| As hidden
children, our lives were dominated by two basic demands: the
giving up of our Jewish identity and silence. Complying to both,
even temporarily, implied a rejection of our past.
In part, it was also a
denial of our religion.
lives were dominated by two basic demands: the giving up
of our Jewish identity and silence.
Most of us came from
secular homes Jewish Orthodox children hardly ever made it to
the Christian world. And yet, religion assumed an important
place in our lives. We knew that being Jewish had deprived us of
our right to live. Being Jewish meant something bad, something
for which we could be killed. Being Christian meant being
between being Christian and being Jewish hinged on different
kinds of Gods. Invariably, the question had to come up about the
differences. A God that could not even protect its children did
not seem very trustworthy. Undoubtedly, the extent to which we
followed this kind of reasoning depended on many factors: our
age, our Christian protectors and whether we had contact with
our parents or with other Jews.
For us, religion had
a double edge. We were disappointed in our God. We felt
abandoned by Him. Yet, we needed consolation from a God, from a
religion. Comforted by a new God who promised us acceptance and
safety, we were in fact ready for that God. By saving us, this
new God protected us from evil, and so we equated Him with
Of the different
Christian religions, Catholicism was particularly influential in
the lives of the hidden children. Many who were old enough to
realize what was happening welcomed Catholicism. Those who were
very young embraced it blindly. From the perspective of the
Jewish child, baptism and Catholicism were positive forces. Each
shielded him from danger. Each offered a feeling of security and
influence of religion spilled over into the post-war lives of
the hidden children. For the children, their very survival was
proof that they had adjusted well to their roles as Christians.
But at the end of the war, they were asked to switch again. For
many of us, the return to Jewish identity was a drawn-out
process. Some never returned.
hostility, ambivalence, resentment, shame and regret were only
some of the emotions we hidden children had. Some of us may
still continue to have such feelings about our Jewishness, about
our religion. At times mixed together, appearing and
disappearing, these emotions are not surprising.
being Jewish meant danger, disapproval, something one
could be killed for, why would a child want to take it
We could not easily
give up that which had helped us to survive. If being Jewish
meant danger, disapproval, something one could be killed for,
why would a child want to take it back? Most of us were
conflicted about these issues. For a while, we were suspended
in two worlds: the Christian and the Jewish worlds. Some of us
could not reconcile the two. Still others have taken a
definite step toward Christianity or Judaism.
Has becoming a part
of two different worlds given us a broader, less prejudiced
perspective on life, on people? Perhaps.
Nechama Tec, Senior Research Fellow at the Miles Lerman
Center for the Study of Jewish Resistance at the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, is the author of
many books, including Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost
Childhood, In The Lion's Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeisen and
Defiance: The Bielski Partisans.