When Germany came under
Nazi rule, the country adopted as official policy a racist ideology
aimed at the destruction of the Jews. To bring about the complete
eradication of this entire population, the Nazi strategy demanded
that not only adults be marked for destruction but that children
be targeted as well. In fact, in each European country conquered
by the Germans, the survival rate of children was much lower than
that of the overall Jewish population. It is estimated that one
and a half million Jewish children, from infants to older teens,
were gassed or shot to death in Nazi-occupied Europe. This means
that nine out of ten Jewish children were murdered, not as a result
of some tragic accident or some wild scheme gone wrong, but simply
because they were Jewish.
Such deliberate and systematic
killing of children was unprecedented in human history. Very few
escaped the Nazi plan of Jewish annihilation. Those who were sent
to concentration camps were killed upon arrival. Only an occasional,
healthy-looking teen-ager managed to slip through the system.
For the most part, the
children who eluded the Nazis survived because they were hidden
from their persecutors. Sometimes for years, they lived out of their
captors' sight, in convents, orphanages, haylofts, woods, basements
or sewers. Some lived openly, concealing their names, pretending
to be Christian.
Often, families were
torn apart. In a desperate attempt to save their children, parents
made the agonizing decision to leave their little ones with strangers.
And, frequently, children were left to fend for themselves, wandering
through forests and villages in search of food and shelter.