‘Hidden Children’ share harrowing tales of survival
AT the beginning of the Second World War, there were about 1.5 million Jewish children living in what would become Nazi-occupied Europe. By the end of the war, only 150,000 of these children were still alive. Sophie Turner-Zaretsky, Flora Hogman and Carla Lessing were among them — all three survived the Holocaust as hidden children. Not surprisingly, they have extraordinary stories to tell. These stories — about loss of identity, family, faith and home — are at the core of Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors. This book of non-fiction, written by New York author R.D. Rosen, explores the wartime experiences of these girls and the way that those experiences shaped their adult lives. Although the book as a whole is uneven, and sometimes repetitive and unfocused, the individual stories are harrowing, remarkable and riveting to read. In 1942, 12-year-old Carla went into hiding with a Christian family in Holland, and spent months, silent and still, above a barber shop frequented by German soldiers. That same year, Flora’s widowed mother arranged for her eight-year-old daughter to be hidden at a Catholic monastery in southern France. Flora never saw or heard from her mother again. After managing to evade several Nazi roundups, five-year-old Sophie and her mother escaped the Lvov ghetto and assumed fake Polish Catholic identities. By the end of the war, Sophie had no memory of her first five years of life or of her Jewish faith. Like many of her Catholic schoolmates, she had become an anti-Semite.
“...Sophie had felt increasingly like a ghost floating to her mother — insubstantial, a vestige of a past she barely understood. However lucky she had been, she was still a casualty of the Final Solution. Her childhood had been erased.” The second half of the book looks at the way in which their lost childhoods affected Sophie, Carla and Flora’s lives after the war. It also explores, sometimes too tangentially, more general ideas about identity, faith, guilt and trauma. The three women — who all settled in the New York area and went into the helping professions — struggled with these issues on a daily basis in their personal and professional lives. Sophie was plagued by remorse for not fully appreciating the sacrifices her mother had made to keep her alive. Carla lived in fear of “worst case scenarios” and was unable to express joy. Flora was haunted by her last image of her best friend Rachel, who was deported to certain death the day that Flora went into hiding. It was not until the three women came together in 1991 at the first Gathering of Hidden Children that they learned that their nightmares, shame and regrets were shared by all children who had survived the Holocaust in hiding. Surrounded by many of their own children and grandchildren at that and ensuing Hidden Children conferences, they realized too that their survival was a final victory over Hitler’s Final Solution.
Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg writer.