They hid wherever they could for as long as it took the Allies to win the war Jewish children, frightened, alone, often separated from their families. For months, even years, they faced the constant danger of discovery, fabricating new identities at a young age, sacrificing their childhoods to save their lives. These secret survivors have suppressed these painful memories for decades. Now, in The Hidden Children, twenty-three adult survivors share their moving wartime experiences some for the first time.
There is Rosa, who hid in an impoverished one-room farmhouse with three others, sleeping on a clay pallet behind a stove; Renee, who posed as a Catholic and was kept in a convent by nuns who knew her secret; and Richard, who lived in a closet with his family for thirteen months. Their personal stories of belief and determination give a voice, at last, to the forgotten. Inspiring and life-affirming, The Hidden Children is an unparalleled document of witness, discovery, and the miracle of human courage.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)|
About the Author
Jane Marks is an author and journalist whose article in New York magazine became the basis for her book, Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust. Marks wrote Hidden Children “to leave a lasting record how these children lived in hiding; to make the world aware of the exceptional courage and goodness that emerged in the midst of unspeakable tragedy.”
Read an Excerpt
Nicole David, fifty-five, looks polished and refined in a bright silk print dress. She has expressive dark brown eyes with long lashes, light brown hair, and a certain cool reserve. She becomes animated when she talks about her husband, Ernest, her fledgling career as a couples therapist, and an upcoming hidden-child documentary on English television. Once again at home in London after years in New York, Nicole sits at the antique desk in her creamy-color wallpapered den typing overseas air letters, faxing messages, and (only late at night when the rates go down) phoning friends in the United States. Nicole explains, “I have to feel that I can be in touch with people.”
“I was born on September 15, 1936, in Antwerp, Belgium, the only daughter of Chawa Matzner and Munisch Schneider. The Germans invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940. As the bombing began, our family—along with thousands of others—fled to France. At the French border I suddenly saw my father on the Belgian side of a wire fence. It seemed that men of army age with Polish nationality, which he was, were not allowed to cross the border into France. I screamed for him to come with us. Somehow in all the chaos, the crowds, and the noise, he managed to make it through.
“No sooner were we safely in France, when a low-flying German plane approached. Two minutes later we were in a ditch along with hundreds of others. My parents were on top of me, protecting me. When the bombing stopped and not everyone got up, I thought how lucky I was to have my parents to protect me. I was certain that as long as I had them, nothing bad could ever happen to me.
“In France the Germans occupied part of the country, but they were not yet deporting Jews. Outside a shop one day some German soldiers gave another little girl and me some chocolate. As we ate it, the soldiers stood there, bragging to my father about how strong and well organized their army was: ‘With us an order is an order,’ one said, ‘For example, if we were ordered to shoot these children’—he patted my head—‘why, we would do it!’
“After that we returned to Antwerp but had to leave again because of heavy bombing. Then we moved to a small, very beautiful village called Profondeville in the Belgian Ardennes, where my father felt we’d be safer. It was rural and very green with lovely views of the river Meuse. Our small rented house was on the main square with a shared garden in back. I slept in my parents’ room, which was cozy, but they didn’t get much sleep with my early-morning chatter. My parents often took me rowing on the Meuse and for rides on their tandem bicycle. To me life still felt safe and happy.
“But anti-Semitic decrees were in place, and getting tougher. I wasn’t even supposed to go to school, but a nun let me come to kindergarten. One day we were told, ‘Christ is everywhere.’ I was a bright, inquisitive child. I asked, ‘How do we know that if we can’t see him?’ That afternoon the nun called my mother and said, ‘You’d better take her out of here, she doesn’t sound anything like a Catholic child. She’ll give herself away.’ My parents then explained to me how dangerous it was to be Jewish. ‘Oh,’ I said. Although I’d enjoyed being with the other children, I had known all along that I was different. Leaving school was almost a relief.
“In 1942 the deportation was under way. Jews were required to be registered and wear yellow stars. Deeply concerned, my parents found a secret place for me in a Catholic orphanage. Then they, too, went into hiding in somebody’s attic. That separation felt terrible to me. It was very overcrowded in the orphanage. I felt lost. After a while the nuns told my parents that they couldn’t keep me anymore because my constant throat infections endangered all the other children.
“My parents decided that I had to have a tonsillectomy. They couldn’t get me into a hospital, so my mother decided that we’d go back to Profondeville, where we’d had a very good pediatrician. My father was very much against that idea. He felt it would be much too dangerous. For one thing, as of August 1941, Jews were not even allowed to live outside of Antwerp, Brussels, Liège, or Charleroi. But my mother was very assertive, and she won. I only found that out years later. My father told me that he always had guilt feelings because my mother had said, ‘Look, I’m making the decision, and if anything should happen, then I hope it happens to me and not to you. I’m taking the responsibility because I don’t want Nicole operated on by just anybody.”
“At the time all I knew then was how thrilled I was to be leaving the orphanage and going home. That made me very happy. October 7, 1942, the day before my operation was a beautiful, sunny day in Profondeville. My father and I went out to buy a newspaper while my mother stayed home to make lunch, which I knew would be something delicious. As we reached the little alley where the paper shop was, we saw two SS men in full uniform with black leather jackboots. They said hello to us as we passed. Puzzled, my father and I looked at each other.
“The Gestapo rarely came to Profondeville. Once, many months earlier, my father and I had come back from a walk to find two Gestapos leaving our house and my mother upset. The officers had come to check my parents’ coats to see if they had yellow stars sewn on properly. (As a child under six I didn’t need to wear a star.)
“This time we did wonder if something was up, but we continued on to the café on the banks of the Meuse. At the café Daddy ordered an aperitif. He let me have a sip of it, which made me feel grown-up. I can picture the scene before us: the lovely river and the rocks of Lustin on the opposite bank looked so peaceful that I completely forgot about the Gestapo. Then we started walking home. As we approached our corner, we could see three German trucks right outside our house. Suddenly I wanted to run home, to see if my mother was all right. Then a man I’d never seen before intercepted us and warned us not to go home. I started to cry: I was frantic to see my mother. Daddy said, ‘Be quiet. The Gestapo might hear you.’ That was when I first learned not to cry, a lesson that stayed with me for years and years.
“The man, who was from the Resistance, took us down a narrow road to a ‘safe’ house, where an Italian woman took us to her attic. We stayed there for the rest of the day. Daddy told me not to go near the window. Members of the SS and soldiers in German uniform passed back and forth all day while they looked for us.
“That evening a non-Jewish friend of my mother’s came and tried to reassure me that my mother was all right. She said that my mother had sent a message that I shouldn’t worry because my father would look after me. At that moment I got terrible, terrible stomach cramps, but I wasn’t allowed to go down to the toilet. Instead a pot was brought up for me. Later that night a man came to take my father back to the attic in Rivières, where he had been with my mother while I was in the orphanage. At the same time a woman came to take me to the family of Mr. and Mrs. Gaston Champagne, Château Saint Servais, Saint Servais, Namur. It was very dark on the way, and I was terribly afraid.
“I found myself living in a large Catholic family with ten children, though only five were still at home. The youngest was sixteen. I didn’t know these people! In fact it was through one of the adult sons just two days earlier that my mother had made the arrangements for me. Life seemed strange there. I couldn’t go to school. The only regular outing was to church with the family. Most of the time I was by myself and quite lonely. Each day I spent hours and hours making up fantasy stories, the kind my father used to tell me. They always involved Mickey, an imaginary friend, and he could do everything. I had not been a loner by nature. I loved company and loved to talk. But I developed into a very self-sufficient person.
“The house, which looked like a castle, was surrounded by a very large garden. A high wall went all around it, and I could not see the street, except through the gate, which they told me to stay away from. I do not remember any flowers in the garden. There was a small, empty pond, with concrete sides I liked to slide down. Doing that tore my panties, which annoyed Madame Champagne, but it was the only game I had.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed reading how courageous these people were and are!