The Holocaust and Big Questions For Our Children

Posted on May 21, 2018 by

We’re studying the Holocaust in my classroom right now. I knew it was coming….middle school kids are in that developmental phase where they mimic what they see in the media. They parrot their parents or family members, not always realizing what is coming out of their mouth.

Very often, that can be problematic at best.

At worst, it can show the hate that is simmering in our country. It can spew the language of division, and mimic the actions of those adults who should know better, but don’t.

I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.

In the last three weeks, it’s happened at my peaceful little school. Anti-LGBTQ language. Symbols of hate carved into bathroom stalls. Girls coming to me sharing stories of sexual harassment from male classmates…all this simmering beneath the surface of our children.

They look to us for guidance, but we don’t always know the right or appropriate thing to say. They look at the news, the media, and see people in their country showing hate, bringing guns to schools, using words to demean and disregard and dismiss behaviors. They want us to find the villain, to get back to ‘normal’. 

And so somehow, inside my tiny classroom, I need to shift course. I need to model more love and acceptance without showing my own anger or fear or disgust at the actions of people around me and in our government.

So I teach and weave in lessons of history, of courage, of love, and yes, of the power of hate. The power of hope, and helpers, and believing that deep down, people really are good at heart.


Teaching The Diary of Anne Frank at the end of the year always makes me a bit uneasy. It’s not a ‘light’ story by any means, and as we are heading towards celebrating a year of learning together, it often seems out of place in the May curriculum.

Until this year. I need my students to understand the power of hate.

I want them to know why the Nazi symbol holds such venom and what the Star of David, identifying Jews and ultimately bringing millions to a horrific death, teaches us about faith.

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...

I want them to know when they see these images that there is a backstory – and to understand why we must lock bathrooms and be vigilant and intolerant of hate and violence against each other.

Some of you might think that they’re just kids – they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just mimicking what they see on social media, or repeating what they hear without processing.

And I’d say you’re right – and that’s precisely the problem. Why are they seeing these images and hearing language of hate and intolerance in 2018, decades after we should have learned this lesson? Why are they watching leaders and decision makers act with disregard for those that aren’t in the 1%? Why are they seeing images of citizens of the world herded into temporary shelters, or no shelter at all, simply because they seek a life without persecution for living their authentic selves?

I want them to ponder the big questions the Holocaust brings to mind – questions like “What do you gain when you stand up under adversity?” and “Who is worse – the attacker or the bystander?”

I want them to learn about the unknown heroes of the Holocaust – those folks who aren’t famous for their actions, except to those they helped.

I want my students to talk about why we sometimes feel superior to others. I want them to think about their legacy – even though they’re only 13.

This is our time to rise up, teachers. Don’t dismiss the last few weeks of the school year – leverage them. You’ve spent months developing relationships with your students. Take advantage of that. Use these days, weeks, or hours with your young people to explore what’s happening in their world – our world. Talk to them about what they see and hear. Ask them to think critically about local, national, and global issues. Guide them to meaningful media to learn about the world and then communicate their beliefs to an audience. Do a podcast. Write a blog. Shoot a video clip. Give them a voice.

We already know we’re not solving the problems. We already know that the hatred and gun violence and #metoo movements were formed on the backs of our inability to make change happen.

And we already know that we still have a chance, still have an obligation to our children.

So parents, teachers….do something. Teach someone. Talk to the young people in your life. And most importantly, LISTEN.

If you’d like a copy of my Diary of Anne Frank hyperdoc, including text sets about the Holocaust and Judaism, click here. Share it. You don’t have to be a teacher (or a student) to learn from it. You just need to have a desire to make change happen.

We are really better together. We really should be better.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Comments: 6

  • Robbie Cheadle

    May 23, 2018

    The holocaust is something the whole of humanity should be ashamed of for all eternity. I have read The Diary of Anne Frank and many others and I have many, many Jewish friends. We must ensure that this sort of behaviour is nipped in the bud always.

    • Jennifer Wolfe

      May 23, 2018

      Robbie, I completely agree. The lessons from the Holocaust – and from so much of our history – seem to be easily forgotten. My students are constantly surprised by the parallels they can find between ‘then’ and ‘now’ – thank you for commenting, and please share the word. ~Jennifer

  • Jennifer Wolfe

    May 22, 2018

    Joy, Thank you for the beautiful comment on my post. Parenting is such a hard job – if you do it right. I feel the same way about teaching…and you’re right. We aren’t perfect. But we cannot let these atrocities happen again. We need to teach our kids to THINK – not just repeat facts and check boxes. History is there for us to learn from – not memorize dates. Take good care,

  • Joy Lennick

    May 22, 2018

    As a Humanist, I try hard to be a good person and that includes embracing everyone of whatever faith, colour and creed. I’m married to a good Jewish man, who also practices being a Humanist. Divisions divide, as does jealousy and greed. (Not exactly news!) I admire your fervour and desire to help, and firmly believe more can be taught about loving your neighbour. caring and sharing. We have brought up three sons to maturity, and thankfully all have a healthy respect for humanity. We’re far from perfect. Who is? But at least we did our best. My husband has a saying: “You need a licence to drive a car, but anyone…can have a child!” Perhaps teachers can assist when some of those ‘anyones’ fail?! It’s a hard task, but I’m sure that most of the people who truly care about the future generation’s lives appreciate your efforts and hard work. Thank you.

  • Amy M. Reade

    May 22, 2018

    Beautiful–both heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. It sounds like your students are already on the right path with a teacher who is thoughtful and caring and recognizes their need to understand and be understood. Thanks for such a wonderful post.

    • Jennifer Wolfe

      May 22, 2018

      Amy, thank YOU for the lovely comment. I do hope that I’ve made a difference in the way my students think and see the world…it’s my contribution towards peace. Take care. ~Jennifer

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