First, thank you to blogger Fictionophile whose post brought this book to my attention.
In college I took a few political science classes from a man who was the son of survivors of Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz. He grew up mostly in New York City, but remembered being used to take illegally tailored clothing to customers for his father before they made it to American. The struggle of being the only child and born to survivors was real. His father had lost another family to the Nazis. He introduced me to the book Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with the Sons and Daughters of Survivors. The book I am reviewing here, Survivors: Children’s Lives After the Holocaust is almost a companion piece to that first book.
“Children are resilient” we are told over and over. The children in this book survived the Nazi death camps, Dr. Mengele, and more. Some survived the “other” war–of being raised in hiding or raised hiding in plain sight, passed off as Christians in various countries. Their story is a different type of tragedy.
Those in hiding did not “survive” in the same way as those in the camps. Many became attached to the families that hid them, especially those who were infants or small children when their parents sent them away. Their war and their experience was not always bad, but the guilt that could come with know that was their burden. Some were rejected by their protectors at war’s end, and some rejected the birth family relatives who tried to claim them when they were finally free to do so. Those children who survived the camps knew how bad life could get and were often thought by society to be “damaged”–a stigma that could follow them through life.
The efforts to provide a stabilizing “home life” for both groups and the psychological studies done of them while in group care are the main focus of the book. There is a discussion of the ethics of this study as well discussion of the study itself.
In addition, there are stories of individual child survivors–this, to me, was the most interesting part of the book. Understandably, many started new lives in the U.S., U.K, Canada, and Israel–a fact that led occasionally to problems of a different kind.
This book was so needed. It was way past time for these stories to be told. It deserves the acclaim and award nominations (not sure if it has won any yet). Soon it will be too late to learn from these one-time “child” survivors. The authors have done the world an important service in writing this book.
I recommend this book and further recommend that it be read with Children of the Holocaust (linked at the top of this review) for a full picture of children’s experiences both in the holocaust and born to survivors of it.
Survivors: Children’s Lives After the Holocaust by Rebecca Clifford