Monday, May 5, 2014
Looking for Strangers: The True Story of my Hidden Wartime Childhood by Dori Katz 2013
Dori Katz, a retired college professor born in Belgium in 1939, spent her entire life curious about her past as a hidden child during World War II and the circumstances surrounding her being hidden. Her father was deported in late 1942. She hardly remembers him, and her mother never wants to talk about those years, often giving vague or contradictory answers to her questions. The experiences she had between the ages of 3 ½ and 5 ½ lie buried until she decides, with much trepidation, to attend a showing of the documentary As If It Were Yesterday about hidden children in Belgium during the war. The film opens a floodgate to both vivid and half-formed memories and strong feelings which she decides to investigate.
What follows is an account of the author’s journey to Belgium to investigate her father’s death and to try to find the Christian family with whom she was placed. Her mother is less than pleased. She keeps asking her daughter why she wants to revisit the past. The burden of having grown up with a mother whose war years had scarred her – she was a widow at the age of 29 – and who continues to try to exert control of the story of their Holocaust past adds to the emotional tensions Katz experiences throughout her investigations.
In Belgium she visits archives where folders on all Jews in wartime Belgium are housed and where she finds information about her father as well as photos. It takes some effort, but she also finds the family who hid her. Although the parents have died, she is reintroduced to two of the children who are very happy to be reunited with her. She asks them about what those years were like. They recount her behavior, including how much her mother’s clandestine visits upset her.
The investigation allows Katz to reclaim much of her submerged past and to come to terms with her present. She realizes that she was two children at once – a Jewish girl named Dori who felt abandoned by her mother, and a Christian girl named Astrid who lived in a small town with alternate sets of parents, brothers and a sister.
She thinks about her father and whether what she’s learned about him makes him at all more real to her. She also tries to understand her mother’s wishes that she not explore her past. Although as she was growing up she often wondered why her mother never kept in contact after the war with the family that hid her, she wonders why she, too, lets the connection slip once she is reunited with them after she worked so hard to find them.
She ends by writing that it was important for her to embark on the search and to write this memoir – in an effort to make as much sense as she could of a wartime childhood that had a profound effect on the rest of her life.
To read a short account of another Belgian child who was hidden at the age of ten, click here.
To read an article about Belgium finally acknowledging its complicity during the Holocaust, published in 2013, click here.
Family of author's mother
Golda Dychtwald - married Moishe Chaim Katz
(Astrid) Dori Katz – daughter of Moishe Chaim and Goldie; author
Chaim Dychtwald - married to Aurelia Zelman; married to second wife Esther
Fischel Dychtwald – son of Chaim and Aurelia; married to Rachel
Leah and Abraham Dychtwald – children of Fischel and Rachel
Henna Dychtwald – daughter of Chaim and Aurelia
Golda Dychtwald – daughter of Chaim and Aurelia
Nathan and Henna Wunderman
Bella, Max, and Simon Wunderman – children of Nathan and Henna
Family of author’s father
Joseph Katz – son of Ethel
Mannes Katz -son of Ethel
Malka Katz - daughter of Ethel
Moishe Chaim Katz - son of Ethel; married Golde Dychtwald (see above)
Berel Katz - son of Ethel
Devoirah Katz - daughter of Ethel
Benjamin Katz - son of Ethel
Friends and Acquaintances
Arnold and Helen Golde