By Linda Levin
On Monday evening, July 24th, Project Witness aired their latest documentary film, Hidden, at the Yeshiva of Spring Valley on College Road. The film highlighted the gripping saga of parents making the heart-wrenching decision whether to give up their children during the Holocaust in order to save their lives. Some parents could not bear to be separated from their beloved children and made the decision to share whatever fate came their way.
Project Witness, based in Brooklyn and begun by Ruth Lichtenstein, publisher of Hamodia newspaper, is a comprehensive non-profit Resource Center providing academically grounded and religiously sensitive Holocaust educational resources for diverse communities worldwide.
Tens of thousands of children who were placed with Aryan families or in monasteries had to take on new and unfamiliar identities in order to survive the Nazi onslaught. The children in monasteries had to learn the Catholic rituals. In other cases, children were hidden in plain sight by kind neighbors or friends and introduced as a relative’s child or the like. Those children were given new names and they too had to attend services in church.
After the war was over, parents who survived attempted to relocate their children and take them back. If there were no surviving family members the children most likely grew up never knowing their true identities.
Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League(ADL) from 1987-2015, was a “hidden child”. His nanny raised him during the war and refused to return him to his parents post-WWII. She went to court suing them, claiming that they were imposters. After a three- year court battle, Mr. Foxman, who had the name Henryk Stanislas Kurpi during the war, was reunited with his birth parents. Mr. Foxman relates on the film that he was the subject of a popular Abie Rottenberg song about survivors dancing on Simchas Torah in Vilna with a child because there were no sifrei Torah.
Another “hidden child” survivor in the film was taken by Project Witness from the U.S. back to Poland to be reunited with the descendants of her rescuer. In an emotional scene, she revisits the barn where she and some members of her family hid from the Nazis. Another hidden child survivor tells the audience that she found out that she was an adoptee at the age of 56.
In addition to the interviews with survivors, the film included clips of interviews with various Holocaust historians both here and in Israel. Among the diverse scholars interviewed were Michael Berenbaum, Professor of Jewish Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Rebetzin Esther Farbstein, a respected Holocaust researcher and historian who is at the head of the Shoah Institute in Michlala, Jerusalem.
The scholars explained that for many of these children the real challenge started with the war’s end. They had to grapple with identity crises. Who were they? A Jew or a Gentile? Who were their “real” parents?
The film was truly riveting, recounting a story that was appropriate to be told during the Nine Days during which we not only remember the Churban Beis Hamiskdash but all other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people.