The Hidden Child
(L’ENFANT CACHÉ en anglais)
A brief history
The remarkable originality in the history of L'Enfant Caché organization is that it has been non-political and non-religious right from the very beginning. They have as a criterion to accept as a member any hidden child, regardless of his or her opinion. Thanks to this fundamental principle, L’Enfant Caché has become a unique institution and a centre for unity. Standing above political conflicts and beyond theological or philosophical quarrels, this was everyone's home. No doubt this is why the organization became, at the summit of its development, the Jewish Community's largest organization in this country. A large family recomposed as a substitute for the countless families destroyed during the murderous madness of the Nazi empire.
However, apart from the Holocaust survivor and the resistance fighter, the Hidden Child did not have any status whatsoever for a very long time.
The first awareness of the need of a particular status for the Hidden Child emerged from Myriam Abramowicz's film "Comme si c'était hier" (1980). In this film, the members of the Jewish Defense Committee and Yvonne Nevejean, Head of the National Child Welfare (ONE), who saved the lifes of the children, are interviewed by Myriam Abramowicz.
The lady who hid Myriam's mother felt that one day all these children should be brought together. This led to the first Hidden Children's Gathering in New York in 1991 with 1,600 participants, in the presence of Elie Wiesel.
An informal Belgian delegation of 50 former hidden children went there accompanied by Yvonne Jospa, the leading Belgian resistance fighter, Andrée Geulen, Righteous Among the Nations, Tamara Danblon, and a group of former hidden children from Jamoigne who were already meeting since 1986 as a friendly group (with David Inowlocki, Jacques Funkleder...) It was a moment of an intense emotion. It was the first time the hidden children came out of their silence, out of their hiding place: they were able to speak out and were encouraged to testify, to publish. On their return, they created L'Enfant Caché (the Hidden Child organization) in Belgium, France and the Netherlands, first in the form of a de facto corporation, then as a non-political and non-profit organization (1992), whose statutes were published in the Moniteur (the Belgian Official Gazette). Sophie Rechtman was elected President.
A 2nd International Conference on the Hidden Child is then held in Jerusalem. A book, Les larmes sous le masque (Tears under the Mask), is commissioned from Viviane Teitelbaum. Then, in 1995, a major international conference was organized by the Belgian Hidden Child. It took place in the Paul-Emile Janson auditorium at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, with workshops coordinated by the charismatic Siegi Hirsch.
In 1996 the Post agrees to the idea of printing a stamp in memory of Yvonne Nevejean.
Later, the organization also put together a travelling exhibition entitled "The Hidden Child", headed by Jacques Funkleder.
In 1998, a newsletter was created, called EC Infos, -under the inspiration of David Inowlocki and Anna Stelkowicz. This newsletter kept its members informed of the progress in the fight for the official recognition of the Status of the Hidden Child, and obtaining the rights resulting therefrom (retirement, care, public transport...) Denis Baumerder becomes its chief editor and continues, amongst the important headings, the one that pays tribute to the saviors who have been honored as the Righteous. Some members are continually witnessing in schools, such as Simone Inowlocki, who collects numerous letters from students who are moved by these narratives.
The residents had illuminated the 4-star Marquis Mariott Hotel with 1,600 former stars hidden deep in their hearts.
In Time Square. The place where fate had struck the hour. It was about time to live.
Aims of the Organization
(cf. Le Moniteur, March 25th, 1993)
“To allow Jewish children who were hidden during the Second World War to meet and speak out. A hidden child is any Jewish person who was under 18 in 1942 and who had to hide, by any means whatsoever, in order to escape extermination,by the Nazis.
To reconstruct their life stories and to pass them on to the future generations.
To express their gratitude to non-Jewish fellow citizens who saved Jewish children, at the risk of their lives and freedom, and to ensure that they are recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" by the Yad Vashem Martyrs and Heroes Rememberance Center in Jerusalem.
To fight anti-semitism, as well as any form of racism and xenophobia.
To facilitate the exchange of information among its members, and to organize meeting and brainstorming workshops, public lectures (in schools, etc.)
To fight against Holocaust denial, to collect and publish testimonies. To organize cultural activities.
To carry out all actions relating directly or indirectly to its mission and, in particular, to join any Belgian or other national organisation with similar objectives".
The Saved Child
PRESENTATION OF THE BOOK
L’Enfant Caché - asbl
Didier Devillez Publisher - Institute of Jewish Studies, 2019
Available in French
Translated in English by Laure Wolf/Chadefaud-Vincent (work in progress)
The Saved Child
From hiding to status
Adolphe Nysenholc (Ed.)
Cover Photos: Ida Sterno (Jewish Defense Committee, arrested in 1944) ; Sophie Rechtman, future founder of l’Enfant Caché (The Hidden Child organization) ; The Heverlee Convent (hid dozens of Jewish girls and boys) ; Andrée Geulen (CDJ, a nazi officer in the background).
The Saved Child
Table of Contents
Keynote address by Elie Wiesel, NY, 1991
Moses saved from the waters, Adolphe Nysenholc
Why and how was the Hidden Child organization L’Enfant Caché created, Myriam Abramowicz
Sophie Rechtman (President and Founder), Christian Laporte
Life of the organization, David Inowlocki
History of the Hidden Children
The Impact of Race Laws and the Status of Jews on Children,
The Perelmans and the first children saved,
CDJ (Jewish Defense Committee): The Childhood Section-
Yvonne Jospa, Maxime Steinberg
The little girls from Anderlecht, Paul Halter et alii
The Institutions and their young protégés
The Hidden Children in the post-war period,
Veerle Vanden Daelen
The Elias Case, Adolphe Nysenholc
AIVG Orphanages: Siegi Hirsch, Ad. Nysenholc
Trauma of the Hidden Child, Marcel Frydman
The Hidden Babies speak about themselves, Adeline Fohn
The wall of oblivion, Ad. Nysenholc
History of the Hidden Child (non-profit organization)
Aims of the Organization (Le Moniteur, March 25th, 1993)
Outstanding achievements and originality, Dorien Styven
Anna Stelkowicz and EC Infos Newsletters
What beautiful memories, Sophie Rechtman
Portraits of the Presidents, Denis Baumerder
Anthology of life stories (excerpts) composed by Ad. Nysenholc
Testimonials in schools: Sarah Inowlocki, Eli Edelman
The longest memory, Sophie Rechtman
They tried to bury us, but we were seeds,
François Englert, Nobel Prize
Fight for the status of the Hidden Child, Maxime Steinberg
Status of hidden children residing in Flanders,
Righteous Among the Nations
The Saviors, Hélène Potezman
Portraits, Ad. Nysenholc: Queen Elisabeth, Yvonne Nevejean, Father André, Max Albert van den Berg, Odile Henri et Remy Ovart, Bruno Reynders, Madeleine Sorel, Solange Daman-Saglione, Brigitte Moons, Andrée Geulen, Paule Renard, Marie Taquet, Prince de Ligne
Saved by a book (Tribute to Righteous of the people), Ad. Nysenholc
Hiding Locations, Dorien Styven
Museum of the Righteous, Ad. N.
The Album, David Inowlocki
Elie Wiesel, a deportee teenager, apologized for not having been conscious of the suffering endured by the children who survived. It was in 1991, at the Hidden Children’s 1st International Conference in New York, attended by Sophie Rechtman, founder of L’Enfant caché-asbl, The Hidden Child organization of Belgium. After the camp survivor and the resistance fighter, the hidden child was not yet recognized with a status half a century later. The children of war have long remained hidden in peace. This book retraces their history and their struggles through The Hidden Child organization. It also pays tribute to their saviors, who left them resilience as a legacy.
"I'm not asking for love, I'm just asking for respect"
The book opens with words by Elie Wiesel.
It includes some original studies of The Hidden Children's History, as well as unique approaches to the Psychology of the Hidden Children.
It is illustrated with riveting life-stories of the hidden children, and a captioned photo album of Jewish saviors and Righteous Among the Nations, to whom this book also pays tribute.
This book extends the oral actions carried out by the members of The Hidden Child organization in schools, as witnesses.
It is a work about a major organization in the Jewish community of Belgium, one of the characteristics of which is its ability to transcend political and religious barriers.
Co-authors from several universities across the country explore the subject from a personal and interesting perspective.
Reproduction of renowned hidden children's artworks: Arié Mandelbaum, Ida Opal, Chaïm Kaliski, André Goezu, Gérald Fryman and a hidden child’s child: Peter Weidenbaum.
A comprehensive synthetic book. Beautifully illustrated.
Available in French. The English translation is in progress.
The French version is Published with the help of
Judaism of Belgium Foundation, European Jewish Fund, Auschwitz Stichting Foundation, and Kazerne Dossin.
The book was presented by the author at various lectures where it gained success:
- at the Jewish Social Services (SSJ), February 2019
- at the Jewish Secular Cultural Centre (CCLJ),
- at Na’amat, April 9, 2019
- at the Institute for Jewish Studies (ULB),
October 15, 2019
- In Liège: at the Jewish Community Center, May 9, 2019.
- Nouvelles, Institute of Jewish Studies, n°222, 2019, p.2
- The ADBInfo publication (Free University of Brussels, ULB), by Nicole Lahaye, first quarter 2019
- Témoigner. Entre Histoire et mémoire, Auschwitz Foundation, n° 128, April 2019
- Carrefour, by Hélène Sonnenschein, April 2019, pp. 18-20
- Carrefour, by Romy Souery, May 2019, p.15
- Phoïbos, by Johan Tojerow, n° 83, 2019, pp. 14-15
- Centrale, journal, n°352, June 2019, p.13
- Le Soir, Belgian newspaper, "Enfant caché, enfant sauvé", by Jean-Claude Vantroyen, April 25-26, 2020
- "L’Enfant sauvé", by Kübra Kumcu, in Auschwitz Foundation, June 2020.
Discussed in radio programs:
- Radio Judaïca "Brouillons de culture" (Drafts of culture), interview by Micheline & Tamara Weinstock, Yom Hashoah, April 30, 2019
- RTBF-La Première: "Un jour dans l’Histoire" (A day in History), in 2 episodes, interview by Jean-Pol Hecq, May 6 & 7, 2019
On display in the Kazerne Dossin-Memorial bookstore.
This book has been sent to the following libraries of Holocaust Museums:
- Mémorial de la Shoah
17 rue Geoffroy l’Asnier, 75004 Paris, France
- MS. Leonor Bell, Library Director
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), 100 Raoul Wallenberg P1 SW, Washington, DC 20024, USA
- Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum of Berlin)
Lindenstrasse 9-14, 10969 Berlin, Germany
- Fondazione Museo della Shoah
Via del Portico d’Ottavia 29, 00186 Roma, Italy
- The Jewish Museum of Greece
Nikis, 39 Athina 10557, Greece
- Musée de l’Holocauste Montréal
5151 Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Montréal, QC H3W 1M6, Canada
- Anne Frank Stichting-Museum
Postbus 730, 1000 AS Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Yad Vashem-The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Har Hazikaron, Jerusalem, 9103401 Israël
HISTORY OF THE HIDDEN CHILDREN
This is an unwritten and never to be written page of glory in our history
… Yet, it's a story we're writing.
Jewish Children and Nazi Laws
The Impact of Race Laws and the Status of Jews on Children
It only took eighteen days for the Nazi’s to take over Belgium, although the country had declared neutrality. Despite determined resistance from the Belgian army, the eighteen-day campaign proved disastrous. Ministers, who want to continue fighting alongside the Allies, flee the country. They take refuge in France and terminate their journey in England. King Leopold III, in total disagreement with his government, takes the decision to capitulate. His troops are in a desperate situation, the men have already suffered enough casualties. Convinced of the German victory and showing sympathy for the New Order, he chose to stay in Belgium and became a prisoner.
From May 10, more than one and a half million people, including several thousand Jews, flee before the German armies in the direction of France. The Belgian state, plunged into chaos, is totally disorganized. Many civil servants at all levels, from ministers to simple police officers, have also chosen to flee the country. Under these conditions, the Belgian authorities are unable to maintain law and order, and to provide supplies to the country.
In accordance with Belgian and international law, in the absence of a government, its essential administrative tasks are delegated to the Secretaries-General, who are the highest ranking civil servants of the State. They must ensure the continuity of the economic and social activity of the country and, within this framework, collaborate loyally with the occupier. The challenge is to avoid a power vacuum and to fill the essential positions as much as possible.
As for the occupier, he sets up a military administration headed by General Alexander von Falkenhausen, who was appointed military commander for Belgium and Northern France. The priority of this occupation regime is the excessive economic and financial exploitation of the country. However, the German forces are too few in number to achieve their goals. They are therefore dependent on the loyal collaboration of the Secretaries-General and their administrations.
At the core of this disorganization stand urgent problems such as the reestablishment of order, food supply, galloping unemployment, inflation, large flows of refugees... As a result, Belgian civil servants and the occupier work together to achieve these common goals as quickly as possible. At first, the German military administration seemed to be fairly correct. Being pragmatic and well aware of the need to rely on Belgian relays, this leaves room for manoeuvre to the Secretaries-General. They embark on the path to "lesser-evil politics".
All in all, in these early days, everyone tries to live the Occupation in the most habitual way possible, avoiding any hiccups.
On May 10, 1940, Belgium has 8,000,000 inhabitants, including 70,000 Jews, i.e. less than one percent of the total population.
They represent 19% of the 340,000 foreigners living in Belgium. Only 4,500 Jews have Belgian nationality. The Jewish population includes 13,030 children under 15 years of age. Although they are not targeted as such by the occupier at the beginning of the occupation, this situation changes in the course of October 1940.
In Belgium, the first "measures against the Jews" are adopted by the military administration through an ordinance from October 28, 1940 and published in the Verordnungsblatt on November 5. The first chapter concerns the definition of the notion of Jew based on the idea of "race": "(1) A Jew is any person who has at least three grandparents of Jewish race."
The aim is to identify and conduct a census of the Jews in Belgium, who form a very heterogeneous group, both nationally and culturally or cultually.
The second chapter of the ordinance obliges any person over the age of 15 years, defined as being of "Jewish race" to register in a "Register of Jews” at the local authorities of his or her place of residence.
The ordinance of 28 October 1940 promulgates the first "measures against the Jews".
In October 1940, when Jews are required to register in a local municipal register specially reserved for them, no town council refuses to apply this measure or even objects to the upkeep of such a register, although it is contrary to the Belgian Constitution. Children under 15 years of age are concerned. They must be registered on the file of the family head, who is usually their father.
Local authorities maintain this file very rigorously. They encourage children who have reached their fifteenth birthday to come and register in their offices. Sometimes they also prepare files for children who haven't yet reached that age.
Szmul Mendelsohn, who celebrated his 15th birthday on April 10, 1940, " requested " to be inscribed in the Deurne Register of Jews, as testified by this document dated June 17, 1942.
He was arrested during the great Brussels round-up, during the night of the 3rd to 4th September 1942, and was deported in Transport IX on September 12th.
He dies in deportation.
Szmul Mendelsohn AGR (General Archives of the Belgian Kingdom) - Foreign Police
Archief van de Provincie Antwerpen
The other chapters of the ordinance set out the first economic measures aimed at expelling Jews from government offices and economic activities. Jewish employees in the Civil Service are excluded from their positions, and Jewish bosses of hotels, restaurants and cafés are required to put up the first "Jewish business" notices in their shop windows. Jewish businesses are also subject to registration.
The obligation to register goes unnoticed by the non-Jewish population. After all, this ordinance concerns only the Jews and few of them have desobeyed. No one then suspects that the first step towards the final solution has been taken : the Jews and their children are identified and located.
In February 1941, at the request of the occupier, Jewish schoolchildren are subject to a census. In line with the logic of passive enforcement and loyal collaboration, the Brussels municipal authorities ask parents - through the school principals - to declare themselves whether their children are Jewish or not 15. This is a way of not taking responsibility for a measure that violates Belgian law once again. In several universities, rectors are issuing notices or publications calling for identification. At the Université libre de Bruxelles, the census is carried out by an internal administrative service.
Aldermen in Brussels have no objection to this discriminatory measure. The question on their minds is how to do it ! Indeed, the Register of Jews cannot be relied upon, since the children do not necessarily attend the school established in their place of residence. With the exception of the Forest municipality, all municipal governments in the capital provide the required information. In Antwerp, we know that the administration of Mayor Leo Delwaide also provided the counts, but we do not know how they were established. There has been no objection anywhere to the census of children.
This new stage before the exclusion of Jewish pupils from Belgian education is already creating tension in some classrooms. For example, in Antwerp in 1941, the situation changed several months before the ordinance was promulgated. Teachers no longer hesitate to express their anti-Semitism openly in front of students, as Natan Ramet testifies about the Berchem high school:
“I was sitting on a bench next to a boy, Joris, member of Verdinaso, the fascist-inspired political party in Belgium and the Netherlands. He used to wear a uniform with short pants, and he never offended me. He never called me a Jew, or almost never. But the teacher, a man named Cools, who was a Greek teacher, was an editor for the Vlaamsche SS man [i.e. the Flemish SS] He said: “We have a Jew here in the classroom. And he's not like us. He speaks French at home, he comes from the French class in the Belgiëlei quarter.
15 AVB (City of Brussels Archives), Public Education Fund, box 306: aldermen of Public Education, 1941-1949, Session of 10.2.1941 of the Conference of Aldermen of Public Education.
He certainly speaks Yiddish and Hebrew, he also speaks Polish because he comes from Poland, and he doesn't know our mother tongue very well.’ He said: ‘Look, you only need to look at him. He has black hair, dark black hair, dark eyes, and short hands. His skull is brachycephalic, not like the Aryan dolicocephalic.’ But the students did not respond, not even those who were anti-Semitic. I was so devastated and humiliated’ 16.
The ordinance of November 25, 1941 establishes a Jewish council in Belgium, namely the Jewish Association of
Jews in Belgium (AJB). This kind of self-administration of the Jewish community relegates Jews to an administrative ghetto, which isolates them one step a further from the non-Jewish population. The main purpose of the AJB is to "promote emigration," a soft euphemism for evacuation to the East, i.e., deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. The Nazis also assign this association the task of managing Jewish welfare organizations and the ever-increasing social needs of this population, which is becoming more and more precarious.
The same Verordnungsblatt publishes the ordinance of December 1, 1941, which excludes Jewish children from non-Jewish schools, both public and private. Another task of the AJB is to organize schools specifically for Jewish children. Formerly, the vast majority of Jewish students were enrolled in public schools, where they generally felt well integrated and accepted by their peers and teachers. This time, they are directly targeted by the Nazis and deprived of a fundamental right in Belgium. And they know that they can count on the obedience of the Belgian relays, who are indifferent to the fate of the Jewish pupils…
The same is true of the non-Jewish population, which is too preoccupied with its own problems. Indifference or complicit passivity. Paul Struye, a Catholic politician and former town councillor of the Ixelles quarter in Brussels, settles the question in his war diary:
‘The multiple measures of exclusion and constraint already imposed on the Jews had scarcely stirred the public opinion. Admittedly, they were held to be unfair. But, on the whole, people remained quite indifferent. The middle-class Belgian citizen certainly does not accept that a category of citizens is persecuted for racial or religious reasons. But no doubt he 'doesn't like Jews' , and there is what can be called a moderate anti-Semitism, at least in Brussels and even more so in Antwerp.’ 17.
As for children and teenagers, they are humiliated, bruised and hurt by this unbearable exclusion.
Some school principals break the news bluntly to their Jewish students
16 Kazerne Dossin, Interview with Natan Ramet.
17 P. Struye, "L'évolution du sentiment public en Belgique sous l'Occupation," in P. Struye, G. Jacquemyns, La Belgique sous l’Occupation allemande (1940-1944), Brussels, 2002, p. 167.
and pupils. Barbara Dickschen gives the example of a pupil who "remembers that it was her History teacher who curtly announced at the end of a lesson that some pupils - those who are Jewish- will not be able to come back. Nothing more” 18.
When he was 17, Chil Elberg remembers being called by the school principal:
“The principal said to me: ‘Listen, Mr. Elberg, you can't go back to school. Jews are not allowed there anymore’. And at that moment, I cried. When I came out of the headmaster's office, it was as if an invisible net had been stretched all around me and was gradually closing” 19.
Some school officials disapprove of the measure and wish to alleviate the exclusion of Jewish children. The manager of the Queen Elizabeth Nursery School is affected by the delicate situation of a 4 year old girl. In her appeal for help to the AJB, she writes : "I was forced by a current law to abruptly expel this child from the class. This child is completely lacking the basic necessities of life at home [...] I think she is suffering a lot since I no longer can take care of her» 20. H. H., 15 years old, is stunned and terribly shocked by her director's announcement of her immediate expulsion from the college. She then receives some unexpected comfort:
“I went back to the classroom, didn't tell anyone, and went home. The next day, all my classmates were at my door, very kindly. Furthermore, some of my teachers made themselves immediately available to give me private lessons” 21.
Some teachers, however, do not dare express publicly their sympathy or support for their former Jewish pupils, as Henri Brunner, a pupil excluded from the Royal College of Antwerp (Koninklijk Atheneum Antwerpen) in January 1942 relates :
“None of my classmates seemed particularly disturbed. On the contrary, the Headmaster invited me to his office and privatly expressed his regrets and wished me all the best” 22. However, solidarity remains a minority attitude. Very few non-Jews care about what does not affect them directly, especially when it comes to Jews, be they children. However shocking this measure may be, Jewish children leave their classes to attend "Jewish" schools, or they drop out of school.
18 B. Dickschen, L’école en sursis (School on probation). La scolarisation des enfants juifs pendant la guerre, Bruxelles, 2006, p. 109.
19 Fondation de la mémoire contemporaine, Interview by Chil Elberg.
20 Kazerne Dossin, KD_00010_A011750, Fonds Centre national des hautes Études juives (CNHEJ), Letter from the Queen Elizabeth Nursery to the AJB, undated [towards May 1942].
21 Fondation pour la Mémoire contemporaine, “Entretien avec F. F. K.”(Interview with the F. F. K.), March 21st, 2001, quoted by B. Dickschen, L’école en sursis. La scolarisation des enfants juifs pendant la guerre, Bruxelles, 2006, p. 108.
22 H. Brunner, Memories 40-45, 2000, unpublished, p. 9
The ban imposed by the ordinance of 1 December 1941 would later appear to the Jewish children to be much less dramatic than the one compelling them to wear the yellow star with its dramatic and even fatal consequences.
As Barbara Dickschen points out, "the publication of this ordinance does not provoke great indignation from the authorities, apart from sporadic reactions.
When it does, it is not so much the discriminatory nature of the order that is at issue, but rather the practical difficulties encountered in enforcing it” 23.
Such an implementation involves creating Jewish schools, training teachers, searching for available premises and establishing a curriculum in line with official Belgian curricula.
But these problems must be solved by adults.
The "ordinance of May 27, 1942, establishing a distinctive mark for the Jews" is the most brutal measure affecting the Jewish population as a whole.
Jews, including children as young as 6 years of age, are forced to wear a yellow star as soon as they appear in public.
The mandatory badge is a Star of David as large as the palm of a hand printed in black on a yellow cloth.
At the centre of the badge is a "J." imitating the Hebrew script.
Jews must obtain these yellow stars by their own means.
The price of three-star cloth strip is seventy-five cents.
The Jews are now stigmatized and recognizable to all.
For a few weeks, the children concerned go to school marked by this sign of infamy.
Reactions towards them were varied.
Natan Ramet remembers the deep humiliation that the wearing of the yellow star caused him:
“We had to wear it on the left side of the shirt, jacket or coat, on the girls' blouse, dress or coat. And it was very humiliating. Very humiliating. I have to say that you had to be lucky when you walked down the street. Some would look at you with a smile, others would pass by, pretending not to see it. But one day I came back from the Lamorinièrestraat school. I was walking, and in front of me came a young SS man, a Flemish SS man. Being stubborn, I stayed on the opposite side of the sidewalk. He came straight at me and elbowed me so that I fell off the sidewalk. “Dirty Jew ! Get off the sidewalk, bloody hell !”
This feeling is shared by other children, as Michel Goldberg testifies:
“The real thunderclap, the real shock that we suffered and that made us understand that the worst was going to happen to us, was the obligation to wear the star in May 1942”. I […] can still see Mom sewing these stars on all our clothes, and it was a requirement that they be sewn on strongly.
23 B. Dickschen, « L’AJB et l’enseignement », in J-P. Schreiber et R. Van Doorslaer, Les curateurs du ghetto. L’Association des Juifs en Belgique sous l’occupation nazie, Bruxelles, 2004, p. 233.
23 B. Dickschen, « L’AJB et l’enseignement », in J-P. Schreiber et R. Van Doorslaer, Les curateurs du ghetto. L’Association des Juifs en Belgique sous l’occupation nazie, Bruxelles, 2004, p. 233.
[…] What was really painful, actually, was to go out wearing that star. Some declared that they were honoured to wear the star. In any case, it was terribly humiliating. We felt left out. We felt... discrimination had really started. When we got to school, we were wondering how we were going to be welcomed. I don't know if the teachers had given any instructions, but the pupils acted as if nothing had happened.“
Barbara Dickschen also highlights the case of a young student at the Tournai College who, for the first time in his life, has to put up with hurtful anti-Semitic remarks from certain teachers 24. In Brussels, Simon Gronowski explains that “the fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Glade, was making anti-Semitic remarks” 25.
Other children marked by the star are the object of pity, concern or genuine compassion. In some schools, their classmates and teachers show solidarity. The emergence of "Jews with Stars" in the public arena is a real shock to the public opinion, which has remained until now virtually indifferent to the fate of the Jews. This passive attitude may sometimes be explained by the lack of objections to the anti-Jewish measures introduced by the occupier.
Nini and Ruth Berneman on the Keyserlei in Antwerp, summer 1942. Nini Berneman, using her false identity as "Bernay", continues her schooling at the Catholic Institute of Saint Mary's Sisters in Rochefort. Kazerne Dossin
The unpublished memoirs of Mayor Jules Coelst, who heads the conference of Brussels mayors, provide a striking example of this situation:
"I do not like the Israelites as a community excessively. In Belgium there are people of Jewish origin, worthy of all respect, who have identified with our ways and customs, and who behave [...] like excellent patriots. On the other hand, we did not especially have to laud the behavior of streams of Jewish immigrants from Germany and Poland. We are not so naive as to ignore the fact that the reason for demanding that Jews be marked with the Star of David is to seize them at the first turn and without any exception.
24 B. Dickschen, L’école en sursis (School on probation).
La scolarisation des enfants juifs pendant la guerre, Bruxelles, 2006, p.109.
25 Op. cit, p.109.
As long as this meant keeping their children in separate schools, I did not see any major drawback, because they themselves had already made a great effort to establish an exclusively Jewish university in the United States”26.
There are still some measures adopted locally by Feldkommandanturen that affect the daily lives of Jews and their children. In September 1941, a decree issued by the police forbids the Jews of Antwerp and certain municipalities to "wander aimlessly" in public places. Children can no longer enjoy parks and public baths. From July 1942, theatres and cinemas in the province of Limburg are closed to Jews. In October, their bikes are confiscated.
The commander of the Feldkommandantur 520 of Antwerp issues an ordinance that takes segregation even further: the use of local trams is prohibited, the use of city trams is restricted (only on the front platform, if there is enough space left); Jews are banned from attending theatres, cinemas, festivals and public institutions. In August, Charleroi reiterates certain bans on theatres, cinemas, places of entertainment and public baths.
But above all, between October 28, 1940 and May 27, 1942, seventeen measures were decreed by the occupier concerning the country as a whole. His aim is to prepare the implementation of the final solution in Belgium. It is essential for the occupier to define who is Jewish, to register the Jews, to stamp their identity papers, to impose a curfew, to create a "Jewish council", to confiscate their property and businesses, to exclude them from the country's economy and from the rest of the population27, and finally to force them to wear the yellow star. This physical stigma was a much-needed means of making Jews easily recognizable to all. All these measures precede deportation with genocidal intent.
Then other issues start to emerge.
Reports of murders of over 4,000 deported children in Birkenau's gas chambers, hidden life histories for a similar number of Jewish children...
26 Mémoires de guerre (war memoirs) by Jules Coelst. À l’hôtel de Ville de Bruxelles pendant la guerre (mai 1940-septembre 1941), inédit, Bruxelles, vers septembre 1942 (At the Brussels City Hall during the war (May 1940-September 1941), unpublished, Brussels, ca. September 1942)
27 As a result, Jewish children are forbidden to play in parks, to go swimming in a public swimming pool, to go to the cinema, to the theatre, to listen to the (confiscated) radio, to ride a bicycle, to have a sports and cultural life, to have a childhood…
28 PhD in History. Senior Onderzoeker in Kazerne Dossin: memorial, museum and documentation centre on the Holocaust and Human Rights.
H.M. King Albert II, Yvonne Jospa (CDJ) and Madeleine Sorel (Righteous among the Nations)
The Hidden babies speak about themselves
Words to translate what the body remembers
by ADELINE FOHN
What was the life experience of the Hidden Babies?
Many babies were separated from their parents at a very early age during the Second World War in order to be hidden and to give them a chance to survive for they were Jewish. Still today, their history remains in the shadow of the Holocaust. They were considered by the others as not having suffered, and for a long time they kept silent because they lacked memories and words. This chapter explores the very particular life experiences of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust, the psychological impact of the traumas they experienced and their reconstruction. Are they capable of talking about what they've been through? Do they keep in them traces of early separations and war experiences? How do they express these traumas and how have they reconstructed themselves? Our work is drawn from our discussions with eleven witnesses born between 1941 and 1944 who share their history, their sufferings and the resources on which they relied to continue to live.
[Apparently there was a time when the Claims Conference did not recognize hidden babies under 18 months of age (see EC Infos n°18). Editor's note]
During World War II, many Jewish babies were hidden in order to survive from Nazi persecution. Because they had no conscious memories of the war and did not have access to language, they were often perceived by others - and ultimately considered themselves - as being unable to say anything at all. Their story is still hardly known today. Yet all of them keep deep traces of the war within them. Despite the absence of memories, many of them link the deep and inexplicable anxieties they suffer to the death threats they were subjected to during the first months and years of their lives (Zajde, 2012). Most of these babies have been separated from their parents at an extremely early age, often before a secure family bond could be formed.
The few hidden babies who dared to speak out have often been identified as hidden children as a whole in the research efforts, without taking into account their specific circumstances, their suffering, and the painful amnesia (we mean childhood amnesia that is related to the inability to remember because of the early age) that still inhabits them (Fohn and Englander, 2016).
Yet, as Albert Ciccone (2011) points out, the most intolerable, violent and disruptive suffering is the suffering of the baby. Marion Feldman (2007) explains in her Thesis in Psychology that none of the hidden babies born between 1942 and 1944 had consented to be met. She makes the assumption that being born and having been fed during the persecutions has had a major impact on their psychic construction and that it was impossible for them to talk about it. Based on the statements of two people born in 1941, she observes that early ties were built in a climate of insecurity and that separations, early losses and changes in attachment patterns may have undermined self-construction, identity foundations as well as attachment (Feldman, 2007).
Together with my colleague Henriette Englander, we collected the stories of eleven former hidden babies, born between 1941 and 1944, who survived the persecutions in Belgium and France. Some of them had testified as part of my thesis and were contacted again. Other contacts have been made through my work at the Jewish Social Service in Brussels, following a conference, an announcement. Some of them are friends of Henriette Englander who has testified herself, and others have been recommended to us. We tried to understand what they had been through. What can they say about the war and their survival? How do they feel deep down inside? And what impact has this had on their development? Our work has been published in a book called Nous étions des bébés cachés. Récits à l’ombre de la Shoah. (We were Hidden Babies. Stories in the shadow of the Holocaust). I will outline here a few insights from their lives.
What are the peculiarities of the Hidden Baby's life experience?
To be born threatened and persecuted
These babies were born during the war at a time in history when they were threatened with death and persecuted from birth because they were Jewish. Right in their mother's womb, we can think they've already felt shocks. According to current research, the fetus can experience in-utero stress and perceives the mother’s physiological reactions. During pregnancy, the mother has often experienced many stressful and emotional shocks related to the persecutions, round-ups and arrests of family members, sometimes the father of their child. She has been left alone to experience the special moments of pregnancy, the birth of a newborn baby and his or her first moments of life. Many babies were born in clandestine homes, in hospitals and sometimes even in concentration camps. Very few babies could be breastfed for a long time. Indeed, breastfeeding was often interrupted by physical separation from the mother or a lack of maternal milk due to the mother’s stress. Unlike older children or adults, these newborns have not had a pre-war living experience in a calm and serene environment. They were born in the midst of turmoil and persecution. From the very beginning, they clung to life and struggled to survive.
They often explain that their weeping was muffled to avoid arousing suspicion. While some have been a kind of 'savior' baby (Zajde, 2012) who acted as a 'protective shield' for the survival of some of their family members (Feldman, 2007), their crying could often endanger them and those who hid them. However, the only way a baby can express his needs and discomfort is by crying: when he is hungry, cold, in pain, or needs to be reassured, hugged, or relieved of tension. They may have been hindered in their first attempts to express themselves in order to survive (empêchés pour survivre)
, as a means of survival. Some babies have sometimes been anaesthetized with sedatives to prevent them from crying. Others have sometimes succumbed to a prolonged lack of air or have been locked up while waiting for their parents' impossible return. Some of them still remember having been suffocated. Some babies have also been restrained from moving around. Nathalie Zajde (2012) recounts for instance that a baby hiding in an attic with his mother only learned to walk at the age of two and a half, once the war was over.
The Disruption of Early Ties and Attachment
Very few infants were hidden with their family members. However, most of them were separated from their parents at a very early age, when they were only a few days, weeks or months old, and placed in the hands of strangers in a family or an institution. Although babies may or may not have been able to recognize their mother's face at the time of separation, they recognized her voice at birth as well as her scent after four days of breastfeeding (Stern, 2005). As the baby grows, he learns to recognize the way his parents carry him, feed him, caress him, talk to him and reassure him. When a baby is separated from his or her parents for an extended period of time, his familiar and usual world disappears and collapses. He is no more fed at his mother's breast, he loses the sensorial, relational and reassuring contact of his parents, their presence at his side, their voice, their smell, their skin, their hugs and rockings, the testimonies of their love. And all that could reassure and soothe him up to now. Some babies had no contact with their parents at all during the time they were hidden. Sometimes the contact was very limited. Sometimes an infant who was quarantined in a convent would only see his parents through a window. Sometimes a mother's only visiting rights were limited to following from afar her son's pram around the home where he was kept hidden, but without the physical contact and the maternal and paternal presence that the baby needed to develop a genuine attachment. Some babies have lived in a single hiding place, others have been hidden in several places. Sometimes the parents would take them back for a short period of time between placements. Because of their need for attachment, babies tried to become attached to a mother figure. During their early years, they repeatedly experienced changes in their attachment patterns, a loss of reference points and a sudden break in their relationships that was felt as a succession of abandonments. After the war, they were separated from those who hid them and to whom they sometimes became deeply attached. This separation creates an additional breach, a devastating experience which reinforces the trauma by a deferred action or afterwardness (Nachträglichkeit, Freud, 1895). Babies were then returned to their natural family, wiped from their memory despite their parents' love for them. If the parents did not return, the babies were entrusted to an institution or to unknown relatives. These multiple separations affected the child's basic security, the parent-child relationship and the development of a secure attachment, even in the case of a post-war homecoming. Many still live or have lived with the fear of becoming attached or being abandoned.
The suffering resulting from early separations
The newborn who experiences a lasting separation reacts in different ways (emotional, behavioral, relational, somatic) but also afterwards when the traumatic experience is reactivated. Those who have been placed in a caring environment have adapted more easily, while still feeling a profound lack of affection. Infants who have experienced severe emotional deprivation or abuse have kept very painful memories that may have led to withdrawal, muteness or more autistic attitudes to protect themselves. The child's suffering is often expressed through somatization. As a result, many babies have developed certain illnesses, signs of early depression or eating disorders ranging from a loss of appetite to denial of food, leading to the vital need to return to their parents. Even today, some still need to hear the voices of their loved ones to ensure that they are alive. Others live painfully in the absence of their loved ones and await their return to the present, just as they may have waited for the return of their parents when they were babies.
Body memory and sensory traces as the first memory.
The baby's first connection to the world is through contact and sensory experience. This is the very first way to discover the world and to memorize the first experiences of life. It is often through their perceptions and sensations that babies memorized the sufferings they went through during the war. They do not keep conscious memories but mnemonic traces inscribed in their bodies and psyche in full development. They have traumatic memories of their early separations and losses, of the surrounding environment in times of war, of the adults' anxiety, the emotional deficiencies they have been through or the lack of security and stimulation they have experienced. Far from having disappeared, these traces remain almost 70 years later in the form of sensations, sounds, and smells. They reflect the absence, emptiness, collapse, suffocation, comfort/pleasantness or discomfort/unpleasantness, or even the loss of the other, which at this age can be experienced as a loss of self. Indeed, mother and baby form a dyad and are not yet perceived as two distinct beings by the baby. These sensations are likely to resurface later on whenever the past experience is reactivated but also in dreams. They are usually incomprehensible and cannot be linked to a particular memory. As Serge Tisseron (2016) writes, former hidden babies recall various forms of suffering without being able to associate these with specific memories. As a result, the link between what they experienced precociously and the present is difficult to establish. However, these unspeakable life experiences continue to act, to influence their behaviour, their emotions, their relationship with others. Through this unconscious repetition, they ask to be understood and integrated into the subjective experience.
The lack of conscious memories
The very young survivors have often known their history -although deeply marked and shaken by the war- in bits and pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are hardly put together. Their knowledge of war has often been told to them by others. While these memories are valuable, they do not provide them with a feeling of having their own memory and do not answer all the questions they have. Sometimes what they feel differs from what they are being told. There is a significant and important part of their history that is missing from their lives and that they would like to catch up on. However, these gaps and their need to know will never be completely filled. This painful amnesia induces suffering. They would like to know more about the people who took care of them and to whom they owe their survival, as well as their loved ones whom they may not have had the time to get to know. In young orphans, the suffering linked to this amnesia is all the more painful as it leaves them facing a gaping hole, as well as a deep and annihilating emptiness. It deprives them of an intimate and essential link with their parents and the memory of their faces, the love they had for them, their values, what they would have liked for the child and that guides the construction of the self.
The difficulty of representing and verbalizing the experienced traumas
In many cases, the baby was left helpless and totally confused about the nonsense of the war and the separations that he or she had suffered. If the baby perceived the absence, the affective deprivation, the changes of mood, places and people, he or she did not grasp the meaning of what was happening to him/her because he/she did not have the affective, cognitive, language and emotional resources to cope with, understand and work out the situation. As Albert Ciccone explains, babies and children rely on adults to understand what is happening to them. But the babies were left alone with no parents to help them understand what they were going through. Since they had no conscious memories of the war, they could not understand the sensory revivals, somatization, and the relational difficulties that were likely to arise as a result of the early traumas they had experienced. Their suffering remained mostly non-verbalized because they couldn't express themselves when the traumatic events took place. The absence of language narrows the possibility of expressing oneself down to somatic and behavioral expression, and tears, but these were often hushed. Later, they were confronted with the reaction of others who made them feel unable to remember and say anything about themselves. This reinforced their silence and lowered their self-confidence to speak out, even among groups of hidden children who were often older. Their stories did not strike a chord with the other participants and may have been downplayed or often not supported, which reinforced their feelings of loneliness and even exclusion. It took them time - and the support of others - to be able to think about and understand the traumas they suffered, and to work out their history before they could share it. The idea in their life experience is to understand and decode the unconscious language of the body, of feelings and sensations, attempting to relate it to early childhood memories and then trying to translate it into words. An awareness of the traumas suffered and not represented until then, as well as a body to psyche translation process have been necessary in order to move from the somatic path to the voice/psychic path and from the unconscious to the conscious.
During the war, the hidden babies went through multiple disruptions, among which separations and the breaking of family ties represent a major trauma. They have been totally dependent on adults and have most often been separated from their parents at a time when the foundations of security and attachment
were are [ c’est général] being laid. The consequences of this separation are felt well beyond childhood, and continue to affect the adult and his/her interaction with the others up until the present day. In spite of their difficulty in remembering the war and the past traumas, all of them still have unforgettable traces in their body and psyche in a sensory form. Given their young age, the lack of memories and the absence of language to translate their trauma history, they have been unable or still find it difficult to express themselves. Our work is based on the life story, which represents a co-constructed narrative of the subject's history. It shows that this is a possible pathway, since it also allows younger Holocaust survivors to speak about their experiences, to bear witness and to partially free themselves from the traumatic grip.58
58 Adeline Fohn, Doctor in Psychology from the Catholic University of Leuven. Bibliography
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Chaïm Kaliski. Trampled kids. DR