Children in Hiding, Children in Ghettos, Children in Concentration Camps: Children in Quarantine

It is hard to believe that this is the 4th blog in my recurring thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and the lessons we can learn from the Holocaust. While we have seemingly settled into somewhat of a routine we are also in a constant state of questioning as to when this will this and when the lives we’re used to will resume. And of course right now, there are no answers.

In my own home, as I am sure for many others with children, this has been difficult to grasp. Will we go back to school? Will I have any soccer or lacrosse games this season? Will I play the drums at my recital? Will I see that band I’ve been waiting to see? Will we go to CAMP?

These questions and so much more are on the minds of children everywhere, testing them in ways that we as children could never have imagined. As I spoke with Holocaust survivors this week, it occurred to me that each and every one of them was a child in hiding, in a ghetto or in a concentration camp. Each of them — now in their 80s and 90s — were children or teenagers at the time of the Holocaust.

It always strikes students that are learning about the Holocaust to hear that survivors were there at age at the time. I often find that their questions mirror, so much of what they as children are experiencing growing up today. They often ask about school, their pets, if they played sports, and what they liked to do with their friends during their free time.

And often, the emotions of today’s youth are triggered when they learn that children in the Holocaust couldn’t go to school, their pets were taken away from them, they didn’t have the ability to play sports and they lost most of their friends.

Yet they also gain a tremendous amount of strength and courage when hearing how they survived — with barely anything to eat, fearing for their lives, and often times without family and on their own. As a wise survivor, who was only 6 when she was told she was going on vacation and was sent to hiding without her parents, once told me: As a child of war she learned resilience, and perseverance. She learned how to exist in a world of pretend and a world that was truly only in her mind, as the outside world was no longer accessible to her.

Most children in quarantine today are by no means even in the realm of danger that children of the Holocaust were in. If they are fortunate enough, they have plenty of food, electronics, games, and the ability to breath fresh air. Although they are living with certain fears and apprehensions, it is not nearly the same as children of the Holocaust.

But, even with all of that, as I think over my own children’s questions and longings these days, and I marvel at the strength, creativity and sheer laughter they and so many other children around the world have brought to these difficult times, I am amazed at what they are able to do.

There are many parents struggling with parenting right now, myself included, as the weeks keep going by in our own homes. As an American suburban child of the 1980s and a teenager of the 1990s, I can say with certainty, that what my children are living through today cannot compare to anything that I confronted growing up.

Although I don’t always feel comfortable comparing the Holocaust to the current worldwide pandemic, this is one that I do hope comes to be. I hope that by going through this time of quarantine and uncertainty, my own children and their entire generation gain even some of the strength that child survivors of the Holocaust have exhibited over the years. I hope that they are able to remember how they managed to continue learning, laughing, playing, exercising their minds and bodies, and how they were able to exist in a world that was so drastically different then the one they had previously known. And from that, I hope that they can form a deeper confidence in the ability of all people – both kids and adults – to adapt, persevere and remain hopeful for better days ahead.

About the Author
Ilyse Muser Shainbrown was a former Middle and High School History teacher who now holds a master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Over the years she has done extensive research on various portions of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide including, Rwanda, the Belgian Congo and Bosnia. Currently, Ilyse Muser Shainbrown is the Director of Holocaust Education and Newark Initiatives at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. Through both programs, Ilyse works to ensure that Holocaust education is taught broadly in public, private and parochial schools throughout Essex, Union, Morris and Sussex counties.
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