A handful of “hidden children” — the last living survivors who were witnesses to the Nazi Holocaust — will be in Riverside on Sunday, Feb. 9, as guests of the Riverside Township Board of Trustees.
At 2 p.m. in Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road, five contributors to the 2013 book Out of Chaos: Hidden Children Remember the Holocaust will share their stories of escaping the Holocaust through the bravery of others and their own resourcefulness.
The presentation is being organized by Riverside Township Trustee Mary Rob Clarke, whose interest in the art of needlepoint was the thread that brought her in contact with Marguerite Lederman Mishkin, one of the book’s contributors.
Already in its second printing (a third printing in paperback is said to be on the way), the book was published by Northwestern University Press in August 2013, and presents firsthand accounts of what it was like for Jewish children throughout Europe to hide from the Nazis, in some cases taking on new identities as Gentiles, to escape the fate many of their family members suffered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other death camps during World War II.
“For so many of us, what this provided was a permanency,” said Mishkin of the book’s publication. “I know for me, one of the reasons I wanted to be part of the book was to honor my biological parents and the family that risked so much for me. But another was to show how one person can make a difference.”
For decades after the war, the stories of hidden children weren’t told, at least to a mass audience. For survivors of the death camps, the children who escaped that fate were lucky. Mishkin acknowledges that, but her story and those of other hidden children, like Leonie Taffel Bergman, also illustrate their plight.
As young children, they were torn from their families. Mishkin and her sister, Annette, were raised by a Catholic family in Belgium. After the war, the two girls spent several years in a Jewish orphanage before being adopted by a rabbi and his wife, who lived in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood in 1950.
Bergman’s parents hid their daughter in a convent in Belgium, where she remained until 1946 then immigrated to the United States, sponsored by family members there.
It wasn’t until 1991 that hidden children gathered at the first conference focused on them and their stories. It was at one of these gatherings that Mishkin met Bergman for the first time. They learned their biological parents were among the 563 Jews loaded into boxcars at the Belgian transit camp at Malines on July 31, 1944 and sent east.
It was the last train sent from that camp to Auschwitz. All four parents died there. The Allies liberated the Malines camp less than a week later.
For Out of Chaos, Mishkin and Bergman wrote a piece that imagines their parents meeting on the train while on their way to Poland.
“It was very difficult but somewhat cathartic,” said Mishkin of the collaboration.
The book’s editor, attorney Elaine Saphier Fox, was not a hidden child but volunteered for the job after talking to a friend who knew that the Hidden Children/Child Survivors in Chicago group wanted to memorialize their stories in book form.
She coached the 24 authors, all of whom learned English as a second language, beginning in 2007, meeting once a month around a table. She also was responsible for fact checking and putting together a timeline that put the authors’ stories into the context of the war.
“When you read the individual stories, then it becomes real to you what the Nazis did,” said Fox. “My World War II years were spent skipping rope and going to the beach. It was a very different existence than what these women and men had.”
Admission to the event is free. Attendees are asked to bring a non-perishable food item to donate to the township’s food pantry. Copies of Out of Chaos will be available for purchase.