Lola Rein Kaufman’s “‘memory button'” got turned on on September 17,1939, when Russian tanks, trucks, and soldiers entered her small hometown of Czortków in what was then Poland. She was not yet 5 years old. Before she reached her 10th birthday, she lost her father, then her mother in rapid succession, and watched extended family and friends disappear. Yet Lola was one of the few “lucky” children … “[b]ecause so many did not survive” the devastation of Hiter’s Final Solution that wiped out six million of the nine millions Jews living in Europe in 1939.
Lola’s grandmother entrusted Lola to a Ukrainian woman who hid her in a back room until the Nazi threat came too close. Lola fled again to the home of another brave family, where she spent nine months buried in a dark hole beneath the family barn. Having left her grandmother in an embroidered dress her talented seamstress mother lovingly made for her, Lola never removed it while in hiding.
Survival after the war was not easy as Lola was shuffled from one refuge to another, from one unfamiliar family to the next. She was finally reunited with a maternal uncle in September 1945 just before she turned 11. With him and his family, Lola learned to be “happy again.” Four years later, the family immigrated to America, where they started anew …
Lola grew up in New York City, married, and had a family of her own. Her husband, too, had been a hidden child, but the two never talked about their experiences: “After the war, many hidden children – those in Europe, those in America, those in Israel – have something in common: silence,” she writes. For almost half a century, she remained silent … until Memorial Day weekend in 1991, when a New York magazine reporter writing a book about hidden children “opens the floodgates” with her interview.
Finally able to release the frightened child, the adult Kaufman donated that childhood dress to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, then went on tour throughout the country with the dress to talk, talk, talk. That story became this book, providing haunting testimony in just the right language for older children to understand one of the most tragic events of modern history.
In all the bleakness and terror, readers are reminded of the true heroes, the everyday people who risked their own very real death by trying to save the lives of hunted Jewish neighbors and friends. Kaufman notes that an estimated 1% of the non-Jewish population in Europe helped Jews. She notes her brave rescuer – “someone I never knew and barely ever saw, who risked everything to save my life” – was officially honored in Israel in 1994 as one of the “The Righteous Among the Nations,” together with her son and husband.
Kaufman asks her own self, ” …if the situation were reversed and I were in [rescuer] Anna’s place, would I do what she did?” Indeed, we all need to ask ourselves that question … and be ready and committed to answer …
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult