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Through the Eyes of the Child: Survival of…

Through the Eyes of the Child: Survival of the Holocaust

by Jack Veffer

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Born in Holland in 1940, Jack Veffer saw the Holocaust through the eyes of a child. He and his slightly older brother, Maurice, had blue eyes and blond hair so their parents thought they could leave them in the care of a close neighbor while they made their way to safety in neutral Switzerland. They planned to send for them once they were established. They told Maurice to take care of his brother. Unfortunately, his parents did not return. Much later he learned that they were caught and sent to concentration camps where they died. Thirty six other member of his immediate family were also murdered during the Holocaust.
Luckily for us, he remembers much of those experiences as well as the aftermath of growing up as war orphans. When the neighbor did not take care of them, they were transferred to stay with other families, some of them relatives, some not, in Holland and in Belgium. At some homes, Jack was treated fairly decently. In others, he felt unwelcome. Sometimes he was mistreated, sometimes sexually abused. At one home, he witnessed his brother being treated excessively harshly. While he wasn’t punished as much, he still felt like an outsider.
He and Maurice were often separated because of health problems or other reasons.
After a boy calls him a “Dirty Jew,” Jack questions his uncle about what that means. His uncle says, “You got to beat him up to defend the Jews and the memory of your parents....You will find in life that everybody hates the Jews, thanks to Hitler and the Germans. You’ve got to hate all Germans for what they did to us Jews.”
The child Jack thinks about that. “Hate is a new word. How does hate make you feel? What does it mean. Does it mean you’re not supposed to like them? Or is it worse than that?”
Maurice tells him “Hate Is the feeling you have when somebody does something very bad to you and you have to be bad right back to them.”
He follows that advice. He grabs the boy and gets ready to hit him. The boy starts to cry, apologizes, and says he won’t do it again. Jack releases him and when the boy gets far enough away that Jack can’t catch him, yells “Dirty Jew” again. “Angry and ashamed, but much smarter now I decide never to believe anything anyone tells me again.”
Jack’s greatest fear is that he is not a member of the family with whom he lived. He feels guilty about it but has nowhere else to go. “I try to make the best of it by being as unobtrusive as possible.” He spends a lot of time reading and becomes “an expert at not being seen.” “I’ve learned never to get too attached to people. People come and go.”
An aunt and uncle with whom he stays are different religions. His uncle, who was Jewish, doubts there is a God because He let six million die. He now doesn’t believe in religion. His aunt, who is Catholic, takes Jack to church with him. Jack felt that there was only one God for everyone. “It felt a wonderful happiness in the church. I can feel it but I can’t explain it. Then the feeling leaves when the pastor starts to talk. He chases it all away in a moment....”
His aunt and uncle insist that he call them Mom and Dad, even though he feels he already has parents even though he hasn’t heard from them for a long time. He asks how they can be his Mom and Dad when they have different last names. They say they are not allowed to adopt him. But they also forget his birthday and don’t attend school events that are important to him after promising they will be there.
As he gets older, he decides he wants to be a teacher. The man acting as his father at that time doesn’t want to hear about that because it is “beneath” them. He says Jack must become a doctor. “With them, what matters is how we look to the outside world. It’s never about me and always about them. If my real Mom and Dad were here they would listen to me and support me, I’m sure. That’s what real parents do, they encourage their children. I am resentful of their controlling ways.” And wishes them ill.
These lessons played an important part in forming his adult attitudes.
At age seventeen “I realize now that most experiences in my short but eventful life are not memories but that they are experiences staged in time that need immediate attention, and therefore were not allowed to linger into memories. In contemplation of this I feel that something in my life is missing. No warm fuzzy feelings to think back upon. No cozy moments by a fire, no loving embraces from parents or gentle scolding for having done something wrong. The ingredients that make up life’s memories are missing. And worst of all there is no one to share anything with and that makes me sad.” Even though he wants for nothing and lives in a secure environment he realizes that material goods aren’t what he needs. Jack decides to go to Canada with Maurice and his “parents” are extremely cruel to him because of that.
Interspersed with his personal story is historical commentary about what was happening at those specific times. At times there is a lot of detail, e.g., listing of items taken to Germany from Holland (machinery, gold, animals, automobiles, works of art). He notes many of the latter were recovered after the war but there was no attempt to return them to the rightful owners or their heirs
The conclusion provides a brief but informative, twelve-page explanation of anti-Semitism and the history of the Israel/Palestinian conflict beginning about the time of the creation of Israel. He tells how his experiences growing up during and after the Holocaust affected his outlook on life. He ends the book by stating how he came to discover the Baha’i Faith followed by an Epilogue about some Baha’i teachings.
In THROUGH THE EYES OF THE CHILD... we are inside the character throughout his youth. We experience what Jack does without the adult perspective altering that vision. We realize that children see, hear, and remember more than we give them credit for. It’s an original perspective and Jack Veffer manages the difficult task admirably. ( )
  Judiex | Oct 21, 2013 |
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