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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Hadassah event sheds light on experiences of children in the Holocaust

Published: April 16, 2010
Section: News

Psychologist Dr. Eva Fogelman spoke Sunday at Rappaporte Treasure Hall about the impact of the Holocaust on child survivors as part of a three day conference sponsored by The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (HBI).

Fogelman explained that although experiences differ for each survivor, many stories from child survivors have been dismissed because the survivors were not able to remember the entire story, but only parts of it.

“One of the reasons that this research was long delayed is that children’s testimony is sometimes considered unreliable,” Prof. Sylvia Fishman (NEJS), co-director of the HBI said.

Many child survivors encounter a long period of denial, and cannot begin to grieve for their families until they have come to accept what happened, Fogelman said.

“After years of being told ‘you are too young to remember,’ the validation of this pain … makes child survivors feel understood,” Fogelman said. “The children, even if they had not yet learned to speak, very well remembered.”

Holocaust survivor Irene Shashari said she kept her experience secret for about 40 years after the Holocaust ended because she wanted her children to feel the same as other children.

“I just did not want them to feel different from all other children. I want them to feel ‘normal,’” Shashari said in an interview with The Hoot.

Shashari also explained that following the war, survivors were not treated properly by society because of how others had died.

“We were looked down upon because we went like sheep to the gas chambers, and that is not right—that is shame,” Shashari said. “Although of course, history knows that we could not have done anything else. Partly for this reason, of fearing shame, many survivors chose not to talk about their stories, according to Shashari.

It is necessary to remember the stories of child survivors because they can help us to better understand what happened during the Holocaust, but also important remember the 1.5 million children who died, University President Jehuda Reinharz said.

“The story of each and every one of these children deserves to be known,” Reinharz said.

Fogelman outlined a process in which many child survivors encountered in the aftermath of the Holocaust. They were in shock and denial of what happened before confronting the truth as they gained a new understanding of their feelings and emotions.

Because many child survivors deny what happened or do not share their stories, they are left with “no opportunity to mourn,” explained Fogelman.

“In order to heal, people have to go through the process or mourning,” Fogelman said.

Yet, Fogelman also pointed out that although there were patterns discovered in her research, it is important not to generalize the effects of the war on children because “each child survived in his or her own unique way.”

Fogelman’s lecture was part of a three-day conference, which included a workshop at the Doubletree Hotel on Monday and a screening of the film “My 100 Children,” in Wasserman Cinematheque Tuesday.

Fogelman also criticized recent truth and reconciliation commissions, which attempt to obtain restorative justice after times of war, they try to help victims heal far too quickly than they are ready to do so, she said.

“The silence will be broken but not immediately,” Fogelman said. “Healing is often a solitary process.”

Fogelman added that regardless of strong efforts, the process of healing is long. “We are enablers, not magicians,” she said.