After WW2, children-Survivors would usually find themselves in orphanages. Among the most important facilities of this kind there were the Orphanage in Otwock near Warsaw, Orphanage in Śródborów (a district of Otwock) as well as Jewish Orphanages in Lublin and in Petrolesie in the Lower Silesia region (Pieszyce since 1947). The children were waiting there for their relatives who were searching for them – both Survivors of the Shoah as well as members of more distant family arriving for example from the USA. Search actions were also conducted by Jewish organizations.
Parents leaving their hiding places on the Arian side or freed from concentration camps often would not be in possession of any documents to prove that they were biological parents of a given child and they did not know Arian names and surnames of their children. Some of them would manage to recognize their children by a nevus or another physical characteristic. The identification of this kind was considered a sufficient proof of parenthood in Jewish orphanages.
Having left their hideouts, the children were often weak, ill and lousy. Those who used to hide in wardrobes would often suffer from rickets. Some of the children did not tell about their suffering for the next decades, as it was the case with Jewish girls raped by those who abused their vulnerability. They all needed to be cared of, and for a vast majority of them it was necessary to find a way to cope with their experiences, traumatizing for strong adults.
Sometimes the children would not recognize their siblings with whom they reunited after wartime separation. There were also other problems – some children would keep their Catholic faith, practiced during the war and pretend to be Christians, which resulted in tensions within the families tied to Judaism. There were also the situations when couples who had lost a child in the Shoah would adopt Jewish orphans, sometimes establishing new and happy families.
Nevertheless, a lot of tragedies used to emerge at this stage. For example Sara Warszawiak found herself in the orphanage in Cracow already in 1943. She was adopted by a couple without their own children, Jan and Julia Pilch, who had not known that she was Jewish. After the war, uncle Simcha and grandfather Awram Grinapel found the girl having come back from USSR. For several years, when court proceedings concerning her situation were in progress, the girl remained in an orphanage, from where she escaped several times to join her foster parents. Finally, her grandfather took her by force and transported to Israel, where she became Sara Avinum. In turn, in 1947 as many as three relatives – from Palestine, Paris and New York – tried to adopt Wiktor Barański (Awigdor Baranowicz), a 10-year-old boy.
Children would often move abroad with their relatives – to Sweden, France, Australia or the USA. Domestication in the new country was not always successful due to a different language, environment and it was sometimes impossible to restore the relationship with their parents that they had not seen for years. Many of them had to face the experience of rootlessness. As Michlic writes, “some of the children, who due to their age had completely forgotten their Jewish identity or had not known about it at all and who had still been raised as Christians by their saviours, were to discover their lost childhood, original ethnical and cultural identity and biological parents as late as in the 1980s and 1990s”.
"The children would miss the lost years of school education and their loving, strong and stable families”, Michlic writes. “(…) for many of them the Shoah together with its atrocious experience was the only reality that they knew –it was the only reality of their childhood and teenage years as they had not remembered the other”. For this reason the accounts of the youngest Survivors of all genocides, not only of the Shoah, need to form part of collective memory of these events that should never repeat themselves.
See the book Piętno Zagłady at the ŻIH Publishing House