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Liberation did not necessarily mean to go home. Society had changed drastically. Plus, for a great number of Jewish people in hiding, little or no contact had been maintained with loved ones. Consequently, few nuclear families were reunited in their entirety, even if they survived. Worse even, many had to face the horrific reality, that they were the sole survivors or only distant / few family members were left.

Broken families

Fragmented lives: This is the trinket box that Nicole David’s parents received on the occasion of their engagement in 1931. Miraculously the box survived the war and is returned to Nicole. It’s a painful memory of the family life that is broken forever. Though she was reunited with her father after the Americans arrived in Belgium in 1944, there was no place to go home to. Nicole remains in a convent until the end of the war.
© National Holocaust Centre and Museum

Loss and needing to readjust

In addition, the Nazi anti-Jewish laws had resulted in Jewish homes, businesses and belongings being taken. Survivors not only had to readjust to their previous lives, they also had to contest with life in post-war Europe. This was a context in which their experiences were often marginalised.

How does it feel to come out hiding? Simon Winston remembers the moment of his liberation followed by the bitter realisation that his family had become refugees with no place to go.
© National Holocaust Centre and Museum

Deprived of education and loss of identity

Children’s lives were greatly impacted by missing out on education. Many were not able to achieve their full potential regarding education and work. Importantly, a number of children continued to live in orphanages, or with the families who once took them in. Due to their age, some children would have had little recollection of their own parents.

I assumed that they were all dead! But six months after, my aunt came and I saw her…she approached me and she said “do you know who I am?” And I said “yes”…She said, “do you know you are Jewish?” …I did not say anything. I was still so frightened that somebody might hear, I did not reply. And maybe I was not sure really.

Who am I? What makes up my identity? Many children would have struggled with these questions after years in hiding. Janine Webber recollects the reunion with her aunt after the war having spent years in hiding as a young girl.
© Janine Webber – SOC transcript