WE REMEMBER is an anthology of memoirs based on the experiences of Jewish children who survived under Nazi rule. Each chapter, written in their own words by a different survivor, gives insight into one family’s experience during this terrible period in recent history. The authors came from different countries across Europe from The Netherlands, Belgium and France in the West right through to Poland the Ukraine in the East. Reading their stories turns many of the stereotypical pictures that the reader may have of Jewish life pre-World War II on their heads. The cultural, educational and social backgrounds of these children were as diverse as found in any society. Some of their families were religious Jews, some less so. Some even came from families who barely identified themselves as Jews until Hitler said they were; possibly the only thing they all have in common is that they all had at least one Jewish grandparent and for this were condemned to death.
Some of the children like Heidi lived under false names in Christian families. Heidi tells how her two younger sisters and brothers cried so much that their soft-hearted mother took them back into the ghetto. From there they were deported to Auschwitz and murdered in the gas chambers. Even when the parents found families willing to hide the children, the dangers remained. Janine writes: ‘One day, the daughter of the family brought in an armed SS-man. They called me outside and the German soldier looked at me and said ‘Go’ …I started walking thinking that perhaps he would shoot me. I started walking, not knowing where to go.’ Janine found another family who took her in. One day as she worked in the fields she recognised the daughter coming towards her. She told Janine with a smile: ‘The SS man buried your brother alive.’ Other Christian families protected the children regardless of the cost to their own family members. Peter writes of the day the Germans came to the farm and beat the father of the family who was hiding him: ‘He refused to talk. I remember he asked them why he could not protect his own countrymen. The Germans started beating him again.’
Many of the children survived the camps. Jacob was told by his father to stand tall, so that he would be thought older than he was: ‘That was the last time I saw my parents. I saw my sister through the wire a few days later and then she was gone. Clare, then 12 years, was warned to say that she was 13 when she arrived in Auschwitz from Hungary. This lie also saved her although the traumas of this camp and of Mauthausen where she was later interned have remained with her: ‘Even now, nearly seventy years later, I find it difficult to speak of the terrible things which happened to me and my family.’
The author and historian, Simon Sebag Montefiore writes of ‘WE REMEMBER’ These remarkable, heartbreaking stories of children in the Holocaust are an important historical record of the tragedy of the Holocaust, a tribute to their humanity and will to survive, a memorial to lost families and vanished Jewish communities – and a fascinating read.’
Like him, I recommend this book strongly.
Published by Troubador ISBN 978-1848767-874 £9.99