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Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Postwar US Networks

Sun, December 16, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 2 Ballroom

Abstract

Some 1.5 million European Jewish children were murdered in the Holocaust- approximately one in ten survived. After the war, this tiny remnant was hailed by Jewish leaders as “the greatest treasures of the Jewish people.” And although “war orphans” symbolized an especially sympathetic face of survivors of Hitlerism to the American public, by the early 1950s the spotlight on them had dimmed. Until the 1980s, they remained silent or “silenced” as Paul Krell, child survivor and psychiatrist suggests. Today, however, those who endured their childhood within the Nazi web, embrace a unique identity as child survivors of the Holocaust. They – the last living survivors- are organized and vocal. Nearly 60,000 individuals belong to the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants (WFJCSHD) that has chapters in numerous US states, Israel, and around the world. They advocate for child survivor rights such as restitution from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) and speak widely in Holocaust and educational settings, publicly bearing witness and adding nuance to Holocaust memory. How and when did this group claim a “Child Survivor” identity? The process was fraught. Yet, fueled in part by a more general definition of “survivor” in the later decades of the century, developments in the field of mental health, as well as scholarly interest in the subject of childhood, the voices of the youngest generation of survivors began to slowly emerge. From initial local support groups, they began to create larger national and international networks drawn together by mutual interests and experiences. Synthesizing numerous sources including oral histories, survivor organizations’ reports, and communal agency documents, this paper analyzes the factors that led to child survivors’ unique identity, the formalization of related networks, and their place in Holocaust memory today.

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