If It Weren’t Impossible, I’d…

     How I wish I could find someone to hypnotize me and send me back in time to recall the first two years of my life. How I wish I could tear out of the deep recesses of my brain images, pictures of grandparents who, so I have been told, adored me. How I wish to be able to remember these very special people from long gone.      I was their first and only grandchild, adored, fussed over, spoiled. According to my parents, they came by daily as long as it was safe, in order to hold me, to play with me. My paternal grandfather’s greatest joy, I am told, was to be given the opportunity to take me for a walk, to have me all to himself. He did not expect any other grandchildren. One of his two sons had died in his teens, his daughter could not conceive, and his other son had married quite late in life. So, I was “ IT,” the eagerly expected and yearned-for descendant, the one to carry on the family traditions, if not the family name. What would I not give were it possible see him and maybe even be able to talk to him for just a few minutes.      According to all accounts, the man was a tower of goodness, patience, tolerance and devotion to his children, to his wife, to his neighbors and to his God. His son, my father, as well as his daughter-in-law, my mother, could not sing his praises enough for the way he behaved in business, for the way he cared for his family, for his generosity to all in need, his gentleness, and the way he would be able to sooth the most heated argument.      I have only one picture of him, one that had been salvaged by a cousin who had fled burning Germany and settled in the New World. He stands there with his wife and daughter, erect, head high, the picture of a grand old gentleman. He has a short black beard, neatly trimmed, is wearing a black coat over a black suit, a black hat, and black tie, and is holding a black umbrella. However, there is nothing sinister about him; maybe I am just imagining it, but his face seems to radiate the gentleness of his soul.      How I wish I could hold him, hug him, see his soft smile. How I would love to feel his hand on my head, to look up into his eyes and tell him all about the wonderful grandson that would be born after the war and who would be named in his honor. I would tell him about his wonderful four great-grandchildren and his eight great-great grandchildren. How proud he would be of them, not only of their accomplishments, but also of the wonderful people they have become. He would radiate with joy at the business sense they inherited from him and at their straight, decent character, their commitment to the traditions he cherished so.      But he was not even granted a normal death or a grave to rest in peace, a place where we could visit and find some solace. He was brutally shot while being loaded like cattle onto a German army truck, shot because his rheumatism did not allow him to...

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Hidden Child

     There are many ways that children survived the Holocaust: in hiding, in concentration camps, or shipped off on the Kindertransport to England or to the U.S. Some wandered through forests, always on the run, living by their wits, and some joined partisan groups. And this list is far from all-inclusive. Almost all of these children were torn away from their parents and often never saw them again. Very few children were fortunate enough not to be separated from at least one parent.      The majority of child survivors were Hidden Children, children under the age of fourteen literally hiding in cemeteries, in holes dug under floor planks, in cellars, closets, haylofts or attics. Some of these children did not see daylight for months or years. Others, while not physically hidden, were given over to Christian families and hid their identity, some were adopted and baptized, and some were shuffled from place to place. Some of these were loved and accepted; others were tolerated, exploited or abused. Many children found shelter in monasteries and convents, and some are still there today.      Some children remained with their adopted parents after the war, not knowing that these were not their biological parents. As incredible as it might sound, some of these children are just now, in their 50’s and 60’s, finding out that they are Jews, and some never will.      Although there are as many different stories as there are Hidden Children, we share many similar traits: we feel different from others, we feel that we did not suffer enough, that we are still pretending to be someone else, that we do not belong anywhere and that we have no right to take our place among adult survivor groups. Over the years, we have been constantly told how lucky we were to have been so young and thus not to have been impacted by those horrible events. We believed our elders and thought that we had no right to speak up. It took us almost half a century to finally break our silence.      Today, there is a World Federation of Child Survivors and a national Hidden Child Organization, and these have chapters in almost every American city and in many countries around the world. Our first international conference was held in 1989, when sixteen hundred Hidden Children showed up in Madison Square Garden in New York. Now we have yearly conferences, which attract people from everywhere. We are emerging out of our silence and are finally speaking out.      Here in St Louis we have a small Child Survivor Group of twenty members. About half of us were Hidden Children but were not always placed with caring rescuers . Let me summarize the experiences of two of our members as well as my own to illustrate some different aspects of those years.      My first friend—I will call her Estelle—was born in France to a poor family of five children. She was seven when the war broke out. Her father was imprisoned almost immediately. At the suggestion of O.S.E. (Oeuvres pour le Secours des Enfants), a children’s humanitarian organization, the family separated in order to have a better chance of survival. My friend and her three-year-old brother were sent to a castle where 320 Jewish children were being sheltered. Being warned of an upcoming...

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An Evening that Changes my Life

     It is evening, fall of 1947. We are sitting in the kitchen, which also serves as dining room . The place is poorly lit by one single bulb hanging from the ceiling. There are four of us in this room, sitting around a square dark wooden table. My stepfather and my mother sit facing me. My mother is holding my brother on her lap. He is one year old and wears a blue knit bunting. I am seven years old and am anxious. I am starting to go to a new school tomorrow morning—not only a new school but a school in a different country and teaching in a different language, French. We have recently arrived from Poland to Brussels, Belgium, as political refugees from the new Polish Communist government. We do not have our beautiful apartment anymore but a dark, two-room flat located partly underground; our windows are on street level.      I remember hearing my mother telling my stepfather several times that day, “You have to tell her. I do not want her to go to school without her knowing.” I did not pay much attention to that. I do not remember even being curious about what I am supposed to know.      Then, I am told to sit down at the table because my stepfather needs to tell me something. I am not sure how he starts or his exact words, but this information I am about to hear will change my life forever. I will never again push myself to the altar in church to be as close as I can to the priest. I will never again smell the sweet incense. I am told that I am Jewish, not Catholic. “We are all Jews,” says my stepfather. “We had to pretend to be Catholic to save our lives in Poland during the war. Your mother is Jewish, your grandmothers and grandfathers were Jews forever. And, one more thing,” he adds. “I am not your stepfather; I did not marry your mother after the war. You never had a father who was a Polish soldier killed while fighting the Germans. I am your real father; you are my daughter, just as your brother is my...

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