I am the organizer of a very successful book club here in South Florida. We have been going strong for almost three years and have an incredible group of members. For next month, we are reading the graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman. It is the story of the author's father in Poland before, during, and after World War II. If you're not an idiot, obviously you know that this book is about the Holocaust and even though it is in a "comic book" format, the horror and sadness witnesses by the father are as vivid as if they were photographs.
I have the book on my bedside table and this morning Dante saw it.
"What's this book about Mommy?" he asked me. To him, it seemed like one of his books; cartoon character mice on the cover (Spiegelman depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats) with a Hitler-esque cat silhouette emblazoned by the backdrop of a swastika. I didn't realize how difficult a question he had just asked me. I tried to brush it off with, "Oh that's just a grown up book", but I've got a smart kiddo and he noticed that the mice "looked scared" and the "daddy mouse" was holding a gun. Brushing it off wasn't working with him so I knew I had to explain something to him.
Now obviously, I was not going to sit my 4.5 year old in front of the History Channel's "The Holocaust" or look up images on the internet of Auschwitz and the like, but I knew that I had to explain to him why the mouse had a gun and why they were scared. So I did the best I could and came up with this:
"Dante, a long time ago there was a very bad man who had a flag with that symbol on it. And this very bad man had a lot of other bad guys who would do what he told them to do. The bad man did not like people who were different than he was. He thought he was better than them. So he told all of his bad guy friends to hurt the people he didn't like and he would scare them by waving his flag with the symbol on it. When people saw that flag or the bad man and his friends, they were very scared because they knew they were either going to be hurt or die. But not everyone who saw the bad man and his flag died, so after the bad man was defeated by good guys, they decided to tell their story so that people would remember the bad man and his flag and would never let it happen again. This is the story of one good guy who escaped from the bad man and when you are a grown up, I will let you read it."
Whew! He seemed to have been appeased by that but it really made me sad. It made me sad to know that this innocence to the horrors of world and of man's inhumanity to man will be lost one day. It made me sad that one day, the story of the bad man and his flag will evolve into gruesome images of bodies, millions of bodies, among them children and mothers. It made me sad that as benign as the phrase, "the bad man and his flag" sounds, the reality is so devastating that it will change a person forever.
Would that I could never let my kids know about these things.
I wish, but that's not fair.
So for now, Dante is as protected as he can be from the story of the bad man and his flag, but my heart breaks for those people who weren't protected so long ago, and for the innocence my children will lose when learning about them.