Jews hidden as children during Holocaust seek lost family, rescuers

May 27, 1991|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- "Looking for lost child."

"Looking for my sister."

These were just two of the hundreds of poignant notes tacked on five large bulletin boards outside the fifth-floor meeting rooms of a hotel in midtown Manhattan yesterday.

The notes spoke out, after almost 50 years, about the separation, loss and pain of Jewish children who were taken in by non-Jewish friends or strangers after their parents were killed, deported or forced to flee Germany and Nazi-occupied countries during World War II.

And the notes spoke not only of their heroism in surviving but also of the heroism of the people who at great risk protected them from the Nazis.

They were written by some of those who had gone to the MarriottMarquis Hotel for the first International Gathering of Children Hidden During World War II, hoping to find someone who could lead them to lost relatives or friends or rescuers.

"This . . . represents the endless search to find those people with whom they lived and survived, really an effort to recapture the past because there is very little we have of our past," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

Mr. Foxman, a "hidden child," was raised by a Christian nanny in Vilnius, Lithuania, after his parents fled to escape the Nazis when he was age 2.

Mr. Foxman, one of the organizers, said 1,600 people had come from all parts of the United States, as well as from Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Israel and even Korea to attend the two-day conference, which

continues today.

Estimates of the number of hidden children vary from 10,000 to 100,000.

The men and women who survived and their children studied the handwritten or typed notes and the fading photographs in silence and with reverence.

Occasionally they wrote something down, sometimes they chatted with someone to find out whether they had the common experience of being hidden in a convent or a church basement or on a farm while pretending not to be Jewish to stay out of the Nazi gas chambers.

Each note was a short story.

A typewritten note on orange bond from Susi Fischer of Haifa, Israel: "I am looking for my sister, Mathilda Jager. Mathilda was badly wounded in August 1941 in Zaleshchiki, Poland, in the cross fire between the German and the Polish forces. I last saw her in the town's hospital, but the next day I was deported."

A handwritten note: "Looking for anyone from Smykowce near Tarnopol, Poland. Celia Hershkowitz, maiden name, Imber. Only child looking for aunts, uncles, cousins. Hidden in a convent."

Another note: "My name is Jack Trompetter. I was hidden in Heind, Holland, 1943-45 with the DeGroot family. If you know of this family, please contact me."

A note from Rena Greenblatt, formerly of Warsaw, now Renny Kurchenbaum of Chicago. "Looking for Jurek Trajman, Radomsko, Poland, lost child."

Mrs. Kurchenbaum, a 66-year-old woman about 5 feet tall, wore a purple T-shirt with white letters that announced who she was, that she had been a resistance fighter in the Warsaw ghetto uprising and that she had lost her son long ago.

She was 18, and he was 2 when she last saw him in 1942. They had escaped taking a train to a concentration camp, and she thought it safer to leave him with her sister-in-law because the woman's husband was a Jewish policeman.

But the husband was shot by the Nazis, and the sister-in-law was sent away.

Mrs. Kurchenbaum stayed alive by pretending to be a Catholic orphan and working on a farm.

She and her husband Sam, a postal worker, 72, have visited Poland and the towns around the concentration camps, looking for her son, who had odd navy-blue eyes and who would be nearly 50.

"I have three children now," she said of her two sons and a daughter who are in their early 30s. "But you still can't forget the one you lost in the war."

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