They were a generation of young fugitives, hiding from the Nazi hunters intent on murdering their families.
Their nameless faces stare out at the numerous photographers who captured the awful moments in time – and now an effort is being made to find them.
“Remember Me?” is a project launched by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. to find the children in the photos, collect their stories and videotape an interview with the now-grown survivors. On the website, next to each photograph, a brief paragraph appeals to the reader: “This child was one of millions whose lives were disrupted as a result of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution. If you have any information about this person, please click the “I remember this child!” button [below] and share with us what you know.”
Tens of thousands of the long-lost children exist, although more than one million of their peers died in the Holocaust. But at least 1,100 children who survived were photographed by social service agencies across Europe after the war.
Now Twitter and Facebook campaigns along with newspaper ads targeting Jewish and Polish readers in major American cities are reaching out, asking the public for information about the children in the photos. They can be seen by clicking here.
Many of those photographed do not necessarily remember the details of their past – which is why the photos themselves are so important.
Children were uprooted from their homes, wrenched from their parents and forced to flee on a journey they could not understand. Some learned to survive in the forests, others in the sewers and on the streets. Some were placed with Christian families and took on new identities, and a few hid in the convents of the Roman Catholic Church. A precious few even made it on to the lifesaving Kinder Transport that brought them all the way to the Land of Israel.
The older ones, who didn't flee, or who were caught and deemed strong enough to survive, were transported to the concentration camps. There they were put to work as Nazi slaves.
It was a nightmare that most chose to lock away from the light of day-to-day memory.
Many of the photos were taken from 1945 to 1947 and drawn from the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. Others are from Kloster Indersdorf (a displaced Jewish children's home in Bavaria), and are part of the collection at the Holocaust Memorial Museum itself. The latter pictures children holding placards with their names, ostensibly in the hope they might be able to reconnect with loved ones.
So far, at least 180 children have been identified through the project. Some of them live today all over the world, in the U.S., Canada, Israel, and in various countries in Europe and Australia. Ten are dead, according to the Associated Press, including author Jerzy Kosinski (“The Painted Bird”) who committed suicide in 1991.
More than 61,500 people from 150 countries have visited the website, including many who offer to help track others down.
Interviews are conducted by five specially-trained museum workers in English, Hebrew and French. Michlean Amir, a reference coordinator, is the staffer who conducts the interviews in Hebrew.
She, too, lost relatives to the Nazi genocide. Amir told the AP, “The amazing thing for me is most of them established normal lives. They managed to marry, have healthy relations, have children and grandchildren. People go through much lesser trauma and are unable to function in society. I don't know – maybe it's to prove they were not defeated.”
Jude Richter, historian for the museum's Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center, underscored the importance of the project, and pointed out that its title has a many-layered meaning. “Instead of being a question, it's more of an imperative: 'You WILL remember me. You WILL remember what happened to me, and tell it to other people when I'm gone,” he said.