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Children’s Literature and the Holocaust

Children’s Literature and the Holocaust

During the 1940’s Jewish Europeans experienced an unthinkable and atrocious collective trauma. In her work “Survivor-Parents and Their Children” taken from the anthology Generations of the Holocaust, Judith S. Kestenberg has argued that regardless of location, the effects of the Holocaust are felt on survivors parenting. The children of survivors receive a secondary traumatic impact by being forced to deal with the impact the Holocaust had directly on their parents. The novel Briar Rose by Jane Yolen is an example of a Holocaust survivor sharing her experiences through a fictionalized tale made for young adults. Some may believe that a traditional, educationally focused history source or a first hand account from a survivor is the best way to inform children about the Holocaust. It has been discovered through research of survivors and their families that first hand accounts passed down from parent to child are traumatizing. However, history books are ineffective because people are turned into statistics, thereby trivializing the terror of the Holocaust. This essay argues that a fictional style of storytelling or literature is the best way to inform children and adolescents about the Holocaust. Witnessing is important, however, there is no educational value in traumatizing children; it is better to use literature that explains the Holocaust at a level children and young adults can handle.
Milton Meltzer, author of Never forget: The Jews of the Holocaust discusses the importance of witnessing: “To forget what we know would not be human. To remember (it) is to think of what being human means. . . Indifference is the greatest sin. . . . It can be as powerful as an action. Not to do something against evil is to participate in the evil” (Sherman 173). Meltzer gives the straightforward conclusion that people must be educated about the Holocaust because to remain silent about it is just as bad as playing a role in persecuting Jews. This conclusion also gives the rationale for teaching children about the Holocaust. But more specifically, why else may witnessing be important and what are the drawbacks of witnessing?
Despite the logic and seemingly usefulness of witnessing, it can be a traumatic experience for the witness. The trauma experienced through first hand accounts can be further explained through the use of Marianne Hirsch’s article “Projected Memory: Holocaust photographs in Personal and Public Fantasy,” which discusses ways people can perceive traumatic...

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