So, after much debate we decided to take the kids to visit Auschwitz – Birkenau. I have been preparing them in earnest for a few weeks, for the likelihood that we would take the kids to see the camps, but even as we got to the ticket window, we knew that there was a chance that we were going to back out, after all, the content is pretty heavy. The youngest is 9, whilst the oldest is 11. They have very different personalties, we thought that the oldest, who reads a lot of literature well above his suggested age group & is very logical, was likely to manage it not too badly. Whilst the youngest is an empath & feels she needs to right all the wrongs somehow. It is actually suggested that those 14 years of age or older go to Auschwitz – Birkenau, but we were clearly not the only ones with kids under that age.
Part of my preparation for the kids, involved readings of a few books, that I felt were reasonably age appropriate;
Maus I & Maus II by Art Spiegelman, both of his parents who went to Auschwitz. These books in particular raised a lot of questions. The use of imagery to tell the story seemed to resonate well. The images could be seen as being graphic, like the piles of dead mice which were understood to be people. The use of different animals to represent the different groups of people that were important to the story, was something that the kids appreciated. Nice to see my uni studies coming in handy years later with my own kids. 🙂
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak this one was difficult for the youngest to read, but the oldest once he got into the weird narrative style, seemed to enjoy it.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, this one, the youngest read with ease & really enjoyed as the narrative was smooth & easy to understand.
I had thought of having them read the Diary of Anne Frank/ Diary of a Young Girl for a while, but it is suggested to read it at a slightly older age, given some of the topics discussed (including sexuality & I didn’t quite get to reading it all again to reacquaint myself with her diary). I feel that the oldest might be ok to read it, but the youngest, I will likely have read the graphic novel first, something that will make some cringe, as it is encouraged to read the book in full first before reading the graphic novel, but I am not much of one for rules.
Some info about the museum:
The museum grounds are open from 7.30am & up until 10am you can get tickets without a guide & do a self guided tour, which is what we were thinking of doing. There is a guidebook that you can buy from the bookstores (there are at least 3 bookstores that we saw, where you can purchase it from in various languages). It is the suggested resource to use for a self guided tour OR in our case I picked up a copy to refer back to for the kids school work.
If you join a tour, which you have to do if you get tickets from 10am onwards (the tour is 3 hours long) & have kids under 14 years of age with you, do not get a headset to easily hear the guide as they take you around Auschwitz. The Birkenau camp is without a headset, so everyone is milling around to hear everything. The kids mostly stayed at the front of the group in Auschwitz, so that they could hear what the guide was saying & for us that was fine.
We had spent some time discussing what we might see at the camps before we came. The kids remembered a lot from our discussions and also referred to what they knew from Maus (mostly), when were were there. Both G & I commented on how we appreciated the tour style, which is one of presenting facts. It is important to remember that this is a memorial & there is a level of respect you are expected to show as a visitor, not just in behaviour but attire too. As we were bringing the kids, we did our best to prepare them & made it very clear what the expectations were whilst we were there.
At the end I thanked our guide for the style of the tour & for not minding us having the kids there. He commented that it is recommended not to have kids under 14 there, but he appreciated that they were attentive (even if they couldn’t quite hear all the time) & that he really appreciated their good behaviour throughout the tour. Apparently, many bring their kids here without preparing them at all & kids misbehaving in any way here, is not tolerated well, at all. I strongly suggest if you are a parent reading this to do your research & make time to properly prepare your kids.
Whilst we were all hit by the enormity of the camps, especially Birkenau, it was a little different to the visits that G & I have made to The Killing Fields in Cambodia & the Hiroshima museum in Japan, which I would definitely not take the kids to, until they are much older. I can totally understand the idea of not encouraging kids under the age of 14 to attend, as a general rule. The age that the kids are does mean that they are not fully able to understand the enormity of it all. As adults we can process that a little more though.
The displays were tastefully done. There were a few pictures that showed some of those who arrived & who very shortly after were sent to the gas chambers. In fact most were sent to the gas chambers. Birkenau was basically built to facilitate their death camp needs where they could gas 2000 people at once, in just one of the chambers alone. They had several there.
There were some displays in Auschwitz of some of the personal items that people brought with them that were found when the camps were liberated, with the few that remained. Suitcases with names on them, because those sent to the gas chambers were lied to, and told they needed to leave their things for a little bit, so they labelled them to make it easier for them to find them when they returned. The displays of cooking & eating utensils, shoes, glasses & many braces, crutches & other prothesis on display, as well as some of the hair that they would cut off the women & use to weave into material. Many of the items deemed to be of value (and there was a lot, as many thought that they would be living in the camps, so brought their prized possessions) were taken from them on arrival (they were told to leave them on the ramps & they would be able to retrieve their items later).
Part of the tour of Auschwitz involved walking through one of the gas chambers there, as just before the Birkenau camp was liberated, they exploded the larger gas chambers in an effort to try to hide the enormity of what they were doing. The one we walked through in Auschwitz had been repurposed into storage, which is why it was not destroyed. However, they did still use other gas chambers at Birkenau right up to the time that the camp was liberated.
For more information about Auschwitz, I highly recommend visiting the museum website, which we personally found highly informative & helped us in our decision to visit & pay our respects.
“Auschwitz stands as a tragic reminder of the terrible potential man has for violence and inhumanity.” ~ Billy Graham