Photo Credit: Jewish Press

A Survivor

A survivor will go to a party and feel alone.
A survivor appears quiet but is screaming within.
A survivor will make large weddings with many guests, but the ones she wants will never arrive.
A survivor will go to a funeral and cry, not for the deceased but for the ones that were never buried.
A survivor will reach out to you but not let you get close, for you remind her of what she could have been, but will never be.
A survivor is at ease only with other survivors.

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This poem, written by a survivor, is quoted by William B. Helmreich in Against All Odds; Holocaust Survivors and the Successful Lives They Made in America. Helmreich, himself the child of survivors, is a professor of sociology and Judaic studies at City College and the City University Graduate Center. Amazed by the tenacity and resilience of the 140,000 survivors who came to America, Helmreich interviewed a representation of this population and reported his findings in his book, published in 1992.

Those of us who are children of survivors will undoubtedly relate to at least one or two of the lines above, if not all of them! We may see our mothers in these lines, our fathers, our grandparents, our neighbors. Undergoing such trauma will inevitably leave its impact on one’s psyche. How does one cope?

The Bikur Cholim Chesed Organization located in Brooklyn, NY, recently completed a ten-part discussion series facilitated by Dr. Irit Felsen. The title of the series was “Our Parents, Ourselves, Our Changing Lives.” The premise of the series was that our earliest family life will deeply impact our adult relationships. Those who grew up with parents who had survived extreme trauma may have had experiences that are not the norm. Perhaps they strongly felt the need to protect their parents, causing a reversal of roles. Perhaps their parents, though loving and kind and well meaning, were still living with emotional wounds that had not yet healed. Dr. Felsen has spent many years dedicated to exploring this topic, helping children of survivors understand the complex relationships they may have had, validating their experiences and enabling them to move on with their lives. This is not a simple matter, not today, and not 50 years ago either.

Anita Kirschner's doll
Anita Kirschner’s doll

Anita Hochstein Kirschner is a survivor, one of the thousands of hidden children during the Holocaust. She was born in Maastricht, Holland in 1937. The Nazis invaded Holland on May 10th, 1940. The Hochsteins managed to go into hiding merely a half hour before the Jews in their area were rounded up. They hid with the Schellinx family, non-Jewish friends who lived in their city. After several weeks in hiding, three-year-old Anita was sent to Belgium. She was taken across the border on a bike driven by a member of the Dutch resistance and was brought to the Aelbert family where she was treated well. Anita remained there for about ten months, until the Nazis found Jewish children in a nearby village and Anita was in danger of being discovered. Anita’s parents had planned to flee to Switzerland with their older daughter. When that plan did not work out, they stayed in hiding in Holland. When it became clear that Anita might be in danger, her parents arranged for her to be brought back to them. The family remained together in Maastricht until the liberation.

Throughout this entire period of time, little Anita held onto her beloved doll. This doll – part of the current exhibit, “Children and the Holocaust,” at Amud Aish Memorial Museum – was her sole connection to her earliest years, a more peaceful, tranquil period of her very short childhood. It represented stability, the warmth of her beloved parents, the comfort and security of her original family home. This doll was her “security blanket,” filling a huge, emotional need.

In 1984, Yad Vashem recognized Anita’s rescuers as Righteous Among the Nations. Anita remains in contact with both families.

***

Miriam Goldstein, daughter of Reb Shmuel Goldstein, was born in Przemysl, Poland in 1930. Przemysl was originally under Russian control, but when it came under German control in July 1942, a ghetto was established. The Goldsteins worked outside the ghetto, which enabled them to escape. In September 1942, shortly before the liquidation of the ghetto, Shmuel Goldstein, his wife and two children, along with six other Jews, escaped to Dubieck, a nearby village, and found a hiding place with the Kreicarek family. The Kreicareks, clearly righteous gentiles, welcomed these refugees warmly and, despite the danger, hid them on the farm, shared their food with them, and saw to their needs until the liberation.

Whilst in hiding, Miriam Goldstein wrote regularly in her small diary. This diary is also currently on exhibit at Amud Aish. Writing this diary was cathartic for Miriam. The days were long and endless; Miriam wrote. Life was monotonous and occasionally frightening; Miriam kept writing. The future was precarious as was the present. Writing enabled her to endure this exceedingly challenging chapter in her life.

Miriam Goldstein's journal
Miriam Goldstein’s journal

The ten Jewish refugees stayed with the Kreicareks until the area was liberated by the Red Army in August 1944. Following liberation, the Goldsteins emigrated to Eretz Yisrael and then eventually to America. In 1963, Yad Vashem recognized the Kreicareks as Righteous Among the Nations.

So many aspects of the Holocaust are still being researched, providing further details and exposing stories of great emotional stamina and spiritual heroism. New books are being published regularly sharing different aspects of the Holocaust experience. I am now reading Miracles in Switzerland by Jutta Luksenberg (ArtScroll). Jutta, born into a Torah-observant family in Poland, suffered from tuberculosis. In order to recuperate, she was sent to a Christian sanitarium in Switzerland. Her mother would visit her regularly, until the war came and the visits ceased. Her mother was no longer alive. Hers was not an isolated case. There were many children stranded in Christian institutions during those years. Members of the Jewish community in Switzerland rose to the occasion and did their utmost to rescue these children.

There are so many stories still begging to be told. Stories waiting to be shared. Experiences waiting to be validated. The professional staff at Amud Aish procures artifacts from those years, researches each item extensively, and then shares these precious items and stories with our greater community. Let’s be there to listen.

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Miriam Liebermann, MSW, is the coauthor of “Saying Goodbye” with Dr. Neal Goldberg, and author of "The Best is Yet to Be” and “To Fill the Sky with Stars.”