Hiding from the Holocaust
By Jacqueline Yen
Boca Raton, 
Florida


 

Adolf Hitlerís rise to power in 1933 brought about a period of fear and terror for the Jewish people. Hitlerís attempt to rid Europe of Jews involved horrific acts of genocide through the use of concentration camps and other methods of torture. However, to escape the increasing persecutions and deportations, some Jewish children went into hiding. These hidden children were forced to endure numerous hardships in order to survive the Holocaust, though liberation did not necessarily bring an end to their suffering.

One form of concealment was physical hiding where children literally hid in annexes, attics, cabinets, or any other crevices that could conceal them. It was an attempt to hide oneís existence from the outside world. Before any of this could occur, arrangements for hiding spaces had to be made either through family and friends or with the help of some type of organization (Dwork 32). Some Polish Catholics were willing to hide Jews as an act of resistance, a gesture of kindness, or even a way to receive payment (Berenbaum 118). Once a place to stay was found, parents usually did not inform their children of the hiding place in order to prevent them from accidentally revealing their hiding spot (Toll 32).

In hiding, children had to remain absolutely quiet and could not leave the space to which they were confined. They could not run, talk or laugh, or even go to the bathroom. "We didnít dare to use the toilet if no one was home; the neighbors might overhear the water flushing or the footsteps on the linoleum kitchen floor and suspect something. We had to wait until Pani Krysia returned," said Nelly S. Toll, a child hidden in the home of Christians (88).

To keep themselves busy the children tried to continue with their education and took up hobbies and activities such as model building, creative writing, knitting, sewing, drawing, and writing (Dwork 261). One of the most important factors that determined a childís daily activities was the culture of the host with whom he or she lived (76). For example, Bertje Block-ban Rhijn and her family were hidden with the mother of a university friend of Bertjeís mother. The university friend had been well-educated, and her mother strongly believed that the young should be knowledgeable. Thus, Van Righn and her sisters spent most of their days reading an array of books (76). Sara Spier, a child hidden by Christian farm laborers, had a different experience. These people did not read books and were always knitting or doing some embroidery. Therefore, Spier spent her days crocheting, and her reading was limited to the school books she had brought with her (76-77).

Those who hid and those who hid others were in perpetual fear of being discovered or turned over to the Nazis. Irena Wojcik, a child hidden by a Polish woman, illustrates how she dealt with this constant threat:

Officially, I knew that I was her child, but sometimes children in the street would tell me that I was Jewish and that this was not my mother. Twice, people reported me to the Germans. The Germans came, but I was in the courtyard behind the house.[Ö] I knew that they would take me away and kill me. (qtd. In Sliwowska 304).

The Poles knew that the penalty for hiding Jews could amount to death. Informers who turned in Jews and their rescuers were rewarded. Jews who were exposed were either shot on the spot or sent away to concentration camps (Berenbaum 118).

Instead of hiding physically, some children lived within society but took on a different name and identity to try to hide their Jewish ancestry. Those who took in such children wanted ones who would be the least risk to them (Dwork 53). Therefore the young Ė particularly the young girls Ė were the most easily placed. Sometimes, Lola Kaufman, along with other hidden children, acted as a mute child to keep the neighbors from suspecting that they were Jewish (Fogelman, "Psychology", 294-95). Jewish boys had a harder time because during that period only Jewish males were circumcised, and if discovered, no paperwork or excuse could rescue them (Dwork 53). Due to this dilemma, some young boys were forced to hid their identity and dress up as girls (Kuper 162). On occasion a boy had to be taught how to walk and talk like a girl, because in Polish certain words are different when said by a man or by a woman (Fogelman, "Psychology", 294). Not only did they lose their houses and backgrounds, but these children also lost their identity and gender.

In addition to hiding their physical appearance, many children had to go to church in order to appear to be Gentile. Jewish children had to learn Christian rituals in order to pass as Christians at a church service, at a dinner table, or at a convent (Fogelman, "Psychology", 294). These children would disguise their ignorance for church behavior by mimicking others (Toll 39). For instance, Rosa Sirota, a hidden child who had to deal with such religious issues, was expected to go to confession but she did not know what to do:

Iíd make friends with some Ukranian children, and I said to one girl, "Tell me how to go to confession in Ukranian and Iíll tell you how we do it in Polish." So she told me what to do and what to say. Then she said, "Well, how do you do it in Polish?" I said, "Itís exactly the same, but you speak Polish." (qtd. In Marks 17-18)

Besides going to confession, some children who were the right age actually had to take their First Communion (Sliwowska 265). Felicia Braun Bryn recounts how she rehearsed for her First Communion for fear of being discovered.

As I walked the three miles from our farmhouse into the village every week to study with Father Kaczmarck, I recited the lessons in my mind over and over until every word of the Latin, every step of the service stood polished in my mind like gold. I learned with such precision not simply because I loved catechism, but because I knew that I had to know it better than any other child. "Know it perfectly so they cannot question you," said the voice in my head. (qtd. In Sliwowska 265)

For many children, liberation did not put a cease to their suffering. Very young hidden children knew or remembered little, if anything, about their biological families (Sliwowska 306). Separation from the rescuing parents was a traumatic event, especially for the hidden infant children. Eva Fogelman, a social psychologist and psychologist and psychotherapist, states, "The trauma of hidden infant children, spared the immediate burden of identity problems, began when total strangers Ė either their own parents whom they never knew, a relative, or a representative from some Jewish organization Ė came to pick them up" (Psychological" 297). Some of these infant children such as Joseph Vles, felt deserted by their rescuing parents, who gave them back to their birth parents (Fogelman, "Psychological," 295). However, many of the rescuing parents did not want to return the children whom they had raised for many years (Fogelman, "Psychological," 297).

After the war, many of these children had conflicts adapting to their true religious identity. Very young children in hiding who had not yet been exposed to all aspects of the Jewish faith and had little memory of Jewish life, simply grew up as Christians (Dwork 103). Many had been acting Catholic for so long that they had trouble returning to their Jewish ancestry (Dwork 103). For instance, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, whose early childhood was devoid of Jewish ritual, was baptized in May 1940. In 1954, against his fatherís wishes he entered priesthood (Fogelman, "Religious," par. 10). Most were conflicted about this issue for they could not easily give up what had helped them survive.

The atrocity of Hitlerís actions against the Jews affected the lives of millions. However, to avoid these acts of discrimination, many parents placed their children in the care of those who were willing to help. Although these hidden children were among the few fortunate enough to escape with their lives, it was impossible to escape the trauma caused by their years of physical and mental imprisonment.

 

 

Works Cited

 

 

Berenbaum, Michael. The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993

Dwork, Deborah. Children with a Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Germany. New Haven: Yale UP, 1991.

Fogelman, Eva. "Religious Transformation and Continuity." The Hidden Child. Anti-Defamation League. 17 Mar. 2000 http://www.adl.org/hidden/current/Religious_Transformation.html

*** "The Psychology Behind Being a Hidden Child." The Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust. Ed. Jane Marks, New York: Ballantine, 1993, 292-307.

Kuper, Jack. Child of the Holocaust. New York: Berkley, 1993.

Marks, Jane. The Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust. New York: Ballantine, 1993.

Sliwowska, Wiktoria, ed. The Last Eyewitnesses: Children of the Holocaust Speak. Trans. Julian Bussang and Fay Bussang. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1998.

Toll, Nelly S. Behind the Secret Window: A memoir of a Hidden Childhood During World War Two. New York: Dial, 1993.

 

 


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