The Other Holocaust Survivors – Children left in Orphanages
Background: I was blessed over and over again by the largess and kindness of Severin Wunderman. I never met this amazing man, but have heard bits and pieces of his story from his friends. His legend has it that he survived the Holocaust because his parents left him in an orphanage for the hearing impaired. AT age 10 he came alone to the US to live with his sister and from these beginnings built an empire of jewelry and watches. But he came to bless me and the VIP through a foundation called “Change a Life.” Through this foundation he gave anonymously to agencies like ours who provide care to those impacted by violence and abuse. He paid for everything from plastic surgery to education for the children we take care of. It was definitely “manna” from heaven all these past years when we were struggling to find ways to change lives….he certainly did. When he died 10 years ago, he left some of those who benefited from his generosity a Corum watch. I wear mine everyday to remind myself of generous giving; giving that does not require acknowledgement or fame. He continues to inspire me. But this story of the orphanage and the children left there to survive by their parents on their way to death camps grabbed me around my heart.
At the onset of WWII thousands of small Jewish children were left in religious orphanages all over Europe by parents who knew that the Holocaust awaited them. The story of what happened to these children in these Orphanages is a story that has never been told and now all these years later grips me.
The Story as told to me:
When the WWII conflict ended and during the chaotic embryonic time of the founding of Israel, a committee was formed in Israel for the sole purpose of finding these missing children and bringing them home to Israel.
As they began to visit the various charitable orphanages across the continent of Europe there was a consistent response from those in charge, “We have no Jewish Children here.” But the determined team from Israel knew better, and then asked to see all the children in the orphanage anyway. And when they were all gathered together the envoys from Israel began to sing in Hebrew the songs that had been so carefully woven into the tapestry of their memory of better times with their moms and dads. And they ran to them and were embraced.
As the story in the telling concluded —“ But Astrid, the saddest part of the story is that these children were so traumatized by being left in these orphanages, essentially abandoned by their parents, that they never recovered and remain some of the most “damaged” of immigrants to Israel.”
But I answered, “Do you believe—knowing what we know now about Catholic schools and orphanages— that these Jewish children were spared the systematic abuse and assault that was consistent across these institutions for many decades?”
I believe that this is one of the most profoundly disturbing and unsettling stories of the children of the Holocaust—-I think it is time to talk to some of these children before their time runs out. Another asked me “To what end?” To the purpose that to most of these children the telling will finally give them the opportunity to put this on someone else…to be heard and believed. The pain and sense of loss never goes away.
I have asked for help in finding the right people to talk with as well as the right people to do the talking. If you have any ideas please let me know.
Astrid Heppenstall Heger