Hid­den Chil­dren of the Holo­caust: Bel­gian Nuns and Their Dar­ing Res­cue of Young Jews From Nazis

Suzanne Vromen
  • Review
By – January 30, 2012

The lit­er­a­ture focus­ing on Right­eous Gen­tiles res­cu­ing Jews dur­ing the Holo­caust is prob­a­bly the most pow­er­ful rea­son to con­tin­ue to retain some degree of belief in the human poten­tial for good­ness and unselfish love in the face of such over­whelm­ing evil. 

Suzanne Vromen, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of soci­ol­o­gy at Bard Col­lege, adds to this vital body of work with a study of the role of the Catholic nuns in Bel­gium in the res­cue of Jew­ish chil­dren. This is a read­able aca­d­e­m­ic work that comes alive with the incor­po­ra­tion of numer­ous quotes from both the res­cued chil­dren and their res­cuers. There seems to be some­thing quite health pro­mot­ing about being a res­cuer. The nuns and escorts inter­viewed, as well as res­cuers in gen­er­al, appear to pos­sess remark­able vig­or and longevity. 

Vromen under­scores the inner auton­o­my, raw courage, and unshake­able eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples of her sub­jects. The few inter­viewed hid­den chil­dren, despite unavoid­able emo­tion­al scars, give evi­dence of life affir­ma­tion and resilience in the years fol­low­ing their trag­ic child­hood expe­ri­ences. The book’s epi­logue, in par­tic­u­lar, pro­vides a valu­able review of the ques­tion of the moti­va­tion of altru­is­tic behav­ior in life threat­en­ing situations. 

Hid­den Chil­dren of the Holo­caust adds to the schol­ar­ly lit­er­a­ture on wartime res­cue of Jew­ish chil­dren by being the first work to explore such efforts in Bel­gium in such detail. Vromen’s dis­cus­sion of the eth­i­cal ques­tion of return­ing bap­tized Jew­ish chil­dren, who had adopt­ed the Catholi­cism of their res­cuers, to their Jew­ish her­itage, is an unex­plored top­ic with impor­tant con­tem­po­rary impli­ca­tions. One hopes this thought­ful and well researched work will lead read­ers to con­tem­plate two exis­ten­tial ques­tions: would they risk their lives to res­cue a stranger fac­ing cer­tain death, and have they raised their chil­dren with the poten­tial to sac­ri­fice their com­fort and safe­ty for the wel­fare of oth­ers. Index, notes, references.

Steven A. Luel, Ph.D., is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion and psy­chol­o­gy at Touro Col­lege, New York. He is a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst in pri­vate prac­tice. He is co-edi­tor (with Paul Mar­cus) of Psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic Reflec­tions on the Holo­caust: Select­ed Essays.

Discussion Questions