Holocaust Memorial Day: They were rescued from deportation. Now, Jewish orphans reunite. – USA TODAY

Posted By on February 1, 2021

Reinier Heinsman, Opinion contributor Published 2:21 p.m. ET Jan. 27, 2021

They lost their parents and siblings to the death camps. But when it was time for these orphans to be deported, fate intervened.

When the Nazis raided a Belgian orphanageon Oct. 30, 1942,it was unthinkable that the arrested Jewish children, soon to be deported, would still be alive more than 78 years later. Earlier this month, they finally reunited.

Unaware of the fate they barely avoided, the young Jewish children innocently posed for a picture shortly after the rescue from the Dossin barracks the former Belgian transit camp from where Jews were deported. Their parents and in several cases their siblings as well had already been sent to Auschwitz. When the Nazis took the young orphans to the transit camp to be deported, fate intervened.

Trains were delayed and through various courageous individuals, the arrested orphans eventually reached the attention of Yvonne Nevejean, leader of the Children's National Care Authority in Belgium.Negotiations started with high-ranked Germans, after which an agreement to release the orphans was reached.

Jewish orphans in the Dossin Barracks, Belgium, in 1942. The orphans in the front row, from left to right, are Alfred Friedman, Roni Wolf, Annie Coughlin, Michael Hartogs and Fred Kader.(Photo: Marie Albert-Blum family)

Born between 1938 and 1940, none of the still-living children in the photo from 1942 were old enough to even remember their murdered family members. While conducting researchand tracing the fate of the orphans, I came to know many of them.

I was around 3.5 years old when my sister and two brothers were deported to Auschwitz, says Florida resident Alfred Friedman. I have no recollection of them at all. The death of his siblings left Friedman, whose mother survived the camps and reached the age of 102, with a void. Having no recollection of them, I focus more on abstract losses, like what could have been or should have been. Its hard to define as I have nothing to relate to, except wishing I had siblings to grow up with, feeling cheated and resentful that death stole my opportunity to have a relationship with them.

We have a duty to remember: My family's Jewish heritage was kept a secret. Now I mourn a relative I never knew.

Falls Church, Virginia, resident Michael Hartogs, born as Max Kohn, experienced the same kind of loss: Being just under four years of age when my parents and sister were deported, I have no memory of them at all.

Later in life, some of the orphans learned about the family they once had, such as retired pediatric neurologist Fred Kader, born as Frans Jeruzalski and also in the same 1942 photo. Kader, living in Omaha, came from a household of eight of which he is the sole survivor. He only learned about his murdered family when he was 21 years old. He explains: When I applied for citizenship in Canada and requested my Belgian birth certificate, someone who helped me from Belgium realized I was all by myself, and that person made a list of all of my family. That is how I finally learned about my parents and my siblings when I was already an adult.

The parents of the two girls in the center of the photo were also murdered in Auschwitz. Roni Wolf, who now lives in Israel, was 1 year old when her parents were deported. I found herpositive attitude remarkable: It doesnt really matter who the parents are or who arent, she says, as long as you have people loving you. It characterizes the strength of the survivors who lost their families at an age too young to understand what had happened to them.

Annie Coughlin, standing tothe right of Roni and nowadays living in South Carolina, had a surviving brother, Jacques, who was adopted by a different family. While Annie moved with her own adoptive parents to the United States, her brother remained in Belgium.

Despite their traumatic past, all of the survivors seemed to thrivein their adult life. Friedman, after retiring from manufacturing childrens wear, became a music producer and choreographer in Florida. Nicknamed Mr. Dance, he created Neodance, a dynamic fusion of rhythms and dance. Wolf, standing tothe right of Friedman, became the mother of local African children while living in apartheid South Africa for more than 10 years. Coughlin meanwhile became a teacher at a school for autistic children. Their difficult past led them to dedicate their life to helping children.

Life lessons at a death camp: 75 years ago, this Holocaust survivor reclaimed life. Now he works to erase hate.

As different as their adult lives are, they all share the same Belgian childhood. This month, more than 78 years after the picture was taken, they finally reconnected on Zoom, because of their distance, the virus, and their advanced age.

It gives us a chance to clear our traumatic past, says Wolf, When I learned about Annie right next to me in the picture, it felt like finding a sister. Hartogs shares the same sentiment. It does feel like family, he says. It fills in a lot of emptiness. We now have something that can bring back good memories in spite of our very sad beginnings.

Seventy-eight years after their rescue, the orphans in the picture from 1942 are becoming good friends once again.

Reinier Heinsman is alaw student and author from the Netherlands who traced and reunited the Belgian orphans. Hisbook "Jewish Orphans from Belgium in the Holocaust" is pending publication.

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2021/01/27/holocaust-memorial-day-rescued-jewish-orphans-reunite-column/4275959001/

View post:

Holocaust Memorial Day: They were rescued from deportation. Now, Jewish orphans reunite. - USA TODAY

Related Post

Comments

Comments are closed.