How much should your 8-year-old know about THE HOLOCAUST?
You see, my step-mother bought The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas on DVD today.
I saw the movie at the cinema, and thought it utterely heart-breakingly brilliant. Totally sad, yet totally profound and thought-provoking and shocking and everything else a good story should be.
"Can I watch it with you?" asked Jessica when she saw it lying on the kitchen table. And I was faced with the moral dilemma: Do I introduce my child to a movie that might emotionally scar her for life!?
It's got a 12-A certificate. PG-13 in the USA. So I copped out, and did the whole: "Dude, it's a 12! How old are you?"
And of course I got the same refrain that children have been using since the rating system was invented: "BUT Mollie's dad lets her watch films that are rated 15! And there's a boy in my class that watches 18 rated movies all the time!"
And I'm thinking "Well, Mollie's dad is an alcoholic! And that boy in your class is going to end up in Borstal!" Though I didn't say so out-loud.
But then I wondered why an 8-year-old shouldn't watch this movie.
If anyone doesn't know about The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, it is about a little boy named Bruno who is 8 himself, and lives in Berlin in the early 40s. His dad is a soldier in the German Army. One day the family move to a new home, when his father gets a promotion. The new home just happens to be AUSCHWITZ, where Bruno's dad is in charge, and the family reside in a house not so far away.
Here's a trailer:
(The link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5FU-yDC-uI if the video doesn't show!)
The film is shot from the viewpoint of the child, so it's all very innocent. There is nothing particularly gratuitous or violent, or visually nasty about it.
The only reason the audience knows that Bruno's father is the head of a concentration camp is because we KNOW what happened during this period, and we get the hints, and we are educated enough to see them. It is very cleverly done so that somebody with little knowledge, or somebody much younger, would not be able to read between the lines.
Of course young, innocent Bruno is not able to, so he genuinely believes that the death camp is just a farm, and that the jews imprisoned there are farmers and everything goes completely over his head. Even when he is given the information that it is a work camp behind their house, and not a farm, it doesn't really commute with him.
It is specifically Bruno's complete innocence and childish ignorance that kills him.
So the message of this movie isn't just: "DON'T ATTEMPT TO EXTERMINATE ENTIRE RACES!" but also: "DON'T KEEP YOUR CHILDREN IN THE DARK ABOUT THINGS. IF YOU DON'T EDUCATE THEM THE TRUTH THEY WILL DIE!" which totally contradicts the fact that the movie is rated 12-and-up, and stands as a brilliant reason as to why one should let their 8-year-old watch the movie.
Though it is never shown or said "BRUNO IS DEAD!" You just know that he is because he has been herde into a noisy gas chamber, the doors have been closed, and suddenly there is no noise coming from there anymore. Somebody who didn't know that this is the way the Nazis treated their 'inferiors' might not understand this at all. Neither might a child. Though then again, Jessica is far from stupid. I'm sure she'd know exactly what was going on and it might frighten her senseless!
END OF SPOILER ALERT
I totally think that Jessica should know what happened during this period in time. She knows about Hitler and Germany and the second world war because my Grandfather is constantly telling her stories about them... in the one-sided way that he does. So I'm always having to go through things with her to give her a more balanced historical perspective. Heck, y'all know I love it! Talking about history is my favourite thing ever. And any parent that rolls their eyes over having to educate their children, is clearly in the wrong job!
A few years ago, when she was about 5-and-a-half for example, we were sat near an Asian lady at a resteraunt, and Jessica whispered to me: "Is that woman Japanese?" I said she might be, so Jessica continued: "I don't like Japanese people. They starve rats and then make them eat you!" I was like: "Did Grampa tell you that?" I knew instantly, because it is the same thing he told me as a child, insisting that the way the Japanese soldiers treated their prisoners of war back-in-the-day meant that one must never go near a Japanese person again. "Yes!" She said. So then I had to go through the whole "You have a Japanese girl in your class... do you think SHE starves rats then sets them loose on people to eat?" and having to explain to her what happened during the second world war, and how people do utterley senseless, horrible things during war, and how it was years ago, and how it's no reflection on all people, or on people today, and rah rah rah.
I think everyone, especially children should be taught history like this, because learning what bad things have occurred before, and being able to judge them as negative, and making sure you that do your best to prevent them from ever happening again, is an incredibly important experience!
So, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a good educational tool in the sense that it explores what was hapenning during this period of time, and also reflects that not all Germans were bad people, as there is resistence shown by the grand-mother and the mother, and even innocent Bruno who can't understand why the jews must be his 'enemies:' which are all very important things for a young child to learn. I'm not saying it is the BEST educational tool, maybe I should look for some others!
Or maybe I should just read through the book with Jessica instead? Decisions decisions!
Anyway, after this incredibly long winded post:
How much do you think an 8-year-old should know about the holocaust? And none of this shit about how it "didnt happen." Remember, ignorance kills! ;)