“It was the first place where we could walk with our heads held high, where we could return to Judaism. We were Jewish once again.”
(From the testimony of Wiktoria Blum)
With the war’s end, children who had been in hiding emerged and began the long process of returning to a normal life. Many of the children had survived by hiding behind false Christian identities, which demanded that they openly practice the Christian faith in order to maintain their credibility. These identities were often internalized, leading to a certain adoption of the assumed identity by the child. After the war, the children began to shed their false Christian personae and learn to live as Jews once again. For many of the children in Otwock, returning to their Jewish roots was a difficult and complicated process. In the home the children were exposed to Jewish customs and holidays, and were encouraged to live openly as Jews proud of their heritage.
“It was a slow process in which I abandoned the thoughts of converting to Christianity and accepted the return to Judaism.” (From the testimony of Wladek Kornblum)
The future: Poland or Eretz Israel?
As part of the network of children’s homes established by the Central Organization of Polish Jewry, the children’s home in Otwock strove to educate the children to be proud Jews as well as patriotic Polish citizens. Luba Bielicka Blum, the home’s director, was a leader of the Bund, who strove to inculcate within the children a love for Yiddish culture and civilization along with a vision of a Jewish future in Poland. However, Zionism’s message that the only guaranteed future for the Jewish people lay in the land of Israel began to penetrate the children’s home, and underground Zionist youth movements became active there. Though the administration attempted to stem this tide, the antisemitism the children had encountered during their schooling and their contacts with the surrounding environment only helped to bolster the Zionist feelings of many in the home. Some of the older children ran away from the children’s home and entered homes run by the Zionist movements, where they began their long journey to the land of Israel.
“The thought of immigrating to Eretz Israel was subconscious, everyone wanted to immigrate, without any propaganda. In fact, it was exactly the opposite, because our director was one of the leaders of the Bund before the war. Our counselor was a fully-fledged communist. The entire environment was against the idea. Only the children wanted to go to Palestine.” (From the testimony of Yoram Sztykgold)