Ruh-rohhh, did I scar my daughter by taking her to the Holocaust Memorial Museum

Yayyyy, we’re on a super fun girls’ trip in Washington DC, and I have SO much fun stuff planned!! A tour of the White House, the Air and Space Museum, the Spy Museum, etc etc etc!!! But as we’re driving to the BEP (the totally kickass place that prints all of country’s money), the Uber driver points out the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Zoey’s like…

ZOEY: Can we go there?

ME: Umm, uhhhh, do you know what it is?

ZOEY: Yeah, when those bad people killed the Jews.

She knew. Kinda. We’ve slightly mentioned the Holocaust to our kids. And by slightly, I mean verrrry slightly. Like last year I told Zoey about Anne Frank a little and I mentioned that some very hateful people killed a lot of Jews. But that’s about it. And I wasn’t sure whether she was ready for a “more graphic” depiction of what happened.

ME: We’ll see.

So that night after she went to bed in the hotel, I jumped online to do some research, and I found out a few things about the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  • The museum is good for ages 12+ but some 10 and 11-years-olds might be ready

  • There’s a special place in the museum for kids to learn and it’s called Daniel’s Story

  • If we wanted to see the permanent exhibit I should make reservations for $1 

So I thought about Zoey. She’s 10 but she’s pretty mature and very sensitive. So okay, we’ll go. I figured we can always leave if it’s not good for her yet. 

If you’re thinking about taking a child now or ever, you should definitely read what I did right and what I did WRONG. Because yes, I did something I would definitely take back if I could do it again. 

The section of the museum called Daniel’s Story

We walked through Daniel’s Story slowly. I said very little, and let her take as long as she wanted at each display.

I like how they tell you right up front that Daniel survives. I think for children this was a good call so they’re not worried.

It was beautiful how they helped you relate to Daniel and understand he was a regular boy with an average childhood before the Nazis took over.

Zoey was very bothered by the fact that some of Daniel’s friends wouldn’t play with him anymore. She knows how much it hurts when a friend won’t play with you.

Zoey doesn’t really know what it’s like to be hungry. She kept touching the bread like she couldn’t believe it.

Over the years, she’s learned about how African-Americans were once forced to use separate water fountains and bathrooms, but she never knew there was a time Jews had to sit on separate benches and got kicked out of swimming pools. 

By the end of Daniel’s Story, she had tears in her eyes, and even though Daniel survived, she was devastated the Nazis killed Daniel’s mother and sister. You could tell she immediately thought about her brother and how sad this would make her. It ended in a room where people could write a postcard and put it in a mailbox to Daniel. Zoey definitely wanted to. And so did many of the kids who came through. 

The “other” section of the museum

Like I said, I’d also booked us tickets online to the main exhibit, and even though they only cost me $1, I just kind of had it in my head that we were going. Mistake. We hop on an elevator and head to the top floor where the main exhibit begins. As soon as we step off the elevator, the first thing we’re faced with is a giant photograph of dead bodies who had been murdered by the Nazis.

Zoey stands there for a moment trying to figure out what she’s looking at, and as soon as she realizes she wants to leave. We start to look for a way to exit the exhibit, but it’s not easy. We have to wind our way through hundreds of people who are looking at heart-wrenching letters and pictures and objects from the Holocaust and Zoey is panicked. She desperately wants to get out. She’s almost in tears. 

Right before we find the exit, we hear a woman speaking in a video and she’s talking about being tied up and how the guards would shoot you if you did something wrong, and Zoey looks at me and says…

ZOEY: Mom, did you hear that?!

ME: Yes. I know, it’s very sad.

And then we find our way out. Finally.

All I’m thinking is oh no, I hope my sensitive little girl isn’t scarred by this. I hope she doesn’t have nightmares. I hope she can forget what she saw and doesn’t dwell on it. But then this happens. 

Like pretty much every museum, at the end of the exhibit, we are spit out near a gift shop, and of course Zoey wants to get something. She always wants to get something. Every museum, every roller coaster, every airport, every Disney ride, every time we find ourselves in a gift shop, she begs me. And my answer is always the same. Even at the Holocaust Museum. 

ME: Nope. 

But she insists on looking and she picks up a stone that has a Hebrew word on it, and asks the cashier what it says. She tells Zoey it says “remember.” 

ZOEY: Please can I get it, Mom? 

ME: I told you, we’re not getting anything. 

ZOEY: What if I buy it with my own money? 

ME: With your own money? Sure. 

So she takes out her little change purse and pays for the stone. Five hard-earned dollars she made by being a mother’s little helper. 

And that’s when I realize I was wrong. Not wrong about accidentally taking her to the grown-up section of the museum (although I wouldn’t do that again). Wrong about wanting her to FORGET some of what she saw today. She might have seen more than I wanted her to, but now that she knows, she must REMEMBER. Remember what happened. Remember how the world spoke up against it. Remember so it never happens again.

A couple nights later she was going to bed when she came out of her room because she was scared.

ZOEY: Mom, I’m scared.

ME: There’s nothing to be scared of.

ZOEY: But what if they take us one day and kill us?

It broke my heart to hear her say this. But I get it. What Jewish person hasn’t ever thought this before?

ME: Oh honey, I know, it’s scary. But you have to remember the WORLD said no to the Nazis. The WORLD stopped them and saved the Jews. The WORLD will never let it happen again.

Am I sure I’m right? I’m 99% sure. There’s always that 1% chance I’m wrong. And this is why you should take your children to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Parts of it now when they’re younger. The rest of it later when they’re older. So that we always remember what happened. And we never let it happen again.

If you liked this, please don’t forget to like and share it. And never forget to speak up when you see people being persecuted. 




There are 21 comments for this article
  1. yojimbo65 at 8:45 am

    D**n it, Karen, you made me cry. My daughters are still too young for the Holocaust or 9-11, I think, but thank you for an idea of how to approach those subjects when the time comes.

  2. REGINA FINKELSTEIN at 8:47 am

    My daughter-in-law works at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Detroit and we’re going there this Sunday. Having had grandparents who were in concentration camps I’m not sure how I will react. I can never watch Schindler’s List or look at pictures of the prisoners. It’s gut-wrenching. Thank you for taking your daughter.

  3. Emily at 8:52 am

    My grandma was a Holocaust survivor and just died Sunday at 92 years old. For years she would speak at schools to 11 and 12 year olds to tell her story. Another survivor is no longer alive to share her personal experience. Please keep talking to your kids about the Holocaust. (at age appropriate times)

    • BabySideburns at 2:13 pm

      I’m so incredibly sorry for your loss, Emily. I actually know who your grandma was and I read the Facebook story her daughter wrote about her the other day. It was beautiful and inspiring. She sounds like such a strong and amazing woman. You were lucky to have her, and I’m sure your family will be keeping her memory alive. Lots of love to your family during this difficult time.

  4. LB at 10:22 am

    I’m taking my 10 year old to DC next week… and I’ve been teetering on whether to take her to the Holocaust Museum. Now I’m really unsure…

  5. Sandra Lee at 10:32 am

    My grandfather was one of the medics and one of the First to breech the wall in Buchenwald concentration camp when our US forces finally went in. He wrote about it in his book but he was also Jewish. It should never be forgotten. I thank you for your experience and I pray all children and adults will go there , when ready.

  6. Kristen Heckman at 11:36 am

    I am a descendant of the often forgotten/overlooked Armenian Genocide where my entire grandmother’s family was massacred. There are fewer museums and memorials for me to share with my children; all we have are stories. I’ve made sure that my (now) 8 year old knows the important details (not the gory ones) of what happened so that my family’s legacy isn’t forgotten. It’s important for all genocide and Holocaust descendants to know their histories and what it meant to have survivor blood in them.

    I think you’re doing a fantastic job 🙂

  7. Emma at 12:00 pm

    Honestly…

    I learned about Auschwitz in grade 4…I think I had just turned 8 or 9. Our library at school had a book called the devil’s arithmetic.
    That book set about a course for me that I’ve never regretted. Zoey sounds a bit like me – sensitive and kind with a mature head.

    This book was about a preteengirl who hates participating in passover….until she opens the door for Elijah, and discovers she has been “transported” to a 1940 era Jewish ghetto.

    Now she lives as Chaya, and is experiencing Poland as a Jewish girl.

    The journey takes her to a concentration camp – the horrors are not explicit, but they do hit home.

    As a young girl I couldnt FULLY understand the implications but it made me want to change the world so that it could prevent something like that from ever happening.

    I am a Christian woman now; I live with my agnostic husband and am raising my son to respect people for peoples sake. I am also a preschool teacher – I am making a difference as best I can.

    I am also a great lover of the Jewish faith and history. My heart belongs to making sure the Holocaust does not happen again- to making sure that all people are treated with respect, regardless of faith, orientation, socio-economic status…

    I credit my mom of course but this book…it set me on that course.

    When you feel shes ready, get her a copy of The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. I think she will enjoy it 🙂

  8. Tracy Patton at 12:40 pm

    This was a beautifully written post and I think you hit a perfect tone in what is a very difficult decision about wanting to share history and what they are ready for. At the Chicago Holocaust museum, our cantor’s father is actually in one of the photos on display when he was a child. It is a very scary world we live in, and in some ways it feels history is gearing up to repeat itself – the scapegoating of “others” , the separations of families, it’s everywhere we look. we must NEVER get used to it, never stop seeing it for what it is, it can never be “normal”. we must always stay vigilant and ….. remember.

  9. Deirdre Davis at 3:12 pm

    Well as I sit here and cry…. you never seem to amaze me at your approach with parenting and what wonderful kids you are raising. Your answers always seems so good and well thought out even when you dont have a moment think. Bravo Mama for taking your mature young lady to something all our kids will need to learn about.

  10. Lisa Gardiner Mountjoy at 8:46 pm

    I went to the Holocaust museum in my late 30’s and by the end felt gutted; stood there and cried. It is traumatic but something everyone NEEDS to see. It’s a part of history that is difficult to comprehend for me as an adult. Not sure what age an individual would be ready to go to the museum. It’s soooo much more than reading a book. I was just reading something about the increase in anxiety in this country is because kids are too sheltered and thus have no resilience. It’s a balancing act to which there is no one answer it seems. I think you do a great job with your kids.

  11. Stacia Biel at 6:25 am

    My grandmother was at Auschwitz and survived because she was a great seamstress and the Nazis needed women to sew clothing. The rest of her family perished, including her husband, son, parents, etc. Only a sister survived because she left Poland in 1938. I went to the Holocaust Museum when it first opened and spent just over 4 hours there. I read every sign, watched every movie, and cried so much. What you did by bringing your daughter there at her age is brave, and I commend you for it. Don’t second guess your decision to expose her to the evils of this world as she is of age now to know that there are true monsters out there. Maybe you can read the Diary of Anne Frank together if she is ready.

  12. Alicia at 8:42 pm

    My daughter accidentally watched the boy in the striped pajamas on Netflix when she was around Zoeys age. My initial reaction was mom fail but listening to her talk about it now at 14 (almost 15) I’m glad she did, shes much Zoey in her spirit and big heart and I think learning of all the hate in the past will help them fight to keep it out of the future. At least that’s my hope

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  14. DCarea Mom at 10:26 am

    If you ever go again…. On the main floor of the museum, you’ll see (next to the information desk) a small table with 2 chairs. Usually there are people sitting in those chairs that you can speak with. They are survivors of the holocaust. Volunteers come in every day to answer questions, have conversations, listen, learn and teach… all survivors. Please stop by to talk to them if they are there when you are. It will probably mean as much to you as it does to them.

  15. Ann B. at 12:33 pm

    This was a beautiful read. Thank you for that. Thank you for bringing your daughter, letting her learn about it more in depth, and question everything.

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