TALKING ABOUT THE UNFATHOMABLE: CHILDREN BOOKS IN GERMAN ON THE HOLOCAUST
In the last years many lauded children's books on the topic have been published in German that are hailed as child-appropriate. Holocaust is a difficult subject to talk about with your children, horrific and unfathomable even to adults. And you might wonder: What is the best age to start discussing this? Some experts recommend that the earliest you should start is 10 years. The reasoning is that for children younger than 10 years it is important to know that adults know what is right or wrong, that good will prevail and the evil punished. And the Holocaust takes that certainty. (For similar reasons some children's psychologists recommend to not expose them to the news before the age of 10.) Before that age you can prepare them though for the topic, educating them with books on speaking up for the weak, for justice and on civil courage, moral dilemma and personal responsibility. Children between age 5-10 start to explore relationships outside of the family. They often believe - according to research - that it is acceptable to form friendships based on race or gender. So it makes sense to start talking about tolerance at that age.
Other experts recommend that you can talk with 5 year olds about some people not liking or hating Jews just because they are Jews - or read books on overcoming prejudices. For children in primary school you can pick books about having to flee the country, while omitting any details of the actual holocaust.
Either way, if your child has heard about it some way or another and asks you about it, it definitely is time. And as always, books are a great way of acquainting children with this difficult topic. Read the books together with them, particularly with the younger kids below 10 years. And carefully answer their questions only, don't volunteer unasked information. If you want more advice on how to navigate the conversation and why you should have it, I can recommend this article from Psychology today , or this article on teaching about the holocaust to children 10 years and older (in German).
Here are my recommendations for children's books available in German. Classic autobiographical books - so important, particularly as the survivors and eye witnesses are becoming ever fewer. Others might be introducing a fantastical element, allowing children to personally identify and ask questions. Or illustrating the stories effectively in picture books or graphic novels.
Inge Deutschkron /Lukas Ruegenberg
Inge Deutschkron grew up in Berlin. She was one of the few Jewish people who survived in Berlin-thanks to Otto Weidt. He was a almost blind man who employed 30 mostly blind and deaf Jewish people during the time of Nazis in his broom workshop, forging their papers, bribing officers and hiding them in his office. He fought for them not to be deported - and when they were, he traveled to Auschwitz to try to help them, smuggling food in..
It is a rare story of a man who showed civil courage, told in a simple language - illustrated in pictures that make Berlin of the time come alive.
7 years and up
DER GEHEIMNISVOLLE KOFFER VON HERRN BENJAMIN
Walter Benjamin is in the center of this boldly illustrated picture book: He was a man of great and unusual ideas, but then one day his country decided that unusual ideas are dangerous and he had to flee. Mrs. Fittko offers to help him across the border, together with other refugees. She emphasized before meeting: travel light! To the horror of all, Benjamin showed up with a huge, heavy suitcase. What was in that suitcase? What would you take if you had to leave everything behind?
Based on Walter Benjamin's true story of flight (while omitting the holocaust and also his suicide at the border in the Pyrenees) this story takes up the true mystery of his suitcase - and addresses being in refugee in a very clever way. The collage illustrations work truly well with the story.
7 years and up.
PETER IN GEFAHR
Peter is a Jewish boy growing up in Budapest during WWII. It is a normal childhood - he goes sledding, plays soccer with buttons.. but things suddenly change. Jews have to wear a yellow star. Lots of things are forbidden for Jews. And his family almost is deported. They manage to escape and Peter and his family go into hiding. It is a life full of fear, hunger. But there is also just daily life - and boredom.
This graphic novel retells a true story - Helen Bate is the sister in law of Peter, who today lives in Vienna and has children and grandchildren. The books hints that most were not as lucky, but doesn't include gruesome details while being historically accurate. It stays with you for a long time.
7 years and up.
Martine Letterie / Julie Volk
KINDER MIT STERN
This book tells about the fate of Jewish children in the Netherlands during the German occupation. Rather then telling just one story it interweaves the stories of 6 different children, thus making the impact more felt.
Martine Letterie hits just the right tone in telling the terrible plight of Jewish kids during World War II for children, offering information, without being deeply unsettling for children.
The illustrations work well together with the text.
9- 10 years and up
ALS HITLER DAS ROSA KANINCHEN STAHL
A classic among children's literature, this book is the fictionalized autobiographical story of Judith Kerr herself. In 1933 Anna's family have to leave Berlin and the country, when the Nazis come to power. Her family is not only Jewish, her father is also a well known journalist who has criticized Hitler in his articles. Little Anna does not quite comprehend all this, all she knows is they have to leave life as she knew it behind - including her little lovey, a pink rabbit. They move to Switzerland, where her parents try to gain ground. But their life of fleeing and emigration doesn't end there, as antisemitism grows in Switzerland, and France eventually is no longer safe either..
10 years and up
Loic Duvollier / Marc Liviano
DAS VERSTECKTE KIND
Elsa wants to help her grandmother Dounia who can't sleep at night - and encourages to talk about her nightmares. So Dounia tells her granddaughter of her childhood in occupied France. How she was avoided by the other children at school when she had to start wearing a yellow star. How her parents were deported and their neighbors took her in and had to flee as well to protect her. And of her life in hiding.
A graphic novel that by telling the inter-generational background story makes children identify, keeping the right balance of telling without traumatizing.
10 years and up
In 2000 the Holocaust education centre in Japan was given a suitcase from Auschwitz. In it there is a name written in white letters: HANNA BRADY, orphan, May 16, 1931. The children were so intrigued by the suitcase that the curator of the centre, Fumiko Ishioka was determined to find out all about the girl. And so the reader learns too of the Jewish girl, who grew up in a small Czech town. Once the Nazis arrive the family's life is soon shattered.
A deeply gripping and moving, award winning non-fiction title.
10 years and up.
Ari Folman / David Polonsky
DAS TAGEBUCH DER ANNE FRANK
Anne Frank's diaries are probably the most well known literary testament of the Holocaust, so no need to introduce you to that. And I can only encourage you to read it (or have your children read it.). If your children however, are not strong or enthusiastic readers, the graphic diary might be a great introduction: the illustrations are strong and bold and the graphic diary retells her life while emphasizing Anne Frank's great sense of humor and wit.
12 years and up