CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006
Edith's lost childhood is a success story. She lived while 1.5 million other Jewish children were murdered by the Nazis. She, her sister and brother lived, thanks to the determination and resourcefulness of her parents, and to the courage of many non-Jews who defied certain death for sheltering innocent people. This book tells Edith's story, but it also highlights examples of the quiet heroism of those who resisted the Nazi reign of terror to help others.
Edith Schwalb was born in 1932. Her life as a fugitive began in 1938 when her family fled Vienna after Hitler's troops invaded, and they then fled again when Belgium was occupied. In 1941, they ended up in Vichy France where President Henri-Philippe Pétain ran a collaborationist regime. Jews were pawns in exchange for peace. The Nazis arrested Chaim, Edith's father, and her mother was unable to secure his release. Fearing a round-up, her mother arranged for Edith and her younger brother, Gaston, to be taken in to a boarding school, or house, run by a Jewish couple in the town of Moissac. Her mother and older sister went to work as domestics in private homes.
What was unusual about Edith's and Gaston's stay in Moissac was that everyone in the town was aware that the approximately 100 boys and girls under the care of Shatta and Bouli Simon were Jewish, yet none of the townspeople turned them over to the Nazis. It was a collective secret, which, if revealed, would reveal the betrayer. For about seven months, Edith was educated with non-Jewish children at the local school. She had enough to eat, sang in a choir and felt secure.
But the Boulis were aware that the situation could change at any time. The house was supported financially by the Jewish Scouts of France (Eclaireurs Israelites de France), and the children were continually taught camping and survival techniques in case the Nazis came looking for them, an action which finally did happen. The children vacated the premises on short notice and spent days camping in the woods, waiting for word that it was safe to return. When the house was forced to close, Edith first went to live in a boarding school under a French pseudonym and then later with a farm family who protected her until the occupation was over.
Life was difficult for the family after they were reunited (Edith's father died right after the concentration camp he was in was liberated), and in a gesture of support for her mother, Edith took her brother and returned to the place they had felt secure and loved for a brief time, the house in Moissac where she remained until 1949. She later married and moved to Canada.
Children will relate to Edith who felt abandoned by her mother in Moissac, the gnawing in her heart as she worried about her father, and her own sense of bewilderment at being branded for her ethnic heritage. Every child reacted differently to their experience; Edith did her best to hold herself and her friends together, but often is was a thin façade:
Pictures of the family, the schools and some of the outrages perpetrated by the Nazis are sprinkled through the pages of the text. At the end, photographs show a reunion held in 2004 to honor the Simons and the brave citizens of Moissac whose actions saved the lives of hundreds of children.
Hiding Edith, along with the others in the “Holocaust Remembrance” series published by Second Story Press, should be part of every elementary school library collection. They should be taught not just as lessons in history but also as lessons that relate to events taking place right now around the globe. In a world where genocide still occurs, children should be aware that they can make a difference in a variety of ways, perhaps different than in World War II, but that the lesson of the Holocaust - Never Again - is dependent on them.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.