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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » July 29, 2011
Politics & Society
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United by Fate
July 29, 2011   
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The Children of the Holocaust association in Poland brings together people of Jewish descent who as children survived the Holocaust during World War II. The association has around 700 members.

The association was founded in 1991. Anna Drabik, the chairwoman, remembers how it seemed at the time that no Holocaust survivors remained in Poland after 1968, when an anti-Semitic campaign by the communist regime forced most Jews out of the country. That proved not to be the case. “Many of those people kept a low profile about their origins, either for the sake of their children or in order to avoid trouble at work,” Drabik said.

People who want to become members of the association needed to obtain a certificate from the Jewish Historical Institute stating they were child Holocaust survivors in Poland. Over its first two to three years, the association had less than 100 members. But then word of the association and its work spread and more people started joining, discovering that the association helped its members trace back their origins and also helped them in their day-to-day problems.

The association is open to people born between 1926 and 1945 and so most members are in their seventies and older. “There are 700 of us at present,” Drabik said. “We still find new survivors, but that does not happen often any more these days. Our peak membership was over 800 people, but we are growing older and gradually passing away.”

Jakub Gutenbaum, the first president of the Children of the Holocaust association, managed to get special pensions for the association’s members from a Jewish organization called the Claims Conference. The association then went on to successfully campaign for disability pensions for its members as victims of World War II.

Apart from assistance for people coping with financial problems, the association works to bear witness to history through education and publications.

“Helping one another was the top priority in the beginning,” Drabik recalls. “Once we became established and took care of the most basic matters, we concluded that we were the last witnesses to history and it was our mission to leave something behind.”

The association drew the attention of film makers and reporters and documentaries were made about it. “We realized that the story of every single one of us could fill a page in a history book,” Drabik said. “We decided it was our duty to share our stories, most notably with young people.”

So began meetings with Children of the Holocaust in schools. “I have to admit that the fact that the history of the Holocaust became sort of ‘trendy’ helped a lot,” Drabik said. “Schools started teaching students about the Holocaust and, slowly at first, we joined in the project. It is a totally different thing to meet a living person who had a firsthand experience of all that to just reading about those events.”

One major obstacle was persuading the association’s members to take part in such meetings. Talking about the ordeals they went through during World War II opened old wounds. That led to yet another area of the association’s work—psychotherapy. The association has provided group therapy for its members for many years and individual therapy sessions for three years. Therapy workshops are held twice a year for groups of around 60 people. The participants talk about ways of dealing with the fact that many of them found out about their background late in their lives and they debate whether it is best to tell the truth to their families or not. “Some children of the survivors have been happy about the news, while others say: ‘I don’t want to be a Jew, I don’t want to be different’,” Drabik said. “These are very tough dilemmas. The anxiety and depression which the survivors struggle with take their toll on the next generation as well. It is not uncommon for our grandchildren to be happier to revisit their Jewish origins than we and our children are.”

Asked about the deeper meaning of being a Children of the Holocaust member, Drabik said, “What matters the most is that we have created a home, a family for these people. Many of them used to feel insecure, alone and unable to cope. Our association helped them open up and smile. They come here like this is their home. The association is about a friendly ambiance where neither social standing nor religion are of any importance.” Interestingly enough, since they were rescued and raised by Polish people, most members of the Children of the Holocaust association are Catholics, despite their Jewish roots.
Marcin Mierzejewski
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