I don’t remember learning about the Holocaust. When I read people discussing when is the appropriate time to introduce children to this history, I never know how to answer. I always knew about the Holocaust.
I always knew about the family coming from somewhere that was not here. I always knew that the family that made it here was a small fraction of the family that we had. I always knew that there were some people who hated me for one of the only things I knew (and liked!) about myself— I am Jewish.
I don’t remember not knowing about the Holocaust.
I do remember the first time I read Night. It was freshman year of high school. Not only did I know about the Holocaust, but I had read about it in history text books, learned about it during my Jewish education. I had visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. My familiarity with the Holocaust was, I felt, pretty deep.
Reading Night was different. I remember at first being surprised at how much my non-Jewish classmates knew about the Holocaust as we made our way through the book. But that combination smug and dismay feeling was quickly erased, because Night filled me with a horror and a pain that has lived with me forever. Eli Wiesel’s account broke me and somehow made something which had felt real and haunting instead feel real and present.
There is no way to learn about the Holocaust from a place of safety.