‘Hid­den Chil­dren’ share har­row­ing tales of sur­vival

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Sharon Chisvin

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.

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