response to our call for artifacts, the author's bear, a
cherished toy with no other name than Bear, is one of the many
objects our Hidden Child members have loaned to Yad Vashem, the
Israel Holocaust Museum, for an exhibit entitled, "No
Child's Play: Children in the Holocaust Creativity and
Play." The exhibit aims to show how children used play
under the most adverse conditions not only for comfort but often
as a prerequisite for actual survival.
My little Bear was my
only possession and friend during the terror-filled years of my
early childhood in Holland.
I was 4 years old when the Germans invaded Holland and 6 when,
instead of boarding the transport train, my parents, my two
older brothers and I walked out of our house in Delft and went
into hiding. To reduce the chances of being caught by the Nazis
we split up, and for the next two-and-a-half years I posed as a
moving from one place
and family to the next. I was very alone most of the time, but I
knew what I needed to know: that I lived in a hostile world,
that I was to trust no one except my mother who would appear at
times to move me to a new place. I knew that my Jewishness was
an absolute secret which, if divulged, would cost me my life. My
little Bear he never had a name went with me everywhere.
He kept me company and he kept my secret. Very early during the
war, a dog bit his head off, but he was never loved any the less
knew that my Jewishness was an absolute secret which, if
divulged, would cost me my life.
Children" of Amsterdam, 1942
The author is in the first row, far right.
My brother and I
first hid at my grandfather's in Amsterdam. It was here that
the now well-known class photograph of Jewish "Star
Children" was taken in the fall or winter of 1942.When my
mother came to see us, she was furious that my grandfather had
made my brother and me wear the Jewish star. She immediately
found another hiding place for me with a Christian family.
Here I came down with diphtheria. I awoke one day with a
terrible fever, and my mother, whose name was Engeline and who
would appear like a real angel, was there to comfort me. When
she asked me if I wanted something, I held up my Bear and
said: "I want a head for my Bear!" She and my father
removed the breast pocket from the gray furry jacket that I
wore throughout my years of hiding and together they fashioned
the head that he has had ever since.
Some 45 years
later, I was able to identify myself in the class photo of
Jewish children in part because I am wearing that same jacket!
I am the curly headed one on the right in the front row. When
I first saw this photograph in 1987 I was deeply affected by
it. It awakened a sense of and search for my identity as a
child survivor of the Holocaust, one of the hidden children.
It is at once a
powerful and a painful picture so young, so innocent; a
small contingent among the one-and-a-half million murdered
Jewish children. For they are all surely dead, not only
because of Holland's dismal survival rate, but also because I
have searched without success for others in that picture. No,
there is only silence in this photograph. But, silently, it
speaks of the perpetration of the greatest evil; the
deliberate and ruthless destruction of children.
have vowed to be a witness, to not be silent to
speak for them, for myself, and for all the others!
The photograph is a
very painful reminder of what I lived through and of the
dreadful fate I escaped. It has become a document that links
me intimately and forever with my murdered classmates. And so
I have vowed to be a witness, to not be silent to
speak for them, for myself, and for all the others! And what
do I say when I speak? I speak about the miracle and
preciousness of childhood, and I celebrate the innocence, the
intelligence and the vitality of children. Mostly, I tell my
story, as honestly as I can. And who helps me the most? Who
guides me back to those Holocaust years, to remembering how it
was? It is my Bear. For when I hold him in my hands, I am once
again 6 years old and I feel the submerged terror and. . . I
Lessing is a psychologist in private