Children Who Fled Nazi Persecution

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



The After Effects of Hitler's Terrorism


I was attempting to run through the gated streets to reach home but my feet would not carry me. I was naked,  unsuccessfully covering my nudity with my hands as ominous people jeered while my feet shuffled my emaciated body on.  Fear gripped me and home seemed further and further away.  Unseen voices screamed out of nowhere:  “Du bist, ein Jud” (you are a Jew).  “Vermin out! Go to Madagascar!  Jew Stinker You are Forbidden Here.”  Home  did not seem to exist. Nazis in uniform marched in goose step with sabers and guns came closer and closer. My fate was sealed.  How much does death hurt? How horrible will be my struggle to breathe when I am thrown into the underground pit where dirt will blind my sight? Where is my family, my mother, my father? Will I ever see them again?  Why have they deserted me? Where will I be?  No one is helping me.  Slowly I awoke, gasping for oxygen.  It seemed all so real.

As my consciousness returned, I recalled a humorist's phrase: “Clothes make the man.  Naked people have no influence on society.”  This adage  is true when translating it into our world.  Without financial means we are confronted with nudity/helplessness.  This was so obvious in Nazi Germany in 1939 and the years that preceded it and followed at the time of World War II.  Those Jewish people who had accumulated a little money were much more successful in escaping than the very poor, who could not buy their way out of the Holocaust.  The majority of those who perished had no means of escape.  The recent book What Happened to the Children Who Fled Nazi Persecution by Sonnert and Holton, for which I was one of numerous unnamed contributors, survivors of the Holocaust, stated this so clearly. This describes our experiences who left Germany with or without their parents (A number of children came with a “Kinder Transport” since parents were excluded).  It described the feelings, the emotions,  our  acceptance in our new country, our conversion from Germans to Americans, our happiness, our sadness, our mentation, our lives.

The authors described the exodus, who left and why, who helped the new arrivals, the socioeconomic achievements, the successes of former refugees, language adjustments, ingredients for success, background information, sociologically, financially and professionally, of the parents of the children and this relationship to the outcome of  these potential factors, anguish, our poverty upon arrival,  enduring trauma, syndromes and achievements.  It is the last three that I will here discuss.

The fear of being Jewish and admitting it when the young refugees arrived was almost a given, a denial of oneself; it was almost a revulsion of that part of existence, which brings the question of self identity and self hatred into question.  Fear, insecurity and inferiority are closely related to all of this.  Rejection of the self.  Transposing that unto others – not being able to relate comfortably to others; always feeling like outsiders, looking in; projections of hatred of oneself unto others; expecting to be ostracized; frequently excluding oneself from certain social situations  (an example that recently occurred in a synagogue will here be given.  One of the women accosted a survivor, accusing her of disrespect for using a cell phone in the hall.  The crude American born woman called the victim egregious names, cursing her.    Ms. A., a highly educated woman, feels so harmed by the vituperations of this ignorant “pillar of society” that she feels unable to return to the temple in which she has belonged and has supported most of her adult life). With many now grown refugee children there is never a feeling of belonging.  There is also the need of overachievement: “If I achieve more and more, I will gain recognition” (but never really acceptance – I will always be the undesirable Jude that is hated, excluded and trampled).  There are also those who have given up and who live a nonexistent social life, in solitude.  Somewhere inside the feeling of rejection is embedded in these erstwhile children.  It must also be pointed out that personality formation begins at birth and that the first few years of life are very important ones and that which happened to us in childhood accompanies us the rest of our lives (Freud believed that by age five personality is determined).

There is nothing more repugnant to many of the former refugee children, now Americans, when confronted with people who suggest they should forget about the Holocaust as if it had never happened.  People tend to lose their patience and their sympathy  with sad occurrences and their repetition.  However, the survivors of this unimaginable trauma need to express themselves to validate their experiences and their feelings.  Denial only strengthens the feelings of rejection!  As Americans and as erstwhile Children of the Holocaust, let us all never forget who we are, that annihilation must never ever happen again to any people, let us appreciate our Jewishness, our religion, our very identities and let us continue to love America, our country!


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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