These FAQs are intended to help elementary school teachers answer the most common questions asked by pupils aged 8-10. They were drafted by Barbara Mellul, teacher and coordinator at the Shoah Memorial, Marie-Line Obadia, elementary school teacher, Martine Artaud, elementary school teacher, Laïla Heuberger and Jacques-Olivier David, coordinators in the Memorial’s education department.
When using these FAQs for teaching or research purposes, please be so kind as to quote your source, in other words the “Shoah Memorial”.
Children’s questions and the answers provided by the Memorial team may be divided into four categories:
Yes. There were many opponents to war in many countries. After the massacres of the First World War, many veterans, pacifists who were opposed to all war on principle and a major portion of public opinion rejected the very idea of another war.
2 - Why was Hitler so bad ?
Maybe he was kind and nice to his family and friends but he imposed a mindset that was not good, an ideology based on racism and exclusion of others. This ideology divided the world into pure, superior races, that is, the Aryan and Germanic races, which were to rule over the other races: the Jews, the Gypsies, and the Slavs, who were to be wiped off the face of the earth.
3 - Why were children hidden? Who hid them? Where were their parents?
Some Jewish children were saved from arrest and deportation by being hidden in non-Jewish families either by their parents or by friends. They had to change their identities, habits and lives. They had to be careful to live like ordinary children and not as if they were hidden children. They were hidden in summer camps such as in Izieu near Lyon, in city apartments like Anne Frank, in farms and in monasteries. Parents had to be separated from their children to protect them better. The parents were themselves often hidden or deported.
4 - Why did the Righteous help the Jews?
Throughout Europe, many groups and individuals risked their lives to help Jewish children and adults escape from the Final Solution. They were in the minority and refused to stand idly by. Thanks to their rescue actions, thousands of Jews survived. The Righteous among the Nations are recognized today and honored through books, films and a monument planted with trees in their memory in Jérusalem.
5 - Why didn't the Allies intervene to destroy the camps?
That was not a priority. The priority was to destroy military and industrial targets. By 1942, the Allies had collected fairly accurate information on the Final Solution, but they probably had not fully understood that the Nazis wanted to systematically exterminate the Jews of Europe.
6 - Were the Nazis punished after the war?
Yes. For example, at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1945 and 1946, 22 Nazi leaders were tried and convicted for crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some of them were sentenced to death. A number of Nazis and collaborators were executed in 1945; others, however, managed to escape justice by fleeing abroad and/or changing their identities.
7 - Do concentrations camps still exist today?
By 2005, there were no longer any concentration camps in Europe, but they did exist some time after 1945: in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992-1994, or in the Caucasus and in Chechnya after 1999 (filtration camps).
8 - Why can't there be peace in the world?
Because of the fight for power. Some people in the world do not want peace even though it is in their interest. It is very difficult to make peace. Some politicians cannot imagine peace or do not have the courage to make peace.
9 - Is there going to be a Third World War?
It’s possible, but let’s hope not. The countries of the world are using prevention, justice, international law, diplomacy and politics to try to preserve and promote peace.
It is important to reassure children and give them specific examples of conflict-resolution and peacemaking
10 - Did Hitler only persecute the Jews?
He started by excluding political opponents, eliminating the mentally ill and persecuting the Gypsies in Germany. He considered these people useless and dangerous for society (the antisocial). He also attacked minorities such as homosexuals, freemasons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Nazis considered the Slavs as an inferior people. Blacks were also considered as less evolved people.
11- Why did Hitler kill the Jews?
Hitler compared the Jews to an epidemic that needed to be wiped out. He wanted to eliminate every trace of Jewish life in Europe.
12 - Had the Jews done anything wrong?
No. But in many countries, such as Germany, France and Russia, they had been accused of crimes (ritual crimes, kidnapping, rape and theft). Since the Middle Ages, the Church had wrongly accused them of being faithless and of having killed Jesus Christ.
13 - But, why children?
Here the teacher must not insist on the horror of the crime, but try to answer the children’s questions without adding his/her own adult questions.
The Final Solution aimed to destroy all Jews, including children, just because they were born Jewish. Getting rid of Jewish children was a way to make Europe Judenrein, that is, free of Jews in the future.
14 - Did the Jews know that Hitler didn't like them?
Of course they did, but the vast majority were simply unable to imagine the consequences of anti-Jewish measures. In Germany, most Jews were highly assimilated. Until 1938, they thought they could keep living in Germany despite Nazism and anti-Semitism. The same was true of the Jews of France in 1940-41. As the Final Solution was put into practice, many Jews were trapped in their countries and could no longer escape. Historically speaking, this was not the first time Jews had been excluded from the societies in which they lived.
15 - When the Jews went to declare themselves as Jews for the census, did they know there were plans to kill them?
No. Most of them went out of respect for the law. Of course, the census took place before extermination started.
16 - Couldn't the Jews have survived by converting?
Yes. Some Jews converted to try to escape deportation. However, for the Nazis, converted Jews were still Jews like everybody else. Jews were not defined on the basis of their religion or culture but on the basis of their “race”. In the end, converted Jews were deported and killed just like the rest.
17 - Did Hitler kill German Jews?
Not all, but most. That was a priority and an obsession for Hitler. After expelling most of the German Jews, the Nazis and their accomplices in Europe deported and killed 160,000 more.
18- Did the Jews let themselves be killed?
No, they didn’t just let themselves be killed. But they didn’t have the means to resist a powerful army. They tried to keep families together, with young children and the elderly together to protect them. Many couldn’t run away and tried to hide. Some resisted during the war and joined the armed struggle (resistance movements, or the French or British army). Others fought to preserve their dignity by helping each other, writing, drawing and leaving testimonies. Jewish resistance took many forms.
19 - Why were the Jews deported to Poland?
There were technical and political reasons, in particular to “cleanse” Germany of the Jews, to exterminate them more efficiently and discreetly. But also, most of the concentration and extermination camps were in Poland, where Europe’s biggest Jewish community lived in 1939 (3,200,000).
20 - Did anybody survive the concentration camps?
There were very few survivors from the concentration camps and almost none from the extermination camps. In the concentration camps, deportees often died of forced labor, bad treatment and starvation.
21 - Why did Anne Frank write her diary?
Anne received a diary for her 13th birthday. She had never written before but for more than two years she confided her feelings and thoughts to her diary. She called it “Kitty”. Every day, Anne wrote to keep up her hopes, forget she was locked up and describe her life as a young Jewish girl living in hiding.
“The best thing I have is to be able to write down my thoughts and feelings because otherwise I would suffocate completely.”
(…) “After the war, I want to publish a book called ‘The Secret Annex’ but who knows whether I will be able to do it; anyway, my diary will serve a purpose.” Anne Frank.
22 - When did the war start?
23 - How many years ago was that?
Seventy-seven years ago in 2016.
24 - How long did the war last?
25 - How did the Second World War start?
It started with the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. That’s when France and Britain declared war on Germany.
26 - How many countries participated in the war?
Many; it was a World War. There were two sides: the Allies and the Axis. Great Britain, the Soviet Union the United States and more countries were Allies refusing Nazi domination. The main countries of the Axis were Japan, Germany, Italy and Hungary.
27 - Why did they go to war?
The basic cause was ultra-nationalistic ideology and political reasons relating to the First World War and the consequences of the economic crisis of 1929, but also the aggressive military policies of the Third Reich. The Allies fought the war against Nazism to defend democratic values and freedom.
28 - Why did the Japanese help Hitler?
They were Hitler’s allies and were fighting their own war to take over Asia (China, Korea and the Philippines). They shared the same enemies as Nazi Germany: the British and the Americans, who were very present in Asia.
29 - Did Hitler go to school?
Yes, but he dropped out at age 16 and never got his high school diploma.
30 - Were his parents crazy?
No, they were ordinary people.
31 - Why did Hitler become Chancellor of Germany?
In January 1933, the Germans voted for the members of Parliament. Hitler was the leader of the party that got the most votes, but not the majority, and the President of the German Republic appointed him Chancellor (Prime Minister).
32 - Why did so many Germans follow Hitler?
Hitler was a popular politician. He mesmerized crowds with moving speeches and slogans, and impressed many Germans. Very rapidly, he attracted young people to the movement. In addition, terror reduced his opponents to silence. Nazi ideology was mainly based on anti-Semitism. Following the economic crisis, unemployment was rampant and the Nazis pointed to the Jews as scapegoats, portraying them as being responsible for all the ills of society.
33 - Why did Hitler have a powerful army?
As soon as he came to power, Hitler rebuilt a powerful army and imposed a dictatorship based on police terror. Creating a strong, modern army also gave him the ability to conquer new territories.
34 - Why did Hitler want to rule the world?
He believed that Germany was superior to other countries and wanted to impose his influence over the entire world. He loved power and wanted to dominate people; therefore he began by using military power to dominate other countries.
35 - How old was Hitler when he had that idea?
Thirty-five. He wrote his political platform a few years after the First World War in 1924 in a book called Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”).
36 - What happened to Hitler?
He committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin.
37 - Why did Hitler commit suicide?
Because he realized that the war was lost and most likely he wanted to escape the justice of the Allies.