I am a Dutch hidden child and a child psychologist, born in Amsterdam in 1926. I was
hidden until August 1944 when I was caught by the SS and sent to Auschwitz. Like nearly
all of us, I could not speak about my history, not with my husband, not with our six
As late as 1983, I became aware of the unique problems of
hidden children and started
group therapy sessions. For the first time, during these sessions,
we disclosed our grief, our anger, our aggression and our mourning.
And for the first time, a singular problem the focus of this
article came to light. At the start, even as a child
psychologist, I thought it incidental to our groups.
|After the nightmare, the parents'
first thoughts were to find their child or children....After an average hiding period of
2-1/2 years, nearly all the younger children had forgotten their own
I began researching the hiding
experience, interviewing 73 hidden children at the Hidden Child Conference
in Amsterdam in 1992 and reviewing 321 questionnaires which were returned by
the attendants. The results led to four books in which I discuss its various
aspects: the rescuers, the hidden children themselves and the surviving parents who had to
"give away" their children. The problem flared up in the story of each child who
returned to his or her own parents after the war.
After the nightmare, the parents' first thoughts were to find their child or children.
They felt that, once reunited, they would be grateful to be together and happy forever
after. However, reality was quite different.
From the child's point of view --
After an average hiding period of 2-1/2 years, nearly all the younger children had
forgotten their own parents. If they had been with their rescuers for a long period, they
saw them as their own mother and father. These people coming around, telling them that
they were the real parents were strangers!
Many children had already experienced painful separation traumas and now new ones
occurred. Most resisted fiercely, even when, wisely, the parents and the rescuers
cooperated. Often, loyalty conflicts arose.
The next complication: even very small children sense danger and adapt their behavior
to that awareness. Thus the heartfelt reasoning: "I was given away by my parents; I
must have been bad. I must be nice and obedient so that this Mom and Dad won't give me
away." After the war, with the danger gone, they no longer stifled their feelings of
grief and abandonment and directed their suppressed aggressions toward the parents. To
this day, there are former hidden children who reproach their parents for "giving
On the parents' side --
The parents who had also been in hiding and/or in concentration camps returned
from the war traumatized by their experiences and impoverished from German theft. They did
not yet earn a living, nor did they have housing of their own.
During the terrible years, they had idealized their dear child, who, now at home, was
difficult to handle, often misbehaving, aggressive and longing for the rescuers who were
really strangers to the parents.
The parents, too, were very angry because of their suffering and because of their
return to a Holland that was unfriendly toward Jews. And they were angry that others had
taught their children during their "most beautiful years." But their anger had
to be contained. They owed a life-long debt of gratitude to their child's rescuer!
The most influential psychological factor, however, was that of estrangement.
Research has shown that separation inevitably causes estrangement. Mothers of incubator
babies who, in earlier generations, were not allowed to handle their children, could
become estranged from their infants in but a couple of weeks.
Eventually, during the hiding period, the parents though with endless grief in their
hearts accepted the separation. Nevertheless, they had not been there for their child's
first steps, for the loss of the first baby tooth. They had not hugged him daily. They did
not know about his illnesses, his likes and dislikes. He had developed without them and
had relationships that they were unaware of.
Another psychological factor can be assumed: mourning in anticipation. This was
first recognized by a Canadian researcher. In 1944, Canadian soldiers were flown to
England to participate in the D-Day invasion. The possibility of each soldier's death was
very real. The parents, brothers, sisters and spouses often mourned in advance. Although
they trembled at the thought of what might happen, they prepared themselves for a prospect
of "if. . . ."
This is mourning labor. A similar effect can be seen in parents who know that their
child has a lethal illness.
The mourning could become so thoroughly established in the relative's mind that, when
the soldier returned, the "mourner" could no longer "find a place for the
While in hiding or in concentration camps, the parents could not have held much hope
about their own survival nor that of their children. Many may have mourned in
anticipation. But nobody ever identified these feelings as such. They remained deeply
hidden, never voiced.
In my research, 40 to 50 years later, the few former hidden children whose parents
survived told me about their damaged relations with their parents.
As if the nightmare had not been enough, about 65 to 70 percent of these hidden
"It seemed as if I were not welcome at home."
"We were like strangers to each other."
"The relationship has never been mended."
"My parents made sure that we were well clothed and that we achieved at school,
but they never asked us how we had felt while in hiding."
Sometimes, after even 40 years, the parents were confronted with statements such as:
"We're still strangers to each other, aren't we?"
"A child should not be given away to a stranger. You should have kept me."
"You never asked me about my hiding."
The parents were shocked to the core at such statements and most could not understand
the reproaches. With deep conviction, they said, "we did everything we could."
And this is true. They often did the impossible. But the children remember and still feel
Bloeme Evers-Emden, who lives in the
written several books about the experience of being a hidden child:
Kinderen (Borrowed Children), Ondergedoken Geweest, Een Afgesloten Verleden? (To Have Been
Hidden: A Closed Past?) and Geschonden Bestaan (Shattered Existence) and is
now looking for a volunteer to translate any one of these books into
English. If you can be of assistance please contact the Hidden Child Foundation