'My Name Is…': Moving Exhibit on the Lost Child Survivors of the Holocaust
Of the hundreds of photos taken of the children at the home for displaced children, 26 are on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Sinaida Grussman (foreground) only spoke a few words of Romanian and Lithuanian when she arrived. It was only after she developed some trust in a Lithuanian staff member that she revealed that her sister was dead and that her father had joined the army. Unable to find any relatives, a home was found for her in England. Photo: Elena Olivio
In the chaos that followed the end of WWII, many children who had miraculously survived concentration camps, labor camps and death marches roamed from village to village in search of a relative. Others were placed in temporary field hospitals. Those who were lucky landed in Kloster Indersdorf, an abandoned convent near the Dachau concentration camp. There, a United Nations relief agency had set up a home for these children, hoping to repair their lives and psyches, and to find them a home.
"My Name Is...The Lost Children of Kloster Indersdorf," now at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, is about 26 of these youngsters whose photos are reproduced on fabric banners hung from the ceiling. Each holds a sign with his or her name carefully written on it. Beneath it is their story.
Many of the stories are similar. Some had witnessed the murder of siblings or parents, all experienced unspeakable horrors and all were hungry and in need of medical care.
"It was like an island like after I was shipwrecked," said one survivor recalling his arrival at the center.
The photos were taken in the fall of 1945 by Charles Haacker, an American photographer, who used a sheet as a backdrop. The photos were published and distributed with the hope that someone would recognize one of the youngsters, each of whom was desperate to find a family member who had also survived. Some of the youths had been so traumatized by their experiences that they did not remember their names or birthdays, or had been too young at the start of the war and could not give full or accurate information about themselves.
Starting with only 11 volunteers, the center had expected to house 75 children. Within a few months, the number had grown to 200, both Jews and non-Jews, from 13 countries.
Nuns from the convent returned to help the orphans. Other adult survivors also came to the center to help.
Many were frightened or angry. At Kloster Indersdorf, they were able to speak for the first time about their experiences.
Each had a terrible story to tell, recalled Greta Fischer, one of the UN volunteers, in "The Rage to Live," a short film about the canter. "We listened to their stories day and night. It had to come out and sometimes it would take hours for us to sit with them. And you could not interrupt."
The heartache of being all alone in the world affected all of them, Fischer said.
"The most important factor in regaining a feeling of security and trust in the world," she said, "was caring, reliable dedicated personal relationships."
Many of the teens wanted to return home to look for their families. The center staff gave them a backpack, some food and the necessary paperwork. Although a few joyous reunions took place, most returned bitterly disappointed. And every success gave hope to others that they too would find someone if only they searched hard enough.
The question on every child's mind, recalled Fischer, was, "Where can we go?" The non-Jewish children could be repatriated to their home countries. But no one wanted the Jewish children. "The world," Fischer noted, "was absolutely closed."
When the doors eventually opened for them, the youngsters bloomed, many becoming professionals, business owners and skilled workers.
"They had the feeling that they were quite powerful," Fischer recalled, "that they can weather any difficulties, that they can go without food for days."
Their souls, however, were branded by the Nazis. Of their personal happiness, Fischer added, "they are not that communicative."
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