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Holocaust/WWII/Cold War sights for children

Hello! We’re doing a trip with our nine year old which will take us through Slovenia, Budapest, Slovakia, Kraków, Prague. I had hoped to do Auschwitz, but I think it’s not right for a kid of his age (even a pretty mature kid). But we’ve been doing some reading (Number the Stars, Anne Frank’s diary, etc), and I’d like to visit some sights that are kid appropriate but still reveal some of the realities of the war and it’s aftermath (especially visiting so many places that had a really different aftermath than we in the west did).

I would welcome suggestions of other trip prep/reading or travel sights and activities to do that might work for a mature child! Thanks!

Edit to say: I'm not bringing my 9-year-old to Auschwitz! I promise. I'm just looking for more approachable content - thanks!

Posted by
4197 posts

You are right that Auschwitz is unsuitable for age 9, and against site policies. I don’t know how you explain the situation at the Old Synagogue in Budapest to a nine-year old. He/she will probably make dozens of trips to other countries in a lifetime, so I’d concentrate on general history and learning to love seeing how other cultures live.

I agree I think they don't even recommend kids below 14 years.
And even though, I do believe kids also need to learn about the past, maybe it's better to do it at home. You can always go back. I have been to the Anne Franck house. I think if you have prepared a 9-year-old about what it is about, that museum should be ok. In Auschwitz are a lot of graphic displays, that even shocks adults to the core....

Posted by
3257 posts

We have visited Auschwitz and I would never consider taking any child not a teenage there. My wife and I had nightmares after our visit.

I think the Anne Frank house would be OK.

As for WWII sites, I don't see a problem.

Posted by
2521 posts

Rhetorical question but an honest inquisitiveness - why focus on this part of their history and why does your child need pre-travel reading? There is just so much more to these countries than that small part of history.
It might be easier to talk in the abstract, like St. Winceslas Square and the Velvet revolution - the positivity of change and 'freedom' done peacefully. Or wait until asked, then tell them the condensed version.
I am a grandmother now and so my thoughts may be softer and more compassionate. I understand the current concept of kids having educated, competitive, busy 'enriched' lives, but childhood is so short with so much bombardment of media and horror, that I don't see the need to explain or go out of your way to reveal anything. If the opportunity comes up while traveling, sure, fill them in, but so much more history influenced these cities than the last 50 years of the 20th century.
Wait until mid teens when they can actually grasp the concept - because now, they aren't going to get it.

Posted by
466 posts

I agree with Marie.
When I was going round Britain and France as a child, my mother seemed to have taken Roahl Dahl to heart, he said something along the lines of ' You can always make children laugh by mentioning toilets and knickers!' So we explored loads of castles, forts and manor houses looking for medieval loos!
Still am fascinated today, the ones at Hadrians Wall won by the way!

Posted by
374 posts

For pre-trip reading I would also recommend "Snow Treasure" by Marie McSwigan and "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry. These would be good to read with your nine year old and to bring up discussions about discrimination and treating any groups of people differently. I agree this should only be part of your trip preparation not the primary focus.

Posted by
4433 posts

Maybe stick to museums - such as the one in Kraków. Most of these cities I would expect to have a general WWII museum. Much of WWII sights are battlefields (like the D-Day beaches) or statue-and-plaque memorials, which you'd pretty much have to know and understand the context to find interesting. Maybe you can visit the US Holocaust museum website and see if they have any suggestions or educational materials that would be age appropriate.

Posted by
808 posts

Of the cities on your list, I've only been to Budapest, so my comments are grounded in more reading than in actual on-the-ground experience. However... one approach might be to research where one or two ghettos were in the cities that you visit and plan to walk through those neighborhoods thoughtfully. I recall in Budapest walking through a neighborhood that became a strictly Jewish neighborhood during the war, and being quite moved by a description of how closely people had to live to one another, in terrible conditions. A conversation might be possible with your kiddo about what does it mean for a government - or the local culture - to require people to only live in specific neighborhoods, and where that requirement might lead. Such a conversation has universal applications throughout the world: Sarajevo; the Hutu and Tutsi conflict in Rwanda; segregated neighborhoods - and sundown towns - in our own nation.

Posted by
101 posts

While I agree that the Holocaust should not be the primary focus of the trip, I do commend you for trying to incorporate some of the history into your trip. Has he started learning about the Holocaust in school? Nine years old is third or fourth grade, I think, so I know some schools start doing a unit about that age. I think we read Number the Stars in fourth grade, and I read Diary of Anne Frank on my own in fifth. If you are looking for other books, I recommend The Big Lie, by Isabella Leitner. I read it at about your son's age. It's the true story of a Hungarian famliy during the Holocaust; it is straight-forward in its approach, but does not dwell on the gory details. Fair warning - The family is sent to Auschwitz, where the mother and youngest sister are sent immediately to the gas chambers (my memory is that she simply says "That was the last time I saw them," or something along those lines). The other four survive the camp, then escape on the Death March into Germany; another sister is shot and killed during this escape. The remaining three sisters are eventually reunited with their father, who was in America. The Devil's Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen, was also popular, but I think it's more for middle schoolers. I recently read Resistance, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, which is about a teen girl who is a courier for the Jewish resistance and ends up fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I bought it at my son's elementary school book fair, but again, probably better for middle schoolers.

As far as things to see - I think the focus, as it were, should be on the absence of the Jewish people. That is, that there were a people here, a group wanted to get rid of them, and now there's a gap or vacumm that they've left behind. Focus on this absence, not on HOW that absence occurred (meaning, no discussion of gas chambers and killing pits). You could look for Stolperstein - Stumbling Stones embedded in the streets, commemorating the places victims of the Nazis used to live. You can find more here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolperstein and here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_by_country_that_have_stolpersteine .

In Budapest, I would not suggest going to the House of Terror. But you could walk along the Danube to the Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial. I think the Emanuel Tree, in the back of the Great Synagogue, would also be age appropriate. Likewise, I think you could tour the synagogues in the Prague Jewish Quarter. Again, the emphasis is on the absence. The Pinkas has the names of victims inscribed in the yard, and I think it also has the exhibit/memorial for the children who were sent to Theresienstadt. I haven't been to the Schindler Museum in Krakow, so I can't comment of it that would be appropriate. I'm not familiar enough with Slovakia or Slovenia to recommend sites.

BUT - again, this should be sprinkled into the trip, not the focus. When I went to Budapest, ten years ago now, with my then-13 year old cousin, her favorites were the Great Market Hall (live fish in the basement!) and the Hospital on the Rocks, which was utilized in WWII and in the 1956 Uprising. The Opera House is beautiful. In Krakow, definitely go to the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Climb the Mariacki Church tower in time to be up there when the trumpeter plays. The Cloth Hall is a lot of fun, as well. In Prague, my favorite museum is the Museum of Communism. You'll see tongue-in-cheek signs all around town, and it sets itself up as almost ironic, but the displays are good and it does explore the downsides of Communism without dwelling in the horror. If you can find Don Giovanni with Marionettes, that's also trippy fun. If you go to Lake Bled, be sure to do the luge ride - it's longer and faster than you think!

I hope you have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
1288 posts

Your nine year old may find the Polish Aviation Museum, in Krakow very interesting, it has very well preserved airplanes from WWI, WWII, and the Cold War. Including Hermann Göring's personal airplane collection, captured after WWII.

Remember - add some fun activities for your kid too! We don't wan't them coming away from Central Europe think it's all doom and gloom, for example maybe a few nights stay in the mountain resort town of Zakopane, between Slovakia and Krakow. Plenty of fun activities for kids there and the opportunity to get to know the Polish Highlander culture of the area.

Posted by
3350 posts

In Budapest my children (one of whom was 9 at the time) really enjoyed the Hospital in The Rock museum, a museum housed in a former hospital during WWII and a nuclear bunker during the Cold War. Totally suitable for children and my eldest still has the Cold War gas mask issued to civilians which he bought at the gift shop and which is great for answering the door during Halloween!

https://www.sziklakorhaz.eu/en

When I visited Krakow with friends a few years ago we visited Auschwitz and as someone whose grandparents were Polish and were themselves imprisoned in concentration camps I found it to be a very emotional place. I wouldn't advocate anyone taking children there (I note that you have already confirmed this), the rest of the time in Krakow was spent sampling the food and beer however my wife is taking our eldest to Krakow in November and they have booked a Communism tour which may well appeal to your children (and you!)

https://www.crazyguides.com

Unfortunately I have other commitments so won't be going which is a shame because it looks a great tour.

Posted by
5402 posts

I'm of the belief that everything doesn't need to be a learning experience, and certainly not at nine. :-)
If your child has expressed an interest absolutely help feed it but I wouldn't force the issue with lots of pre reading before the trip.
Whilst on your trip the history (and associated issues) will come up naturally anyway. Maybe the reading can occur after your trip when your child has something more tangible to link it to.

One book worth hunting out that is suitable for children is 'When Hitler stole pink rabbit' by Judith Kerr. A truly wonderful book.

Posted by
11898 posts

Never did that pertaining to Holocaust related sites. However, I brought my grandson to Military History/Army Museums starting when he was 4.5 yrs.old That was in Paris.

The nine year old may be interested in seeing the Military-Army Museum in Budapest. Signs in English point the way. There is also a big miltary museum in Prague.

Posted by
9499 posts

Most of us live pretty much in cultural isolation. So to tell most 9 year old children that 5 million Jews were murdered might possibly mean as much as describing how many Roman soldiers were killed fighting the Visigoths. So why don't you use the time until they can begin to comprehend such a thing by providing them with context that they can draw upon when the time comes.

There are all sorts of solutions. One I like is to introduce them to Jewish culture; especially Jewish culture in that region of the world. Have you seen Oprah's series on religion that came out a few years ago? Okay, I'm no Oprah fan, but the show on Judaism concentrated on a shul in Budapest. I know them, great people. Contact them (I can help you there) and say you want to come with your 9 year old to participate in service on Saturday.

This isn't the great glorious "Great Synagogue", but a small, I mean tiny, shul hidden in the back of a courtyard in the less attractive part of town. The war history and post war history of the place is amazing and they are trying to preserve and document it. My first service I arrived early and, through a translator, had coffee and a very interesting conversation with an elderly gentleman who I discovered at the end was a survivor. One of my more humbling moments when I got a little red in the face on the subject of the holocaust and the gentleman puts his hand on my shoulder and tells me I have to let go of it. That's when the translator told me the gentleman's story.

When the kids see other cultures as normal, proud, honest and contributory to society first hand, then they will really understand the absolute evil of the Hitler's Holocaust or the equal evil of Stalin's Holdomore or a host of other atrocities. We need more citizens to understand. That which is forgotten, is repeated.

Now I am going to suggest that jmauldinuu need to rethink his/her advice a bit. I'm not trying to be picky or overly critical, but the tone, for me is a bit disturbing.

walking through a neighborhood that became a strictly Jewish
neighborhood during the war, and being quite moved by a description of
how closely people had to live to one another, in terrible conditions.
.
.
A conversation might be possible with your kiddo about what does it
mean for a government - or the local culture - to require people to
only live in specific neighborhoods
, and where that requirement might
lead.

That sounds like you are describing the bad part of L.A. These weren't crowded "bad" neighborhoods they were holding centers for genocide. I always wondered how people today found it so easy to compare one or another politician with Stalin or Hitler.
When you wash down the truth and meaning and horror of it all so much; it becomes much easier I guess.

If you are going to have the discussion.

See where this building ends and the next begins? Draw a line across
the street at that point. Now, cross that line. Son, you just
entered hell. In 1944/45 the Nazi's brought over 70,000 souls in here
with one purpose, to gather them for transportation to camps where
they would be murdered, 20,000 more were locked in houses around town.
While waiting so many died of starvation and disease that they were
stacked like cord wood along the sidewalks. The Nazi's did it all
over Hungary. Before the war their were 300,000 Jews in Hungary. The
Nazi's killed 200,000 of them. That would be the equivalent of killing
every man, woman and child in Lubbock, Texas.

But there were heroes, we are going to visit the monuments to them, so
you know the value of bravely. First stop, the Glass House....

I guess my point is, if your child isn't old enough to hear the truth (I completely understand that) don't sugar coat it, save it for when he is ready and use the time until then to prepare him to fully understand when the time if right.

Posted by
1365 posts

Lots of good ideas up thread. Since we were recently in Budapest and Prague we felt the guides we used would be age appropriate for a mature 9 year old. In Budapest we did a private tour with Timea Tarjani. She does tailor-made tours and is a top notch guide. She is knowledgeable and very personable. She is a mother of two young children. www.budapestjewishwalk.hu She was highly recommended by a RS Forum contributor (Joanne) She took the tour with her family. I believe her youngest is around 9. She has a wonderful blog that highlights this tour and one in Prague. https:sunsetsandrollercoasters.com. Prague tour: (Jason) www.livingpraguetours. We also took this tour. Jason is also knowledgeable & engaging. He limits his tour group to 6 people. He has numerous tours to chose from.

Posted by
11898 posts

Re: before the war and the number of Jews in Hungary. In the inter-war years, Budapest was one of the top three European capitals with the largest population of Jews.

Posted by
9499 posts

Fred, today, maybe 15,000. Very sad. But they are rebuilding their culture and it is beautiful to watch; more beautiful to be a part of. But I never want people to overlook the heroes of the time either. And there were a quite a few, some like Katzner and Wallenberg with tragic ends. Any visitor will get so much more out of this subject with a little reading. The places, the streets, the buildings in the books are all there. Even a few tiny pieces of the wall remain.

Posted by
14509 posts

I, too, think the Museum of Communism in Prague should be OK for a 9-year-old. It relocated 2 or 3 years ago, so be sure to check the museum's website for the current address. There may still be maps floating around with the old address indicated.

Posted by
20031 posts

Age appropriate. How many times have I heard that from my wife? She is nationally recognized children librarian. That is her biggest complaint about parents and book requests. Things need to be age appropriate. Kids should be kids first and follow their interests. What is he currently reading in school? Not sure how a 9 year should be exposure to the realities of the war and aftermath. Plenty of time for that later. Focus now could be on how people lived, what school/education was like, who went to work, etc. Thing that he is in contact with on a daily basis in his hometown and can relate to at his level. The differences of how people live in contrast to his hometown. Who build those big, beautiful building and why. Not who bombed them. What was it like to be a King's son or a serf. Who were the people who populated Hungary and where did they come from? These are concepts he might understand. Not 10 million got haul away and gassed.

Posted by
292 posts

I don't really know what is age appropriate and what isn't.
But I do know that when I was about 9, my mom gave me a book to read ('King Matt the First'), and when I was about half way through, she told me the story of Janusz Korczak and the children of Dom Sierot.
When I was 14, she suggested I read 'The Stalemate Lasts but a Moment' by Ichhocas Meras.
When I was in my twenties, we watched 'Come and See" in a movie theater.

I have to tell you that I feel the powerful effects of these three stories to this day.

Posted by
22569 posts

Then again, is this the child's only time to engage with these horrors of our history?

We don't know the family situation. Maybe they will never have another chance. Maybe you need to expose them as much as you can to all terrible things people can do to others.

You are likely the best judge of what is appropriate or needed.

Posted by
14509 posts

Memento Park in Budapest has a collection of Cold War Era statues removed from their original positions. I found it interesting and not depressing in the way that places like the House of Terror can be. The disadvantage is that Memento Park is not in central Budapest. With limited time in the beautiful, sight-rich city of Budapest and 3 people to transport, I'd take a taxi. It's outdoors, of course, and it takes awhile to see everything; choose a nice day. I think advance tickets may be cheaper than buying on-site.

For my visit I had some very helpful descriptive information about at least some of the individual statues. I believe it was in Rick's guide book.