To stop the defamation of the Jewish people... to secure justice and fair treatment to all
Anti-Defamation League ABOUT ADL FIND YOUR LOCAL ADL DONATE CONTACT US PRESS CENTER
The Hidden Child Foundation/ADL
History of The Hidden Child Foundation/ADL
What We Do / How to Contact Us
Experiences of Hidden Children
Separation from Family
Between Two Religions
News
Hidden Child News
Personals
People Looking For Others
People Seeking Information About Their Backgrounds
 
Holocaust   
The Hidden Child
Between Two Religions
The Right To Forget and
the Duty To Remember
by
R. D. V.

It is a matter of wonder to some that the current scandal surrounding Jewish gold looted by the Nazis and stolen by Central Banks and bureaucrats in Switzerland and in the West is only emerging 50 years after the facts.

Why did it take so long? To me, a former hidden child, the 50-year time lapse does not come as a surprise.

...some hidden children prefer to keep a hidden life and hidden thoughts. Memory can be painful ...

Immediately after the war, those of us who survived had one overwhelming desire which tended to suppress all others: we wanted to forget that as Jews we had been singled out for special treatment. We were thirsty to live, to love, to eat and to play. Those of us who were children wanted to play with the other children, and not be different in any manner. I was proud to be Jewish, but I did not want my Jewishness to separate me from the rest of the population. I valued my right "not to be different."

I recently found a 1945 memorabilia where I push this sentiment to the point of the bizarre. I was 11 years old at the time. The document is a notebook in which I wrote my school assignments. Two essays are particularly interesting.

V_family.GIF (15861 bytes)
The author's family in Nice,
January, 1943 when Jews were still
under the protectction of the Italian
Army.  His mother, second from left
and his brother, at the far right, were
deported later that year.  Both
survived.

The first is dated June 2, 1945, and was written on the occasion of Mother's Day. It is about a little boy who writes to his mother to "tell her his regrets for his misbehavior, and how he intends to behave well in the future." On June 2, 1945, my mother had been by my side only three weeks since returning, frail, ill and emotionally devastated, from the death camps. She had been taken away from me for 18 months, and finding each other again had not been easy. Yet, in response to the teacher's instructions, I put on paper words that were completely divorced from my reality. I write to my fictional mother, "If you knew how much I suffer now, to have caused you so much pain, and how much I regret my failings."

Why did I write this? I had not caused my mother any suffering. We had been separated by the barbarity of the Nazis and the deviousness of the local informers. The answer is clear: I did not want my teacher, and I didn't want my inner self, to view my own mother/child relationship as different from that of any "normal" 11-year-old boy. I wanted to suppress the remembrance of my own condition of never having had a proper home because of the war and the deportation of my mother. I relegated to the back of my mind the remembrance of the brave French family which saved my life and those of my sister and grandfather at the risk of their own. It took me close to 50 years to properly honor my rescuers.

The second essay is dated June 16, 1945, and deals with the Nazi atrocity at Oradour-sur-Glane, where the Waffen SS Reich division massacred an entire village in 1944. It is surprising in what it doesn't say. It is a paragon of the 1945 "politically correct." It blames the Nazis the brutes, the "Gerries" and praises patriotism and the Catholic Church. There is only a pale reference at the end to "other atrocities," including Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Birkenau no indication about how personal my involvement actually was; not a word about the fact that, had my family not been turned over to Klaus Barbie's henchmen by a French neighbor, they might have escaped death and suffering in the camps.

There is no question that those we accuse today of being accomplices in the looting of Jewish properties the agents of Zurich, the State Department, the French state, the world's greatest national museums and private galleries took advantage of the self-inflicted amnesia that afflicted us in the 1945 environment. There is a double aspect to this matter: one, we didn't know all the facts, and two, we had no wish to pursue them.

My own desire to understate my past had also been prompted by a remark a few months before the writing of these essays. To stop the smirking of my classmates at his disclosure that I had attended school under an assumed identity and a borrowed name, my teacher uttered these patronizing words: "Leave him alone, he can't help being Jewish." To be sure, this chance remark profoundly influenced me, as it has remained ingrained in my mind to this day.

There are survivors today, and children and grandchildren of survivors, who still want to forget the past, or who prefer to hide it or to obliterate it from their memory.

I met one recently, and it is our chance meeting that prompted me to write these notes. After we became acquainted, he told me he didn't know when and where he was born; he never knew his parents; and even today, he's not sure who they were. He does not know his birth name, nor his original nationality. He came to the U.S. shortly after the war, a "displaced person" from a French orphanage, speaking a language which is associated with a Jewish minority in southeast Europe. He has assumed a new identity and a new date of birth. He grew up here, married, prospered, and became the father of three children. When I asked him "Don't you want to know where your roots are, and where your grandparents lived and died?" he replied, "I don't want to know about the past, because I can't change it. My children fantasize I am an abandoned Gypsy prince, and that suits me."

The moral of these stories is that some hidden children prefer to keep a hidden life and hidden thoughts. Memory can be painful and destructive. No one is required to justify his or her attitude toward the past. If some of us want to leave the inner part of our soul in the shadows, that is a sacred right a right which deserves respect and honor equal to that of the right, indeed duty, to seek truth and justice, which inspires many survivors, their children, and their grandchildren, "the fighters for remembrance," as Serge Klarsfeld has dubbed them.

The author is an International Legal Consultant

Return to Top

Related Materials
children of the holocaust
Children of the Holocaust Discussion Guide

Until recently, the story of the children of the Holocaust was rarely told. This on-line guide recounts the war-time experiences of three child survivors.
e-mail to friend E-Mail This Article
 
Home | Search | About ADL | Contact ADL | Privacy Policy

2013 Anti-Defamation League