TO MY MUMMY AS A KEEPSAKE - Jewish Children Rescued From the Holocaust

Before the War, one million Jewish children lived in Poland. The vast majority of them were murdered by the Nazis. Only a few thousand survived, mainly due to the efforts of individual adults, but also as the result of organised operations. The stories of a few of these are presented in our virtual exhibition "To My Mummy as a Keepsake”.

The spelling mistake in the Polish title is intentional - in it, we sense hand of a child. That dedication, on the reverse of his photograph, was written by Tolek Wajnsztajn for his carer  Wanda Bulik who, in 1941, took him in and cared for him. Thanks to her, he survived the Holocaust. When he left for Israel, after the War with his adoptive Jewish family, he left Wanda that photograph.

The heroes of our virtual exhibition are Lea Balint, hidden in a monastery, and Liliana Alter, Mati Greenberg, Elżbieta Ficowska and Sabina Kagan who were rescued by Polish families. The exhibition tells their individual stories and the common experiences of all rescued Jewish children - the dramatic separation from their families, a new home, a new identity and a difficult life after the War.

Watch the exhibition

In order to save Jewish children, it was needed to secretly lead them out of a ghetto and to then find them shelter, on the so-called "Aryan side" - with Polish families or in care institutions. This involved great risks as the Germans punished such activities with the death penalty. Most of these care institutions were run by orders of nuns. Although the Church authorities did not organise activities which saved Jews, some Mothers Superior decided to extend this help and became active in the underground network.

After leaving the ghetto, the background of the children was carefully concealed, not only from the Germans, but also from the Polish community. The hidden children had a new role and had to play that role consistently. They were given new first names and surnames and new papers. They were taught how to behave, how to pray, what to say and what not to say. In institutions run by nuns, compliance with the religious life was extremely important. Some children were also baptised. This new identity resulted in a sense of fear within the children and an inability to comprehend their situation. Often, where the children were rescued in very early childhood, these transformations occurred beyond their awareness.

After the War, the majority of these children were taken to Israel by Jewish organisations or by foster families. Now overseas, they had to, yet again, start a new life. Some did not leave. They lived their lives separated from their Jewish identity. Some children only discovered their real background only years later by accident. All of them, regardless of their situation, wrestled with the problem of changes in their identity, religion, a lack of family roots. They were plagued by wartime memories. Many of them eventually seek out their roots, revealing the remnants of information about their close relatives.

To My Mummy as a Keepsake. Jewish Children Rescued From the Holocaust