For many of Holland’s hidden Jewish children, the ending of World War II and the Holocaust was only the beginning of a new nightmare.
Many of these children, who had forgotten their birth parents and religion, found themselves suddenly torn from people they viewed as their parents to go back to strangers.
“To this day, many of these children feel abandoned,” said Diane Wolf. “They know rationally as adults now in their 60s that their parents did it to save them, but in their guts they still feel abandoned.”
Wolf interviewed 70 “hidden children” for her book, Beyond Anne Frank: Hidden Children and Postwar Families in Holland.
Wolf, a professor of sociology and director of the Jewish studies program at the University of California at Davis, discussed their challenges at a Sept. 30 program for Rutgers University’s Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life.
“They too were survivors,” said Wolf at the Douglass College Center in New Brunswick.
Wolf said many hidden Jewish children, whose average age was four when they went into hiding, were so young they bonded with their foster family with little trauma.
With the end of the Holocaust came a new reality.
Wolf recalled one man telling her, “For me the war began after the war.”
Others had stories so sad the audience gasped as Wolf recounted them, including a handful of children who experienced sexual or physical abuse when they returned to their families, especially in cases where a surviving parent had remarried.
“It’s not the stuff you normally hear about in a Jewish family,” Wolf said.
Others were sent after the war to orphanages or to live with relatives whom they were unfamiliar with and were treated poorly, like unwanted stepchildren.
Some were reluctant to call themselves Holocaust survivors, while those whose parents had survived were told they were “lucky,” said Wolf. “But they didn’t feel lucky.”
Children whose parents “left” them for more than six months — even if it was because they were interned in concentration camps — were considered foster children. The War Foster Child Commission — formed after the war to oversee the guardianship of hidden Jewish children — decided whether such children should be placed with Jewish families, orphanages, or the gentile families with whom they had lived. The commission head worked to keep “extremists,” such as Orthodox Jews, off the commission.
“This was unheard of in Holland,” said Wolf. “Protestants always went to Protestant orphanages, Catholics to a Catholic orphanages, and Jews to Jewish orphanages. The Jewish community was outraged.”
Despite their childhood experiences and failure to reconnect to parents and other relatives, most of the hidden children tended to reconnect to their Jewish heritage and married Jewish spouses.
Many have found solace and camaraderie in the hidden children groups that began to spring up in the 1990s.
“They realized it was not part of their own mishegas, but that others have had similar reactions,” said Wolf.