I suppose it had never occurred to me to wonder about the children who were hidden for safety reasons during World War II and the Nazi Reign of Terror in Europe. But, today I went to Naples Newcomer's luncheon and the speaker scheduled was one of our own who had been a "hidden child" from a jewish family during those times. What a story she shared of her childhood.
Taken from her mother and father when she was only months old, returned sporadically, then taken for years when she was 2 yrs. old to a safe house in Belgium where a brave French woman secreted her to a convent in France. Nuns hid her, gave her a name, and a birthday/French name day, and taught her all she knew...she was lonely and had no physical comforting. Kept hidden from the world, she never knew other children. Hunger was her constant companion along with cold and fear. She was never to go anywhere unless accompanied by the nun assigned to her, she slept on a cot and they rarely washed or changed her clothes. She grew up having several names, not knowing her parents or grandparents, with no friends, no formal education except memorized Catholic religion, she was always hungry and afraid. She didn't know what a jew was, and she didn't know she was one. When she was about 5 yrs. old she was taken in the middle of the night to a French farm where she lived with a kind family with a child near her age, with food and comfort for almost a year...she was able to see her mother briefly, and she knew her first happiness.
Her mother was then taken to Auschwitz; her father was already at Dachau. The French neighbors became nosy and curious, so she was removed in the middle of the night to a children's orphanage and reform school back in Belgium where she was treated like a criminal child. There she stayed until her mother was able to survive the Camp with the War over and come to get her. Her mother was very sick, and her grandmother, who had also survived, along with this little girl, lived in Germany with very little to eat, sweaters her mother knitted from the yarn of old rugs she washed and dried and cut into strips, and they kept warm by a coal stove. Her father, who had also survived, took a refugee ship to America...which was not allowed to dock...it docked in Canada. He made his way, eventually to the USA, and then sent for them when the little girl was an early teen. She never had had one day of an education. Yet, she went to school in the US as a middle-schooler...the school taught her from 1st to 8th grades in one year. She graduated from high school, and was accepted to a college on a special "verbal" basis, where she graduated with honors. Today she is a part of the historic Holocaust Museum record in Washington, DC, on the Hidden Children. She rarely tells her story, and she shared today that even her own children never learned of her sad and terrifying childhood until they were adults.
Today, when I think of the girls and women in the history of the world, all that we have done as mothers, wives, women and children...I am humbled by such children as those that suffered and lived during those times in WWII.
It makes me introspective and prayerful about the children today who suffer so much in our country with parents who abuse them, with predators who harm them, natural catastrophes that take their homes, war that takes their daddy's and mommy's away, and so on... And, I think about the children around the world who suffer because of wars and terror, and famine.
Then, I thank God for the brave women who risked their lives to shelter and hide this one little girl in Belgium and France. And, I thank God for all the brave women and children across time and nations who have that spark of nurturing life inside who know the same knowledge that speaks to us, "Every child's life is important. Save the children." or "my sister's life is important and precious, or my brother's life...." And I remember the pictures of children holding children in war-torn regions and I am saddened more and more that there is war...I am against war.