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Arts & Culture Documentary Airing in Britain Depicts Wartime ‘hidden Children’

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Britain is marking Anne Frank Day this week with a television documentary about Jews who survived the Holocaust as “hidden children” — including one who was hidden just a few doors down from Anne.

Sybilla Zendijk Friedler, her parents, two sisters and a great-aunt were hidden for two and a half years in Amsterdam.

They were saved partly because of her father’s beautiful handwriting.

In the autumn of 1942, Friedler’s father filled out a job application on behalf of Friedler’s brother. The company director, a Mr. de Fischer, responded that he wanted to interview the applicant with such lovely penmanship.

Friedler’s father explained that his son could not come to Amsterdam because Jews were forbidden to ride trains under the German occupation.

De Fischer, horrified, visited the town of Deventer, where Friedler’s family lived, to offer them a hiding place in his family’s house. The family moved in a few months later, and stayed there until the end of World War II.

Now living in London, Friedler remembered hearing at one point that Germans were conducting house-to-house searches in the neighborhood and that a Jewish family had been found. After the war, she realized that the captured family was Anne Frank’s — who was born on June 12.

Friedler and Anne were not alone in their experiences.

“The Dutch were very pro-Jewish,” she told JTA. “They could have hidden a lot more, but I know quite a number of people who were hidden.”

Two other survivors also are featured in the hourlong documentary “The Hidden Children.”

One, Janek Weber, lived secretly with a family in Krakow, Poland, after being smuggled out of the city’s Jewish ghetto in a suitcase.

Weber’s father had made the acquaintance of a non-Jewish city official, a Mr. Wierzbicki, who agreed to hide Janek.

“I still don’t understand how my father, a Chasidic Jew, became acquainted and formed a close friendship with a Catholic man, but this relationship saved my life,” Weber said.

The Wierzbicki family had a son a bit younger than Janek, who was 8 went he went into hiding. The son was not told that a Jewish child was in the house.

“They felt he was too young to be able to keep a secret,” Weber said.

“I was locked up in a room that had belonged to a grandmother who had died a few months before,” Weber said. “The boy, Marek, was told he mustn’t go into the room out of respect for his late grandmother, and he seemed quite happy with that explanation.”

Weber spent two years in the room before Poland was liberated by the Red Army.

Like the other participants in “The Hidden Children,” he returned to his former hiding place this spring for the filming of the documentary.

“It’s emotionally very taxing, remembering those terrible years,” he said. “But I did it because I feel the story should be told while the survivors are still alive, and because the rescuers should be recognized.”

The Wierzbicki family and the caretaker of the Weber family’s apartment, who also hid Weber for a time, have been honored as Righteous Gentiles by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel.

The stories of hidden children came as a surprise to Sheldon Lazarus, who produced “The Hidden Children” for British Sky Broadcasting and The History Channel.

In the course of making another film about the Holocaust, Lazarus first heard of the children — who numbered in the tens of thousands — who survived the war in secret.

“I didn’t know anything about hidden children. I thought it was just Anne Frank,” he said.

He discovered a variety of experiences among the three survivors — Friedler, Weber and Nicole David — in his documentary.

“The results are the same because we are here to tell the tale, but we all had totally different experiences,” Friedler said.

“There is a certain amount of common ground of living under false names, not being able to divulge our identities,” said Weber, who has been to a number of conferences of hidden children.

“If you think my story is horrific, at those conferences you hear ones which are much worse,” he said. “It’s like going into the hospital. There’s always someone worse than you.”

“The Hidden Children” is being broadcast on British Sky Broadcasting and The History Channel in Britain this week. Discussions about airing the film in the United States and elsewhere are ongoing.

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