There are girls with ribbons in their hair, boys in short pants or wool jackets (one even wears a discarded Hitler Youth uniform). There are teens and toddlers. There are kids who look happy, sad, scared, tense and relieved – greatly relieved.
There are few hints in the photos, aside from some weary eyes or bony arms, of the hardships they endured to get to this moment: hiding in strangers’ homes, stealing scraps of bread to survive, gasping for air in cramped cattle cars.
These are children who’d come through the fire, survivors of the Holocaust photographed by social service agencies across Europe soon after World War II. There are more than 1,100 pictures, long stashed away and forgotten in the mists of history.
Until now.
More than 65 years later, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is reaching out around the world to find the people in these extraordinary photos. It has posted the pictures online and spread the word that the search is on.
The plan is to preserve their stories, fill in some gaps of history – and then have them step before the camera once again.
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Theodore Meicler recognized his 8-year-old self immediately: the thatch of dark brown hair, the unsmiling eyes, the distant look that concealed his sorrow. He had never seen the post-war photo – but one glance resurrected the pain.

“It brought me back to a time where I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t know where I was going or who was going to feed me tomorrow,” he says. “It definitely made me very sad for the loss … and very angry for the damage that was done to me.”

Meicler was just 4 years old when his father was arrested. He still remembers the coats the Gestapo agents wore when they took his dad away, and the dark bread his mother packed for him before saying goodbye.

For half the war, the young Theo hid in his native Belgium, shuttling from place to place: A farm. A mansion. A Jesuit school. The home of a family friend.

His mother and younger brother had taken refuge separately in other homes. They reunited when the war ended. By then, his father had died in Auschwitz.

In the decades that followed, Meicler built a life, first in Israel, then in America. He married twice, had three children, bought an upholstery company in Texas and is now retired.

He was surprised to receive an email from the Holocaust museum this spring, asking two questions: Was he the boy in the attached photo? If so, would he share his story?

Yes, he would. Meicler, now 73 and mostly bald, even joked about his photo in a Facebook posting: “This is me indeed with more hair and less wrinkles.”

Beneath the humor, though, there are emotional scars. Meicler says he was a moody, rebellious young man, angry even until his 50s when he confronted his mother, accusing her of abandoning him and his brother during the war.

“She said, ‘I was 26 years old with two small children. I didn’t know where to turn. I did the best I could in order to protect the both of you.’ That,” he recalls, “was a turning point for me.”

He understood her ordeal. But haunting memories remain, along with his photo.

“There are not very many pictures where I look happy …,” he says. “I haven’t been happy for most of my life.”
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More than 1 million children died in the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of others were uprooted, temporarily or permanently. Some watched as their parents were taken away, never to be seen again.
Some Jewish children were whisked off to live with Christian families on farms or in villages; some retreated to convents. Occasionally, they adopted new identities. Others were forced to fend for themselves on the streets or in forests. Those old and strong enough to work sometimes ended up in concentration camps.
Many didn’t talk about these experiences, not even decades later with their own children. But now that they’re in their twilight years, the Holocaust museum decided the time was right to harness social media to find them – and collect their stories.
The museum launched Twitter and Facebook campaigns and placed newspaper ads targeting Jewish and Polish readers in Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and New York.
The effort is called “Remember Me?” – the question mark underscores the public appeal for information about the photos. But as the people in the pictures started coming forward, the title assumed a new meaning, says Jude Richter, a historian at the museum’s Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center.
“Instead of being a question,” he says, “it’s more an imperative: ‘You WILL remember me. You WILL remember what happened to me and tell it to other people when I’m gone.'”
History usually comes from government documents or accounts from adults, but “now we’re seeing it from a child’s eye view,” Richter says. “You’re hearing from a child who may have been taken away from his mother or a father who placed him in hiding. We’re understanding what this means to children who weren’t able to grasp what was going on.”
Most of the photos were taken from 1945 to 1947 and come from the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. The bulk of nearly 170 others from Kloster Indersdorf, then a displaced Jewish children’s home in Bavaria, belong to the Holocaust museum’s collection. Those kids are shown holding placards with their names to help reconnect them with loved ones.
When the museum first posted the photos, no one knew what to expect.
Then, within 48 hours, a man from Paris sent an email. He had examined a photo of a leery-looking toddler with a thick banana curl atop his head.
“C’est moi,” he declared.
Since then, about 180 children have been identified from the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, Scotland, Belgium, Hungary, Switzerland, Israel, England and Australia. (About 10 are dead, including Jerzy Kosinski, author of “The Painted Bird,” who committed suicide in 1991.)
The website has attracted more than 61,500 visitors from 150 countries, including amateur sleuths and others offering tips on possible variations in the spelling of names or clues to someone’s whereabouts.
One Canadian Holocaust survivor has been a tremendous resource, tracking down dozens of children, then providing the museum with their email addresses and phone numbers.
Five museum workers conduct interviews – so far they’ve been done in English, French and Hebrew. The interviews, Richter says, are a delicate balancing act.
“You’re trying to learn about this person and trying to be comforting … and at the same time, you’re the ones stirring up what’s causing them the most pain,” he says. “One person said (to a colleague), ‘I’ve spent my whole life trying to forget this and now you want me to remember?'”