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.