It’s a week of armies and war and soldiers and remembrance and the childer’s have reacted in a what I can only call a big muddle.
Their Dad is spending the week in the miluim which is the army service that all males do until around the age of 40 to 45. He’s training which means in essence walking a lot, usually at night with a huge backpack. To be honest I don’t know what he’s doing but I know he is carrying a gun and wearing army fatigues which in itself turns my blood cold. The childers, sorry rephrase that, the male childers in our family think this is rather cool. Daddy in uniform, with gun – yay. Hmmm maybe not. Unfortunately for hubby he also turned 40 this week and what better way to spend a landmark birthday than tramping in the desert with a load of other nearing middle age sweaty men.
This week was also Holocaust Day in Israel where at sundown all stores, restaurants and places of entertainment close as a mark of respect for the millions of lives taken in the Holocaust. The following morning businesses re-open but at 10am a minute siren is sounded throughout Israel and the country comes to a stop. Everyone stands in silence, where ever they are. Cars on highways pull over and drivers stand by their cars, buses stop, streets are silent. It is a moving and awe-inspiring experience that I often believe should be replicated on war remembrance days around the world.
The government and Yad Vashem released new guidelines to teachers on how to answer children’s questions about the siren and what the Holocaust was and for the first time the recommendation was that State nurseries should also be included. So that is where my almost 6-year-old and twin 3-year-olds learnt a little about Hitler, Germany, anti Semitism and remembrance.
In reality when they came home and I asked them what they did at nursery this is snippets of the conversation we had:
Number 2 son (age 3) – we know about Eeeetlerrrr. He drank poison and died. He’s dead.
Daughter (age 3) – yes and he drank poison and he was a baddy and he was called Eeeetler.
son (age 3) – and and and and Joan (not her real name) the nursery teacher’s grandpa and grandma had to hide in the woods and he got shot in the leg and there was lots of blood.
daughter (age 3) and they didn’t have any plasters
son (age 3) – and they were on the roof
Me – who was on the roof?
son (age 3) - the soldier who shot him and they tied his leg with material and they ran away
Me – and then what happened
both – he’s dead, he drank poison. he was called Eetler.
other son (age 6) – who’s Eetler?
Yes indeed. That is what happens when you try to tell history to children too young to even begin to understand. I did tell them that their teacher’s grandfather was not Hitler, at least I am presuming he wasn’t. I then let the subject drop rather than try to right the story. I will wait for any questions to explain more. Right now it seems like they think it’s an adventure story. There was no mention of remembrance or the siren, or paying our respects.
One day later number 1 son had been taught his teacher’s version of the government’s guidelines. This is what he told me:
‘Israel was at war with Germany and they used to be the baddies but now Israel is good friends with Germany. Germany put the Israeli’s in the prisons and some of them died and then the English decided to help and they opened the prisons so that the Israelis could go to Israel. Some of them died and that’s why we have a siren and stand in silence so we can remember them.’
I have paraphrased as it was told to me in Hebrew but the particular use of Israelis and the English ‘deciding’ is word for word.
Since Holocaust day we have had 3 nights. All 3 nights number 1 son has screamed out and shouted in his sleep – what he is dreaming about I don’t know. He has told me he doesn’t want me to get old, he doesn’t want me to die, that he doesn’t want to grow up, that he loves his life and his family and he wants it to stay the same forever. He has told me that when he finishes school he will have to go to the army and he wants to because soldiers have guns. He also asked what do soldiers actually do and that there are bombs in the ground that blow tanks up. To say his brain is muddled is an understatement. I think that Daddy is a soldier at the moment added to the bits and pieces of what he learnt about Holocaust Day have merged and he is trying to make sense of it all. Interestingly when he asked me why we need soldiers and an army I told him they were there to protect us and keep us safe and he said yes we need to defend ourselves from the baddies. “Who are the baddies?” I asked him (dreading the answer) and he looked at me like I was crazy and said “the other States who want to kill us and the robbers, the baddies” – duh silly Mummy.
I don’t know if his new fascination with death and old age is related to what he learnt. I don’t know if the fascination with soldiers and armies and wars is due to the absence of his Dad or what he learnt. I don’t know what he dreams about that makes him sit bolt upright shouting in his sleep. I do know that it started this week and as a parent I have little or no control over what he has been taught or told in pre-school. I hope what he told me is all he heard. As for my babies I can categorically say that I think it is wrong that they were even taught about it at such a very young age. I think personalizing it with tales from her own family was wrong of the teacher and the fact that they mixed her grandfather and Hitler rather suggests that it was too big a tale to tell. At the very least the guidelines set down should have been adhered to more strictly and the same amount and type of information should have been given to all nursery aged children.
I didn’t grow up here, I am not Jewish so I have no point of reference by which to navigate the waters of Jewish history. I can only hope that I have dealt with their questions well. To remember and to respect and to never let the facts of the Holocaust be forgotten is incredibly important for everyone, Jewish or not. However, at the tender ages of 3 to 6 children’s imaginations are wild and the difference between fact and fiction isn’t clear. As they grow they will develop the emotional intelligence to understand, for what purpose do they need to be taught about it now?
In remembrance of all those who perished in the Holocaust and during the Second World War. We must never forget.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this tricky subject. Was the government unfair to the teachers? Are the children to young?