History has always fascinated me! I love learning about the past and teaching it, but I was worried about teaching the Holocaust to my two innocent wide-eyed children. They’ve learned some past tragedies like the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the US Civil War, but nothing like the gruesome Holocaust. How do I tell them that millions of innocent people, some being little babies and children, were brutally murdered? It is such an important part of world history, though, so I needed to figure out how to teach it at their level – but how?! These are the thoughts that were running through my mind when we were heading towards the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. I didn’t know what to expect and was bracing myself for the tough conversations that would most likely come.
We walked in and were friendly greeted by the staff at the front desk. Once they saw the children in our group, they recommended we bring them through the children’s exhibition. A children’s exhibition?!! Yes, please!! My husband and other adults in our group (his parents and sister who were visiting us at the time) went through the rest of the museum while I took the kiddos through the children’s exhibition.
Inside the Children’s Exhibition at the Holocaust Memorial Museum
The exhibition entrance was conveniently located just to the right of the front desk and it was called Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story. You guys, it was brilliantly done! First, we walked in to a little room showing a super short video introducing Daniel. He’s a young Jewish boy that lived in Germany during the Nazi movement. Short excerpts from his diary are found all throughout the exhibition describing his life and experiences.
After the video, we walked into what was labeled as Daniel’s House. It is set up just like a typical family home before the Nazi era. In the kitchen, we read diary entries where Daniel recalls a time where he made cookies with him mom and sister. We went into his bedroom and saw his clothes, toys, and a comfortable bed. There are diary pages all over the room where we learned more about his life at home. A map on one of the walls showed us where Germany is located.
As we were leaving the house, we started noticing that things got less “happy”. By reading more of Daniel’s diary entries, we learned that Nazis are taking over and changing the laws. All Jews have to wear a yellow star patch labeling them as Jews. We got to see the star patch sewn onto Daniel’s and his little sister’s coats. Their family store is vandalized and their synagogue gets burned down. Daniel expresses his feelings of fear and sadness. My children were recognizing the cruel behavior on their own and I was touched that they were taking it seriously and knew the importance of showing respect.
Then, we read that they’re forced out of their home and moved into the Ghetto. The Ghetto is like a prison because the rules are strict and living conditions are very poor. Daniel’s family of four lives in one room now, struggles to keep warm, and eats very little. The beds are small and uncomfortable. Everyone is forced to work, even the children, and nobody gets paid. Daniel writes about these struggles and my kids got to actually see and touch this environment. I sat back and watched them explore the room and was amazed how their eyes were opening to the truth of it. You could see the sorrow and empathy on their faces.
The Concentration Camps
Leaving the Ghetto, we read more diary entries that informed us of rumors of people being taken to concentration camps. Daniel isn’t sure what a concentration camp is, but he’s scared to find out. People go there and don’t come back. Time comes for his family to be transported to the concentration camp. We watched a short video about the camps. Daniel and his father were immediately separated from his mother and sister and never saw them again. The men’s heads were shaved and everyone was assigned a jumpsuit with a number. Millions of people were murdered, including Daniel’s mother and sister. The video never went into detail how they were murdered, but Daniel mentioned something that hit home with my kids. He said, “1.5 million children were murdered. That’s like 8 schools disappearing every day for a whole year.”
Recognizing Thoughts and Feelings
After the final video, you walk into a room with notecards and markers. The children are asked to write down their thoughts and feelings after learning about the Holocaust. Other children’s responses are hung around the room to read. My kids went right into this activity without any instruction and their answers were completely their own.
Right Place at the Right Time
You’re not even going to believe the luck we had…when we walked out of the exhibition, there was an old man packing up a briefcase. We found out that he was there visiting as a Holocaust Survivor!! He was packing his things up and getting ready to leave. We bolted over there and snatched a quick photo with him. The kids were asking, “Is that Daniel? Do you think that’s Daniel?!” He wasn’t, his name was actually Henry Greenbaum, but it made the whole experience so much more real for my kids. Talk about the cherry on top, right?!
Would I Recommend the Exhibition?
ABSOLUTELY!! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain – it’s FREE and you get an unforgettable experience. Like I said, this exhibition was brilliantly done. My children felt the sorrow and understood that it was a terrible tragedy, but they haven’t been poisoned with images that will disturb them. I love how a young boy narrated it, which made is so much more relatable with the kids. I loved how we walked through real-life environments and my kids could engage in the story. They loved finding the diary entries located throughout the whole exhibition and learning more from Daniel’s perspective. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to teach the dreadful Holocaust to my children. If you get the chance to take your kids to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, please do! It’s an amazing opportunity to introduce and teach your children about the Holocaust.
What About the Adults?
You may be wondering how the other adults liked the rest of the museum. Well, there were FOUR FLOORS of information to read, pictures to browse, and artifacts to examine. They were flooded with unknown details and, of course, they came out feeling stunned and emotional. Hearing about some of what they saw, I was relieved that I stayed with the kids!
That’s all she wrote. Well done, Holocaust Memorial Museum – thank you so much for the educational and emotional field trip!