Sarkozy: Fifth Graders Should Learn About the Life of 1 of the 10,000 French Children Killed in the Holocaust

Earlier last month, French President Nicholas Sarkozy proposed that every fifth grader learn about the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazi in the Holocaust.

“Nothing is more moving, for a child, than the story of a child his own age, who has the same games, the same joys and the same hopes as he, but who, in the dawn of the 1940s, had the bad fortune to be defined as a Jew,” Mr. Sarkozy said at the end of a dinner speech to France’s Jewish community on Wednesday night. He added that every French child should be “entrusted with the memory of a French child-victim of the Holocaust.”

Needless to say, his plan was controversial. His political opponents derided the idea, psychologists and educators claimed that it would traumatize the students. One Holocaust survivor noted:

“It is unimaginable, unbearable, tragic and above all, unjust,” Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and honorary president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Holocaust, told the Web site of the magazine L’Express. “You cannot inflict this on little ones of 10 years old! You cannot ask a child to identify with a dead child. The weight of this memory is much too heavy to bear.”


I came about this story from a thought-provoking post by Jessica Helfand of Design Observer. She wrote:

Meanwhile, schoolchildren are typically taught history by fact and by date. They memorize key battles and identify significant acts of legislation, a process intended to highlight those benchmarks of civilization with which we should all aspire to fluency. Curiously, the notion that making history human would devalue such learning seems odd, if not entirely oxymoronic: if we read and analyze fiction to come to a better understanding of our own humanity, why would we not derive similar lessons from our own history?


Interesting idea. I wonder how traumatizing it would really be... probably depends on how in-depth the kids' coverage of the Holocaust victim's interment and death would be. Even then, perhaps not, if the kids can't properly relate to that level of suffering.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I think it sounds like a decent idea. Of course, you would have to be careful with how graphic you made the lessons. Just knowing that that child didn't make it out of the camp would be more than enough for some.

Maybe children would have a little more empathy if they learned something like this instead of dry dates and facts that don't really mean anything to them. And maybe they wouldn't grow up to want to kill each other. We can always hope.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
If I recall correctly, students in Poland are required by law to visit the Auschwitz sites in fifth grade. I think it's a good idea to make it a little more personal, but it's true that this proposal might be a bit much.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
One of the main problems in grade school history classes today is that textbooks focus too much on the big, famous wars and not enough on smaller issues. Forcing these kids to focus heavily on individuals in the European Holocaust may be less worthwhile in the long run than studying the Long March in China or all the purging in Laos and Burma.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I think it's a great idea. Modern kids likely would not be traumatized, thanks to TV shows and video games. That's not to say it'll just roll off them, but the point is to make an impression, which it will (hopefully) do.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I am in agreement with bean, though I think it makes sense for some additional emphasis on the European holocaust for French children, given the locality of the history and continued relevance. But more generally,children ought to learn that our recent century was a century of holocausts, and to appreciate that the factors within human nature to produce holocausts remain everywhere.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
The idea was under too much pressure and was called off.

We live in time when you can call teaching about holocaust a psychological torture. Not so long ago the age of reason was 7 years old. Reason? Because you could start to work at that age.
I believe we should rejoice (at least in the so called western world) about the possibility of this dialog.

Nonetheless I disagree with Simone Veil. I met a French IT consultant recently who told me he discovered the holocaust in history class, when he was 17. Isn't that a little bit late?

Nazism, Communism, Terrorism : give your kids facts, so history does not repeat itself.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I don't really agree with using somebody's name since it verges on expoloitation of the dead person. How can you really know that much about a child who died in the Holocaust, aside from a few pictures and genealogical information? It would be tempting for people to start making things up, and transferring their own opinions into the material.

Children should learn about war, but how much do they really absorb when they're really young?
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
That's too bad that they put an end to this project. I think it was a wonderful idea. I learned about the holocaust when I was about in fifth grade and it absolutely scarred me. I devoured any fiction I could about the holocaust and was fortunate enough to meet some holocaust survivors at my high school. The stories of the holocaust have stayed with me and it sickens me that, even after such a horrible example of how evil people can be on such a grand scale, we STILL have genocide happening today (and too few people who care). Maybe more people should be be scarred by the reality of our human history.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Also, don't they do this at the Museum of Tolerance in L.A.? I believe that you're given a card with someone's name and at the end you find out if they lived or not.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Whats the Problem? Life is life, death is death, 10 year olds know that for true. Everyone should learn about great losses and fear, so they can cope with it later in life.
To "protect the little souls" is to weaken their minds with lullabies and "i-ty-ty and they lived happily ever after"-stories.

Life is not a nice soft bubble, and kids should not life in some kind of concrete bunker erected by their "caring" parents - which includes sex ed!
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
To see the document card of the little girl is so incredibly sorrowful. But I think that my emotional reaction is due to my perspective as an adult. I do not think it is reasonable to infer that a 10 year old would have the same emotional reaction without having the life experience to appreciate the horror of what occurred during the holocaust. That being said I would not expect the children to be exposed to the full details and extent of the tragedy of the children of the holocaust.

But if Mr. Sarkozy's intent is to instill a sense of empathy for these children, what's wrong with using as the example the living children of Darfur, or the child-soldiers of Rwanda, or Afganistan, or Iraq, or Tibet? What about the children of the Trail of Tears, or American slavery, or the Irish famine, or the British workshops? Our history is replete with examples of children killed or traumatized by the subjugation of one group by another.

Now I'm bummed out.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Diary of Anne Frank anyone? that book traumatized me to no end as well as stirring my nascent sense of injustice and fully illustrating right from wrong and the presence of evil in daily life. i was so outraged and moved by that book as a child.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I say this as someone who identifies as 'from the left', but can't help but feel that those deriding the idea would have supported it had it come from a socialist politician rather than Sarkozy.

The comment from Madam Veil makes no sense to me, “unimaginable, unbearable, tragic and above all, unjust”?

Would she prefer no mention of the holocaust? No mention of the French role? No personification of the victims of What part is unjust? Maybe if she was Roma, I could see it, but what part is so offensive to some with the title: (honorary) president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Holocaust? I don't get it.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
j'ai tellement honte d'etre français...
this guy isn't a president, 56% of us are unhappy of all his decisions, like DNA test for foreigners, marrying a bitch to be love by the opinion...his son is now in politic, he seems to be as bad as his father...
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Wow! What a great idea! I think every kid should learn about the holocaust. I was about 10 when I got to visit the ghetto Theresienstadt and the subject has fascinated me since then. I spent my childhood in Europe and was exposed to many of the locations where some of these horrible things happened and it only made my wanting to learn more greater. I'm looking forward to visiting my parents in Germany and getting to visit Auschwitz and Dachau. Nobody should be sheltered from what happened. It changed EVERYONE'S lives. And don't worry about it traumatizing kids, look at what they're exposed to on a daily basis on TV and the internet. I mean Paris Hilton and all those kinds of people frighten me more. I'm due to have a girl in July and by the time she's in kindergarten all the girls will be dressing like sluts. Worry about that more than teaching our kids about what REALITY can be like!
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
They absolutely DO do it at the Holocaust Museum in L.A., and the cards with small biographies are available online as well--I used them with 8th grade students a couple of years ago.

I'm not sure what Veil's problem is, unless he just thinks 10 is too young but 12 is OK. Might have a point, but I think the average 10-year-old could handle this pretty well. You simply concentrate on learning the child's life. Their death is only mentioned, never studied in depth. No big deal, and it would actually mean something to them.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
When I was twelve, my mother thought it was very important for me to see Schindler's List because it brought to life the truth of human evil. It was a hard movie to see because it hid very little, but it also allowed my mother and me to have a long conversation as to why it is terribly important to remember the atrocities of the past in order to recognize and stop atrocities of the present.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Well, this makes me feel really old!

When I was in elementary school three of our teachers had survived the holocaust as children. Now that I think about it, they're probably 70-80 years old and kids today, and even many Neatorama readers who are adults had no or maybe just one holocaust survivor for a teacher. Let me tell you though, nothing woke you up like Mr. Schmetterling rolling up his sleeves to work on a project and seeing this faded old tattoo on his arm. Then that pause while some idiot girl who never gave history a moment's thought asked why he had a tattoo of numbers on his arm. Then we heard about the last time he saw his mother, father and his three sisters and how he was strong, so strong that the Nazis needed him to dig sewer ditches and then it was off with his shoes to see his two remaining toes on his right foot. Kids can't deal with that? Try growing up in an integrated neighborhood in the 1970s, holocaust survivors were everywhere.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
What i'm curious about is why Nicholas Sarkozy, a Roman Catholic ( Non-jew ) propose that every fifth grader learn about the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazi in the Holocaust.

Is it because it was the greatest tragedy to happen to france? I doubt it.

Looks to me like Nicholas Sarkozy is trying to win the votes of the jew community. Smells like ellections.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
When for the first time my 10 yr old and I bought the book for him to read I had some serious thoughts about him (my child and his psyche) being exposed to humanity's atrocities.

->Will mankind actually ever cease to war by him and others reading this book?

->After 1945 have wars actually stopped along with it's violence? (I served in one my self for the U.S)

->Living in America why not touch the subjects of Native American Indians (Trail of Tears) , Slavery and Racism in America and The Dicovery Of America or Was it the Invading of America by Europeans sponsored in part by the Catholic Church.

Conclusion: I feel that mankind will not change or evolve spiritually no matter how many religions come and go look at the facts. So why expose an innocent 10 yr old almost virgin mind to horror of that extent?
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.
Click here to access all of this post's 28 comments

Email This Post to a Friend
"Sarkozy: Fifth Graders Should Learn About the Life of 1 of the 10,000 French Children Killed in the Holocaust"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More