MONTREAL – They are all over 70 now, but they will always be children of the Holocaust.
Montreal once had a very active child survivors/hidden children’s group, and an attempt is being made to revive it. The group was founded in the lead-up to an international conference held in the city in 1994 for these survivors.
But people died, moved away or drifted away, and the group’s activities fell off.
Charlotte Linzel, who was born in Berlin in 1932, organized a party during Chanukah that attracted more than 20 child survivors. She is hoping the group will start meeting regularly for social contact.
As many as 1.5 million of the approximately 1.6 million Jewish children who were living in the territories occupied by Germany or its allies perished, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“There are believed to be only 60,000 to 70,000 of us left,” said Leo Dortort, a native of Graz, Austria, and, at 87, one of the oldest.
Despite their modest numbers, those at the party hailed from a variety of countries: Germany, Austria, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, France and Holland, among them.
During World War II, they were in concentration camps, in ghettos, in hiding, on the run or forced to flee Europe. What they have in common is greater than the different circumstances of their pasts, they say.
Any Jewish person who experienced Nazi persecution before the age of 18 is eligible to be a member of the group, and the passage of time has not changed the initial impetus for them to gather.
“We have joined together to share our experience, to help us understand its effect on our lives, to provide support in our difficulties and to reaffirm our existence,” the original 1994 manifesto read.
By the 1970s, child survivors around the world were recognizing themselves as “the forgotten generation” of survivors and distinguishing themselves from the “second generation,” those born to survivors after the war.
The primary purpose of the Montreal group was and is to provide a space where these survivors can share their feelings with others like themselves.
“It was the first time I had heard about this category,” said Polish-born Paula Bultz, one of the founders of the group in 1994. “We had experiences nobody had ever talked about before, we had no outlet. But with each other, we could say things we couldn’t say elsewhere…
“We understood each other, and we were healing ourselves, and it gave us courage to speak out.” She was going on four when the war broke out.
Linzel, born just as the Nazi era began, feels she never had a normal childhood.
“We still feel connected after all these years,” she said of the group. “The bond is very strong.”
Although the group is independent, its members have worked closely with the centre on committees, as guides or speaking in schools.