Saturday gone, I took my son to see the Holocaust Exhibition located on the third floor of the Imperial War Museum in South London. I was stopped at the door by a member of the museum staff and asked how old my son was.

“Eleven,” I replied.

“I’m sorry, but the exhibition is unsuitable for under-fourteens,” he says, apologetically.

“This is his fourth visit here. He’s been coming here for two years.” I answered and, before he could reply, said: “you can’t go setting an age limit on the truth.”

He waved me in.

I wasn’t lying. This was his fourth visit and just how old is a child supposed to be before they can be exposed to the harsher realities of history? Was his school erring in selling him his copy of the Diary of Anne Frank at a bookfair two years ago? For the record, the law would have it that a child reaches the age of criminal responsibility in this country at 10, so just how old do you have to be allowed cognizance of the more heinous crimes of your fellow humans?

Each time I have taken him he has viewed the exhibits and used the interactive material with the required solemnity and with an adult’s empathy. Of course he is a child, so naturally impatient to get on to the next exhibit. But, the exhibition is punctuated with video monitors. set into the walls at strategic points, playing looped film of Nazi leaders poring fourth their foul cant to cheering crowds, Jews being rounded up in Warsaw, lines of nameless victims being stood against trenches and machine gunned, and these I’m determined to talk him through, again:

“That’s Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister.”


I repeat the name and explain his function within the Nazi heiarchy.

Goering he can identify and already knows the final solution was given his nod.

We stop in front of a display highlighting the fact that the Nazis killed something like 170,000 people with physical and mental handicaps – Hitler’s way of ridding the ‘master race’ of impurities – and I explain, again, just who was included.

He asks why the framed post card poem in our passage-way at home does not refer to this fact – it’s the famous Pastor Noeller one - “First they came…” - and shares a wall with a dozen other such hangings.

“I reckon he hadn’t heard of these crimes when he was writing the poem. a lot of them were carried out hush-hush”

“Would they have come for you?”

“Probably – but more likely because of my politics.”

He gives me one of his frequent frowning looks of incredulity. It comes across his face when you tell him a blatant huge porkie, but also when he hears something that challenges his conception of the world around him.

Later, downstairs, he sits at one of a dozen or so desks that has a monitor built into it, the touch-screen interactive type that allows you to ask questions or hazard a guess at a question. I watch on as he takes out a piece of paper and a pen and begins to jot down figures that he prompts on to the screen and pertaining to numbers killed in the concentration camps by category. I ask what he’s doing.

“Working out how many were killed.”

“Don’t be silly. You’ll be there all day. There are millions from every section of society not even listed on there.” And I try to explain it is far more important to try and understand what made people think these were their enemies, why they hated them and treated them so. History is not just facts.

The latter is a statement not lost on him – he can readily rebuff the popular misconception that wars are fought for freedom and democracy, countering it with an infantile Marxian recognition that military conflict has its root in disputes over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets, mineral wealth or the strategic points from which the same can be defended.

The model of Auschwitz is the exhibit he spends most time at. It’s a huge display, a scale model, painted white, perhaps in excess of 30 feet in length. Every detail has been accounted for. There are thousands of minute figures – no two seemingly alike - alighting from their cattle trucks on the sidings just inside the gates of this hell – and many more walking, heading to the far end of the display, descending the steps to the gas chambers and certain death. There are the barbed wire fences, the barracks and the camp guards. We both can’t help but wonder at the dedication, passion and love that went into making this magnificent model. And at the end of this display there is a glass case housing a rusting canister of Zyclon- B pellets and just round the corner a couple of the ill-fitting, striped pyjamas concentration camp prisoners wore, right next to a display case with a mountain of ageing shoes.

When we leave the exhibit, he’s quiet, though not subdued, and not at all interested in the other displays, the sundry tanks and military vehicles and the fokke-wolfes hanging from the rafters, though the word "fokke" makes him smile. These are only part of the story of the insanity of war. We leave and go for lunch and the continuation of the history lesson over sausage, egg and chips.

Call me a sick, insensitive bastard, but this is one kid that is not going to wear a soldier’s uniform, or wave a flag, or ridicule another because of their skin colour, race or religion. I am preparing him for war, though - the class war. He and his school mates have been neck-deep in it since birth; they just don’t know it yet.

More on the Holocaust Exhibition:

The Holocaust Exhibition commences with the tumultuous political scene in Europe just after World War One, looking at the ascendancy of the Nazi party, how anti-Semitism as a Europe-wide phenomenon became fertile in Hitler’s Germany, giving birth to twisted anti-Jewish beliefs, the distortion of science to shore up Nazi race supremacy theory, the isolation of German Jews, the refugee crisis and the introduction of so-called 'Euthanasia' policies in 1939.

The exhibition contains eye-witness accounts, written and oral, and all manner of documents. There are photographs, diaries, newspapers and artefacts of every description and film from most every country the Nazis occupied. The exhibition contains a funeral cart, a deportation railway truck – that could have carried victims to Auschwitz – concentration clamp clothing and much more.

Hey, and if you do go, take a few tissues!

Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road London SE1 6HZ United Kingdom. Email: General enquiries: mail@iwm.org.uk Telephone: +44 (0)207 416 5000General enquiries: +44 (0) 207 416 5320Fax: +44 (0) 207 416 5374http://london.iwm.org.uk/

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