At the Mer­cy of Strangers: The Res­cue of Jew­ish Chil­dren With Assumed Iden­ti­ties in Poland

Nahum Bogn­er
  • Review
By – October 5, 2011

At the Mer­cy of Strangers empha­sizes the dif­fi­cul­ty of hid­ing Jew­ish chil­dren in Poland, when not only did the res­cuer have the Nazis to fear, with their threat of sum­mar­i­ly exe­cut­ing any­one sav­ing a Jew, but also oth­er Poles, who were hap­py to be rid of the Jews and to appro­pri­ate their pos­ses­sions. When mon­ey was charged by a res­cuer, it was just as often to buy the extras to feed their hid­den guests, as it was for prof­it — but both fig­ured in. To hide a Jew­ish child was a hero­ic act, and these fam­i­lies were usu­al­ly involved in aid­ing oth­er Jews — but no insti­tu­tions were more forth­com­ing than the con­vents. Jews awak­ened to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of plac­ing chil­dren in con­vents only at a late stage, when the liq­ui­da­tion of the ghet­tos was well under­way. Usu­al­ly, Chris­t­ian medi­a­tors were the par­ents’ paths to plac­ing their chil­dren. Unlike theWest­ern occu­pied coun­tries where the Nazis respect­ed the con­vents and kept out of them, in Poland they had no such scru­ples. In some cas­es, the con­vents were ordered by their cler­i­cal supe­ri­ors to res­cue the chil­dren, but in most cas­es a child was dropped off at the con­vent. The con­vents brought a mea­sure of peace and secu­ri­ty to the chil­dren despite their mixed feel­ings of loy­al­ty to their own reli­gion. Even when the nuns did not know which child was Jew­ish, despite all attempts to dis­guise them, Jew­ish chil­dren always rec­og­nized one anoth­er. After the lib­er­a­tion, chil­dren would wan­der on the streets and found shel­ter in var­i­ous Jew­ish Homes” and orga­ni­za­tions, such as the Lublin Home. The Cen­tral Jew­ish Com­mit­tee and oth­er Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions were formed and even­tu­al­ly took over the repa­tri­a­tion of Jew­ish chil­dren to the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, either to Pales­tine or to rel­a­tives. Prob­a­bly no oth­er Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Europe was as deter­mined to return Jew­ish chil­dren to the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty as were the Jews of Poland. Many chil­dren recoiled at their Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and did not want to be part­ed from their res­cuers. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, sources. 

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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