Lili Silberman Remembers Surviving With And Without Her Parents
I was 4 years old and my brother was 5-1/2 years old when we were first separated from our parents and were placed in a Protestant orphanage in Belgium.
I was a depressed and confused child, but with the passing of time, I began to believe that all children lived away from their parents.
After several months, the director of the orphanage had reason to suspect that the Germans might discover the few Jewish children hidden there, and my brother and I were suddenly returned to our parents.
Eager to surprise them, I was happy again.
They were not expecting us when our escort knocked on their door and my parents felt certain that the Germans had come for them.
The terror on my mother’s face as she opened the door devastated me.
I had expected her to be happy at my homecoming, but instead, only gloom and despair pervaded our once happy home.
The next day, a strange man* came to the house, removed my brother and me, and accompanied us by train to a convent in Bruges.
And I was sure I had done something terrible!
* Father Bruno Reynders, a Benedictine monk, hid close to 400 Jewish children in Christian homes and institutions, thereby ensuring their survival.
* He was recognized by Yad Vashem, the Israel Holocaust Museum, as a "Righteous Among the Nations".
Life In The Convent
The convent had two separate facilities, one for boys and one for girls, so I was immediately separated from my brother.
My fifth birthday had just passed and I was now alone in a strange place.
The nuns were strict disciplinarians!
But as terrified as I was of the nuns, I was equally afraid of the older children.
When unsupervised, some of them would abuse the younger ones, and as I was one of the youngest and smallest, I lived in constant terror.
There was no place to hide, so I did whatever I could do, not to bring attention to myself.
What little food we had often had worms, and the bread was always rancid and moldy.
We lacked clothing, heat and medical attention and I don’t remember ever bathing.
I never saw a toothbrush, a handkerchief or toilet paper.
And when I couldn’t find newspaper scraps, I used my clothing.
I was nearly always awakened at night by lice crawling inside my ear, and I had a chronic bloody infection on my scalp.
Even in the freezing winter, we were sent outside.
I was swollen and numb from the cold, and my hands, blistered from frostbite, were scarred for years.