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March 13, 2015

“Such Good Girls”

by Anne Paddock

I knew I was Jewish, but I didn’t know I was Jewish.

There are hundreds if not thousands of books in print about the Holocaust, most of which cover the Nazi regime, concentration camps, survivors of the camps, and the political environment but there are very few books about the “hidden children” – the infants, toddlers, and school age children – who were hidden, often in plain sight of the Nazis during World War II, and survived.

These children grew up, often left Europe, and for the most part were silent because they were taught to stay quiet to avoid detection, didn’t know if they could trust their memories, and didn’t have the resources to process what had happened to them. And so, very little has been written about them because so little has been known, until recently.

Richard Dean (R.D.) Rosen, a Brown and Harvard educated writer, editor, teacher, and producer, started writing a children’s book in 2010 about a little girl (a hidden child) who survived the Holocaust but quickly realized he had stumbled upon a “forgotten population” of hidden children and expanded the scope of the book to become an adult non-fiction story about the journey of the Holocaust’s hidden children survivors. The book – Such Good Girls – was published in 2014.

Such_Good_Girls_RD_RosenSuch Good Girls is primarily the story of three children: Sophie, Flora, and Carla who were hidden during the war and thus survived.  Each of the girls was from a different European country – Poland, Italy, and Holland, respectively – and had vastly different experiences and yet they all shared one common experience: their family narratives had been lost and “what often remained were unspeakable memories, shame and helplessness, which constituted a lingering atrocity. The Nazi’s had not only stolen their families but their pasts as well.”

Divided into three sections: The Children, The Gathering, and The Ghetto Inside, Such Good Girls is really the story of the survivors who were too young to truly understand what was going on around them and the subsequent effects this experience had on their lives. Unlike most Holocaust accounts where the survivor was old enough to process, interpret, and understand what was happening, the hidden survivors “inevitably stumbled at times in the telling”  because of their youth, which is why so little information has been available. The author had to piece the stories together from the survivors, living relatives, friends, and historical records.

As heartbreaking as their stories are (as documented in the first section of the book), it is the second section entitled The Gathering that exposes the effects of the war on the lives of the survivors who seemed to be successful, functioning adults with careers and families of their own. What they didn’t have was a voice. As the author points out, it’s not so easy to get people to talk that are not used to talking. How do you convince people to come out of hiding when hiding was all they had ever known?”

It wasn’t until 1991, when the First International Gathering of Children Hidden During World War II took place in New York City that the survivors started to reveal and talk about what happened with others who shared their history. And, in speaking about their experiences, they realized the limitations of their memories, their feelings towards Christianity and Judaism and especially how Judaism had become more of a cultural tradition rather than a religious commitment, the difficulties of dealing with the outside world, and how important it is for them to tell their stories so that their families, friends, and the public know what happened and never forget.

However well the hidden children get along in the world, they are reminded of the Holocaust by the things they must do, the things they must avoid, and the thoughts that have lives of their own.

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