The United States Congress established Days of Remembrance as our nation’s annual commemoration of victims of the Holocaust, just as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is our permanent living memorial to those victims.
This year Holocaust Remembrance Day is Sunday, April 15, 2007. The Museum has designated “Children in Crisis: Voices from the Holocaust” as the focus for the 2007 observance.
When World War II ended in 1945, six million European Jews were dead, including more than one million Jewish children. All Jews were targeted for death, but children were among the most vulnerable victims of the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The very young, like the very old, were often the first victims in the ghettos of German-occupied eastern Europe. Many children died from lack of food, clothing, and shelter, as well as from diseases that flourished in the unsanitary and overcrowded conditions imposed in the ghettos.
As part of the “Final Solution,” the Nazis targeted children for death as so-called “useless eaters,” incapable of exploitation as forced laborers. In some cases, adults sacrificed their lives to give comfort to children as long as possible. Janusz Korczak, director of an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto, courageously refused to abandon children chosen for deportation. He accompanied them on the transport to the Treblinka killing center where he was killed along with nearly 200 children in his charge.
Children were frequently among the first to be murdered when the Germans and their collaborators sought to destroy a Jewish community. Upon arrival at Auschwitz and other killing centers, most children were sent straight to their deaths in the gas chambers. Jewish children also perished attempting to evade or resist the Germans and their allies. Paula Wajcman was murdered at age fourteen when her hiding place was discovered during the destruction of the Kielce ghetto in Poland. Seven-year-old Franco Cesana was killed while fighting as a partisan in Northern Italy in 1943. In 1942, twelve-year-old Shulamit Perlmutter fled the destruction of the ghetto in Horochow, Poland. She spent the next eighteen months hiding alone in the nearby forests until she was discovered near death by Soviet troops.
Only a small fraction of European Jewish children survived the Holocaust, many because they were hidden. With identities disguised, and often physically concealed from the outside world, these young people faced constant fear and danger. Theirs was a life in shadows, where a careless remark, the murmurings of inquisitive neighbors, or a denunciation could lead to discovery and death. Most of these “hidden” children survived the Holocaust because they were protected by people and institutions of other faiths. In France, almost the entire Protestant Huguenot population in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon hid Jewish children. Some children, like Augusta Feldhorn in Belgium, quickly learned to master Christian prayers and rituals in order to keep their Jewish identity concealed from even their closest friends. Other non-Jews provided hiding places for both Jewish children and their family members. Seven-year-old Gavra Mandil and his five-year-old sister Irena, as well as their parents, were saved by their Muslim neighbors in Albania.
During the Holocaust, Jewish children channeled their suffering into creative expression. Some wrote letters and drew pictures about life under extreme circumstances, while others like teenagers Dawid Sierakowiak and Anne Frank kept diaries of their experiences. Neither of these diarists lived to see the end of the war. Their voices are evidence of their lives and tragically premature deaths, of hope and of cruelty. And their drawings and words are evidence that testifies to what they experienced.
Liberation from Nazi tyranny brought no end to the suffering of the girls and boys who remained alive. Many had no homes to which they could return; no place where they felt truly safe. Thousands would face the future with no parents, grandparents, or siblings.
In any campaign of genocide, children are among the most vulnerable targets. The specter of racial hatred has resurfaced again and again in the decades since the Holocaust. In 2005, human rights workers gave paper and crayons to refugee Sudanese children to occupy them while they interviewed their families about the unfolding genocide in Darfur. Unbidden, the children drew scenes of devastation—pictures of brutal attacks by the “Janjaweed” militia, shootings, rapes, the burning of entire villages, and the flight to find refuge in neighboring Chad. These images are a testament to the impact this ongoing crisis has had on its youngest victims. Genocide is a real and present threat. The voices of children from the Holocaust serve as a potent reminder that the time for action in Darfur is now.
Fred S. Zeidman, Chairman, United States Holocaust Memorial Council »
Joel M. Geiderman, Vice Chairman, United States Holocaust Memorial Council »
Sara J. Bloomfield, Director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum »
Joseph I. Lieberman, United States Senator »
Daniel’s Story »
Holocaust Encyclopedia article
Angress, Werner T. Between Fear & Hope: Jewish Youth in the Third Reich. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
Brostoff, Anita, and Sheila Chamovitz, editors. Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Dwork, Deborah. Children with a Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.
Eisen, George. Children and Play in the Holocaust: Games Among the Shadows. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.
Eliach, Yaffa, editor. We Were Children Just Like You. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Center for Holocaust Studies, Documentation and Research, 1990.
Gilbert, Martin. The Boys: The Untold Story of 732 Young Concentration Camp Survivors. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1997.
Hallie, Philip Paul. Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon, and How Goodness Happened There. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
Harris, Mark Jonathan, and Deborah Oppenheimer. Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport. New York: Distributed by St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Holliday, Laurel, editor. Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries. New York: Pocket Books, 1995.
Kurek, Ewa. Your Life Is Worth Mine: How Polish Nuns Saved Hundreds of Jewish Children in German-Occupied Poland, 1939-1945. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1997.
Marks, Jane. The Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993.
Milton, Sybil, editor. The Art of Jewish Children, Germany, 1936-1941: Innocence and Persecution. New York: Philosophical Library, 1989.
Volavková, Hana, editor. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezín Concentration Camp, 1942-1944. New York: Schocken Books, 1993.
Zapruder, Alexandra, editor. Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
Children of the Holocaust [videorecording]. Princeton, N.J.: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 1995. (Video Collection)
Eisner, Jack, and Roman Kent. Children in the Holocaust [videorecording]. New York: Phoenix/BFA Films & Video, 1983. (Video Collection)
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport [videorecording]. Burbank, Calif.: Warner Home Video, 2001. (Video Collection)
Justman, Zuzana. Voices of the Children [videorecording]. New York: The Cinema Guild, 1996. (Video Collection)
Walker, John. Hidden Children [videorecording]. Toronto: Sienna Films, 1994. (Video Collection)