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Young Kids and Visiting Concentration Camps?

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Jul 13th, 2018, 03:54 PM
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Young Kids and Visiting Concentration Camps?

There is a rather lively discussion going on in the following thread (Germany Concentration Camp) about appropriateness of taking young kids to Nazi concentration camps with graphic displays like Dachau, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, etc. Have you any experiences with taking kids there? And what general advice would you give families with younger kids about visiting these camps in general - all kids' maturitiy levels of course not being the same?

I have no experience taking kids there but would have taken my son if he were 12 or older and not dwelled on the most gruesome aspects as I find myself and many others doing. And there is no one right answer of course.
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Jul 15th, 2018, 02:32 AM
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When I visited Auschwitz a few years ago, there were parties of local school children being guided around the place and from what I could hear, no punches were pulled from the guide. These kids were 13/14 or so. Maybe it needs a hard hitting tour of these horrendous places to avoid a repetition of those atrocities. However, it seems that anti semitism is still rife in Eastern Europe (and not only Eastern Europe), so maybe it doesn't work. Depends on the kids.
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Jul 15th, 2018, 03:59 AM
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It is, IME. pretty hard not to "dwell" on any of the gruesome facts since the whole place is a gruesome fact. Figure it out: a "camp" in which people were worked/starved/tortured/medically experimented upon/immediately put to death because of their religious beliefs/sexual orientation/political leanings/ethnic background/eligibility as scapegoats.

What parts are not gruesome?
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Jul 15th, 2018, 05:44 AM
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Honestly, I don't think I could bear the atmosphere myself, let alone exposing a child to it. But obviously some people get something valuable out of the experience.
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Jul 15th, 2018, 06:05 AM
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The tour guide did not delete nor sanitize any of the gruesome history at Auschwitz.
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Jul 15th, 2018, 06:05 AM
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When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, as an adult, I went to mourn/pay my respects to the victims, as a witness, and to report on the experience for my blog. It was much more draining than I, perhaps naively, expected and it took me several days to recover. I am somewhat sensitive to atmosphere, and I could practically feel evil seeping out of the ground, where little seemed to want to grow.

Of course, it is important that school children should learn wha happened, but I would want a child of mine to be well into their teens before visiting. The child in question on the other thread was, I believe, 11.
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Jul 15th, 2018, 01:07 PM
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Why not discuss it with the child first? Seems kind of obvious to me.
  1. Discussion helps the parent test the child's ability to deal with it.
  2. Makes them part of the decision
  3. Helps to prepare them if you do end up going.
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Jul 15th, 2018, 01:29 PM
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Even some, presumably adults, like thursdayds found Birkenau-Auschwitz a traumatic event - not sure young kids would always and it depends yes on things walkinaround mentions. I have gone to Auschwitz-Birkenau and though grisly the remains of say gas chambers and piles of false teeth and eyeglasses in showcases was sobering but yes I was prepared to be shocked so yes walkinaround's advice is spot on IMO.
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Jul 15th, 2018, 09:35 PM
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I visited Auschwitz / Birkenau as an adult. I found it profoundly disturbing. I hope that I am never able to visit such a place without finding it profoundly disturbing.

Extensive psychological research shows that children differ in their intellectual and emotional abilities to deal with disturbing information. Extensive psychological research shows that parents differ in their ability to help children deal with disturbing information.

Maybe we should acknowledge that there is no specific age before or after which it is appropriate to expose someone to a concentration camp? Maybe we should trust parents a bit, and encourage them to be responsive to their children?
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Jul 15th, 2018, 10:56 PM
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I visited the Natzweiler-Struthof death camp as a child. It was the only Nazi concentration camp on French soil. Naturally, it was a bit shocking, but life was not as sanitized in those days. WW2 was less than 20 years in the past, and there were still plenty of war ruins everywhere. Also, all of my French relatives had plenty of war stories to tell, most of them quite grim. Frankly, as I child I found it more disturbing when my grandparents told about returning to their home after the liberation and finding that their neighbors had stolen most of the furniture ("We didn't think you were coming back."). Photographs of starving prisoners and seeing crematory ovens just didn't have the same effect on me, but stolen furniture was something that my childish mind could understand.

Revisiting this same death camp a couple times as an adult has had a far more profound effect on me. So I would say one doesn't really need to worry about taking children to such a place -- it's the adults you have to be careful about.
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Jul 17th, 2018, 07:09 AM
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Schoolboys and schoolboys are taken to concentration camps. I went when I was 13. Quite educative. Yet many end up voting FN as adults.

Younger I liked visiting torture chambers in medieval castles. Blessed be the innocents I guess.
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Jul 18th, 2018, 11:51 PM
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I'd think it varies according to the child's ability to understand the difference between gruesome imagination and brutal reality, as well as their capacity to cope with the latter. It would almost be worse for a youngster to come away with the impression of some ghoulish theme park ("it's only make-believe") than for them to be traumatised. It would have to be down to parents and teachers, but nobody is infallible.
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Jul 19th, 2018, 02:15 AM
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some friends of mine will not visit whale bone museums for the same reason

I think talk to the kid but I do think you need to offer a rounded experience to children to recognise a range of human thinking, from the disgusting to the pleasant
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Jul 19th, 2018, 07:42 AM
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There is another consideration with age. On the older side. When I visited concentration camps, there were usually school groups in older age groups others mention as more appropriate ages. At least looking from outside, it seemed these kids looked rather bored and did not seem to show apparent epiphany coming to terms with something awful they have perhaps only read as something in the past that happened to someone else. I hoped they learned something valuable. However, there were always school age groups that seem to be mesmerized ones with Israel flags or being guided in Hebrew as if the stories they heard from their grandparents came to life.

At least among people I know around me, those who have grown up in cocooned environments seem to be more comfortable engaging in wars in faraway lands inhabited by someone who live differently.
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Jul 19th, 2018, 08:35 AM
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Originally Posted by PalenQ View Post
There is a rather lively discussion going on in the following thread (Germany Concentration Camp) about appropriateness of taking young kids to Nazi concentration camps with graphic displays like Dachau, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, etc. Have you any experiences with taking kids there? And what general advice would you give families with younger kids about visiting these camps in general - all kids' maturitiy levels of course not being the same?

I have no experience taking kids there but would have taken my son if he were 12 or older and not dwelled on the most gruesome aspects as I find myself and many others doing. And there is no one right answer of course.

Personal story: my father, who had been there during WW2 as an adolescent, took us to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Based on my personal experience there, I'd say: don't take your children. For me, 12 is already too young.
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Jul 19th, 2018, 09:25 AM
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Well I think parents have to think twice about kids that age but I also think in menachem's case it hit too close to home - hearing all about the horror stories and then seeing up close - modern kids especially those with no personal associations may be less impacted - like greg says above some looked bored - that's really sad but today's kids again much much farther removed. But IMO parents should think twice about kids visiting that age.
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Jul 19th, 2018, 10:01 AM
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I agree with the people who've said talk it through with your kids and see what they say about a possible visit. Would also echo the sentiment that it's important to look at the trip holistically and celebrate positive things about the country and explore more widely too. I saw a TV documentary about the Jewish perception of anti-semitism in the modern era, about 2-3 years back, and one of the items in this programme covered the visit of an Israeli school to a concentration camp in either Poland or the Czech Republic. Something that really alarmed me was that the children were told in advance that pretty much everyone was anti-semitic, and that they wouldn't be safe outside the confines of their hotel on their own. The only thing they did on that entire trip was visit the camp. That's it. I thought it was hugely unhealthy. You often see threads on Fodors about concentration camp visits discussed in a really quite pious/lecturing way, and whilst it's important to teach history to avoid repetition, it's also just as important to remember that virtually no-one from that generation is alive today. Also, if you are going to do down the 'paying my respects route', are you also planning on taking your children to Bosnia or Rwanda, or other sites of historical conflict and genocide? Think about your reasons for this trip, however well intentioned, and what message you might be conveying. Is it personal to you (ie family members imprisoned in the camp) or just tokenism (said with no disrespect).
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Jul 19th, 2018, 11:03 AM
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Originally Posted by PalenQ View Post
Well I think parents have to think twice about kids that age but I also think in menachem's case it hit too close to home - hearing all about the horror stories and then seeing up close - modern kids especially those with no personal associations may be less impacted - like greg says above some looked bored - that's really sad but today's kids again much much farther removed. But IMO parents should think twice about kids visiting that age.

PalenQ, the point it wasn't mentioned much in our house. There was a conspiracy of silence around it. So imagine our puzzlement when my father announced we would travel to Poland to see what had happened to him during the war.
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Jul 19th, 2018, 02:19 PM
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We are Catholic, and part of our kids' religious education was to visit the Holocaust Museum in Richmond, VA. My older daughter was about 13 at the time, and told the leader of the group that she could not enter the museum because her knees were hurting her from a soccer game. In this museum, you crawl into a tunnel and experience what it was like for people to live in a tunnel for years at a time. She simply could not handle what was inside the museum. She told me later that after seeing all the shoes of the dead as you walk in, that she didn't want to see anymore. To this day, she is 25 years old, I think she would have horrendous nightmares entering anything like a concentration camp. As a matter of fact, I picked the book she would read about on the Holocaust in 8th grade because of what happened at the museum. Her younger sister, who was 12 at that time went right in and said it was a very uncomfortable experience.
Some kids are less okay with the gruesome stuff than others. I think you have to look at children individually before you bring them to something like a concentration camp and I would not recommend any child under 16 go to something like that. But some kids are less effected by it than mine were.
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Jul 19th, 2018, 02:37 PM
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lt seems the prevailing attitude is that most folks with experience doing it would urge caution and yes every kid is different - best to error on side of caution though. Took my son to DC Holocaust Museum when he was about 12 and did not seem to be a problem but that is not like seeing the real thing.
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