Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Hidden Children, Hidden Identities

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Hidden Children, Hidden Identities

Article excerpt

SUCH GOOD GIRLS: THE JOURNEY OF THE HOLOCAUST'S HIDDEN CHILD SURVIVORS

By R.D. Rosen

Published by Harper, $25.99

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R.D. Rosen's compelling new book begins when Selma is 5. Soon she is given a new name, Zofia, and a new religion, Roman Catholic. One day, her mother enrolls her in a Catholic elementary school.

Every few months, mother and daughter move for their own safety --often helped ,by nuns and priests. Coached by her mother, Zofia reads the catechism, studies the tenets of Roman Catholicism and receives the Eucharist. She attends Mass on Sunday, even learns the words to Latin hymns and prayers.

Once her mother listens to a talk by an itinerant priest and is so moved by his message that she asks him to hear her confession. She tells him about her daughter and about herself not being a Catholic, then worries that her confession has put their lives at even greater risk, which, given the circumstances, seems almost impossible.

After a few years, Zofia learns that she's not actually Catholic. Her mother tells her that she's a Jew. But she doesn't believe her.

Jews are dark-eyed and ugly, Zofia thinks. She is Polish with blond hair and blue eyes. There's even a photograph of her wearing a long white dress and a crown of flowers taken on the day that she received her first Communion. Zofia hates Jews and has even taught her doll and teddy bear that the Jews killed Christ and that they drink the blood of Gentile children like herself.

No, her mother repeats, she's Jewish. So how does she feel about herself, and God, and religion? Is she a good Christian child or a good Jew? How does she live the rest of her life?

In Such Good Girls, Rosen, an award-winning writer and commentator on PBS, HBO and NPR, discusses the stories of several hidden children, including a few who later became priests. There's even a cardinal--Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, friends with St. John Paul II. But Rosen focuses on three women: Selma (later changed to Zofia then to Sophie), Flora and Carla, with the emphasis on Sophie's story, partly because his chance meeting with her inspired the book.

Rosen explains that the experiences of these three hidden children--one from Poland, one from France and one from Holland--were typical of those of other children who believed themselves to be Christians only to learn later that they were Jewish. Some learned their true religion at war's end. …

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