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Renata Zajdman was a very special part of the Life in a Jar family and very close to Irena Sendler. Her birthday and the 7 year anniversary of her passing was in November. We remember this remarkable woman with hope and love.
Renata was saved from the Warsaw Ghetto at age 14 by the underground network connected with Irena. She spent her life sharing her experiences and advocating “never again” as her mission. She traveled to Kansas on a number of occasions and went to many Life in a Jar performances with us, giving testimony and sharing her experiences. She was an active member of both the Hidden Children organization and the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust.
We thank Renata’s children, Michael and Sharon, for sharing their mother with the Life in a Jar family.
LOST AND FOUND -the hidden children
By Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman
HIDE -AND-SEEK WAS REALITY, NOT A GAME.
For most part we have lived in hunger. Under constant terror of discovery. We were witnesses to evil, and bestiality. We were witnesses to wholesale murder and the imminence of our own death was pervasive. We had to grow up overnight and assume the adult responsibilities of caring for ourselves. We were old, before we were young.
For almost three years, protected by Christian Poles, I lived under an assumed name, pretending to be Catholic. How well one could socially blend into the new environment also made a difference. Some would go into hiding, some would pass as Christians, but most had to change from hiding to passing and back again. Those who obtained new documents had to learn many new facts to support their new identities, dates, places regarding not only themselves, but also their fictitious relatives. Inconsistency could arouse suspicion, one slip could mean disaster. I had to learn many survival strategies to cope with fears, imminence of death, starvation, illness and loneliness. Becoming well acquainted with one’s new identity was only a small part of what a “passing” child had to do. Familiarity with Catholic religion was another important pre-requisite for the new life.
Often those suspected of being Jewish were subjected to rigorous cross-examination. Boys were in a special jeopardy, because in Europe only Jewish males were circumcised at birth. A casual examination could easily reveal a male `s identity. For this reason alone, passing was more dangerous for Jewish boys than girls.
Giving up our identity meant playing a part, becoming someone else. The better we played the role, the safer we were. Sometimes we were so caught up in the new part that we actually forgot, who we really were. This temporary forgetfulness was emotionally costly. Giving up our identity created an emotional void and made us anxious, worried that we would never recapture our past. We also felt ashamed for giving up what was cherished by our parents, by those we loved. We had to listen to anti-Semitic remarks and be silent. Breaking the silence could mean death. Silence became deeply ingrained.
For a hiding child the liberation did not bring immediate relief. We still harbour many irrational fears: crossing borders, a man in uniform, a sound of a doorbell, or a plane overhead, or being caught without food. Each of these may provoke a flashback and palpitations.
As young people, most of us had no time to devote to self-healing, or even self-pity. We studied, worked, and had families, build our lives. Only now, in our maturity, with old memories stirring once again rather than receding further, have are learning the art of self-restitution of nurturing ourselves. We finally have the luxury of tears. Whatever we did to cope with old baggage that dragged us down, with pain that dulled but never healed, with unspent rage and nagging. Survivor guilt we did it well. We are poets and artists and philosophers and teachers and parents and people who worked hard in honest labour of every kind. We have strived to be menchen. The decent and productive individuals of whom our parents and grandparents would have been proud. And by and large, we succeeded.