By Teresa Swartz Roberts
Blog post 48. Copyright 2022
We stepped off the T holding hands so that The Boy wouldn’t get lost in the rush of subway passengers. He hung between us, his arms stretched as far as the seams on his puffy winter coat would allow. We were on an adventure, and our six-year-old son was smiling, even though we could tell he was anxious by his number of blinks per minute.
We had driven from our apartment in western Maine to the outskirts of Boston for Rugrats Live at the Fleet Center and we had already ridden the T and even walked a little in Boston after dark. At the arena we watched actors in giant-headed costumes dance and sing over children’s voices asking, “Daddy, why is Tommy doing that?”
This morning we were headed to the New England Aquarium. We were ready to walk the last half mile when we saw some beautiful crystal towers within easy walking distance.
“Let’s go see what those are,” said My Honey. We were all smiles as we headed toward the six 50-foot towers.
Then we arrived and read, “New England Holocaust Memorial.” The Boy was an early reader, but he had trouble with the word holocaust. He asked what it meant.
How do you explain the Holocaust to a six-year-old? I would much rather answer questions about the Rugrat Tommy and the toy screwdriver he had hidden in his diaper.
I started to speak. I stammered. I started again. “These towers are built to help us remember that there was a time when some people hated some other people and hurt them. It is called a memorial because that word means to remember someone who died.” I didn’t want to say the word killed, but I don’t know why.
“The names of the people who died are etched on the glass.” I was just realizing the extent of the genocide and must have mentioned that there were six million Jews represented in the etchings. The Boy thought hard.
“But not kids, right?”
Oh, Lord, I don’t lie to him. What can I say?
“Yes, they even hated the kids. I know it’s difficult to think about…”
“But they wouldn’t hurt Sam, would they?”
Now I knew what was going on in that precious little head. Sam had come over to play last week, and we had looked for a snack that was kosher so that Sam could eat with us. Sam had been a constant in The Boy’s life since the two of them started kindergarten the year before. He wasn’t some abstraction from the past. Sam was a little boy who was good at magic tricks and writing.
The Boy’s face collapsed into tears when he saw me trying to formulate an answer for him.
Later, when we got home, we went to the public library and looked in the children’s section for books about the Holocaust. We as a family tend to seek information to deal with challenges. One of the books mentioned other groups targeted by the Nazis. I don’t recall how inclusive the list was, but a quick search today, Holocaust Remembrance Day, told me that up to five million Poles, Roma, Soviets, homosexuals, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, and anyone who stood apart from the Nazis were on that list. I’m on it; Parkinson’s Disease has given me disabilities. Something tells me that nobody would be immune from making the list.
That’s why it’s crucial that we acknowledge the names of the dead. They are not abstractions. They are people, some of them little boys. Remember.