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The Hidden Child
Between Two Religions
Religious Transformation and Continuity
by
Eva Fogelman, Ph.D.

When, in a desperate attempt to save their child from an imminent death, Jewish parents had the fortune to find a Christian family, or a convent, monastery, boarding school, or orphanage in which to hide their little one, placing the child was achieved with the utmost of love.


...to the boy or girl, being placed felt like an abandonment and, indeed, often feels that way for the rest of his or her life.

Nevertheless, to the boy or girl, being placed felt like an abandonment and, indeed, often feels that way for the rest of his or her life.

These unbearable emotions were soon replaced with those generated by awesome protectors: Mary and Jesus. The life-sized paintings of a mother protecting her child, the soothing music and liturgy, the incense, the sense of belonging, being told "Mary and Jesus love you and will protect you forever" ­ all of this began to alleviate some of the emotional pain and replaced the impotent Jewish God. The only drawback to this new protected state was that the child's life was threatened if he or she did not remain loyal to Mary and Jesus. Hell was the penalty for disloyalty.

Girl in Dress.GIF (29546 bytes)
Sophie Turner Zaretsky, alais Zofia Tymejko,  age 7, at her Communion in Poland in 1944.  She learned she was Jewish at age 11.

Continue the scenario: one year later ­ or, for some, five years later ­ a total stranger comes to take you out of the hiding place. This stranger could be your own father or mother, an aunt, or a representative of a Jewish organization. These new caretakers remove the cross from around your neck and throw out your Christian prayer book. You begin to see images of Hell, and you know that you will end up there if you abandon Mary and Jesus.

The questions for these hidden children was not "Where was the God of Kindness in Auschwitz?" as Elie Wiesel asks. The question was, as Flora Hogman, a psychologist who was hidden in a convent and in many Christian homes in France, asks, "Why were the Jews accused of killing Christ? What did they do wrong?" "What became most important," says Hogman, "was to pray to the Christian God to ensure that my mother would return."

The "self" of hidden children underwent several transformations. The ability to withstand such fragmentation of the self and inner chaos was compounded by the fear of Purgatory. Hence, to adjust to such disequilibrium, one needed to achieve a mode of flexible psychological coping.

For some hidden children, becoming Jewish after liberation was a continuity to their prior self; while for others it was a discontinuity. They had no memories, no tastes, no smells, no symbols as reminders of their Jewish self.

Hidden children whose mothers and fathers did not survive, or returned to them as broken vessels after years of persecution, longed to hold on to their faith in Jesus and Mary, who they felt would continue to provide them with a protective environment.

Some children felt very special in their Christian environment. In Fundamentalist Christian homes, the Jewish children were put on a pedestal as being the chosen children of God. Shlomo Breznitz, currently a professor of psychology at the University of Haifa and the New School for Social Research, was thought of as a possible future pope by the Mother Superior in a Catholic orphanage in Czechoslovakia. In his memoir, Memory Fields, Professor Breznitz describes how the nuns were so impressed with his quick ability to remember the prayers that they saw this as a sign from God that he was being singled out to be a future pope.


The heart and soul of Jewish children were abducted beyond the years that they needed refuge.

However, Breznitz never stopped longing for his mother and father. This wish did not fit the Mother Superior's master plan that he would be orphaned and destined to serve God.

The heart and soul of Jewish children were abducted beyond the years that they needed refuge. After liberation, Saul Friedlander, a Czech Jew who escaped with his parents to Germany and then to France where he was hidden in a boarding school, was contemplating keeping his vow to become a priest. Before embarking on this course of study, Friedlander had learned from a priest that his parents were killed in Auschwitz because they were Jews. At the last moment, he decided that his loyalties belonged to the Jewish people, to creating a strong Jewish state, and to ensuring that the Holocaust does not happen again; he went on to become a leading Holocaust historian.

On the other hand, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, whose early childhood was devoid of Jewish ritual, was baptized in May 1940. He then escaped with his father and sister to Orleans where they hid. Lustiger's mother was killed in Auschwitz. He entered the priesthood in 1954 against his father's wishes.

Renée Roth-Hano writes in Touch Wood and Safe Harbors about her conflict with being disloyal to her vow of becoming a nun which she made while being hidden in a convent in France. Roth-Hano was reunited with her parents after liberation, and they tried to bring her back to her Jewish roots. This could not happen until she came to the United States and felt it was safe to live openly as a Jew.

In countries where it was difficult to live openly as a Jew, many hidden children knowingly or unknowingly continued to live as Catholics or Protestants. Without a community with which to share one's beliefs, particularly as a Jew, it is troubling and puzzling to be a Jew. For many, the ritual of the Passover Seder was an avenue to feeling a part of the Jewish people. The theme "from bondage to liberation," as explored in the Exodus story, resonates for those who were freed in a different time, in a different place. The richness of the Jewish way of life with its own recurring annual events and life-cycle rituals is meaningless if one only knows what it means to be a Jew from his or her own personal suffering during the years of the Hurban. It is the connectedness to the destroyed pre-Holocaust life that ultimately will integrate the fragmented self of the hidden children, and thereby of future generations.

Eva Fogelman Ph.D. is a social psychologist and psychotherapist. She is the author of Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust.

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