No one who reads Howard Greenfeld's moving The Hidden Children will minimize the
pain and suffering of children who were hidden during the Holocaust. Their voices --
"nobody wanted to listen to us" -- have much to teach us about the resilience of
the human spirit.
Greenfeld weaves personal testimonies of 13 hidden children from Germany, France,
Belgium and Poland into a more general account of the persecution of Jews, beginning with
seeds of anti-Semitism, through Hitler's rise to Chancellor of the Third Reich to the
liberation of the camps, and carrying the narrative through to the emigration to America.
Most of these children were separated from their parents as infants, toddlers, or as
pre-adolescents, and hidden in convents, orphanages, in crowded sleeping quarters in
homes, in cellars and attics, in hay stacks, underneath barns, and in the woods. These
children today include educators, a dentist, psychologists, a civil engineer, and one
Nobel Prize winner.
Greenfeld captures the terror of little children who depended on strangers -- and upon
themselves -- to outwit the Germans and the Poles, in the midst of exposure to starvation,
murder, death and emotional abuse. "A cry or a laugh -- the basic familiar sounds of
childhood," Greenfeld tells us, had to be suppressed. In retrospect, we see that
silence meant increasing the chances of survival. Towards the end of the war, when 50 Jews
were hiding in an abandoned building in Warsaw, a father who could not silence his crying
baby choked him to death in order to save the others from being discovered; other children
witnessed this act of desperation.
A family that survived intact was seen as an oddity. Throughout their years of hiding,
children who constantly worried if their parents would return were not always filled with
joy at reunions with strangers who looked like skeletons, without teeth, pale and weak. At
times they did not speak the same language.
The Hidden Children, a highly graphic account of the horrors of hiding, may not
be appropriate for fifth graders: the book is more suitable for pre-adolescents and
adolescents. Nonetheless, The Hidden Children is a valuable contribution to the Holocaust
literature for young readers.
Eva Fogelman, Ph.D., is the author of Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust. Dr. Fogelman is a social psychologist and
psychotherapist. She was the first director of the Jewish Foundation for Christian
Rescuers/ADL. She is involved in a research project on the Persecution of Children During
the Holocaust, Child Development Research.