By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
Holocaust survivors are usually defined as those who lived through or escaped from the Nazi concentration camps scattered throughout Europe during World War II. However, There is another, little-known, set of survivors – the children hidden during the war through the enormous courage and generosity of strangers.
Samuel Lauber, the guest speaker at the Academy’s observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Falcon Club April 8, was one of those children, who were estimated to number anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000.
The Air Force veteran was born on the first day of Passover in 1942 in Antwerp, Belgium, during the height of the Holocaust. At the time, Jews in the Nazi-occupied country had to wear yellow stars with Juif, or “Jew,” written on them, and their homes and businesses were subject to confiscation by the German government.
“Times were difficult and very risky,” he said.
Only after his birth did his sister, Jenny, 16 years his senior, learn of his mother’s pregnancy. Jewish parents at the time lived in terror, not only for the safety of their children, but also because they did not know where they might go, if they would ever see their children again or if their children could be hidden at all.
The mother superior of a Brussels church convent, remembered fondly as “Aunt Nellie,” took the 3-year-old Samuel and placed him with the Detry family in Lalouviere, Belgium, in 1945. No one outside the family knew of Mr. Lauber’s true identity.
“They couldn’t tell anybody who I was,” he said, because those hiding Jewish children were subject to arrest and deportation if they were discovered.
During his year and a half with the Detrys, he enjoyed the brotherly companionship of their son, Jean Marie, as the two played and went to school and church together. Mr. Lauber recalled celebrating the Flemish version of Santa Claus, known as Sinterklaas, who presented him with a small toy wooden train.
Although ensconced with the Detrys and relatively safe for the time, life for young Samuel – or “Dede,” as the family called him – was nonetheless frightening. He longed to be with his own family and wondered if it was his own fault for being sent away. Allied bombings added in no small way to his fears.
After the war, he was eventually reunited with his real family but details of what had happened to all of them during their absence from each other remained fuzzy. He explained that he was, after all, only 3 years old, and that his parents refused to talk about it.
“They wanted to put it behind them,” he said.
In 1948 the Lauber family emigrated to the United States, where relatives on both sides of the family lived.
“Coming here was not easy,” he recalled. No one in the family had English language skills, assets or a place to live, and the weeklong trip had left them ill.
Eventually, Mr. Lauber enrolled in Yeshivas Or Torah, a Manhattan yeshiva school. His father found employment with a furrier, and his mother opened an artificial flower shop. His mother died when Mr. Lauber was 15 and his father when he was 18.
During military assignments in Europe, Mr. Lauber began to wonder if it was possible to find the Detry family, who had risked their own lives to shelter him. He wrote to the mayor of Lalouviere, who located the family and responded. Later Mr. Lauber received a large packet of information on the war and the town from them.
While stationed near Dusseldorf, Germany, as an Army civilian in 1986, Mr. Lauber, his his wife and 2-year-old son spent three days visiting with Madame Detry, sister to the Madame Detry who had taken him in and who had died many years earlier. He also spent many hours sharing memories with Jean Marie.
“I owe a great big thank you to the military services,” Mr. Lauber said. “I found the family who cared for me.”
He now serves as a sociology professor at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. He continues to read literature associated with the hidden children of World War II. His son, Aaron, attends graduate school and is studying the Holocaust himself.
The senior Mr. Lauber said he believes it is necessary to continue to remember the Holocaust.
“We want to wipe out bigotry and wipe out hatred,” he said.