South Africa – United Herzlia Schools

United Herzlia Weizmann Schools

Educating young children about the Holocaust and the plight of refugees

“At what age can you start talking to children about the Holocaust?” It’s a question many teachers and Holocaust educators are asked because it’s a subject we tend to steer clear of.  

But there are ways of communicating some of the concepts to young children without running the risk of them becoming traumatised. Rabbi Sam Thurgood, Head of Jewish Life and Learning at United Herzlia Schools, comments that, “One of the key values that we aim to instill within our pupils from the earliest age is compassion. This is one of our core values and an important part of Menschlichkeit – a pillar of the school. It is part of the mandate that Hashem has given to every one of us, to be good and to do good. Learning about the Holocaust in an age-appropriate way is a powerful way to connect to these values.”

One element of this is the need for us to be empathetic towards others. “It’s important for our world today to have children who learn to stand up for what is right,” explains Anton Krupenia, Principal of Herzlia Weizmann Primary. “We see in our news every day the stories of refugees, and there is no harm in exposing the stories of people who find themselves in this situation to our children at a young age. That way, we can get them thinking about those less fortunate than themselves.”

It is against this backdrop that the Herzlia Primary Schools are embarking on the WE ARE HERE! Foundation’s In my Pocket project. The Foundation was started and is run by former Capetonians, Eli and Jill Rabinowitz, who are currently promoting the story of a young child who was forced to flee from the dangers of 1930s Germany. 

The child was Dorrith M Sim, and she has written a book suitable for young children about her experiences as a Kindertransport child. She explains: “I was 7 ½ when my visa was stamped on 26 July 1939.  There were almost 10,000 children like me, who came to the United Kingdom before World War II began. Some of us were babies; most of us were Jewish. We were each given a place on a Kindertransport out of Nazi Europe. After the War, some of us were reunited with our families. Sadly, many of us were not, and we either stayed in our new countries, where we grew up, or went to live in different countries, all over the world.”

The story will be shared with Jewish children in Cape Town soon, as part of a collaboration between the WE ARE HERE! Foundation and Herzlia Highlands Primary and Herzlia Weizmann Primary Schools. The project, which is geared to provide children with an understanding of the story of the Kindertransport and of the plight of refugees and displaced children today, will reach 85-100 Grade 5 learners each year. Each child will receive a copy of the mini-book for free, and will participate in an associated art initiative.

With funding from the Eric Samson Legacy Fund and the donation of books and teaching guidelines by the WE ARE HERE! Foundation, this initiative promises to become an important element of Holocaust education in Cape Town.