PS/IS 276: The Battery Park City School is a K-8 NYC public school across the street from the Museum. The school’s principal, Dr. Terri Ruyter, wrote an entry for the school blog about the freight car artifact being installed in front of the Museum with advice on talking to younger children about the Holocaust. Read her entry below, or on the PS/IS 276 school blog.

By Dr. Terri Ruyter

We are fortunate to have amazing cultural institutions in our neighborhood. The Skyscraper Museum, right next door, helps us document the history of our school — from photographs of our building going up in their archives to resources of our changing neighborhood. The Museum of the American Indian, a branch of the Smithsonian, has provided our teachers and students a number of amazing learning opportunities that open our eyes to different stories and histories of indigenous peoples of the Americas. And we have the China Institute on Rector and Washington, Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street and the Museum of Jewish Heritage across the street. We are surrounded by a richness of educational and cultural institutions. We are so lucky to have these resources so close by! They inform us and challenge us to think more widely about the world.

Often these exhibits are inspiring and uplifting. Sometimes, they are sobering.

This spring, the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is opening an exhibition on the history of Auschwitz. The purpose of this exhibit is to explore “the dual identity of the camp as a physical location—the largest documented mass murder site in human history—and as a symbol of the borderless manifestation of hatred and human barbarity.” As part of this exhibit, the Museum will exhibit a freight car that was used to transport Jews from the ghettos to Auschwitz. The train car will be installed on the plaza in front of the Museum. It will spark conversations in our community that may be challenging and informative. Children will have questions about it and we adults will need to think about how to answer their questions that are truthful and developmentally appropriate.

I did some research on some ways we can talk to our younger children about the Holocaust. First, it is important to note that there is wide agreement that we not talk specifically about the Holocaust with children younger than 9.

We can, however, make sure that we inform children accurately in developmentally appropriate ways and we want to make sure our responses to their questions build empathy and resilience. When we answer their questions, we want to be sure to

  • Start slowly
  • Be honest but be careful what you say
  • Emphasize tolerance and respect
  • Insure your children that they are safe
  • Take action together to make the world better

That might sound like:

The Museum is a place where we can learn about Jewish history. There have been some sad parts in the history of Jewish people. They have been excluded and have been treated unkindly. The Museum is telling one of those stories right now. Later, when the Museum changes the exhibit, we can go there to learn about the amazing history of the Jewish people.

There are some sad stories in history. We learn from these and how people are resilient and how we can do things better than they were done in the past.

You can also begin with an example from your child’s own life in which your child or a friend was treated unfairly because of skin color, religion, or some kind of disability and talk with your child about how this felt. Then, together, you can practice speaking out against injustice:

“Talk like this makes me uncomfortable, I don’t like those words…”

“The train car is part of a sad part of history when people weren’t treated fairly. It is there to remind us of these stories and to think about how we can treat people kindly.”

You can also talk to your children about your own family’s traditions and how you help others and each other to help overcome adversity There is research that shows that children who have knowledge of the ups and downs of their family story are more resilient than children who know little or who only know the good parts of the family story. “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”

Here are some resources that can help you navigate these conversations. You should always preview resources before sharing them with your child.

How should you talk to your children about the Holocaust?

Discussing the Holocaust with Children

Books for children about the Holocaust

The Number on Great-grandpa’s Arm (video)