A Holocaust history expert used old newspaper articles and testimonies from child Holocaust survivors to explain their postwar experience at the Boulder Jewish Community Center Sunday morning.
Beth Cohen presented her “Child Survivors of the Holocaust” talk at the center, 6007 Oreg Ave. Cohen received her doctorate’s degree in Holocaust history from Clark University and she has written two books about Holocaust survivors’ postwar experience in the United States. She is also currently working on developing a permanent exhibit on the Holocaust for the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
Cohen said it was “fated” that she would study the Holocaust. She explained when she first joined a JCC in Rhode Island, the local survival community expressed to her how difficult their postwar experience had been.
“I thought there was such a gap (in postwar experience research) and I really wanted to explore that gap,” Cohen said.
In her first book, “Case Closed: Holocaust Survivors in Postwar America,” she only briefly explored the experience of children after the war. However she noticed children had a different experience than adults after the war which led to her writing her second book “Child Survivors of the Holocaust: The Youngest Remnant and the American Experience.”
She said that it is hard to know exact numbers, but out of an estimated 1.5 million European Jewish children, an estimated 150,000 children survived the war.
Cohen noted many survivors said their war started after World War II was over.
There was no typical post war experience, Cohen said. She explained many displaced children often had their photos circulated to try to find their families. Cohen said that while this could reunite families, it was not always successful.
She spoke about Holocaust survivor Irene Guttman, an orphan who was brought to the United States by the “Rescue Children” group. Guttman survived experimentation from concentration camps in Auschwitz. Cohen said Guttman often felt lonely and Guttman did not speak about her experiences in Auschwitz as she feared no one would believe her.
Cohen said initially, Guttman was told she would return to Europe after completing a U.S. tour to raise funds for Rescue Children, but instead she was adopted by a family in the United States. It was this family who helped reunite Guttman with her twin, who she had become separated from at Auschwitz, Cohen said. Guttman died in 2019 at 81 years old.
Cohen explained that sometimes returning children to their biological parents would do more harm than good. Displaced Jewish children might have spent more time with their foster families than their biological parents and some did not even remember their biological parents. She also explained that after the war, parents were traumatized and sometimes unable to care for their kids.
Cohen shared more testimonies from survivors, explaining how some had a troubled youth but other understood the responsibility of being a survivor and recounting their experience.
Cohen’s presentation was supported by the Ilona Irene Rosenschein Holocaust Education Endowment Fund, founded in 2019 to honor Rosenschein’s contribution to Holocaust education in Boulder.
More information about the Boulder JCC is available at boulderjcc.org.