Archive for hidden children

Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard – Death of a “hidden” child

Posted in holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2010 by indyretreats

When you think of the “hidden children of the Holocaust,” the images those words conjure are probably Jewish kids on a freedom-bound train or hidden in a small space in someone’s attic. Rachel Sarai was a very German-looking Jewish child hidden in plain sight of the “stupid Krauts,” as she calls them. But while this 7-year-old girl was certainly a heroine, she was not a child, for Rachel lost her childhood at a very early age.

Author Deborah Rey takes an autobiographical look back at the war years in Holland, but does so through the eyes of a fictional heroine and the book’s namesake. And if Deborah’s early childhood was fractionally as horrific as young Rachel’s, then I have deep sorrow and sympathy for her.

Rachel was subjected to grisly adult images—some of them inhuman—at such an early age you may wonder how she survived to adulthood with any fragment of normalcy. And a fragment it surely must be.

The harrowing story is told in flashbacks from casket-side at the funeral of Rachel’s awful mother figure. She recalls in graphic detail the abuse she endured at the evil step mother’s hands while her father, aunt and her real mother looked helplessly on. When I say graphic detail, I mean the vulgar, mind-numbing, atrocious, grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it sort. During one of the late chapters, I actually threw the book to the floor in disgust. There are parts that are THAT revolting. But a book about the horrors of World War II would be less than honest if it were any less so. A short break and a talk with my spouse later, I was able to resume and finish the novel. It took me more than two weeks.

It was the hardest book I’ve ever read.

Do I recommend it? If you can stomach details of abortion, graphic sex, rape and abuse, then by all means. This book details all of those horrors. But it is by all counts a realistic picture of one survivor’s hell…and a survivor’s tale it is. The war ends when Rachel is just seven, but long after she’s lost her childhood for obvious reasons. She tells of the arduous journey towards forgiveness and moving past the deep emotional wounds that only family can inflict. She finds peace in the arms of a beloved aunt and her second husband Jonathan. She also learns the truth about her birth mother, but not from any of the people who should have told her. 

I herald Rachel a heroine, but not just because she survives it all. She was actively involved in the Dutch Resistance movement, helping keep her father and many other Jews safe from the Nazis. Leading fugitives at night through the woods and moors to a Swedish safehouse, young Rachel saves countless Jewish lives. Much of her success is due to the fact that she remains hidden in plain sight under long golden hair and behind brilliant green eyes. No one ever suspects her as a Jew and she refuses to wear a yellow star. She avoids danger every time she encounters a German soldier by flashing an innocent smile and skipping past as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Little did the Nazis know that in her wooden clogs or hidden beneath layers of clothing, she was transporting secrets or weapons to various checkpoints and hideouts within the Dutch Resistance. 

Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard is not for the faint of heart. The language is vulgar and some of the scenes depicted are even worse. It is brutally honest, though, intriguing and moving. By the end, I had given up on fighting back tears. It is sure to move you, too, if it doesn’t sicken you first.

La Grande Rafle (The Great Roundup) of 1942

Posted in holocaust, Maps and images with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2009 by indyretreats

La Grande Rafle Memorial on site of old stadium

In July 1942, arrests of foreign Jews in France began simultaneously in the Occupied and Unoccupied Zones (see map below). After railcars were freed up by the Wermacht in the East, convoys began departing France every other day. “The initial plan called for the deportation of a hundred thousand Jews from the occupied zone and fifty thousand from the ‘free’ zone, but such a large-scale operation could be undertaken only with the active cooperation of the French police.” At the direction of Vichy Prime Minister Pierre Laval, only foreign Jews could be deported. “[H]e approved the active participation of French police forces in the planned operation; moreover, he suggested that the Germans deport children, too.”[1]

The Great Roundup (aka Black Thursday) began 16 July 1942 in Paris. “Armed with index cards with names of immigrant Jews, forty-five hundred French policemen fanned out in the early morning darkness to arrest men aged sixteen to sixty and women aged sixteen to fifty-five.” The roundup continued the following day, with childless adults taken to Drancy and those with children to Velodrome d’hiver (Winter Cycle Stadium), located near the Eiffel Tower. “More than 8,000 people, about half of them children, were confined for five days in the Vel d’Hiv, which lacked the sanitary facilities for such numbers. The stench was overpowering.” A few days later, the first convoys traveled East across the line of demarcation. “Since permission had not yet arrived from Germany to deport young children to the east, those younger than fourteen were forcibly separated from their parents and older siblings and left alone in the camps, under the care of a few Red Cross volunteers.”[2]

After the deportation of adults, “[r]elief organizations in the Unoccupied Zone learned later what had become of the children left behind in Paris. Many were hidden. But French police gathered up thousands of others who were found in apartments, wandering the streets, or crying at locked doors of houses. Nearly 4,000 of them, aged two to fourteen, were sent to ‘unknown destinations,’ packed into windowless boxcars without adult escort, without food, water, or hygienic provisions, without so much as straw to lie on. They were even without identification. The Nazis had destroyed their papers.”[3] Another source places the number of children at “more than 4,000” and cites their final destination as Auschwitz. Thirty-five of them survived.[2]


Map of France, 1940 (Courtesy USHMM)

For a good overview of the French connection to the Holocaust see:
BBC’s “Vichy Policy on Jewish Deportation”
USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia, “France” 

[1]When Memory Comes [George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History] by Saul Friedländer and Helen R. Lane, Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2003, ISBN 0299190447, p. 70

[2]The Jews of modern France by Paula Hyman, University of California Press, 1998, ISBN 0520209257, p. 173

[3]The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 by David S. Wyman, Pantheon Books, New York, 1984, ISBN 0394428137, p. 31

The Hidden Children: the secret survivors of the Holocaust

Posted in holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2009 by indyretreats

(by guest contributor Tracy S. Doyle)0-HiddenChildrenCover
I recently spent several days reading an incredible book entitled The Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust by Jane Marks. This powerful book included the wartime stories of twenty-three survivors and how their childhoods were sacrificed to save their lives.  Their bravery, strength, and determination to survive are evident in each story. Often separated from their families for weeks or even years at a time, most of these children led secret lives…secret lives that saved their lives.

One of the burning questions I have had about the Holocaust is why more people didn’t step up and help? Surely they saw the Jews being publicly humiliated, forced into disease-ridden, overcrowded ghettos, and shipped off to their imminent death, so why didn’t people do anything? The answer is people did. Hundreds, possibly even thousands, of “righteous Gentiles” saved Jewish children by hiding them. Through an elaborate underground network, against horrendous odds, children were saved. They were hidden in convents, attics, cellars, cupboards, forests, and barns; some were even secreted away in sewers.  These were far from ideal living quarters, but the hidden children were living when most other Jewish children were being gassed by the Nazis.

The book tells of Jewish children rescued by courageous Christian families who adopted and treated them as their own until after the war when their real parents, sometimes complete strangers, returned to claim them. Several of the survivors recall being “ripped” from the arms of the only parents they had ever known and given to strangers. Many of the youngest children were never told they were Jewish for fear that they would “slip” and identify themselves to the wrong person, which would result in certain death for the outed child and her Gentile protectors. These stories were particularly heart-wrenching when, even as adults, tears streamed down their faces as they recalled leaving their “hidden parents” whom they loved and had saved them.

Marks groups the survivor stories into four sections–the Ordeal, the Aftermath, the Legacy and the Healing. Section one, the Ordeal, tells the horrors of going into hiding and the excrutiating decisions Jewish families made to ensure their children’s survival. As a mother of two young girls I can only begin to imagine what these parents must have gone through and the difficult choices they had to make to save their children. It made me question what I would have done. Could I have given my child to a stranger, knowing their chance of surviving the war was better apart from me? Could I walk away listening to them scream for me? Could I live knowing that, chances are, I may never see them again? What a horrifying dilemna for any mother to face.In section two, the Aftermath, Marks tells how each survivor’s life was affected by their time in hiding. Their entire lives have been marked by fear and hurt, many of them still frightened little children, emotionally frozen in time at the age of four, seven or twelve. Even as adults, they’ve remained hidden emotionally. Learning at an early age to turn off anger, fear, confusion, and grief, in effect, they stopped feeling anything. This emotional disconnect resulted in insecurities, marriages failing and relationships lacking intimacy. By telling their story, many say they have finally begun the process of emotional healing.Section three, the Legacy, deals with how these children describe their lives as a puzzle with too many pieces missing. They have many questions without answers. Their ability to forget was a way to survive emotionally but it had a downside; it left them with unknowns about what they experienced as a child. One survivor put a positive spin on this by saying “I have an almost instinctive appreciation of the concept of fate and destiny, that certain things happen in life that are beyond our control. Instead of making me scared, that’s given me a clearer understanding of what I can do something about — and what I can’t” (p. 182). 
Hidden Child
Sonja Dubois

onja’s only link to her lost family was an oil painting that she’s had since she was hidden away. It is a dark painting,
full of greens, browns and dark hues. The signature is in black. Sonja had never known who made the painting, only that it
had belonged to her family. Thirty-eight years after losing her parents to the killing factory at Auschwitz, Sonja was told
of the painting, ‘This is your daddy’s signature.’ He had been an amateur painter in Holland’s artist community.
Read more at…
Timothy Hankins blog,
Tennessee Holocaust Survivor’s Biographies.
What others have said about the book
Anti-Defamation League
Good Reads User Reviews
10 Customer Reviews @ Amazon
More on hidden children of the Holocaust…Life in Shadows Exhibit @ USHMM

Hidden Children & The Holocaust

Blog on Ancestry Magazine’s–“Researching Jewish Children”

Blog Around the Clock’s 3-part Series

BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents


And finally, the Healing, relates how, amazingly, the hidden children have grown-up to be very successful and contributing members of societies all around the world. They all strive to denounce anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and to promote education so that, God forbid, if ever confronted with the concept of such a horrifying proposal the next generation will stand and say “Never Again!

(The Hidden Children: the secret survivors of the Holocaust by Jane Marks, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1993, ISBN 044990685X)