Before the war, I lived in Brussels, Belgium with my family. I enjoyed a culturally rich orthodox Jewish family life. We were poor but never hungry and we were close. I was happy. Our family lived in a Jewish neighborhood. You could call that a self imposed ghetto. Something that we wanted. Of course since no one was forced to live anywhere they did not want to live some Jews lived in mixed neighborhoods. Not too different from here.
When the war came to Belgium, those Jews who were captured were taken away. Some to Nazi established ghettos and others to prison nazi camps in various parts of Europe. I was never caught. I am a successful version of Ann Frank.
I was a hidden child in basements and attics. I was never in a concentration camp. Once, I was in a refugee camp which is different from the Nazi camps. I survived the Holocaust via the good will and underground work of righteous Christians.
I came out of hiding and rejoined my family in Brussels, Belgium when the war was declared over by the Allies. It took about a month to find my hiding place and send me home to Belgium.
Being a child, I followed the lead and example of the elders in my family who lived an orthodox Jewish life and continued to do so after the war. Personally, I identify strongly as a Jew. I am spiritual in a Humanistic sense. I am a Humanistic Jew.
I was born in Antwerp, Belgium. In Belgium, three languages are spoken; French, Flemish, and German. When I was age one, my family moved to Brussels to join the rest of my family. There, I started school. I only attended for a short time because we had to go into hiding. My family was aided in finding hiding places by a righteous Christian named Father Bruno and his assistants.
My first hiding place was a basement. It was cold and dark. I was scared and lonely for my family. My second hiding place was a convent attic. I was lonely and hungry. Then, with my identity hidden, my name was changed. I was taken to Switzerland and placed in a refugee camp. There, I was lonely, hungry, and became ill. I was then placed with a poor but kind Swiss farm family where my body and spirit began to heal from the illness.
We were helped by a Belgian Priest called, Pere Bruno. He helped to place me into hiding. He helped 400 Jewish children go into hiding. I was hidden in many places alone or with strangers. I was lonely for my family. I was always hungry. I was often cold and miserable. I also became very ill at one point. By then, my spirit was lost and I had given up. But somehow I recovered.
The gentiles who helped to hide me varied in personality and warmth. Some were cold and only did what was necessary to keep me alive. Some were cruel and abused me. Some were warm and caring.
The war finally ended and I was sent back to Brussels, Belgium. Many years had passed and everyone looked different. Buildings were bombed out. Some people who were neighbors never came back. Later, I came on a very large ship along with other refugees to the United States to be reunited with my parents, sister, and brother. I was nine years old by then.
I was sickly, full of lice, and malnutrition. From pictures taken of me at the age of nine, I was skinny, my legs were bowed and I had a big belly. Here in the United States, I was constantly fed healthy foods and vitamins. My belly disappeared. Now, if it is big, it is because I eat too much. I love food…maybe a little too much.
To eliminate the lice, I was shaved, soaked with special medication, and wore a bandana. My legs straightened out with food and vitamins and the help of special shoes. I hated the shoes because they were clonkers and not pretty like my new friends on the block.
Before I could go to school with my new friends, I had to learn English. I had learned some street English but not enough. I attended a special class called “English for the Foreign Born” and being a child, I picked it up very quickly.
The life of a jewish child in the Holocaust was not a life for a child. Imagine that in order to save your own life, you must go against the nature of a child. You may not make noise. That means, you may not laugh, sing, or even cry for fear of being heard. You may not play outside with other children. For me my only friend was my mind, my imagination. I could pretend that some day I would be able to run wild screaming at the top of my voice with delight. I could sing to the clouds and dance like the rain without fear of being caught and taken away.
My opinions of those who persecuted our people has not changed. They disgust me as human beings. They are greedy and hateful. They are primitive thinkers with belief systems that make them unthinking automatons. They existed all over Europe…the whole earth….and still do.
In order for me to answer the question of how the Holocaust changed my life, I would have to live another life without the Holocaust in my experiences. That question cannot be answered.
However, with a few exceptions, the Holocaust was a reminder that humans are primitive creatures with sophisticated and mechanical toys. They slaughter for more than hunger. They slaughter for acquisition and power. They’ve been doing it since the beginning. However, the more sophisticated humans became politically and religiously, the more they slaughtered other humans. They slaughtered in the name of religion, race, nationality, land, envy, greed, resources, differences…etc…and still do.
Future generations, learn from the behavior of past generations. What they choose to learn and their future is in their own hands. It is up to them if they want to change and become civilized. I suspect that it will take many, many generations before humans understand and practice the concept of Humanity.
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