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  • Dr. Shay Pilnik

When Should I Introduce the Holocaust to My Child?

Students listen to Holocaust Survivor Nate Taffel as a part of HERC’s field trip program “From Ignorance & Fear to Knowledge & Understanding: Jews, Judaism, & the Holocaust”

When should parent introduce the topic of the Holocaust to their children? This is a very difficult question and the answer will vary from child to child, from family to family. There is also a difference between a parent talking to his/her child about this tragedy and it being introduced at school. At home, these books and movies may be helpful to begin a discussion:

4th-8th Grade:

The Diary of Anne Frank (book)

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story (book)

Number the Stars (book and film)

Inside Hana’s Suitcase (film)

Miracle at Midnight (film)

Paper Clips (film)

High School:

The Diary of David Sierakowiak (book)

Man’s Search for Meaning (book)

Night by Elie Wiesel (book)

Survival in Auschwitz (book)

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (film)

Over the last threeand a half years I have been proud to serve the Milwaukee Jewish community, our city and state as the executive director of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, an organization that carries the legacy of my family, fellow community members and people. While on a deeply personal level I have been introduced to the Holocaust at the age of five, when I learned that my great grandparents were shot and buried at a mass grave outside their town, together with my grandpa’s younger siblings, the memory of the Holocaust is a subject that touches people from different corners of our community, Jews and non-Jews alike. It is not hard to see in the Holocaust a unique event that also set an example for humanity’s horrific capacity to plunge into unimaginable cruelty and barbarism when blind hate and intolerance reign.

At HERC, we believe the Holocaust should be introduced to children slowly and responsibly. Our center has been approached in the past by 3rd and 4th grade teachers who taught and read stories, diaries and memoirs about the Holocaust with their students. As a rule, HERC prefers to work with 7th grade students and up, and even then, we try to avoid excessive use of graphic images and footage that will be hardly possible for students to grasp or comprehend. The role of HERC, after all, is to introduce students to this difficult subject and help them understand that learning about this very difficult subject may - and perhaps even should – be a life-long task.

For me and for the wonderful and dedicated leaders who have built our center, life is lived in the shadow of that terrible event, and it is our duty to ensure that the Holocaust will never be forgotten; that our younger generation in particular will understand the grave danger of hatred and racism, when these go unchecked. We are here to keep these dangerous trends at bay, especially in these critical times, having a powerful, transformative tool at our disposal –education.

Throughout the year HERC touches thousands of people with a variety of resources and programs:

  • [if !supportLists]Testimonies by Holocaust survivors, who are now joined by the children of deceased survivors (our 2G group)

  • [if !supportLists]Holocaust educator lessons (provided by the HERC staff and trained volunteers) and Holocaust materials trunks for the classroom

  • [if !supportLists][endif]Two teacher training workshops, conducted both in Milwaukee during the fall and in communities as far as Sheboygan and Oshkosh during the spring season

  • [if !supportLists]Films, lectures, exhibits and theatrical plays offering adults and college students stimulating programs about the Holocaust and related topics. View HERC’s upcoming events here

  • [if !supportLists][endif]Field trips for schools and community members as well as overseas study missions. Learn more about our upcoming trip to Poland and Israel here

I encourage you to open these links, go to our website, learn more about the wealth of our activities and programs, and join us for what is going to be a busy and highly educational season. If you wish to volunteer or support HERC, please don’t hesitate to contact us. The Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center needs you now, in these critical times, more than ever!

Dr. Shay Pilnik earned his Bachelor’s degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, majoring in Comparative Literature and Jewish Thought. He continued his academic training at McGill University in Montreal, where he graduated with an MA in Jewish Studies, specializing in East European Jewish Culture. In the fall of 2005, he began a Ph.D. program at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the field of Modern Jewish Studies. He defended his doctoral dissertation in the spring of 2013, dealing with the commemoration of the Babi Yar Massacre in Soviet Russian and Yiddish literature. From 2008-2014, he was an adjunct instructor at the Universities of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Oshkosh, lecturing on a variety of topics including modern Jewish history, the Holocaust, and the religions of the world. Contact Shay: or 414-963-2719.


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