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Do you know these children?
December 19, 2008 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Do you, or an older relative of yours, recognize any of these children? More than 70 children separated from their families during WWII, now all elderly men and women, are using the Internet to try to find some answers about their pasts, their families, and sometimes even their own names. They are soliciting help and suggestions in the comments sections on each story.

Sadly typical story: "The infant was hungry and crying, so her mother asked for milk from a Polish couple that happened to be on the train station. The Polish man brought milk for the baby.

Then the Jewish mother asked if they would want to take the baby as their own because she could not keep it. This couple did not have any children, so after some consideration, they agreed. They asked the Jewish mother who she was, but she told them that it was better for them and for the baby not to know who she was.

She then gave her newborn baby girl, who was probably one month old, to the Polish couple. The Polish couple raised the girl as if she was their biological daughter and never told her how she had come into the family.

The girl grew up, married and had a son. It is this son who wants to find his Jewish roots..."
posted by Asparagirl (21 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
No, but I wish I did. I've read two stories, and I can't read any more.

If the internet community could ever do something to make up for all the bullshit, hatred, and infantile behaviour that seems to pour out of it daily, this might be it. I really, really hope it can live up to that promise.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:40 PM on December 19, 2008


What d'ya even say... but thank you for posting this.
posted by gman at 1:03 PM on December 19, 2008


These are the children that lived.

This is all their parents wanted, I suspect -- for their children to live through the war and grow to be adults. Most any parent would willingly give up their life if they could be assured their child would live. I can tell you right now, without question, that I would. Or, if this meant handing over my child to a kindly stranger, knowing the alternative was death for my child, I would do this also.

I hope these children are able to hold onto that thought -- that even if they never discover anything else about themselves or their past, they should know that their parents got their wish ... their children lived.
posted by anastasiav at 1:07 PM on December 19, 2008 [9 favorites]


During the last few years a relative has told Ewa that Ewa's adoptive mother once told her this story: During the war Ewa's biological parents gave her to a well-off childless Polish couple. After the war when different Jewish groups tried to locate surviving Jewish children, some group had found out that Ewa was a Jewish child staying with this Polish couple. The couple wanted to keep Ewa. According to the story, the Jews bribed the maid who then left the window open, enabling the Jews to smuggle her out in the middle of the night.
So, ignoring the birth parents' (last?) wishes, a Jewish group kidnaps her and eventually she's adopted by American Jews who know she's been kidnapped?

Because from a tribalist perspective, it's better she be raised by her "own kind" than by "the other".

And the Polish couple, after raising her during the war, what closure dis they get? Having accepted the birth parents' sacred trust of raising their child, how frantic they must that Polish family have been when the child goes missing and is never heard from again? Did those Poles die heartbroken and never knowing if the child was alive or dead?
posted by orthogonality at 1:23 PM on December 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


orthogonality, your comment reminds me of this story.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:30 PM on December 19, 2008


Orthogonality/Asparagirl -- the first story is heartbreaking, because the child was taken from a (presumably) loving home for no reason she could understand, but the second is wonderful, because it meant being removed from an orphanage and (presumably) being placed with a loving home.

But then, I believe the comfort and safety of a family is more important for a child than religious affiliation, and I might be in the minority there.

also: great find, Asparagirl
posted by davejay at 1:40 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


One of my dad's childhood friends is a kid who was sent off to live with strangers in the US because of WWII. I think he has all that information about his family, though. Funny, but I don't think of my dad and his buddies from the neighborhood as elderly.

My grandmother's little sister was given away in the Great Depression. My grandmother's family had sporadic updates and some contact with the given-away daughter their whole lives. Naturally, the adoptive family--comfortable during the Great Depression--remained very well-off throughout my grandmother and her sister's lifetimes.

It always makes me think about the fluidity of families and wonder how much of this still goes on, without the intervention of the family courts.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:44 PM on December 19, 2008


On a related note... I run the Schreier (and variant surnames) DNA project over at FamilyTreeDNA.com, and I got an e-mail a few months ago from a woman in Manitoba whose now-deceased father, surnamed Schreier, had been born in Prague and had been sent off to Canada by his mother during WWII. She knew he had three other siblings, but they were all scattered during the adoption process; all ties to the European family had been cut.

She did a search on her surname and found my project page, and did I perhaps have any information about a family named Schreier? I let her know that people with that name usually belong to one of two groups: Bavarian Lutherans, or Galician (former province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now E. Poland and W. Ukraine) Jews. Her e-mail to me:

"Oh MY GOD! The Jewish/Galician branch fits in EXACTLY to what we knew our father's story was!! I could NEVER figure out why my dad was born in Prague, and was affected by the WWll happenings until we found out his mother was Jewish and THAT was why she sent her kids away, in order to save them from the concentration camps etc. This was why they were adopted and thus separated...wow, I'm rambling on now but I am so excited to hear about this _ I WANT TO KNOW MORE!"

The mother -- her grandmother! -- apparently sent away the four children away in four different directions, to a new continent, to try to save their lives...

She told me in a e-mail a few days ago that she is getting her brother a DNA test for Christmas this year, so that he will join the surname project. His y-chromosome will match his father's, and thus her unknown male relatives back in Europe, or their descendants today, wherever they may live, and whatever their surnames may be now... Here's to hoping they find matches in the online databases, and can reconnect with the family they never knew.

*lights candle with Hannukah/Christmas/solstice wish*
posted by Asparagirl at 2:12 PM on December 19, 2008 [6 favorites]


That's a story I read for a few children in there. Children who had found a home and were being raised in safety but then a few years after the war were forced into a Jewish orphanage rather than be raised in a gentile home.

Case in point: "Barbara, two and a half years old at the time, was found in a railway wagon in Milanowek. She was give to the Polish chimney sweeper Kaczmarek and his wife. This family then took care of Barbara till the end of the war and up till 1948. When the Jews learned about Barbara's existence in 1948, she was brought to a Jewish Orphanage in Otwock and then adopted by the couple Himmel who brought her to Israel."

I'll be honest, reading that really bothered me. Some of these children had been shuttled around in and out of harm's way and once the war was over and they could finally relax in the care of people who risked everything to keep them safe... they were taken away from the safety their parents died to give them because the people who saved them and committed to care for them weren't the correct religion. And ummm, I guess that struck me as pretty darned stinky. And sadly ironic, considering that the children's lives were in danger due to religious persecution in the first place.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:12 PM on December 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Some of these children had been shuttled around in and out of harm's way and once the war was over and they could finally relax in the care of people who risked everything to keep them safe... they were taken away from the safety their parents died to give them because the people who saved them and committed to care for them weren't the correct religion. And ummm, I guess that struck me as pretty darned stinky.

Try to imagine if Native American children were taken care of by white families during a time of turmoil in order to keep them safe.... wouldn't you find it understandable if the tribes wanted the children back to raise them as one of their own?
posted by deanc at 5:26 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, ignoring the birth parents' (last?) wishes, a Jewish group kidnaps her and eventually she's adopted by American Jews who know she's been kidnapped?
Oh, give me a fucking break. You can't assume that the parents didn't want their child to be raised Jewish. In fact, it's very likely that the parents would have given their children to other Jews to be raised, were it not for the fact that every single Jewish person was targeted for annihilation. The parents didn't just happen to give their children to non-Jews because they thought those people were more fit parents than any Jew in the world.

This just strikes me as a really bizarre and kind of offensive thing for this discussion to fixate on.
posted by craichead at 6:16 PM on December 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


Try to imagine if Native American children were taken care of by white families during a time of turmoil in order to keep them safe.... wouldn't you find it understandable if the tribes wanted the children back to raise them as one of their own?

Hmmm. . . . My friend Nikki, who is Tlingit, was adopted as a baby by a white family in Anchorage. How would it have been for her and her parents if she'd been taken away at age five by strangers who made some claim on her because of her ethnic group? Pretty shitty, I think.
posted by D.C. at 6:34 PM on December 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


But D.C., was your friend intentionally, permanently given up for adoption, or was she given to the white family for safekeeping? I think most of the Jewish families that gave up their children would have returned for them after the war, if they were alive and had any way to track the kids down.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:10 PM on December 19, 2008


It's heartbreaking that the internet wasn't available for these purposes when these people were still young. Yes, it would have opened up more horrible avenues for the Nazi terrors, but think of how many could have been reunited, if only...

This is a beautiful endeavor for the few who survive even now, and all of the families who are looking for their biological roots.
posted by Kimothy at 9:24 PM on December 19, 2008


Of course it would have made sense to return children to their biological families after the war. But it sounds like in some cases children were being taken from good families (and, for some, possibly the only family they remembered) to be put in orphanages.

Reuniting families = good (usually)
Splitting families because of some cultural agenda = bad

Mostly though, I was telling that story as a comment on deanc's analogy.
posted by D.C. at 11:10 PM on December 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Because from a tribalist perspective, it's better she be raised by her "own kind" than by "the other".

Tribalism? That gallery of children's faces, lost to their families quite likely forever, and that's your main complaint? The comfort of your 21st century American life is an awfully convenient place from which to judge the actions of Jews in postwar Europe, many of whom survived only to be murdered by their old neighbors when they returned home to find their families and reclaim their property. They had no idea if those adopted children would survive if it ever became known that they were born Jews. They had no idea if Jews would survive in general, either.

And sadly ironic, considering that the children's lives were in danger due to religious persecution in the first place.

Nazi murder and postwar pograms resemble repatriating Jewish children from homes that they were given to in sheer panic and always with the hope that their families would return for them exactly how? That's right, not one iota. There is a lot of sad irony going on in this thread but this isn't a good example of it.
posted by melissa may at 2:11 AM on December 20, 2008


I'm not sure I get this... where did it say the families came back for them? That wasn't what I read. What I read was that the children were taken away from the kind and brave families who risked their own lives to care for and love them for years because it was preferred (the children clearly had no family left to live with; in reading the stories it's clear that the people who made these decisions appear to have had no relation whatsoever to or with these children aside from religion) be kept in jewish orphanages instead. And who knows how long they actually lived in these orphanages, waiting to be adopted by a jewish family... some of them were probably there for years.

See, that was where my reaction came from. I could be totally wrong and you can correct me on this, but from my limited experience and from what I've read and heard of them... orphanages have never been generally known to be the ideal location for a happy, secure, fun childhood filled with self esteem and love... and these kids had already lived through Hell. I mean, my first thought was that these children no doubt had serious abandonment issues already prior to being put into an orphanage, and orphanages are also not known to help children get rid of abandonment issues. That's like sending someone with eating issues to live in a Soup Plantation.

So yeah, upon first reading it struck me that I felt it was a shame. If you're going to judge me harshly for that, it's your choice. But I know where I'm coming from and it's entirely considering the perspective of the already abandoned child. It was purely empathy on my part.

Try to imagine if Native American children were taken care of by white families during a time of turmoil in order to keep them safe.... wouldn't you find it understandable if the tribes wanted the children back to raise them as one of their own?

Since white people came to America from a far away land, killed the natives, raped their women and stole the land without any claim to it, that would be a pretty icky situation to find them raising your Indian child as a young European, I'd imagine. That scenario would be more like if the jewish child was being raised by Nazis, which isn't what was happening. Even the nicer white people who might've taken a native child in really didn't belong in America culturally at that point... they had no clue about or respect for the people, their cultures, or anything. They were trying to turn America into a new Europe, foreigners trying to colonize an entire people they considered to be less than human, taking control of their land and debasing their culture with no rights to do any of it. And if they took your native child, they no doubt were not seeing that child as an equal to their own because nobody saw Indians as equal. I may be wrong, but I'm seeing that as a totally different situation.

In contrast, in my understanding, the people who cared for these children were natives of the land and the culture alongside the jewish residents, just not people who were of the same religion. These were friends of the family and next door neighbors... local people finding abandoned children in barns and railway wagons in their backyards... taking on their neighbors' children in order to raise them as their own so that they could live. Had they not done that, these children would've died. Period. There wouldn't have even BEEN a human being to put into an orphanage were it not for these people.

Anyhow, that's where I was coming from. Again, just looking at it from the perspective of the child and of the people who had these children pried from their arms so they could eat spaetzle alongside hundreds of other homeless orphans instead of staying with the incredibly brave and giving people who risked being shot in the head in order to give a child a home and a chance to become an adult.

Waaaaaay different than pilgrims adopting a Wampanoag indian, though. Sorry.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:47 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, I did read one thing wrong... yes... the parents wanted to have the families come back for them. But very sadly, that didn't happen. I don't believe any parent would rather their child lived in an orphanage than in a home of love, though. And while I believe cultural identity is incredibly important, I will always be in awe of and full of admiration for the risks people took to raise strangers' children. Again, if you're going to call that "sad irony" then that's your choice.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:52 AM on December 20, 2008


There were reunifications that went on for years after the war and a Jewish home would be a good point to start the search. I think it's a tough call--keep the children in a stable home or claim them on the basis of ethnic ties. But I would guess that the urge to gather in any and all members of the tribe after losing 6 million of your brethren would trump anything else.
posted by etaoin at 1:19 PM on December 20, 2008


To clarify, I don't think children should be taken from caring homes and put semi-permanently into orphanages - but I also don't think that the families that sheltered children during the war were really intended to become their new parents. I don't think it was wrong for children to be taken and placed with other Jewish families.

My attitude is mostly based on numerous stories I've heard about that time and environment, not just the link(s) above.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:38 PM on December 20, 2008


God. Nothing much makes me cry, but this did it. I can't imagine living an entire life wondering what happened to your family, or who you even are. I thought a lot about the parents of this children, dying while wondering where their children are, or even if they're safe.

Thanks for posting. I hope these poeple can find some answers.
posted by lottie at 4:03 PM on December 21, 2008


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