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26 April 2019 - 21 Nisan 5779 - כ"א ניסן ה' אלפים תשע"ט
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One to One Interview
Rabbi Lazer Brody on how the power of emuna can change your life Print E-mail

Rabbi Lazer Brody’s name may sound familiar as a bestselling writer, speaker, counselor and teacher; but what he teaches is not originally his. Rabbi Brody says “It’s not mine, it is time tested advise from Doctor Soul, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and I now have the privilege to bring it down to the English speaking world.”

This man with eyes that sparkle with happiness, a smile that can warm up a room and knowledge of the ages paid a visit to Hong Kong, thanks to the encouragement of the Lawrence family. Rabbi Brody spent a few days speaking to the community, listening to their issues, sharing valuable advice and overall making people happier by explaining the concept of emuna - a complete belief in Hashem.

First lets meet Rabbi Brody.


He was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. In 1970, after receiving his Degree in Agriculture from the University of Maryland, he moved to Israel, joined the Israel Defense Forces’ regular army and served in one of the elite special-forces units.

After a near-suicidal mission in Beirut during the Israel- Lebanon conflict of 1982, Rabbi Brody said he could no longer ignore the hand of the all mighty in his life. He became a baal-tshuva, left his farm and moved to Jerusalem to study Torah.

Nine years later, in 1992, he was ordained as a rabbi. He spent the next two years of postgraduate studies learning about personal and family counseling. The following two years he was the rabbi and spiritual rehabilitation director of a major Israeli prison.

In 1996 he moved to Ashdod and understudied with the Melitzer Rebbe and two years later Rabbi Shalom Arush opened a branch of the Chut Shel Chessed – Breslov Yeshiva in Ashdod and appointed Rabbi Brody as the Dean of the rabbinical programme.

Today Rabbi Brody spends his time traveling around the world doing Jewish Outreach. He also has written numerous books and is the English voice of his teacher Rabbi Arush.

Among their most successful titles is The Garden of Emuna, which has sold over 1.5 million copies and has become one of the bestselling contemporary books in the Jewish world. They have also published a book for men only titled The Garden of Peace, which has sold more than half a million copies and one for women called Women’s Wisdom, The Garden of Peace for Women, which was just published in English. All three titles were originally written in Hebrew. Rabbi Brody has many other titles, including his latest called

The Trail of Tranquility. He has also released a number of CDs that deal with multiple topics from marriage, to parenting, to money and everything in between, which have surpassed the one million copies sold.

So what are these pearls of wisdom that have created this tipping point and such hunger for these books and CDs and the ideas they contain? And why are people filling auditoriums around the world when Rabbi Arush and Rabbi Brody speak?

It is the simple yet powerful message of emuna. From there, Rabbi Brody gives insights into how to be happier, how to have better relationships and how to be a better parent. The simple stuff in life all through the power of emuna.

On emuna and happiness Rabbi Brody explains that “we all have the same spiritual DNA and, according to Rashbi, our soul is a tiny part of Hashem. In our generation, we all have the same soul correction, which is to find emuna. If we find emuna our soul will be happy.” He goes on to say that there are three elements of happiness.

The first is to find peace within ourselves. The second is to find peace with our fellow men - love thy neighbours as thyself. And third is to find peace with Hashem. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, then Rabbi Nachman, then Rabbi Arush and now Rabbi Brody all say that happiness is our link to the higher power. When our bodies get thirsty, we know to give them water.

But how do we know what our souls need? Rabbi Brody says that a need of the soul shows up as “strong emotions.” “You feel anxious or depressed and then you know there is a problem.”

The solution lies not in the psychologist and the pills we take, because they don’t deal with the root of the problem. What our souls need is to connect – they need emuna.

He suggests that as soon as we have a strong emotion, we should take a three second time out; especially if it is a gut reaction.

He calls it the “three second rule.” If you can take three seconds before reacting, then the brain can take back its control, away from the evil inclination, and you can react correctly. Developing emuna is a process and it comes with tests.

Rabbi Brody explained that once we have emuna our tests get tougher and tougher. It is a “spiritual ladder that we have to climb, we have to move up on it and that will give us satisfaction.”

Life is one big test with one learning after another, but you can’t avoid the final exam.” He asked us, “If your choice was between Tehilim and missiles, which would you pick?”

But don’t think that attaining this is easy. “It is hard to find emuna, but if you look you can get it and then you should ask Hashem to help you maintain it once you have found it.” But note they are two very different challenges.

Rabbi Brody himself had doubts. When he was 23 and a yeshiva student, his teacher “was a pimpled face 17 yearold” and he almost threw in the towel while studying Gemora. Luckily he didn’t give up and realised from the 17 year-old that there was a lot to learn.

“Hashem is like a parent that just wants to hear your voice.” As a parent if you don’t hear from your kids, you may freak out because you want to know everything is OK. “He waits for you as well. So call Hashem once in a while.

Speak to Him one hour a day. Use your own words and build a relationship with Him, it will bring you inner peace and satisfaction.”

On relationships

In terms of relationships, Rabbi Brody says “if you follow these very simple things, even if you do it on a unilateral basis, you will have a dream relationship.”

The fi rst thing is the mirror effect, the second is gratitude and the third are comments and criticism. Together these three points can make “a monumental change in your marriage.”

The mirror effect: fi rst, understand that if you and your spouse stood under the chuppah, they are your intended.

Your spouse knows exactly what buttons to push because they are the other part of your soul. They are also what you need to make your soul correction.

When you feel like your partner is pushing you, it is not they, but the almighty trying to give you a message on what it is you must change. “If you have something that you are very good at, you don’t need a soul correction.” However, if you have an area you need to develop, your partner is there to help you overcome your weakness.

There is a law in Jewish spirituality that says that one accuses another of one’s own faults. In psychology it is known as projection. So when your spouse upsets you, take a moment and realise there is a message there, don’t get angry with them because you are just seeing yourself. Elevate yourself above the level of confl ict.

“There is nobody that can better help you attain your soul correction on earth than your husband or wife.”

“One cannot get close to Hashem without improving one’s character. So when you realise that our husbands and wives are our own mirrors and we better ourselves, then we make them better, because we are connected and we get elevated.”

This brings us to gratitude.

“I will venture to say that 90% of the lack of marital peace among people is lack of gratitude. Taking things for granted.”

Rabbi Brody suggest we get a little pocket notebook and write down every small and big favour our spouse does for us. “Wait and see how many pages you’ve fi lled up after a week.”

At the Brody household, they have a box and everyone in the family writes thank you notes to other members who did favours for them during the week, things that many may take for granted. For example: thank you for taking out the trash without me having to ask, or thanks for doing the fruit shopping, or thanks for the smile.

Then at the Shabbat table they break the box open and share all the messages. “Everybody knows how many notes they’ve written and this brings so much light to the table… when you recognise the little things.”

There is a very important concept, which Rabbi Brody calls the expectation / realisation ratio. He explained it with this analogy. Suppose on a scale of 1 to 100, that water is 10 and champagne is 90. If you think you deserve nothing and someone brings you a glass of water, since you had no expectations and water is worth 10, now you have 10 happiness points. However if you think you deserve everything and you’re expecting a Schweppes, which is worth 70 points, but you get the same glass of water, then you have a 60 point defi cit in happiness.

“Learn to appreciate what you have. Lets take our expectations and think in the mindset that we come into life and nobody owes us a living, nobody owes us anything. This world is simply an opportunity for us to correct our souls and be happy to move on.“ We should be grateful and appreciate every little thing. “Husbands to wives and wives to husbands, look for the little things” they do for you and you will be happier.

“The word Jew in Hebrew is Yehudi. It comes from the word leodot – to thank you.” When Leah had her fourth son and realised she was going to have more kids than any of the other women (she had 6 out of the 12 children), “she said to Hashem, this time I’m really going to thank you!”

The third point included comments and criticism.

“Women to husbands, husbands to wives from this moment on, and if you do just this one point, you’re going to have a happy marriage, from this moment on decide that comments and criticism are just as un-kosher as pork and have no room in a Jewish household.”

Here two pieces of advice for the men. The most important thing for your wives is that they are number one in your life.

“She must be fi rst in her husband’s thoughts above everything, because a woman can’t stand to be second fi ddle. As soon as she’s second fi ddle to anything, then it’s a shy taste in her mouth and life is not worth living.”

The second most important thing for a woman is “that she is perfect in her husband’s eyes.”

So any comment or a criticism you make will sound to her like this statement: “sweetheart you’re not perfect.” “I tell husbands, when your wife burns your toast, get on your computer, do a Google search on how carbon is good for the human body. Eat the toast and shut up. Cause that’s what Hashem wants from you with emuna – that’s why you need it. Don’t ever agree with your wife if she says anything derogatory about herself, don’t ever agree with her because you’re being tested.”

Rabbi Brody also suggests that the men take off a half an hour a day for two months and put it towards the spiritual side of their life. He promises you won’t lose anything materially and you will gain so much in other aspects of your life.

To the women, Rabbi Brody had this message, “Your husband is an economic gladiator,” so when he comes home after fi ghting with employees, peers, bosses, clients don’t attack him.

“Let the guy take his coat off, let the guy put his hat on the hat rack, and sit down and greet him with a nice smile, a coffee or whatever he likes to drink and you will soon be able to tell him anything you want.”

If you want these positive attributes to become part of your spouse’s actions, the secret is to profusely reinforce and compliment their positive actions. A frontal assault is fruitless, because both sides will lose. Negative comments and criticism fuel the fire, so we must avoid conflict and disengage.

On parenting

When it comes to parenting, Rabbi Brody recommends that parents spend two hours of individual quality time with their children every week. Fathers with sons and mothers with daughters or even fathers with daughters and mothers with sons, “make this time as it will manifest later on in their own shalom bait – peace at home.” One note Rabbi Brody adjusted for this part of the world was this, the domestic helper “does not raise your kids, your wife raises your kids. That’s the most important thing. So having a helper frees your wife to spend more time with the kids. You have to look at all the positives.

That’s gratitude. When we look for good points, all of a sudden we realise that there’s a lot more to be thankful for than we ever thought of.”

“I’ll tell you in one sentence how to raise great kids - standing on one foot. You take a kid and everything it gets they should say thank you mummy, thank you daddy, thank you Hashem.

That’s it! When a child learns to appreciate everything and say thank you for everything, then they appreciate everything. The same thing in marriage.”

He described a spoiled child as “a child with an infl ated sense of entitlement.” Giving too much love to a child will never spoil them. “Love does not make a spoiled child. Give your children of yourselves, not of your money.”

Most importantly for parents is don’t tell your kids what to do. You will do better by being a good role model for them.

For example, if you tell them not to slander and then they see you speaking on the phone slandering, then it won’t work. But if they see you never slandering and always being positive, then they’ll want to emulate that positive behaviour. And like with spouses, profusely reinforce and compliment your child’s positive actions.

Rabbi Brody spent three days in Hong Kong and these are just a taste of all the beams of light he left for us. Though many of the concepts are simple, they are very challenging, yet life changing. Nevertheless, he strongly believes that if we follow even a few of these concepts we can all live happier lives and attain our soul corrections.

If you are interested in contacting him or finding out more you can visit www.lazerbrody.com and www.breslev.co.il.
Interviewed by Jessica Zwaiman Lerner

 

 
Silvain Gilbert telling his story of survival as a Hidden Child - Part Two Print E-mail

I lived in Belgium most of my life and I was living in Brussels, only 30 minutes by car to Mont Saint Guibert where I was hidden as a child, but each time I felt like going back there, something stopped me!

Eight years ago, I went back to Belgium for a friend’s wedding. The ceremony was held ten kilometres from Mont Saint Guibert. Suddenly, I felt an impulsion to find the place where I was hidden during the war.


Two images remained in my mind. First, was the grotto, a replica of the original in Lourdes famous for the Bernadette Soubirous’s visions. We had these replicas of the grottos in the garden and as children we played there. Second, was the memory of a big garden connected with an upper street, a little bit hilly. That is all I had to go on.

I stopped a taxi in the street and asked about this grotto in the village but the taxi driver answered there are many grottos in the village. He suggested going to the main street where there is a café where many people gather on Sunday.

The café owner remembered a place with a grotto that belonged to the Marist Brotherhood. She came with me, leaving her busy café.

When we met the last surviving monk, he recounted the story of the castle which belonged to the Prince d’Arenberg family during the First World War. Later it became a monastery and today it is a school but Father Augustijns still remains.

He was cutting the lawn while sitting on a tractor and was covered in mud. I explained to him that I was a hid-den Jewish child during the war and Christian people like him saved my life. With that, we fell into each other’s arms. He then said something I will remember for the rest of my life, “It’s not unusual, Jesus was Jewish!” In the park, he showed me several small grottos representing the Stations of the Cross. But nothing looked like the grotto in my memory.

Returning to the wedding I met a friend who I had last seen when I was 16!

From that friend I learned about an organisation called The Hidden Child in Brussels, which keeps a record of all the Jewish children that were hidden during the war.

Back in Brussels:

The next day I went to The Hidden Child. All the related records were there with the address and the name of the villa called “Massabielle” (after the name of the grotto in Lourdes). They also gave me the telephone number of Annie, another child hidden with me, who was the same age as my sister.

Annie was living in Brussels, so I called her immediately. We met the next morning and after decades apart we fell into each others’ arms crying. Unfortunately her mother was deported but she still had her father after the war. I asked Annie, “Did you go back to Mont Saint Guibert?” and she answered, “I could not.” Today she is a grandmother, has her own company and has had a successful life in Brussels, but she could never face going back! I told her that I had the address and was determined to discover the villa “Massabielle.”


I went back to Mont Saint Guibert - nothing could stop me from finding the Villa. Once I reached number 19, I went into the garden, but the grotto was not there. The owner of the villa came over and invited me into the house. They had bought the house only a few years before. However, the previous owner of the villa was born in Mont Saint Guibert and knew everyone in the village. We called her straight away and she asked for my name, I said that I had changed my name, it was now Gilbert

She replied, “I am Jacqueline Pilloy: you are Sylvain, the brother of Marie-Antoinette...” (my sister was her age and they went to class together). “Yes, of course,” she said, “and Annie, the other girl.”

She explained that the town authorities had changed the numbers of the villas in the street - but everything else was more or less how it used to be. She told me to go a little further along the street and I will be able to find the villa Massabielle. I walked for two minutes and recognised the place immediately!

Again I ran up the stairs into the garden and there it  was: I had found the grotto.... there was no doubt. Still in the grotto, in the same place, was the Virgin Mary statue exactly as before, as the memory of a child of 5 years. The lady owner of this villa came out and again I explained that I was hidden in this villa during the war... as a child. She immediately invited me inside.

As soon as I entered I recognised the stone pavement and the beautiful art deco glass doors. Looking into the living room there was a piano. I remembered there was a piano (another one) exactly in the same place.

The lady asked her husband and children to come to hear the history of their villa. They were astonished to discover such a past. I explained to the children that one and a half million Jewish children were murdered for being Jewish.

I asked the name of the little girl: “Fanny!” she said. It was the same name as our foster mother “Tante (aunt) Fanny”. I don’t think those are just coincidences: I believe it must be my destiny.

I went back to Brussels and asked Annie to join me on my next visit. As she was 3 years older than me she remembered many more details. It was a moment of great emotion to find the bedroom where we slept as four little children together in fear and without our parents. Winters were freezing cold and we didn’t have coal to heat the bedroom.

The trauma has remained with us all our lives. Finally, after a lifetime, I succeeded in finding the villa where we were hidden. That was a deliverance, a relief after so many years.

The birth of an idea:

I had an idea, a feeling, that I had to pay tribute to this Tante Fanny who saved us four children. She had passed away of course a long time ago, in the 1970s. I contacted Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and they made investigations and tried to find her surviving family. After two years, still no successors were found. Finally, Sabine, my wife, found a descendant. It was not easy because “Tante Fanny” was not married but did have a brother, who had also passed away, but we located his daughter-in-law, now a widow and her two children. Sabine decided to check the telephone book and started to call all the people with Degulne surname and she finally was successful.

On 4 June 2009, I was able to organise, in co-operation with Mont Saint Guibert City Hall and the mayor, and with Yad Vashem, a ceremony to recognise Tante Fanny as a Righteous Among the Nations (A recognition to a non-Jew who saved the life of a Jew during the Holocaust).

4 June 2009, Mont Saint Guibert:


It was a day full of surprises. First of all, upon arrival I saw on the City Hall the flag of Belgium, the flag of Wallonia, and also the flag of Israel.

After so many years, returning to a village which had barely changed and looking at the Israeli flag proudly flying above the city hall was very, very moving. My sister came from Paris, Annie was present and the Ambassador of Israel Mrs Tamar Shamash also attended.

The mayor had not been aware of this tragic episode that happened during WW2 in his village. For him and for many villagers it was a revelation that during this period the people of Mont Saint Guibert saved 21 Jewish children.

I took the opportunity to speak at City Hall and explained what had happened then. Everyone was crying. We also spoke to teenagers sharing the same message of tolerance and to accept each other, just as we are. This is the same message I am sharing with students in Hong Kong schools.

I learned this the hard way, because, after the war, we children had become Catholic, no longer Jewish. Abandoned, we had to be with strangers, with different names, speaking different languages, practicing different faiths.

When we found our parents again, they were strangers and again it was a shock. We had to leave our foster mother, who had become our mother. The person who we lived with everyday and who gave us love, food, education, in a word everything. We loved her very much because she was a good person and made important decisions for us.

The ceremony was beautiful. The mayor, Mr Breuer, had organised a buffet to celebrate the event. He then came up with another brilliant idea. He said November 11, Armistice Day, which commemorates the victims of WW1 was to become the tribute day to “Tante Fanny” and we will place a stone plaque on the villa. The new owners of the villa had agreed and were delighted with this suggestion. 11 November 2009, Mont Saint Guibert.

I went back to Belgium for another memorable day. All the veterans with their flags and town dignitaries were present with a military band, and the flag of Israel covering the stone plaque. The Ambassador of Israel came again.

Radio and television networks (RTL and TVI) were present. Later I was on the news in a long interview. The story aired twice that day on prime Belgium TV channels.

On that day I had an enormous surprise. Parking the car in front of a house on the main square, a lady came out, looked at me in a concentrated manner and said, “You are little Sylvain. I recognise you by the sparkle in your eyes.” Immediately she invited me inside her house where she explained that in 1943 (we arrived in the villa in 1942) there was an alert and Tante Fanny did not know where to go with us. Very afraid, she brought us during the night to this house which was the only grocery store in the village. It was quite dangerous don’t forget there was a curfew, nobody was allowed on the street after 10pm.

This lady Denise, now 83, was 17 years-old at that time. An orphan herself, she was helping the lady who managed a little store and was Tante Fanny’s very close friend. She remembered that we were hidden in this house for more than two weeks. She gave many details. She also told me something very moving. I used to say: “Why do we always have to hide?”

What was also quite incredible in the villa Massabielle was that, being a very large villa, the Germans occupied part of it during the entire war. They never even suspected that there were Jewish children hidden there. So during three years every day we were living among them.

Sabine and I decided to come back to the village two days later and make a video of Denise and another older lady, Colettte Marchal. Colette already 80 years old told me that her father was the post office chief during the war. There were people who sent letters that would have incriminated certain villagers, but he destroyed those letters. In fact, there were a lot of partisans in the Resistance in the village. This man saved a lot of people. He was killed two days before the end of the war. Since she was his daughter she took over the post office. She was fifteen at the time and kept this position all her life. She told me that I was often playing with two other boys of my age at the back of the garden where they had their home. At this moment I realized why I remembered the garden so well.

The ceremony:

The ceremony was very special, particularly to have the veterans there. Many groups of children were present. It was a public holiday but instead of going elsewhere they choose to be part of that special day with us.

After the ceremony, a party was held in City Hall with food and drinks but also a question time for the young people. At least 200 children were present, and I explained our terrible experience during the war.

The children asked very good questions. Some other hidden children (our guests) told their own odyssey. All in all it was memorable. As for most of the people in the village this story was unknown. They realized how courageous and brave Tante Fanny was along with the other families who risked their lives to save 21 Jewish children.

Finally, I had been successful in having Tante Fanny’s name commemorated with all the other Righteous in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem. As a Catholic devoted to God, her name is there in Jerusalem, the same city where Jesus was crucified, and I think if she hears me today ( I am sure she does) she will see me, the little Sylvain who was 5 years old during the Shoah and grew up as a man of 72 years old today, who is grateful for ever because she saved my life.

I think I cannot give her a better tribute. Merci - thank you - Toda raba Tante Fanny.

Sylvain Gilbert (Hong Kong March 2010)
For more talks and life participations related to Holocaust events, Sylvain can be reached by email on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

Special thanks to:
• Yad Vashem
• Mr Breuer, Mayor of Mont Saint Guibert.
• The present owners of Villa Massabielle for allowing the stone plaque to be placed on the villa.
• Denise and Colette for their vibrant memory.
• Family Degulne who gave me pictures of Tante Fanny.
• And, to all the people of Mont Saint Guibert who directly or indirectly changed my life.

(Issue April 2010)

 
Silvain Gilbert telling his story of survival as a Hidden Child - Part One Print E-mail

Hong Kong resident Silvain Gilbert lives out on Clearwater Bay and enjoys a daily swim, though not when it’s below a certain temperature as the territory has experienced early 2010. He looks fine.

His appearance though belies a traumatic childhood as he fi gures among the multitude of Jewish people who lived or were born in the period of WWII and happened to be in Europe, under the heavy boot of the Nazi Germans.

Gilbert tells his story to Jewish Times Asia about his personal account and experiences as a child growing up in Belgium. (This is part one, his return to the village of his saviour will be told in the next issue).

Gilbert was born in 1937 in Antwerp, Belgium, then one of the biggest harbours in the world. In 1942 at the start of what the Germans called The “Final Solution,” which meant the deportation of all the Jews to concentration camps and the killing of them, Jewish families were confronted with something that had never happened before.

Here is Gilbert’s thoughts and recollections in his own words:


Behind the monstrosity of the holocaust and the statistics and the awful history telling that the Nazi Germans murdered six million Jews, nearly two thirds in Europe that were occupied, there is the further terrible number that among those killed one and a half million were children.

A child is born innocent and doesn’t know what life is about or what it means to be Jewish, or anything about life and death.

Along with their families, children were taken to the concentration camps and if a child was found to be under 16 that child was directly transferred to one of the gas chambers and burnt. This is something that no words can describe, not for me.

Suddenly, you were not a citizen in your own country, you had lost your identity and all your belongings. They came in the middle of the night, breaking your doors and windows, One-to-One Interview Silvain Gilbert telling his story of throwing you into a truck and sending you by coal wagon to a concentration camp.

I was born into a family with an elder sister, and my parents were in their early thirties. Suddenly I was sent into a clandestine life.

In Antwerp the Germans had the help of the local police, and even the mayor of Antwerp, with the Flemish police exporting the Jews, not the Germans, and that was a big difference.

It started with anti-Semitism all over Europe and in Antwerp. What was one to do and how to save yourself if you had no home, no money and on your ID card they put a big J meaning Jew. This was done in whatever language to identify you. In reality you were not different from anyone else, in my case, I was only a fi ve year old child. How was I to understand this?

How does a small child understand life and death? You are just a little kid and suddenly there is a death penalty imposed. Death penalty anyway is for murderers, for monsters and all, but for a child of that age? Just because this particular child is born Jewish, there is the death penalty.

This is something the world should try to understand, how parents can give comfort to myself and my sister who was only ten years old. What was happening and why?

Then we were suddenly abandoned, nowhere to hide, no ID cards, which you need for ration coupons to get food. We were not citizens of the country anymore we could not get food coupons.

A Jewish mother could not give birth in a maternity hospital, nor any hospital, you are nobody and that is very diffi cult to understand for a child. As a citizen in a country the Jews were not allowed to exist.

Going underground takes some organisation. There were 70,000 to 75,000 Jews in Belgium, in Antwerp and its suburb alone about 35,000.

In the month of September, 17,000 Jews of Antwerp were deported to Auschwitz. (The main place where 25,000 Jews perished during the Shoah).

In Gilbert’s case he was a little more fortunate. His father had a business partner, George Smeyer and they were in the diamond industry and Antwerp was then a centre of the diamond trade. His partner was Flemish not Jewish. Gilbert recalls: when we fi rst had to go into hiding, I was hidden with George Smeyer and my sister was hidden with his sister.

My mother succeeded in escaping when the local police arrived looking for Jewish families by taking the garden way out. She went to George Smeyer.

My father was already in a camp, not a concentration camp but a hard labour camp in the north of France near Boulogne.

In the summer of 1942, two months before, they took all young Jewish men there were several thousand and sent them to a camp in Dannes-Camier to build bunkers. My father succeeded in escaping but that is another story.

However, this left my mother alone so we had to fi nd a place to hide. At that time there were Jewish partisans in an organisation for children (O.N.E) that helped the Jews in various ways, for example helping young mothers to get milk, things like that.

Also the Christian churches, Belgium being 99 per cent Catholic were asked to volunteer to save Jewish children. Fortunately some did, everything had to be organised in very little time.

There were some convents, some monasteries, also other Christian institutions that opened places and there were families willing to take the considerable risk to hide a child orb children.

In my case there was a lady who was 65 years of age, single, never having married and she was living in a tiny little village of 1,200 people in the south part of the country called Walloon.

The village name was Mont St Guibert and this village saved 21 Jewish children. Many families in that one village openly volunteered and risked their lives saving those children.

If the Germans had caught them they would have been deported or killed. And proof of that is the priest who came to bring us to a meeting point, to take us to the village of Mont St Guibert, which is about 60km south of Brussels. With no papers, nothing, bringing people from the north of the country to the south was really very risky and when the Germans caught that priest he was killed.

What is interesting now is, on asking those people after the war about their motivation, why, they simply said, “How can we accept that innocent children should be killed?” They didn’t think about their actions. It was spontaneous.

The lady that saved me and my sister was a devout Catholic. So we arrived in September 1942, and we were separated from our parents.

My mother visited us a few times but it was very risky for her. My reaction at the time was to deeply question why I cannot stay with my parents, my mummy and daddy, what’s wrong? Did I do something wrong, am I guilty? They could not explain and there is so much left unexplained still today.

Every hidden child all 3,500 Jews in Belgium were saved like this. Everyone has the same traumatic experience, the separation they had, no one can replace your parents.

It was a shock that we were suddenly in a new place that looked very peaceful, very serene. You see the countryside and not the city, with horses, so different and so far away from the big city. In fact it was also a shock to be suddenly with a lady 65 years old.

When you are only fi ve, a woman of 65 years looks very old. In those days people’s life, their longevity was not like today, people really looked old. My parents were young and that was what I was used to.

But, we had to adapt. Not only to the physical situation, which was one thing but to adapt to the language as we were speaking Flemish or Dutch you can say, and Yiddish, and suddenly we had to speak French with a local dialect Walloon, which was a sort of French but quite different. On top of that we had to fi t in like any other child in the village, we could not be different. Physically we were not different.

But my parents were traditional Jewish and suddenly I had to pray as a Catholic, before meals, and in the evening before sleeping. We had to pray all the time because our foster mother was very devoted to her faith. We had to go to mass on Sunday, not once but three times, and we had to learn the Catholic catechism.

We were with nuns when we went to school and I even had to help the priest as an alter boy. Something which is quite funny is a picture of me parading through the village with the Virgin Mary statue. I became completely Catholic and still now today I can recite the prayers and know all the details about the Catholic faith.

Our protector lady was amazing because she had no children but managed to adapt. Afterwards, two little girls came, she saved four children in total.

One of the girls was from Brussels she was eight years old her mother was already deported. Her father survived while her brother was hidden with another family which also saved four children.

The other girl who we called Suzanne, we were not sure if it was her real name, for example my sister’s name was Toni and it looked a little bit German so we changed it to Marie-Antoinette.

Our lady protector was living with an old lady cousin who was sick, she could not do anything and in fact she passed away in 1946, just after the war ended. This lady we called “Tante Fanny” (Aunt).

Today it looks strange but we also changed our family name, Silber became Gilbert. Being Jewish we had to change our identity. And that is something very hard to accept, changing your identity. When people call your name, you have to react.

Thus we survived the war, my father succeeded in escaping from the camp in France and got back to Belgium to find my mother in Brussels.

They located a place to hide where they stayed during the war but towards the end my father went once onto the street and was captured by the Gestapo. He was tortured because he had fake ID papers.

He admitted he was a Jew, and again he was put on a train but somehow he succeeded to jump from the wagon, at night. In fact, it was April 1943, on the eve of the Passover, that he jumped and came back home where he remained during the war.

We were lucky as we survived and that was number one and we found our parents after the war. Most children did not find their parents. The trauma was there all my life and the best proof of this is that it took me a lifetime to go back to the village of Mont St Guibert.


Interviewed by Tony Henderson

(Issue March 2010)

 

 
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