parent may be lost, we get to the end of the story with at least one parent still alive and still with the child.

Even the children on the Kindertransport or living alone in the ghetto (which may happen in stories for grades 5 and 6) had parents who loved them (even if they had to send them away). In some cases, the children will be together with siblings, even if they had to leave their parents behind.

By maintaining these safety nets, we can make the lessons appropriate for each age group, and, as they say at Yad Vashem, bring our students “safely in and safely out” of the lesson.

  • Involve parents from the beginning.

It is important to include the parents in your discussions.  In fact, you should include them early on and give them some say in what you are teaching. You need the support of the parents to successfully implement your program. The best way to garner their support is to recognize that parents are teachers, too, and teach them about the new narrative as you would your teachers.

Teaching the parents about the new narrative is almost as important as teaching the teachers. While teachers are the first line of education in this matter, parents are the second. Almost every student in your class will go home to their parents and tell them about the difficult story they discussed in class. The more difficult and intriguing the subject, the more likely it will be discussed with parents. The Holocaust is one of those difficult and intriguing subjects.

We recommend that you hold a meeting with parents early in the development phase of your program. A parent training seminar in how to talk to children about the Holocaust is an essential part of the program you develop. We also recommend a handout for parents with the basics of this training, because we know that not all parents will be able to attend the training. The Parents’ page is a good place to get information for a Parents’ Handout.

  • Teach through empathy not through role-play.

Trying to imagine losing your home, your parents, or your children does not facilitate learning, or even empathy. It only puts you in a terrifying place you do not want to be. Do not ask, “How would you feel?” Instead, ask, “How do you think they felt?” The phrasing of this question leads to empathy and avoids trauma.

  • Do not expect your students to be solemn and quiet.

If we want our students to understand this difficult subject, then we must allow them to engage with the material. We must not expect them to be quiet in these lessons, for then they will disengage and not learn. We must let our students react, let them rage, question, and work through all the feelings this very difficult subject brings up. It is essential to allow the students time and space to work through these feelings in class where we can help them so that they do not have to deal with these feelings on their own.

Key Lessons

Once we begin to teach the Holocaust based onour ancestors’narrative, four key lessons pop out.

  • These people, our ancestors, were living people with lives and stories that need to be told. They were not simply victims.
  • The Nazis tried to take away our humanity, but they failed.
  • The Holocaust is something that happened to us, but it does not define us as Jews. However, understanding how our ancestors held onto their Judaism enriches our Judaism.
  • Age-appropriate education is key and needs to be carefully thought out.

Here are some hints on how to implement these lessons in your classroom.

Teaching through Individual Stories

Much of Holocaust education has been focused on trying to understand the scale of the disaster, the huge number of people lost. Numbers like this have little meaning. Numbers do not tell us about the actual depth of the disaster. And numbers perpetuate the dehumanization ofour ancestors.

Telling the stories of individuals can give us a much more complex and compelling story than trying to fathom the meaning of more than sixmillion murders.[1] The victims of this atrocitywere real people with real stories, and we can teach all the pieces of the story of the Holocaust by telling individuals’ stories.

Here are some hints about how to use the stories and curriculum you find here to teach about the Holocaust.

  • As much as possible, always use people’s names.

Using people’s names is one of the ways we give them back their humanity and rescue them from being just one in a pile of bodies. Real names also make the stories more powerful and salient to our students.

  • Remember that they were regular people.

The Jews in the Holocaust were as varied as Jews are today. In spite of the image that many of us have, they were not, for the most part, shtetl Jews living Fiddler on the Roof lives. Some were religious, some were not. Some lived in the city, some in the country. They spoke many different languages: Yiddish, German, Polish, Dutch, Russian, French, Greek, even Arabic. They were doctors and lawyers, scientists and shopkeepers, musicians and poets. They did all the same sorts of things we do – went to school, went to work, played sports, went on vacation.

  • Do not get ahead of yourself in the story.

The people whose stories we are telling did not know where the story was going. In 1939, they did not know that in 1942 they would be sent to camps and gas chambers. Even the Nazis did not know. There was no master plan from the beginning; the Nazis were making it up as they went along.

It is essential that we do not layer our knowledge of what was to come onto their actions. They were acting with the knowledge they had, not with the knowledge we have.

There is one exception to this, however: when talking to children, especially young children, always start the story at the end, with the survivor all grown up and happy.This allows the children to listen to stories of scary things happening without worrying about what will ultimately happen to the child in the story. What age is old enough to switch, to allow the ending to be a surprise? That will depend on your students, but may not be until high school.

  • Be sure to start before the war.

To understand anyone’s story, we must know who they are and what sort of life they lived before the trouble started. This puts their story in context.

  • Don’t end the story at the end of the war.

The period of recovery immediately after the war is a critical part of the story. Understanding how the survivors responded to what had happened is essential to understanding their lives.

The period after the war needs to be divided into two parts: 1) returning home, often to find that home no longer existed; and 2) finally being able to look forward and rebuild life. As Lea Roshkovsky, our instructor at Yad Vashem, likes to say: Instead of getting revenge, they got married. Survivors often say that grandchildren are the best revenge.

When we end our Holocaust education with 1945, then we also miss that anti-Semitism continued after the war. When we stop with 1945, we give our students the idea that the Holocaust was a great anti-Semitic catharsis, after which the Jews could live in peace. We must remember the Kielce Pogrom of 1946, which drove many survivors back to what had been concentration camps and were now displaced persons camps. We must remember the many Jews who opted not to go home at all, knowing that they would still find violent anti-Semitism there. We must remember, and teach our students to recognize, that anti-Semitism continues even today.

  • Don’t forget to talk about the perpetrators and bystanders. Remember that they, too, were regular people.

It is easy to dismiss the perpetrators of this atrocity as inhuman monsters the likes of which have not been seen since. This perspective fails to recognize that like the victims, the perpetrators were regular people with regular lives. We must recognize that these terrible things were done by people, not by monsters, so that we can learn from them.

The bystanders were regular people with regular lives too. Bystanders fell into three categories: 1) those who joined the perpetrators; 2) those who did nothing; and 3) those who helped the victims (called by Yad Vashem the “Righteous among the Nations”). We must help our students to understand what makes a bystander a perpetrator, why most people did nothing (and why it often made sense to do nothing), and why some people risked everything to help strangers. These are lessons our students can apply to modern life.

When does a bystander become a perpetrator? Some cases are clear. When “bystanders” participate in physical abuse or murder, they become perpetrators. However, there are many ways for a bystander to become a perpetrator beyond actually participating in the violence. When people stand by and cheer as the violence occurs, they are collaborating in that violence. When people go to rallies and cheer as the speaker talks about hate, about isolating communities, or about committing violence, they collaborate in the violence that arises out of that hate speech. During the Holocaust, when people reported their neighbors to the police, knowing that the police would arrest them for being Jewish, they were perpetrators too. We must teach our students to recognize all the ways that “bystanders” participate and collaborate with the perpetrators of violence.

What can or should you do if you witness others subjected to unfair treatment? Witnessing bullying and racial hatred, unfortunately, is a situation in which our students may find themselves. In most cases, we want to encourage them to see how they can help. However, we must also recognize that during the Holocaust, in many cases it made sense to do nothing. Are you required to risk your life to help someone in need? If helping a stranger means risking your family, is it worth the risk? These are difficult questions that we must discuss with our students.

Many people during the Holocaust did choose to help, even at the risk of their lives and their families. Many people were saved because strangers chose this more difficult path. The people who chose to help did not all come from the same walk of life. They did not all have power. They did not all feel protected from the Nazis because of their position. Many were not – many lost their lives. And they did not all help for the same reasons. Some helped because they knew someone. Some helped because they felt sorry for someone who came to their door and chose to hide them rather than send them away. Some helped because they simply felt it was the right thing to do. By understanding the breadth of people who were willing to help, our students can understand how they might find the courage to help someone in such need.

[1] Throughout this website, we focus on the experience of the Jews and the treatment we received simply for being who we were. However, we must never forget the mixed multitude that died with us simply for being who they were: the Roma, gays, the disabled, and many others.

Emphasizing Strength, not Victimization

There are recurring themes that can be seen in the storieswe read here. These themes include continuing to educate their children, to make music and art, and to celebrate their Judaism, and to continue to do so in the face of chaos, terror, and laws that forbid all of these actions. There are, of course, stories of physical resistance, but the physical resistance started as spiritual resistance. Even the stories of physical resistance start with stories of not allowing themselves to be turned into something less than human, of not allowing the Nazis to take away their Judaism.

When we teach from the perpetrators’ perspective, our students learn about all the things we were forbidden to do. When we teach from our ancestors’ perspective, our students learn, as it says in the diary of Chaim Kaplan, teacher and educator in the Warsaw ghetto, In these days of our misfortune, we live the life of Marranos. Everything is forbidden to us, and yet we do everything.

In a world of chaos, our ancestors tried to maintain normal life as much as possible. When their children were forbidden to attend school, they found ways to keep teaching them. They home-schooled them or formed hidden schools in the ghettos. In spite of laws making the practice of Judaism punishable by death, every ghetto had services in hiding. Many ghettos had theaters and orchestras, where, in spite of laws to the contrary, musicians continued to play the music of non-Jews such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach.

In the face of grave deprivation, our ancestors asked their rabbis what to do and found ways to continue to practice. The questions and responses from the rabbis in the ghettos are fascinating. When you can’t get candles, you can turn on an electric light and say the Shabbat candle-lighting blessing over it. If you can’t get wine, you can use sweet tea to celebrate Passover.

Skarzysko-Kamienna Shofar

The Skarzysko-Kamienna Shofar, made in a labor camp in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah 5704 (1943).

Even in the camps, services continued in hiding, quietly. Stories are told of poetry discussions in the bunkers at Auschwitz. Survivor Moshe Winterter tells a terrifying and uplifting story about making a shofar in the labor camp of Skarzysko-Kamienna in Poland, at the request of his Rabbi.

There is no question that some people lost all hope under the pressure of the chaos and terror. Everyone who survived came out scarred both physically and emotionally. But many people found ways to live, and even to hope, in spite of the chaos. Focusing on the strength of our ancestors, rather than the power of the victimization, gives our students a compelling story from which they can learn.

Enriching our Judaism

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching the Holocaust is helping the students to understand how to integrate it into their own lives. Can you maintain your faith in the world, in G-d, in Judaism, in the face of the Holocaust? To say, as we have for so long, “you must be Jewish for them,” fails to recognize that each individual must be Jewish for themselves and in their own way.

Chanukah in Westerbork

They fought for their Judaism: Chanukah in the Westerbork transit camp, Holland, 1943.

Emphasizing strength, rather than victimization, can help us, and our students, find ways to integrate this story into our own faith and lives. For two generations, we have let this story define us as victims. Defining themselves as victims is a difficult idea for young Jews, especially American Jews, to integrate into their own lives. They do not feel like victims, and they do not want to be victims. Therefore, do not say, “Jews are victims”; say rather, “During the Holocaust, the Jews were the victims.” This is a very different statement, and one that we and our students can easily integrate into our understanding of ourselves.

But even during the Holocaust, our ancestors did not simply roll over and let the Nazis tell us what to do. Many Jews responded with an inner strength that held fast, even in the face of terror. Survivor Rivka Wagner has a wonderful answer for when people insist she should have lost her faith in G-d because of what happened to her: “Our faith was the one thing they could not take from us.” We can enrich our own Judaism by understanding how our ancestors fought for and held onto their Judaism, and how their Judaism served to help them hold onto their sanity and even to some hope.

Making Education Age-Appropriate

Age-appropriate lesson plans require careful thought. Here are somecritical ideas for developing age appropriate Holocaust lesson plans.

  • Have their usual teacher teach the lesson.

In many programs like this, it is tempting to bring in a specialist. Teachers are often uncomfortable with the material and sometimes there is one person in an organization who has specialized training, or a person may be brought in from the outside, from a Holocaust museum for instance. For the purpose of teaching the Holocaust, changing teachers is not a good idea.

The implications of what students hear in a Holocaust class may take them time to work through. Students may also go home and discuss these matters with parents, siblings, or friends. They may hear additional aspects of the story that were not covered in class. They may think of additional questions as they mull over what they have learned. It is essential that they can come back and ask the teacher about what they learned and talk about what they feel.

When their usual teacher, rather than an outsider, teaches the Holocaust lessons, the students feel that they have a resource to come back to when they have additional questions.

  • Work within your
    students’ attention spans.

The Holocaust is heavy material that can take a lot of focus. Know the limits of your students’ attention spans. Expect that these lessons will take multiple classes to cover. In each class, plan to use one block of your class’ attention span for your Holocaust lesson and then move on to other things.

  • Maintain age-appropriate safety nets.

How we present the stories to the children can make a big difference in how much difficulty they have with the lessons of the Holocaust. Here are some safety nets that Yad Vashem recommends to prevent trauma among younger students.

The first safety net is to emphasize that this is something that happened a long time ago. It is over now.

The stories for elementary school children are all about survivors. The children in these stories survived these experiences and grew up: most are grandparents now. To emphasize this idea, you should actually start at the end of the story, introducing the protagonist as an adult who wants to tell them a story that happened when s/he was a child.

With the youngest students (grades K-2), emphasize that this happened a long time ago, in a faraway land. This perspective adds some distance and reduces the likelihood that the children will become fearful that something similar could happen to them.

The second safety net is the recognition that for children, safety is not in homes but with families. An intact family and loving parents makes an enormous difference to the security of a child. Therefore, we emphasize that

The children in the stories for the younger students (grades K-4) still had intact, loving families. Although one parent may be lost, we get to the end of the story with at least one parent still alive and still with the child.

Even the children on the Kindertransport or living alone in the ghetto (which may happen in stories for grades 5 and 6) had parents who loved them (even if they had to send them away). In some cases, the children will be together with siblings, even if they had to leave their parents behind.

By maintaining these safety nets, we can make the lessons appropriate for each age group, and, as they say at Yad Vashem, bring our students “safely in and safely out” of the lesson.

  • Involve parents from the beginning.

It is important to include the parents in your discussions. In fact, you should include them early on and give them some say in what you are teaching. You need the support of the parents to successfully implement your program. The best way to garner their support is to recognize that parents are teachers, too, and teach them about the new narrative as you would your teachers.

Teaching the parents about the new narrative is almost as important as teaching the teachers. While teachers are the first line of education in this matter, parents are the second. Almost every student in your class will go home to their parents and tell them about the difficult story they discussed in class. The more difficult and intriguing the subject, the more likely it will be discussed with parents. The Holocaust is one of those difficult and intriguing subjects.

We recommend that you hold a meeting with parents early in the development phase of your program. A parent training seminar in how to talk to children about the Holocaust is an essential part of the program you develop. We also recommend a handout for parents with the basics of this training, because we know that not all parents will be able to attend the training. The Parents’ page is a good place to get information for a Parents’ Handout.

  • Teach through empathy, not through role-play.

Trying to imagine losing your home, your parents, or your children does not facilitate learning, or even empathy. It only puts you in a terrifying place you do not want to be.Do not ask, “How would you feel?” Instead, ask, “How do you think they felt?” The phrasing of this question leads to empathy and avoids trauma.

  • Do not expect your students to be solemn and quiet.

If we want our students to understand this difficult subject, then we must allow them to engage with the material. We must not expect them to be quiet in these lessons, for then they willdisengage and not learn. We must let our students react,let themrage, question, and work through all the feelings this very difficult subject brings up. It is essentialto allow the students time and space to work through these feelings in class where we can help them so that they do not haveto deal with these feelings on their own.