JERUSALEM (Jul. 14)
The handwritten note tacked to the bulletin board said simply:
“My name is Walla Fried. I was born in Tashkent, where I lived from 1942 to 1945. I was then sent to Buchenwald. I came to Palestine on the Exodus. Beyond my name, I came to Palestine on the Exodus. Beyond my name, I know nothing of my background. Do you?”
Fried, who now goes by the name Shulamit Yardeni, was one of the more than 1,000 Holocaust survivors hoping to find some answers at the second International Hidden Child Conference sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.
Now in their 50s and 60s, these survivors spent much of their childhood in hiding. Fifty years later, they are still suffering the consequences.
Most of these survivors were taken in by Christians, many of whom risked their own lives in the process. Often, however, the children were treated with cruelty and neglect.
Yet according to mental health professionals at the conference, virtually all hidden child survivors were severely traumatized by the Holocaust, regardless of how well they were cared for. It is only now, five decades later, that many are coming to terms with their feelings.
The goal of the conference, said conference chairwoman Ann Shore, was “to encourage the participants to share, rather than repress, their experiences” through a series of workshops on such topics as “How to Discuss the Holocaust with Your Children” and “What Am I, a Christian or a Jew?”
A room was set aside where the survivors could record their personal histories on videotape.
“For many years we were a generation of silence,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, who spent the war in hiding with his Polish Catholic nursemaid.
“Silence was the key to our survival,” he said. “We were told to never reveal our real names or the fact that we were Jewish.
“Even after the war years, the trauma was so great that we repressed our feelings. I suppose we were trying to protect ourselves and our children,” Foxman said.
‘ANGER AMONG HIDDEN CHILDREN’
“There’s an anger among hidden children, not only because there are those who say the Holocaust never happened, but because so many people regard it as history. It is not history. It is here, alive — the scars, the tears, the pain, the anguish,” he said.
Some of the people in this group, including Foxman, had just attended a first-ever gathering in Poland of Jews and their Christian rescuers.
For Pola Jasphy, who now lives in Hillside, N.J., the scars have never healed. Born in Rovno, Poland, Jasphy went into hiding at the age of 14.
“Between 1941 and 1944, when I was liberated by the Russians, I lost everyone I loved. My mother disappeared one day after bringing food to some cousins. It still don’t know exactly what happened to her.
“Soon after, my father took my brother, my aunt and me into hiding in the forest nearby. My father paid a Polish peasant to give us shelter, and we lived in an underground storage bin for four months.
We had to move to the pigsty after snakes entered the storehouse,” Jasphy recalled.
In March 1943, the German army entered the farm where Jasphy was hiding.
“They shot my father and brother, and were about to walk into the sty when another soldier called them away. The farmer told me and my aunt we had to leave that evening. My aunt was killed a few months later,” Jasphy said.
Fifty years later, Jasphy still suffers from nightmares. “It was difficult for me to describe how I was feeling to others so I internalized everything,” she said. “I was a fearful, overprotective mother and I always felt that I had to be an overachiever.”
At the conference, she said, “I can share these feelings with others who experienced similar things. After the war, every one of us asked, ‘Should I pretend that I’m a gentile, to camouflage myself and be safe?’
“Every person here has asked himself, ‘Why did I survive, and what was the purpose of my survival?'” Jasphy said.
Glancing at the bulletin board, with its pleas for information about lost relatives and friends, Jasphy said, “It’s good not to be alone.”