Personal Reflections - In Hiding
Esther Bem | Bronia Beker | Sally Eisner | Renata Eisen | Rosalind Goldenberg | Anita Ekstein | Bianca Schlesinger

By:  Irene Shapp

T he little floral-patterned folder that Rosalind Goldenberg brought to our meeting contained the life of a Hidden Child. I imagined tea stained letters, stark black and white photos with burn marks around the edges, sensational materials fitting for a mysterious past life. But my curious rummaging made Rosalind nervous so she cautioned me sternly, "Be very careful that whatever you pull out of it, you replace exactly as it was. The contents of that folder are my life!"

An affluent, middle aged woman with children and grandchildren, carrying around and clinging to a small folder as if her very existence depended on it. It was odd, unsettling. But then so were the events to which the folder testified -- times a thousand!

Born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1939, all Rosalind Czerniak-Goldenberg has left of her immediate family is a passport with a tiny picture of her mother inside, found by Sabine, the daughter of the Catholic couple that hid her during the Holocaust. She has no trace of her father who fled Belgium in 1938 along with many Jewish men, fearing the army. These men never thought for a moment that their wives and children would be taken away. Her mother was 39 when she and Rosalindís older brother and sister were taken by nazis while the Jewish Underground searched for a permanent home for her.

"My mother had hidden me in the house where she had arranged for the Jewish Underground to find me, knowing ahead of time what her own fate would be."

Rosalind was hidden under the false name Rosa Ternatte at the homes of L.Jacquier and of Mrs. Lescapel from Feb. 26, 1943 - June 1945. There she lived with a young girl, Sabine who had pleaded with her grandmother to let Rosa stay. She has kept in touch with Sabine to this day.

In my living room surrounded by photos on the wall and mantel -- reminders of my family and identity -- I emptied the contents of her folder: her motherís passport; a few old photos of the family that hid her and the second cousin that cared for her in Dublin; copies of her birth certificate in 3 languages; a letter from the War Victims Department stating her motherís address in Brussels before the war; and a letter from the 'Department of Searches' documents the fate of her immediate family.

Her mother was deported on 31-7-43 by convoy #21, under number 176, her brother and sister were deported on 24-10-42 by convoy #14, under numbers 787 and 788, all from Nalines internment camp and they were brought to Auschwitz concentration camp. Cold, hard numbers that amount to a cruel mystery, leaving Rosalind to fill in the blanks.

A mystery that has never set her completely free though she has moved forward with her life.

"The worst thing someone can do is pity me. I need to hear that Iíve done all right for myself without having the same opportunities as others. I need to feel good about myself."

Mrs. Goldenberg is a woman full of life and vigour, outgoing, warm, optimistic. She is constantly busy and always smiling. You wouldnít guess by meeting her that she was incomplete in any vital way. "I was always on the outside looking in, jealous of those other kids with families and identities", she says while remembering her youth. Only recently Rosalind found out that she is really a year older than she thought.

Before coming to Canada, Rosalind describes a life of struggle and inner suffering. One fraught with an overwhelming sense of knowing nothing about herself and belonging nowhere. She lived in Dublin after 1946 with a first cousin of her fatherís who found her through the Red Cross. There she worked hard and was treated poorly, living a pseudo-normal family life. At 16 years-old, unhappy and poor, naive in her adolescence, she went to London alone where she was integrated into the Jewish community, eventually married, and moved to Canada.

"This was how I forged out an identity for myself . My husband gave me an opportunity to plant roots."

However, even after having two children, and being married twice, the fear that had shadowed Rosalind in her youth remained. Insecurity and lack of self-confidence are the biggest problems with which she has had to deal. "Not having a sense of where I had come from often left me confused and anxious about where I was going."

A hard life, to be sure, but no running during the Holocaust, no acute physical suffering, basically not sensational -- at least by our desensitized standards. Yet it is tragic - filled with wandering and unrelieved frustration.

Crimes against humanity in the Third Reich involved so much more than "extermination".

Few people notice the identity crises still affecting tens of thousands of lives around the world today. The termination of the physical body is only one form of death. What about the silent repercussions: bleeding hearts, never-ending nightmares, broken and bitter souls, numb survivors who have died in spirit?

Members of the organization called Hidden Children have in recent years been finding their voice, resurrecting it from behind the front lines occupied by immediate victims of Holocaust. They use the expression "coming out of the closet" to describe their new openness because for decades, a majority of them just didnít discuss the past. Some felt guilty for having survived.

"This is how we are expressing ourselves, talking about our feelings", explains Rosalind. "All these years, itís like we were embarrassed. You just didnít talk about your past or being hidden. For some itís easier than others. A lot of them look like theyíre living a normal, good life, but inside the bad dreams continue."

Rosalindís search is ongoing. It will most likely never end completely. In May 1995, she attended an international convention in Brussels for Hidden Children from all over the world. She visited Antwerp to see where she may have been born, to see if the house where she had lived with her mother, brother, and sister might trigger something in her memory. Rosalind recalls that nothing felt familiar but that, "it didnít matter because I felt my motherís presence there. For the first time I felt her suffering instead of my own.

"Suddenly I was two years old again. I cried and cried. I had to be that child again, clinging to her mother in order to make sense of the trauma I underwent back then. Healing involves going back in time; as an adult trying to envision that horrible time leaves my mind blank. The pain came from an emptiness in my spirit rather than the suffering of my family. That is why going back to that house, so many years later, was such a release for me."

Her quest from some tangible information about her parents was disappointing. When she questioned neighbours who had lived on the same street since the war, she received cold and abrupt responses claiming to know nothing. Rosalind thought she saw fear, even panic in the neighbourís eyes.

At the convention Rosalind had mixed emotions. She heard unbelievable stories of rescues and escapes from the Nazis but she found it very draining. "After the first day I couldnít handle all the workshops. And hearing so many stories was overbearing."

Some found those with whom they were hidden in the same convents during the war.

There were pictures that participants could look at in hopes of sparking some memory.

But for Rosalind, nothing was familiar. She didnít have any memories.

"Most people had some roots, even though they were hidden children. And I resented them for it. I was jealous of those who reunited with their families. So many long, tearful speeches. What was there for me to say? I didnít feel I needed therapy or that I was like the others at all. I was too young to remember being taken away, to remember the faces of my family, so I suffered in a different way. And Iím different now because I am not suffering with bad memories. I donít have memories."

Rosalind came to terms then, with her own experience both in relation to the experiences of the other Hidden Children and in contrast to them. Part of this process involved identifying herself in a new way: "I was a Hidden Child. Now I am a Healing Adult."

The convention had varying significance for the participants, all of whom are at different stages in the healing process. For Rosalind it was necessary to name the faceless ghosts that haunted her and by identifying them, give them a proper burial. This was healing because she could finally cry for her family. All her life she had only cried for herself, her own loss of identity "I realized my parents were real people and that means that I can identify myself"

Rosalind did not find the answers that she was looking for in Brussels but going there healed her soul in a way that helped her to accept the permanent mystery and move on. A highlight of the trip was her reunion with Sabine and her family who lived in a nearby town called Overyse. Sabine told Rosalind many stories about what she was like as a child. Now, one year later, Rosalind has sent Sabine a ticket to come to Canada so that they can meet again. She arrives on July 11 and Rosalind has arranged for her place of worship, Temple Har Zion, to honour Sabine in a service on the 13th, for her wartime deeds.

After all these years, telling her story still brings tears to Rosalindís eyes. Fortunately, she has not allowed the question mark in her mind and soul to debilitate her. She is still hoping to get the rest of the information about her family but she has stopped searching. She is now reciting Yiskor for her parents and their names are engraved on a Tree of Life so she can carry on with her life.

She takes pleasure in her life, ceasing each day with new found confidence. But some demons never fully disappear and so beneath the surface of her smile, there remains an overwhelming sadness at the grave injustice which caused the question mark to exist in the first place.

This story is published here with the permission of Rosalind Goldenberg. 


© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
All rights reserved.