Start of Main Content

Josiane Traum: Hiding in a Convent in Brugge

First Person Podcast Series

Josiane (Josy) Traum discusses her memories of life in hiding at a Carmelite convent in Brugge, Belgium. In 1942, as conditions grew increasingly more dangerous for Jews living in German-occupied Belgium, her mother, Fanny, arranged to have Belgian nuns hide her three-year-old daughter in the convent.



JOSY TRAUM: The nuns, you know, however strict they were, they saved my life. I’ve always been very grateful for that.

NARRATOR: Over 60 years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.

This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.

In today’s episode, Josy Traum talks with host Bill Benson about her memories of life in hiding at a Carmelite convent in Brugge, Belgium. In 1942, as conditions grew increasingly dangerous for Jews in Belgium, her mother, Fanny, secured a hiding place in the convent for three-year-old Josy.

BILL BENSON: And of course, in 1942 or when the deportations really began, and so at that point your mother was able to arrange as you describe for you to go to this convent. You describe the convent as really in many ways more like an orphanage.


BILL BENSON: Tell us about it.

JOSY TRAUM: In fact, it is called an orphanage, and it’s run by nuns. It’s in Brugge, which is a beautiful little city in Belgium. It was run by nuns and the reason I’m calling it orphanage, apparently in Europe in those days, many people who couldn’t take care of their children would often put them in an orphanage until perhaps a few years when they were able to support them and bring, take them out.

Unbeknownst to me, and I found this out after the war. You know as I mentioned before as a 3-year-old, there weren’t very many facts that I knew and understood and even realized. I was told a lot after the war. I found out that they were hiding three other Jewish children in this orphanage, and the nuns and the sisters were pretty strict.

BILL BENSON: In fact you told me that they looked like the nuns in The Sound of Music, but they weren’t at all like the nuns in The Sound of Music.

JOSY TRAUM: Yes. No, they didn’t sing.

BILL BENSON: No, and they were very strict.

JOSY TRAUM: They were extremely strict. Not because I was a Jew, however. You know, I came from a very nurturing home. I had a grandmother and mother who hugged me and loved me, and it was hard going to a convent where you know, I don’t think they knew how to nurture a child, how to hug a child. I was just crying and I was a very finicky eater. Whatever rations there were. I was a very fussy eater, and probably had a hard time eating, and they were just very strict.

They had these very stiff habits, you know those black habits with the white accordion collars, and I remember we, we used to sleep dorm style with the nuns in the room, in the dormitory with us. I remember that the biggest shock I had was the first night, I think, when I was sleeping there and the nuns took off their headgear and they were bald, and I had the shock of my life. I didn’t expect that, but I realize these headgears must have been so hot. They were so tight. You know they probably shaved their heads, but I remember that really stayed in my memory, stayed in my mind. They were very, very strict, but as I said, not because I was a Jew. They were strict to all the kids. You know they didn’t know about hugging and holding and kissing and so…

BILL BENSON: You had to change your name, didn’t you?


BILL BENSON: What was your name?

JOSY TRAUM: My first name remained the same, but my last name Aizenberg was changed to Van Berg which is a real kind of Flemish, Dutch name, and but of course, at that age, I probably didn’t know the difference.

BILL BENSON: Right, right, right. And because you were too young really for formal education, they still began teaching you, I think you said that you used the rosary, and…

JOSY TRAUM: Yes. I said my rosaries, but in French. And, yes I did say my rosaries. You know as a child you learn very much what’s around you and you learn very quickly to be in step with whatever is around you.

BILL BENSON: Right, right.

JOSY TRAUM: So I learned to say my rosaries, and the nuns, you know, however strict they were, they saved my life. So I’ve always been very grateful for that.

I feel and I think I mentioned this to you, we were talking about–I personally feel it is so crucial for a child for the first three years of life to have a strong bond with a caretaker. Not necessarily the mother or the father, but a caretaker who cares about the child, who nurtures, who hugs, who is there for the child. And I think those first three years when a bond forms is so crucial, and you know I kind of feel that that was so important in my first three years.

BILL BENSON: Cause you got that.

JOSY TRAUM: Because I got that, and I think that’s what helped me…


NARRATOR: You have been listening to First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, DC. We would appreciate your feedback on this series.