“You say we are not survivors.” Thus begins Marguerite Lederman Mishkin’s poem, “Child Survivors.” Marguerite was born in 1941 and survived the Holocaust as a hidden child in rural Belgium. Her poem rebukes claims that discredit the experiences of children like her as marginal. In just a few verses, she conveys the tragedy of Jewish children during World War II. The types of hiding places, the modes of survival, and the events children witnessed, as well as the ways they adjusted and coped, the range of emotions they felt, and the scope of their losses all testify to the complexity and multitude of hidden children’s experiences and the validity of their stories. Marguerite’s poem opens the anthology Out of Chaos: Hidden Children Remember the Holocaust, [End Page 94] a compilation of forty-eight texts written by twenty-four child survivors from throughout Europe, superbly edited by Elaine Saphier Fox. What unites the writers, apart from their shared experiences, is their current place of residence—Chicago, Illinois, and their membership in the Hidden Children/Child Survivors Chicago group.
Out of Chaos brings to light the full spectrum of hidden children’s lives during the Holocaust. Divided both thematically and chronologically, these histories represent the vast array of Jews’ wartime experiences in a host of European countries and settings. Written about childhood experiences, these texts add to our understanding of how gender, age, prewar social and religious factors, geography, and timing affected young people’s lives and their survival. The biographical information and timeline at the end of the book complement survivors’ texts and place their personal stories within a broader historical context. Additional sections supplement the histories by explaining terms and places mentioned in them.
As the authors assert in their introduction, “this book speaks in different voices because each of us has different experiences as a witness and a survivor.” (xv) Theirs are individual stories that, read together, speak in a uniform voice about the tapestry of Jewish children’s lives in Nazi-occupied Europe. It gives the writers an opportunity to speak for themselves as individuals, but also as a distinct group of child survivors and hidden children, and ultimately as part of the larger circle of Holocaust survivors. The texts differ in length, form, and narrative structure, allowing individuals whose voices have been silenced for all too long to express their own memories, perspectives, and experiences in literary styles of their own choosing. Specific incidents, or scraps of memory, serve as points of departure for elaborating upon that which was lost: family, home, community, identity, sense of belonging, and notions of security and continuity.
Out of Chaos comprises part of a growing collection of literature written by child survivors and of audio-video recordings in which they narrate their stories. In the introduction, the authors bemoan the little research conducted about them as a group. Why then do we need another compilation of testimonies instead of a scholarly analysis of Jewish children’s wartime experiences? To be clear, Out of Chaos is not just another compendium. Seamlessly connected, the texts in this collection illuminate larger themes of how the Holocaust evolved in different places, the ways in which Jews responded to the onslaught, how gentiles reacted to the plight of their neighbors, and the impact of the war and the Holocaust on young people and families in the aftermath of violence. We learn about these topics from those who witnessed it and lived through it, thus allowing the stories to speak for themselves, rather than through the historian’s lens.
This book widens our view of the Holocaust. In recounting their wartime experiences, some authors weaved in information about their prewar lives, revealing a picture of Jews in Europe as a diverse and vibrant social, religious, and cultural entity. Such an approach shows that we cannot study the Holocaust in isolation from its antecedents. The strength of the book lies, too, in that it traces the children’s (and their families’) paths of persecution and [End...