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Survivors: Children's Lives After the Holocaust

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Shortlisted for the 2021 Wolfson History Prize and a finalist for the 2021 Cundill History Prize Told for the first time from their perspective, the story of children who survived the chaos and trauma of the Holocaust—named a best history book of 2020 by the Daily Telegraph  ​"Impressive, beautifully written, judicious and thoughtful. . . . Will be a major milestone in the Shortlisted for the 2021 Wolfson History Prize and a finalist for the 2021 Cundill History Prize Told for the first time from their perspective, the story of children who survived the chaos and trauma of the Holocaust—named a best history book of 2020 by the Daily Telegraph  ​"Impressive, beautifully written, judicious and thoughtful. . . . Will be a major milestone in the history of the Holocaust and its legacy."—Mark Roseman, author of The Villa, the Lake, the Meeting How can we make sense of our lives when we do not know where we come from? This was a pressing question for the youngest survivors of the Holocaust, whose prewar memories were vague or nonexistent. In this beautifully written account, Rebecca Clifford follows the lives of one hundred Jewish children out of the ruins of conflict through their adulthood and into old age. Drawing on archives and interviews, Clifford charts the experiences of these child survivors and those who cared for them—as well as those who studied them, such as Anna Freud. Survivors explores the aftermath of the Holocaust in the long term, and reveals how these children—often branded “the lucky ones”—had to struggle to be able to call themselves “survivors” at all. Challenging our assumptions about trauma, Clifford’s powerful and surprising narrative helps us understand what it was like living after, and living with, childhoods marked by rupture and loss.


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Shortlisted for the 2021 Wolfson History Prize and a finalist for the 2021 Cundill History Prize Told for the first time from their perspective, the story of children who survived the chaos and trauma of the Holocaust—named a best history book of 2020 by the Daily Telegraph  ​"Impressive, beautifully written, judicious and thoughtful. . . . Will be a major milestone in the Shortlisted for the 2021 Wolfson History Prize and a finalist for the 2021 Cundill History Prize Told for the first time from their perspective, the story of children who survived the chaos and trauma of the Holocaust—named a best history book of 2020 by the Daily Telegraph  ​"Impressive, beautifully written, judicious and thoughtful. . . . Will be a major milestone in the history of the Holocaust and its legacy."—Mark Roseman, author of The Villa, the Lake, the Meeting How can we make sense of our lives when we do not know where we come from? This was a pressing question for the youngest survivors of the Holocaust, whose prewar memories were vague or nonexistent. In this beautifully written account, Rebecca Clifford follows the lives of one hundred Jewish children out of the ruins of conflict through their adulthood and into old age. Drawing on archives and interviews, Clifford charts the experiences of these child survivors and those who cared for them—as well as those who studied them, such as Anna Freud. Survivors explores the aftermath of the Holocaust in the long term, and reveals how these children—often branded “the lucky ones”—had to struggle to be able to call themselves “survivors” at all. Challenging our assumptions about trauma, Clifford’s powerful and surprising narrative helps us understand what it was like living after, and living with, childhoods marked by rupture and loss.

30 review for Survivors: Children's Lives After the Holocaust

  1. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    This book is fairly specialised in the nature of what it covers. It gives a broad overview of the changing attitudes and policies that governed the post-war lives of Jewish child survivors, attitudes of professionals in psychology, psychotherapy, in the field of adoption, and in refugee quotas in different countries, following World War 2. The book mostly covers the early post war lives of the youngest Holocaust survivors. Those born 1935-1944, aged 10 years and younger at liberation. The author, This book is fairly specialised in the nature of what it covers. It gives a broad overview of the changing attitudes and policies that governed the post-war lives of Jewish child survivors, attitudes of professionals in psychology, psychotherapy, in the field of adoption, and in refugee quotas in different countries, following World War 2. The book mostly covers the early post war lives of the youngest Holocaust survivors. Those born 1935-1944, aged 10 years and younger at liberation. The author, an oral historian, has interviewed these survivors from the 1970's onwards, and has researched earlier writings too. The children's memories of what had happened during the war were often patchy, and sometimes fabricated. There was so much pressure to tell linear, autobiographical stories, rather than admit to large tracts of simply not remembering. “The interviews with child survivors tell us much about the journey to make sense of childhood, as they do about childhood itself.” Many of the children had wildly fractured lives, being secretly hidden during the war, or spending time in concentration camps, then going into centres for displaced people, from where they would be moved on to start their lives over again in care homes, foster homes or sometimes getting adopted. Often they travelled far – to Canada, Australia, England, New Zealand, America or Israel. Numbers would depend on quotas allocated by the different countries. Quite a large number of the children had at least one parent still alive, but tragically, due to the effects of the trauma of war, and post war poverty and insecurity, most of the children flourished best in care homes, rather than with a parent or other relatives. The care homes were often staffed by Jewish carers who themselves had experienced the trauma of war and concentration camps. They were run under the guidance of experienced fostering organisations. Some had psychologists or psychotherapists in the background too. Several of the people who lived there spoke of the sense of solidarity in these homes, and the sense shared experiences. Sadly the financing of the care homes was limited, and as the children grew older they frequently had to move on. The author gives us an overview of post war issues affecting these children. * Changing perspectives in psychology regarding their welfare. * Changing attitudes of the general public as the details of the Holocaust became better known. * The growing distribution of Holocaust literature, and films showing what had happened. She also discusses the nature of interviews that were undertaken with these children, often under the umbrella of 'oral history'. More and more, the world wanted to know about what had happened, and how their experiences of the war had affected the child survivors. In many way this created unwanted pressures on the children, especially considering how fractured their memories often were concerning this period in their lives. Many of them also just wanted to get on and lead lives which were as normal possible, rather than rake over past trauma. The attention paid to them by the interviewers, and the organisations they were working for, was often experienced as intrusive. Another issue was that often older survivors dismissed the experiences of younger children. For many, in the years following the war, a 'survivor' meant someone who had survived the concentration camps. The younger children also had to fight their own ideas that they were merely fortunate children whose experiences were 'less authentic' than the camp survivors, this in spite of the fact that many of them had lost their families. In terms of communication, a major turning point seemed to be reached with the first world gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem in 1981. In 1983 there was a gathering in America. Slowly more and more child survivors got to know one another, and in 1991 in New York, there was the first 'International Gathering of Hidden Children.' Soon afterwards a society was formed 'The Association of Child Survivors - groups opened across the USA, Canada, continental Europe, the UK, Australia and elsewhere. For many, the experience of these groups deeply affected these people's relationship with their past lives. They began to value the nature of their experiences, and the term “child survivor” became important. In 1997 the umbrella organisation became knows as 'The World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust'. In 2010 there were fifty-three groups spread over fifteen countries. Many child survivors talk about the positive effect of these groups, and how they enabled them to feel understood, respected and represented. All in all I found the book interesting. Not only in terms of enlightening me as to what they children had been through in the war and in the intervening years, but also for what it said about changing ideas over the last sixty or so years concerning children and the Holocaust. I was also very impressed by the obvious value of peer led support groups. Book supplied by Yale University Press, London, in return for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Schizanthus Nerd

    If you cannot recount the story of your own family, your home town, or your formative experiences, how do you make sense of your childhood and its impacts? Most of us take our early childhood memories for granted. They form part of the story we tell ourselves about who we are and where we came from. For so many children who survived the Holocaust, these memories are either entirely missing or exist only in fragments. There are often no surviving family members who can help them fill in the bla If you cannot recount the story of your own family, your home town, or your formative experiences, how do you make sense of your childhood and its impacts? Most of us take our early childhood memories for granted. They form part of the story we tell ourselves about who we are and where we came from. For so many children who survived the Holocaust, these memories are either entirely missing or exist only in fragments. There are often no surviving family members who can help them fill in the blanks. The survivors whose stories are explored in this book were all born between 1935 and 1944. Previous books I’ve read about Holocaust survivors were written by people who were either teenagers or adults during the war. The oldest survivors mentioned here were only ten years old in 1945. “For most survivors who are not young child survivors, there was a before, you see.” [from an interview with Zilla C., conducted by psychoanalyst Judith Kestenberg in 1987] Even though I’ve now read the excerpts of their stories I’m still have trouble getting my head around what their lives have been like. For so many years they were not even counted as Holocaust survivors and were encouraged to simply move on with their lives and forget what memories they had of that time. ‘Just think it never happened,’ they urged, ‘and you will start a fresh new life.’ [Paulette S., on how OSE staff tried to prepare her to move across the globe] In addition, there was a “disconnect between what children after the war felt and what their adult carers expected them to feel.” The children’s wartime experiences consisted of at least one of the following: survival in hiding, in flight to a neutral country or Allied territory, in ghettos and transit camps, and in concentration camps. The ways these children coped with the trauma of the war and the subsequent traumas of being moved between institutional care, family members, and foster and adoptive homes is addressed. Some of the children lived in stable, loving homes during the war, albeit not with family members, only to be abruptly taken from them at the end of the war. More often than not, they were moved to countries where they didn’t know the language. Many went to live with strangers and had to try to figure out who they were with little to no assistance. Survivors has been extensively researched, with sources from “archival material, including care agency files, records from care homes, indemnity claims, psychiatric reports, letters, photographs, and unpublished memoirs, documents originating from nearly a dozen different countries”. The bibliography and detailed footnotes make up almost 15% of the book. I had expected almost all of the book to consist of detailed stories of individual survivors. Snippets of interviews with survivors are included, as are overviews of the wartime experiences of a number of them. There is also a lot of information and commentary on changes that occurred throughout the decades that impacted on survivors. Some of these changes relate to what was happening in the world at the time and some examines the ways survivors have related to their stories as they grew older. We should not be surprised to find that the way in which we tell the stories of our lives changes over time; this is true for child survivors as it is for all people. I found it unusual that whenever survivors in general were discussed, most of the time they would be referred to as ‘she’ or ‘her’, even though interviews with male survivors are also included in the book. Some information was repeated in different chapters and I began to dread seeing the phrase ‘as we have seen’, but I came away with a much better understanding of both the short and long term impacts of the Holocaust on these young survivors. I’m left wanting to know more about the individuals I was introduced to. Having said that, I agree with the author (an oral historian) that the level of detail I’m interested in would require many more volumes. Content warnings include anti-Semitism, child abuse, death by suicide and attempted suicide, domestic violence, mental health, murder, sexual assault and trauma. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Yale University Press for the opportunity to read this book. I’m rounding up from 4.5 stars. Blog - https://schizanthusnerd.com

  3. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for the arc of this book by Rebecca Clifford. 5 STARS! this was utterly brillaint so informative and loved hearing all thr story of the survivors of the Holocaust! well done for writing it brillaintly you can think what it was like for them!!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anna Fay

    I've read several memoirs written by Holocaust survivors, such as Elie Wiesel's Night, but I have never read about nor done much research on what the lives of child survivors looked like after the Holocaust. Rebecca Clifford's well-researched account, interwoven with the personal testimonies of child survivors as well as the aid workers and psychologists that worked closely with them from liberation onwards, was compelling. Clifford gives a three-dimensional portrait of these survivors, careful I've read several memoirs written by Holocaust survivors, such as Elie Wiesel's Night, but I have never read about nor done much research on what the lives of child survivors looked like after the Holocaust. Rebecca Clifford's well-researched account, interwoven with the personal testimonies of child survivors as well as the aid workers and psychologists that worked closely with them from liberation onwards, was compelling. Clifford gives a three-dimensional portrait of these survivors, careful to bring their complex, post-war stories to the forefront without categorizing their experiences or presenting her own assumptions, which is something many famed psychologists have done in the past when talking about Holocaust survivors. This highly-educational and well-thought-out account is a must-read!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    What a revelation this book has been. I’ve read it over two weeks because it takes time to read and absorb what it contains. Even though 75 years have elapsed since the end of the Second World War, the lives of those who were affected in any way by the Holocaust still hold huge significance for us all. This book is very readable, don’t be put off by its length or subject matter. Thanks to The Big Issue for the article about the book - it encouraged me to buy it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    3.75 stars This would have been an excellent book to read in college while discussing world history or high school. I loved the psychological analysis of the children. I liked learning, but it read as if my psych professor was giving her interpretation to each story. I would have preferred to have the stories told from the child’s perspective w author narration and opinion at the end

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lisa of Hopewell

    My Interest First, thank you to blogger Fictionophile whose post brought this book to my attention. In college I took a few political science classes from a man who was the son of survivors of Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz. He grew up mostly in New York City, but remembered being used to take illegally tailored clothing to customers for his father before they made it to American. The struggle of being the only child and born to survivors was real. His father had lost another family to the Nazis. He in My Interest First, thank you to blogger Fictionophile whose post brought this book to my attention. In college I took a few political science classes from a man who was the son of survivors of Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz. He grew up mostly in New York City, but remembered being used to take illegally tailored clothing to customers for his father before they made it to American. The struggle of being the only child and born to survivors was real. His father had lost another family to the Nazis. He introduced me to the book Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with the Sons and Daughters of Survivors. The book I am reviewing here, Survivors: Children’s Lives After the Holocaust is almost a companion piece to that first book. The Story “Children are resilient” we are told over and over. The children in this book survived the Nazi death camps, Dr. Mengele, and more. Some survived the “other” war–of being raised in hiding or raised hiding in plain sight, passed off as Christians in various countries. Their story is a different type of tragedy. Those in hiding did not “survive” in the same way as those in the camps. Many became attached to the families that hid them, especially those who were infants or small children when their parents sent them away. Their war and their experience was not always bad, but the guilt that could come with know that was their burden. Some were rejected by their protectors at war’s end, and some rejected the birth family relatives who tried to claim them when they were finally free to do so. Those children who survived the camps knew how bad life could get and were often thought by society to be “damaged”–a stigma that could follow them through life. The efforts to provide a stabilizing “home life” for both groups and the psychological studies done of them while in group care are the main focus of the book. There is a discussion of the ethics of this study as well discussion of the study itself. In addition, there are stories of individual child survivors–this, to me, was the most interesting part of the book. Understandably, many started new lives in the U.S., U.K, Canada, and Israel–a fact that led occasionally to problems of a different kind. My Thoughts This book was so needed. It was way past time for these stories to be told. It deserves the acclaim and award nominations (not sure if it has won any yet). Soon it will be too late to learn from these one-time “child” survivors. The authors have done the world an important service in writing this book. I recommend this book and further recommend that it be read with Children of the Holocaust (linked at the top of this review) for a full picture of children’s experiences both in the holocaust and born to survivors of it. My Verdict 4.0 I learned of this book via this post: https://fictionophile.com/2021/04/21/...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Pearl

    Clifford has researched the very youngest survivors of the Holocaust, those born between 1935 and 1944, and therefore ten years old or younger when the war ended. It’s an unexplored area and it’s fascinating. Some children didn’t even know their original names and couldn’t remember their origins. ‘How do we make sense of our lives when we don’t know where we come from?’ Others had their pasts cast into doubt because they had not been in the camps but had been hidden. Some pretended that parents ha Clifford has researched the very youngest survivors of the Holocaust, those born between 1935 and 1944, and therefore ten years old or younger when the war ended. It’s an unexplored area and it’s fascinating. Some children didn’t even know their original names and couldn’t remember their origins. ‘How do we make sense of our lives when we don’t know where we come from?’ Others had their pasts cast into doubt because they had not been in the camps but had been hidden. Some pretended that parents had died to gain access to resources for unaccompanied children. And the public had trouble making sense of the children too. A story was told whereby a group of survivor children were terrified when a postal van drew up to their home in Surrey. This story wasn’t true but it explained the stories that built up around these unfamiliar children, and the expectations of them. Schools of thought also built up around how to handle their trauma and the children sometimes balked at the heavy-handed attempts to get them to open up and recall their pasts. I have read much about the Holocaust but this is such a fascinating area. Clifford tells it too in such a human way using children’s stories and interviews which she meticulously pieces together across the years. Thoroughly recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Carmen212

    First part was brilliant. The children studied were born between 1936 and 1945, some found as toddlers within the camps, others already 9 or 10 with memories of 'before', others had been hiding. Many stories. Most did not know who they were. Clifford spends a lot of time on this--the critical aspect of knowing who you are, even to your given birth name. Here are some of the questions the book asks: are children so resilient (thought of as true in 1950s) that they recover and move on despite the First part was brilliant. The children studied were born between 1936 and 1945, some found as toddlers within the camps, others already 9 or 10 with memories of 'before', others had been hiding. Many stories. Most did not know who they were. Clifford spends a lot of time on this--the critical aspect of knowing who you are, even to your given birth name. Here are some of the questions the book asks: are children so resilient (thought of as true in 1950s) that they recover and move on despite the horrors of war, separation, terrible experiences. And the children who were considered 'lucky' because they did not go through the camps. A hierarchy of suffering infused the writings of the 1960s. Now not so much because the wartime adults are almost gone. I'm failing to do right by this book--will return.

  10. 5 out of 5

    em

    The ARC of this book was kindly provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. #Survivors#NetGalley. This book was incredibly well researched and it shows from the first chapter. I have to commend Clifford for her detail in the research she put into this book and the dedication of telling the stories of those less heard about. There isn't a dull page, her way of retelling these stories of trauma and triumph is breathtaking. I appreciate that this book questions a lot of The ARC of this book was kindly provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. #Survivors#NetGalley. This book was incredibly well researched and it shows from the first chapter. I have to commend Clifford for her detail in the research she put into this book and the dedication of telling the stories of those less heard about. There isn't a dull page, her way of retelling these stories of trauma and triumph is breathtaking. I appreciate that this book questions a lot of the general standards we hold to be true about the Holocaust, "What is a survivor?", "Who classifies as a survivor", "Do they ever really survive?" This read has been an eye-opener into a part of history that we believe to be well documented, and how much we still have to learn.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Plano Nacional de Leitura 2027

    Uma obra de história dolorosa, sobre as dezenas de milhar de crianças que sobreviveram ao Holocausto, mas foram abandonadas, ou sofreram de pesados traumas no decorrer da sua vida. Muito bem documentado. [Resumo da responsabilidade do Plano Nacional de Leitura 2027] ISBN: 978-972-44-2417-0 ASSUNTOS: Sobreviventes do holocausto -- [Narrativas pessoais]; Crianças sobreviventes do holocausto -- Psicologia; Segunda Guerra Mundial, 1939-1945 CDU: 341.322(=411.16)"1939/1945" 94(100)"1939/1945" Livro rec Uma obra de história dolorosa, sobre as dezenas de milhar de crianças que sobreviveram ao Holocausto, mas foram abandonadas, ou sofreram de pesados traumas no decorrer da sua vida. Muito bem documentado. [Resumo da responsabilidade do Plano Nacional de Leitura 2027] ISBN: 978-972-44-2417-0 ASSUNTOS: Sobreviventes do holocausto -- [Narrativas pessoais]; Crianças sobreviventes do holocausto -- Psicologia; Segunda Guerra Mundial, 1939-1945 CDU: 341.322(=411.16)"1939/1945" 94(100)"1939/1945" Livro recomendado PNL2027 - 2021 1.º Sem. - Cultura e Sociedade - dos 15-18 anos - maiores 18 anos - Mediana - Fluente

  12. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Bermann

    Told for the first time from their perspective, the story of children who survived the chaos and trauma of the Holocaust. Clifford has researched the very youngest survivors of the Holocaust, those born between 1935 and 1944, and therefore ten years old or younger when the war ended. I did find book difficult to get into at first but once i did was a fascinating insight into a horrendous part of our history. Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for the arc of this book by Rebecca Clifford. #Su Told for the first time from their perspective, the story of children who survived the chaos and trauma of the Holocaust. Clifford has researched the very youngest survivors of the Holocaust, those born between 1935 and 1944, and therefore ten years old or younger when the war ended. I did find book difficult to get into at first but once i did was a fascinating insight into a horrendous part of our history. Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for the arc of this book by Rebecca Clifford. #Survivors #NetGalley

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pam Chantrell

    Well researched and academic in a lot of the writing and description, this book wasn't quite what I had expected from the blurb. I'd expected more accounts of the survivors however I felt that this focus was lost at times due to the academic tone of a lot of the book. I felt that the book could have done with closer editing, both in terms of sentence fragments and in terms of focusing more on the stories of the children who grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. That being said the book was obv Well researched and academic in a lot of the writing and description, this book wasn't quite what I had expected from the blurb. I'd expected more accounts of the survivors however I felt that this focus was lost at times due to the academic tone of a lot of the book. I felt that the book could have done with closer editing, both in terms of sentence fragments and in terms of focusing more on the stories of the children who grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. That being said the book was obviously a labour of love and the respect and compassion of the author shone through throughout.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jane Macintyre

    Really well written and researched of such horrible crime

  15. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Brilliantly written.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    A very good and compelling read about an aspect of the Holocaust I had not looked at before.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Extremely well researched. Reads more as an academic account rather than a collection of stories of children’s lives after the Holocaust.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    Fascinating look at the lives of child survivors of the Holocaust. Very readable / listenable.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    5books wolfson prize

  20. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Fascinating study with information and perspective I have never seen before.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Frasca

    Best nonfiction book of 2021. Of especial interest to anyone involved in qualitative research, a fascinating analysis of the ambiguous role of interviewers.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shelby Bollen

    Wow, what a beautiful and well-researched account of life as a child survivor of the Holocaust. Clifford's writing is concise, yet she relays the stories of these people in such a manner that is filled with emotion. The whole book raises lots of questions surrounding how society defines a survivor, and it really got me thinking. We often consider this part of history as being well-documented but in reality, as this book clearly exemplifies, we have so much more to learn. A really interesting boo Wow, what a beautiful and well-researched account of life as a child survivor of the Holocaust. Clifford's writing is concise, yet she relays the stories of these people in such a manner that is filled with emotion. The whole book raises lots of questions surrounding how society defines a survivor, and it really got me thinking. We often consider this part of history as being well-documented but in reality, as this book clearly exemplifies, we have so much more to learn. A really interesting book that is beautifully written. Highly recommend! Many thanks to the author, publisher, and Netgalley for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rhian Scott

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alex Uri

  25. 4 out of 5

    Janice

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

  27. 5 out of 5

    Inna

  28. 5 out of 5

    Struan D.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Bourque

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura

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