Sunday, July 22, 2012

Holocaust Unit

We had tickets to "The Sound of Music" at the Hale Center Theater (a special matinee for ages 3 and up), and I was trying to think of what we could study that would help the kids understand that story more. I checked out a few books about "the real story" of The Sound of Music (I put that in quotation marks because it's always subjective, right?---I read books by both Maria and by one of the Von Trapp children, and they each had their own distinct interpretations of what "the real story" was) to see if anything came to me.

What I decided was that we should do a unit on the Holocaust, with a little Austrian history thrown in. Even though the play doesn't have a huge focus on the War, it's a good springboard to the subject---and it certainly becomes more meaningful when you realize what is at stake for the Von Trapp family. I thought it was interesting that, in my reading, some people seemed to dismiss The Sound of Music as soon as they learned it was historically inaccurate, or "Hollywoodized" or whatever. For me, knowing the variations between movie and real life (the family really escaped by train, for example, instead of over the mountains) enhanced it and made it even more interesting to me. And I can't dismiss the appeal of the story, accurate or not---it's an accessible, engaging jumping-off point for further discussions about Hitler, the Anschluss, etc.

As I was planning out the books and activities, I kept thinking, "This is a weird subject to bring up with little kids. Will they be too scared or disturbed? Or worse, will they be bored and fail to realize the significance of this topic?" It seemed too insensitive to be looking for "activities" related to the Holocaust---yet I did want to make it interesting for the kids! So I spent a lot of time worrying about how it would all come together.
As it turned out, the kids seemed fascinated with the history of World War II, and were really interested in the books we read even when they were slightly above their level. (I often just tell about/summarize the longer parts for them.) In fact, all three of the boys asked me (when I said, "There's a lot more to study about World War II---we didn't even scratch the surface of it") "Please, can we do another World War II unit soon?" Hopefully it wasn't just their morbid curiosity (they did love looking at the photos of WWII destruction---bombed cities, etc---and I kept trying to say, "But remember, these were people's HOMES!") and they got at least a small sense of the weightiness of war.

This was, of course, a very brief and incomplete introduction to the Holocaust. I only showed a few pictures of the Concentration Camps, for obvious reasons, although those I did show were examined minutely by the boys. There were a few really good children's books I found, in addition to the more historical/older audience books we read from. I got emotional several times during this unit, and especially while reading these books, but I think it gave the lessons a little weight they might not have otherwise had (Abe kept peering curiously up at my face, trying to analyze why my voice kept quavering).

My favorite of the books was this one:
It's a great story; sad but thought-provoking, and well-told in the actual words of a German Jewish girl. There are pictures of her, now an old lady, in the back of the book, and it gives a nice sense of closure.

We loved this one too:
This one is a legend (no documentation of it actually happening) but it's a beautiful story, and was a good way to introduce the idea of resistance.What should good people do when confronted with evil? I liked the discussions we had, about how the answers to that question aren't simple, and how good people found different good ways to resist the Nazis.

This story (sorry, no picture) was a good one too, from a cat's perspective. The little kids especially liked it.

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