April 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

RTMA Observes Yom HaShoah With Hidden Child Erika Sauerhoff

On Yom Hashoah, RTMA students gathered to hear a personal story of survival from Erika Sauerhoff, who was a hidden child during the Holocaust. In a riveting and emotional presentation, she outlined the sequence of events that she could piece together, punctuated by her delayed reactions to them that occurred to her only later as an adult.

Sauerhoff told of her recurring nightmares, flashbacks and years of having a detached and difficult relationship with her mother after she was finally returned to her family. Although her siblings, mother and one uncle survived and were reunited, the separation had taken a toll on the family bonds.

“As a child after the war I was very angry that my mother gave me away,” she divulged, haltingly, through her tears. “Only later, as an adult, could I really appreciate that she had saved my life. Now my mother, too, was alone, a grieving widow left to raise four fatherless children and her younger brother, our uncle. I understood only now that she was also a victim. Only as an adult did I fully understand what it means to be a parent.”

She went on to describe the confusing duality of experiences with her Catholic foster family. Although she was sheltered and ultimately saved by them, she came to realize as an adult some of the frightening and humiliating treatment she had endured while in their care. She recalled the dissonance of being baptized and immersed in a Christian environment, and then returned to her Jewish family after having been told by her foster family that her mother was a “Jewish witch who hated her, abandoned her and was dead.”

Today, Sauerhoff is a well-known pillar of the JEC community, the epitome of an engaged and present parent and grandparent. She is a familiar face to the RTMA boys on the basketball court, frequently coming to watch her grandsons play.

“From my mother, I learned what it means to be a survivor,” she said in conclusion. “From my father (through his letters and other artifacts), I learned what it means to be a parent, even though he was not with us. And, baruch Hashem, from the ashes of the Holocaust I have a beautiful garden, my growing family.”

She implored upon everyone to “be an upstander, not a bystander,” to take action, to not tolerate bullying of any kind and to own the future. “Be a living witness,” she urged. “Stand with me and all those who lost their lives.” Students and faculty alike were visibly moved, her poignant words being intensely absorbed by everyone present.

Saueroff is the mother of Alysia Heller of Hillside, a Bruriah graduate, and grandmother of Yehuda, RTMA graduate; Tehila, who is 21; and Moshe, Aaron and Yosef, who are currently students at RTMA.

By Ellie Wolf

 

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