Book Review, "Such Good Girls" by RD Rosen Sept 15, 2014 13:25:20 GMT -5
Post by shira on Sept 15, 2014 13:25:20 GMT -5
Book Review: 'Such Good Girls' by R.D. Rosen
There are statistics that can make you weep. Just one in 10 Jewish children in prewar Europe outlived the Holocaust. It's a death toll even more brutal than that of Jewish adults—about a third survived—because what more efficient way for Hitler to eradicate future generations than to kill children? In "Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust's Hidden Child Survivors," R.D. Rosen demonstrates how remarkable it is that even this tiny percentage eluded the Nazi death maw.
Some children managed to emerge alive from the horrors of the ghettos and death camps; others benefited from rescue missions like the Kindertransport, which brought 10,000 children to safety in England before the war. For parents desperate to save their children, one of the few options was to hide them—whether in an attic, like Anne Frank, or in plain sight, under a fabricated identity. Thousands of children survived this way.
Many of these hidden children took on non-Jewish identities at such young ages that, as the months and years passed, they no longer remembered their original families. Forgetting was a useful survival tactic, because it negated the possibility of a memory slip-up that could endanger the children and their protectors. Yet it also meant that in the rare cases where parents survived and came to reclaim their children after the war, they were met by blank stares.
In 1943, Marie-Claire Rakowski's parents, for example, placed their baby with a childless Belgian Catholic couple who brought up the infant as their daughter. After the war, a visit from her birth mother, who had survived Auschwitz, provoked this response from Marie-Claire: "I refused to believe that this flabby, unattractive person who kept pawing me was my real mother. I felt disgusted."
For such children, the end of the war meant asking a new, painful question: Who am I? Relatively little attention was paid to this question or its answer until 1991, when approximately 1,600 survivors attended the First International Gathering of Children Hidden During World War II. By then, an increased understanding of childhood trauma had dovetailed with the newfound willingness of many child survivors, at that point in their 50s and beyond, to speak publicly about their experiences.
Such Good Girls
By R.D. Rosen
(HarperCollins, 257 pages, $25.99)
Among them were Carla Lessing, Flora Hogman and Sophie Turner-Zaretsky. All three survived the war as little girls by hiding, and all three managed to rebuild their lives, pursuing careers where their focus is helping others. Their stories of resilience are the focus of "Such Good Girls."
Dutch-born Ms. Lessing was 12 when she went into hiding with her mother and brother in 1942, by which point the already aggressive persecution of Jews in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands had become even more ruthless. The three spent 30 months sharing the cramped quarters of the anti-Nazi Christian family of nine who took them in. Ms. Lessing, whose husband was also a hidden child survivor, went on to become a social worker and psychotherapist. Mr. Rosen focuses on her dawning realization that by remaining silent about their experience, "hidden children had, in effect, continued to hide, and be hidden since the war." Applying the insight to herself, she was a key organizer of the 1991 gathering and helped found the Hidden Child Foundation.
In 1943, Flora Hogman, today a practicing psychologist, was a 7-year-old living in Nice, France. With her deportation imminent, Flora's widowed mother, who subsequently died in Auschwitz, placed her daughter in a convent. There she was given a new name, Marie Hamon, and was taught that the Jews had killed Jesus Christ. When the convent came under Nazi suspicion, the nuns arranged for her to go to one rural home, then another. It was with that second family, a French-Swedish couple who practiced Buddhism, that she continued to live and who adopted her after the war ended. By 1959, when she found her way to New York and to relatives who had made it out of Europe, Mr. Rosen comments that she had "been fractured beyond any denominational recognition."
The same can be said of Ms. Turner-Zaretsky, now a radiation oncologist. Born Selma Schwarzwald in 1937 in Lvov, Poland, Sophie was five when her mother, Laura, obtained Christian identification papers that allowed them to live out the war in Poland, with Laura working for much of that time as a translator for an SS officer. Laura's ploy had depended on Sophie memorizing the details of her new Catholic identity even before they left the ghetto. "It's like a game we're playing," her mother would tell her as she incessantly quizzed her on Catholic prayers. "If we break the rules . . . then the game is over and people will hurt us, or take us away."
What Laura had not counted on was her daughter suppressing her early memories so thoroughly, and assimilating to her new surroundings so completely, as to become a rabid anti-Semite. She would even tell her doll not to play with the Jews because "They kill Christian babies, you know." Only after the war could her mother finally reveal the truth, a confession that left Sophie awash with shame and guilt for having learned to hate a people that she only now realized was her own.
At first glance, Mr. Rosen would not appear to be an obvious match for this material. His best-known books include "Psychobabble" (a term he coined) and a mystery series featuring a baseball player turned private detective. He also admits that, to his embarrassment, he had never talked to a Holocaust survivor before meeting Ms. Turner-Zaretsky at a Passover Seder in 2010.
But he proves a deft chronicler of the uncertainty, upheaval and turmoil experienced by his subjects. He does not shy away from reporting on new revelations about sexual abuse inflicted on hidden children by their supposed protectors. Most powerful of all, he makes us see how the Holocaust's hidden children succeeded against the odds not just once, by surviving, but twice, through the resonant new lives they subsequently forged.
Ms. Cole is the author of the memoir "After Great Pain: A New Life Emerges."