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The International School for Holocaust Studies

Dividing Hearts – The Removal of Jewish Children from Gentile Families in Poland in the Immediate Post-Holocaust Years

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Reviewed by Kathryn Berman

Dividing Hearts

Emunah Nachmany-Gafny
Yad Vashem Publications, ‏2009
389 pages

Towards the end of the Second World War, and in the wake of the Nazi retreat, the allies began liberating occupied Europe. Thousands of Jewish children had been in hiding for years in convents, placed with gentile families, or simply wandered from place to place unattended and fending for themselves. Many of these children no longer had parents or siblings. Some were found by chance by the liberating armies; others had to be found by organizations set up especially for that purpose.

Emunah Nachmany-Gafny researches into the postwar search for hidden Jewish children in Poland and their removal from gentile families. Many questions arise from this complicated subject, but one wonders why so many organizations were set up to find the children, and why they seemingly could not work together for the betterment of the children. Many different issues seemed to delay the task of finding the children, redeeming them from their rescuers, and repatriating the children to their families, or to children’s homes. Various issues were debated and argued about, including which countries the children should be sent to and whether they should be sent to religious or secular children’s homes. Finances were seemingly a major issue also. Other questions addressed include: How did the Polish courts deal with the issue? What was the stance of the Church vis-à-vis returning the children to their families or to Jewish organizations?

Throughout the book are very moving personal stories from some of the children, which most certainly give the reader an understanding of the trauma the hidden children encountered upon liberation, and no less their rescue from families they had grown to love and didn’t want to leave.

Young children could not be in command of their own destiny, whereas the dilemmas of older children might be deciding whether or not to leave the family they felt secure with, leave for the unknown, or perhaps leave siblings behind. Dafny goes into this most difficult question in Chapter 6 entitled “The Attitude of the Rescued Children.” This chapter gives a simpler understanding of the dilemmas of the children, their rescuers, and those relatives trying to give the children a new start to their shattered lives. One thing is abundantly clear: there were no winners.

Research into this topic raises many questions: How did the children react to the transition? Simply removing the child from their former rescuers and planting them in a new environment was not always the answer.

The subject of “Righteous Among the Nations” and other issues in the book may be used in the classroom as educational activities.