author, age 7
Well, the poor woman didn't know what hit her
as I screamed back, "How can you make such a statement?
You have no clue as to what I felt after being whisked from
one home to another for two years, after being converted in a
convent during one stay. What did you expect of me, to be a
nice, open, expressive child?"
After my tirade which seemed to last for hours, she felt terrible,
apologized profusely, and said that obviously adults don't understand
On her behalf, I should add that I wanted nothing better than
to be like everyone else to continue to "pass." So
I played like the other kids, wanted to be dressed like them,
to be the best in school, and mostly to be Catholic as they all
were. By then I had been converted to Protestantism by my new
How could I talk about the war and yet be like everyone else?
Vaguely knowing that I was Jewish, I felt, in fact, secretly ashamed
of my dubious origins. And how could I feel for my mother when
I was now adopted by an older woman who had wanted a child for
so many years. No matter which way I turned, I was betraying someone.
So why bother to think about it at all? And how could I even think
of complaining after she and all her nice friends always reminded
me that I should be grateful for having been saved and taken in
by such a nice family? Thinking about it now, it seems like a
The older woman had arranged a beautiful room for me, provided
a doll and dresses, a new hairdo. I heard stories about her past,
her childhood; she and her Swedish husband took me to Switzerland
for my health right after the war. She listened to my heartaches
and triumphs in school. She told me to call her aunt, and then
to call her Moure mother in Swedish.
Did I feel they wanted to talk about the war and my mother? Yes,
we went back to my mother's apartment in Nice: yes, Moure
put together an album of my mother's photographs. Yet she fought
tooth and nail to keep me when my aunt wanted me back. I reminded
her of a child she had loved in India a long time ago, she always
said. I ended up feeling I really was her child at least during
the day. My mother belonged to another planet, in its own particular
world, at night, when I prayed to God for her return.
Years later, when she never returned, I stopped praying and I
forgot all about the war. I could no longer conjure up an image
of my mother; I forgot about her, I forgot I was a Jew. I became
a little French girl. Now I was angry at God but I didn't know
The silence of the children as we know now is in no way due to
indifference. It reflected adults' prohibitions. It reflected
children's fears, confusions. Did they feel they had rights? There
was the terror of being thrown out, the sense of guilt, badness,
shame for being different whether it made sense or not. That
life remained subterranean, sometimes for decades, becoming more
shameful as it remained hidden, yet causing one to accumulate
more resentment at a world perceived to squash the true, honest
self; it made one feel like a second-class citizen, not entitled
to want, and maybe often scared to try, anything.
It was in the early '70s when I began to question why I barely
remembered anything of my mother, of the time I was in hiding.
The Exodus was really a part of me, it was my story. It
made me cry. But it took until the '70s to realize I was missing
a part of myself, the me of the war with all its dark feelings
In fact, I had forgotten much of my childhood. I felt very disconnected.
Continuing to pretend I was French felt more and more like a lie.
To have a Christmas tree also became an increasing source of discomfort.
After all, I was a Jew even though I could never get myself to say
that in French.
The first time I really felt I was a Jew was at my first Seder
with my newly found relatives in New York in the early '60s. The
Exodus was really a part of me, it was my story. It made me cry.
But it took until the '70s to realize I was missing a part of
myself, the me of the war with all its dark feelings buried inside.
The inevitable sense of my being a Jew was coming from acknowledging
the atrocities of the war; how could I explain my life otherwise?
Because my mother was a Jew, she had died in Auschwitz. But besides
that, what in fact was a Jew? As a way of reconciling my dual
heritage, I started to have a Seder on Easter day. I began to
feel more authentic. That was the beginning of looking for lost
memories, lost connections with my people.
From then on, I researched and came to know the Holocaust as
part of my history. But, more importantly, I searched for and
found relatives in Israel who filled in the gaps, the memories
I had been missing. I recovered more feelings about my mother
while learning stories about her childhood from my uncle, her
half-brother. No longer was she just a Holocaust victim. I was
thrilled to learn she had been happy-go-lucky, creative and spoiled.
The author of this
article, a clinical psychologist practicing in New York
City, was born in Italy of Czech parents. Her father died of natural
causes just before the war when she was 2 years old. Her mother
escaped from Italy to Nice where they lived until 1943. She was
placed in a convent just before her mother was denounced, sent
to Drancy and then to Auschwitz.