She Gets It

I was talking yesterday with Beanie (who, for those of you who may not know or remember, is my nine-year-old daughter), while Daddy and Punkin’ (my eleven-year-old) were out renting a movie, about my experiences at the Holocaust fellowship.  I started the conversation by asking her if she understood what I had just done.

Bean:  Yep.  You went to study about the Holocaust.

Me:  And what is “the Holocaust”?  Can you explain it?

B: Well, it was a time when bad people did terrible things to a lot of other people.  They took them from their homes and they put them in special places all together and..

M: Wait a minute – who’s “they“?

B; The Nazis.

M: Good – remember that it wasn’t just “the Germans.”  The Nazis were a special group, and it’s better to think of the people who did these things as Nazis.

This conversation went on for a bit, and she expressed her understanding of the basic points of the Shoah.  Then I asked her if she understood WHY I spent a week away; did she comprehend why I thought that this was important enough to go away from my family for a week?

It took her a little while to work her way around it – she focused mainly on my professional life, saying things like “so you can teach about the literature and poetry from that time” and “so you can be a better teacher.”  Finally, though, I asked her WHY I think these things are important to do – WHY do I teach the literature and poetry?  WHY do I want to be a better teacher?

She thought for a moment or two, then said, “So you can make people understand that hate is bad, and so that it might never happen again.”

Exactly.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “She Gets It

  1. Children often “get” what adults don’t. Good for Beanie!

  2. I was watching Freedom Writers last night for the third time, slow TV night. I wonder how much of the movie is true to what really happened…if it is true, I think the impact learning about the Holocaust had on those kids was pretty amazing. There are certainly lessons to be learned today. I’m jealous of your experience.

  3. Robert Haroldson

    I don’t know, I think blaming the Shoa on “Nazis” is too simplistic. I think that by blaming this on the bad guys (the Nazis) it deflects the blame from us, as human beings. I’m no sociologist but I thought about this a lot during the Abu Graib scandal. I thought to myself why did these otherwise ordinary soldiers behave so callously towards the prisoners? My conclusion is that whenever you give certain humans complete and unfettered control over other humans somthing evil in the human psyche is released. We’ve seen this over and over again in history and no race or nation is immune to this. You can call them Nazis, Marxists, Khmer Ruge, the Red Brigades, Bathists, or Jacobins, etc., the label doesn’t matter. Anyone can be swept up in this madness. What I learn from the Shoa and other attrocities is to be very watchfull of government or other groups of humans becoming too powerful and unaccountable for their actions. The Shoa can easily happen again because this capacity for evil lies within all of us to some degree. We must be ever vigilant in order to avoid it.

  4. CTG, this kid astounds me on a fairly regular basis, as does the other one. It makes me realize how desperately important my EXAMPLE is, because I recognize that they’re watching ALL THE TIME.

    Nancy, thank you – I’d be jealous of me, too, and I’m actively trying to recruit people into this program (email me at mrschili at comcast dot net if you want information). I think that education is vital – it’s literally the only thing that can save us. Obviously, the guns aren’t working.

    Robert, thank you so much for your comments!

    I could not agree with you more, but I want to point out that we’re talking about a conversation with a nine-year-old. A very mature and precocious nine-year-old, to be sure, but a nine-year-old nonetheless.

    What I wanted to get across to her was that saying that “the Germans” are the ones responsible for the Shoah is far more dangerous than pinning it on the Nazis. There were – and, as you so rightly point out, are – a lot of people who act on that evil, certainly, and I’m not happy about narrowing the scope down to one group, but the fact of the matter remains that there were more Germans who did not participate than did. I don’t want to go encouraging the same kind of group stereotype that leads to these kinds of atrocities in my own children, so I wanted to be very careful about what nouns get used in these conversations.

    I consider myself a very smart, considered woman, and *I* still have trouble with this issue. Would Germany have tread the path she did had she not had that particular leadership? Would more people have stood up had the press been freer? How DO we account for the people who knew what was happening and did nothing? How does that accounting apply to us in the faces of Abu Graib and Darfur and Kenya? Hell, how does that accounting apply to us in the face of some of the things that happen in our own back yards? Warrentless wiretaps and habeus corpus, anyone?

    This is SUCH a complex and overwhelming topic, and I welcome everyone’s input about my thinking, even when it comes to how I teach my children. I wanted Beanie to understand that it wasn’t the GERMAN PEOPLE, per se, who thought this up; many of them did what they did at the end of a gun. Your point, Robert, is well taken, however, and as my daughters and I continue this conversation, we’ll expand it out into all the gray areas that we can find.

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