Like most of my friends growing up in the ‘80s, the Holocaust cast a silent, ugly shadow over our lives; a dark mystery hinted at in adults’ knowing looks, leaden silences, and the occasionally glimpsed tattooed numbers on a grandparent’s arm.
We were all descended from Europeans, my friends and I, and we all knew someone—if not a grandparent, then a grandparent’s friend—who was a Holocaust survivor. We knew that survivors had most likely watched their siblings, parents, and/or children murdered.
But we were too young to contemplate what this all meant.
As we grew, we gradually learned more. We were assigned Grandparent Interviews. Schools held Heritage Fairs. In high school, books on the Holocaust became mandatory reading.
Some of us gravitated toward those books, reading everything we could possibly get our hands on. There were nights when we dreamed of cattle cars; midnight, barefoot runs through frozen forests. We asked ourselves whether we would have been the one to give away our last crust of bread to a sister or friend; imagined how it must felt to have bodies falling on top of you.
We reached adulthood understanding this truth: Jews were targeted for death during the Holocaust. As Jews, this was our heritage.
My children are one more generation removed from this particular evil than I am, but they are growing up in a world with a different kind of evil.
Or maybe it’s the same evil, just with a different name.
Experts on child development advise that it’s important for children, and especially young children, to feel secure in their world. So I discuss things like suicide bombings and terrorist attacks with my children, but I temper the message. Maybe one can call it “fudging” the truth: I tell them that they are safe, and Mommy and Daddy won’t ever let anything happen to them.
As they get older, I tell them a little more of the truth, bit by bit.
I want my children to know—and own—their heritage. I want them to be strong and courageous and good; to defend the weak and vulnerable, take a stand for justice, and respect the humanity in all people.
I want them to make this world a better place.
How can they do any of that if they don’t first acknowledge this sad, yet fundamental fact of life: that evil exists?
Once, a year ago, news of a particular terrorist attack affected me deeply, and I cried. Normally, I don’t cry in front of my kids, but this time, it just happened. My children asked me why I was crying, and I told them.
They can’t relate to much of this at their ages, I know.
But some day, they’ll be adults, and maybe they’ll remember their mother’s tears.
And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.