“The Cellar’s Echo,” by Huberta Hellendoorn: A Child’s Experience of War: Link to a short story broadcast on Radio NZ

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“The child on the staircase imagines a secret place with walls so thick she cannot hear the guns and no windows through which she can see the dead bodies.”

Imagine if you will, a seven year-old girl sheltering with her family in the cellar of their house as war rages in the streets outside. What does she feel?

Huberta Hellendoorn’s The Cellar’s Echo vividly recounts her own childhood experience in Holland during the last days of World War II. And who could have imagined that 50 years later she would make a remarkable re-connection with that fearful past?

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Huberta at kindergarten (“We started school at 6 years old but because my birthday was in October I had to wait until August of the next year before I could start school.”) Photo: Supplied

The first Palm Sunday celebration after the war, which was held on a Saturday). Evidence of war damage still to be seen. (Huberta says this photo may have been taken by a newspaper.)

A photo taken by Huberta’s family GP, Dr JB Thate, whose sons Henk was her classmate.Photo: Supplied

Fear, dread, horror? These are powerful and primitive human emotions all children experience. We all fear the dark, the unknown thing under the bed, scary pirates from a movie. But these are products of our imagination, however real they may seem.

(To read more, and listen to the short story, please follow the link below…)

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/standing-room-only/audio/201822985/the-cellar’s-echo

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“The Children of Herculaneum”, by Carol Krueger (A Book Review, by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp)

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“The Children of Herculaneum” is the most recently  published book by New Zealand mother of eight and long time drama teacher and author for children, Carol Krueger. This well-presented text with colourful photographs and an exciting fast-paced story, stands out from other children’s novels in that it brings alive, for kids, the events relating to the erruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24th 79 AD.   An epilogue at the end of the novel has pictures and a child-friendly text describing the reality of the events that took place, as well as the excavations nearly two thousand years later, which tell us about the lives of the people who lived in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Personally, I love Classical history, which I studied at High School and University.  Prior to this, however, I didn’t know much about ancient Greece or Rome.  Books which ignite an interest in such history for our younger readers are few and far between.

Our seven and eight year old children have read “The Children of Herculaneum” and thoroughly enjoyed it.    Some of their comments on Krueger’s text were as follows:

“I like how the story is told by Portia the slave girl, who is just an ordinary kid, but because of when she lived she had to be a slave.”

“It was interesting that the water fountains dried up and the mice ran away and the donkey had to be blindfolded because he was upset… the nature and animals knew there was going to be an exploding volcano way before the humans did.”

“Portia’s owners’ daughter, Claudia, was spoilt and mean… the characters really seem like real people.”

“The bit about Julius, the boy who is an actor and wears masks on the stage, is really interesting.”

Personally, I like the quotation on page 19 about acting:

“…I love to act, there is nothing like it.  You stand on the stage and suddenly you’re in another world.  And you can FEEL the audience.”

This is certainly true of Carol Krueger, who loves acting and teaching drama as well as writing and history.

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Author, drama teacher and mother of eight Carol Krueger, dressed as “a woman from ancient Herculaneum” for a recent play.

Anyone interested in purchasing copies of “The Children of Herculaneum” can contact Carol Krueger on 0224557805 or on Facebook.  Prices are $10 for a soft cover edition or $15 for hard cover.

To learn more about Carol Krueger’s drama lessons (which are for both children and adults), please call the same number and also read our article about her (link below).

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/delightfully-dramatic-the-benefits-to-our-kids-of-being-involved-in-theatre-an-interview-with-drama-teacher-carol-krueger/

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Moving Forward from a Childhood under the Khmer Rouge, by Pisey Leng

1431947088727Even though I was only seven years old, my childhood ended abruptly on April 17, 1975. That was the day the Communist Khmer Rouge guerilla forces captured the city of Phnom Penh and Cambodia fell under the control of a murderous regime whose reign of terror resulted in the deaths of almost two million Cambodians.

As the mostly teen-aged soldiers marched into our city, they had flowers in the muzzles of their guns and waved to the crowds of Cambodians who celebrated their peaceful arrival. The celebration quickly turned into chaos when the Khmer Rouge soldiers began to order people from their homes and into the streets where they began a forced death-march into the countryside. Within two days, my parents, my older brother and I walked with two million other Cambodians who were forced from their homes leaving the city of Phnom Penh completely deserted. Those who protested or did not leave quickly enough were shot. No one was spared.

My eighth birthday passed during that terrifying three-month march where most of the sick and elderly died on the sides of the road. Shortly after we arrived at our labor camp, my father and brother were taken away to work in different mobile work groups. We were told that the Khmer Rouge leaders were our family and we now lived in the year zero. There was no music, manufacturing, mail, toilet facilities, medicine, motor vehicles or anything to make life easy or enjoyable. There was only work and death. Cambodia was brought back to the pre-industrial age in a radical social experiment that was horribly flawed.

My father was executed about six months after we were forced from the city and it was painfully obvious that death was the most likely outcome of our own ordeal. The Khmer Rouge’s leader Pol Pot condemned anything modern or western and blamed the plight of Cambodia’s peasant farmers on those who lived in the city. Professional and skilled workers were executed along with anyone who spoke a foreign language or wore glasses. Anyone who was even suspected of any formal education was murdered.

To read more, follow the link below…

http://www.proctorgallagherinstitute.com/6222/seek-happiness

Pisey Leng, who now lives in New Zealand, was born in Cambodia in 1968.  She has recently written a book about living under the Khmer Rouge as a child, and how this effected her later life.  Her book is entitled: The Wisdom Seeker: Finding the Seed of Advantage in the Khmer Rouge. 

Related Links:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/68624713/memoirs-of-a-cambodian-survivor

A message I wrote to Pisey Leng and her reply:

From Kirsteen McLay-Knopp:  An amazing story, Pisey Leng. As a New Zealander who has been to Cambodia and spent time living in Vietnam, I am so glad you were able to make Aotearoa into your new home and a place where you could find peace. 🙂

From Pisey Leng:  Kirsteen, Thank you. As I said New Zealand holds a very special place in my heart. Aotearoa gave me a heavenly home after 14 years of labour camps and refugee camps not knowing where my life would end up. It has given me much more than just a home. It has given me a new life, stability, hope and identity as a person. I’m no longer just a number in the labour camps or refugee camps. I can now walk proudly as a rightful citizen of Aotearoa. I’m Truly Blessed.

 

Flower Sack Dresses From the Flour Mills (Historical Kindness)

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What a lovely example from history not only of how things can be re-used, but also of how the manufacturers went out of their way to help so many children by creating bright and beautiful material: something they didn’t have to do.

Kindness Blog

In times gone by, amidst widespread poverty, the Flour Mills realized that some women were using sacks to make clothes for their children. In response, the Flour Mills started using flowered fabric…

With the introduction of this new cloth into the home, thrifty women everywhere began to reuse the cloth for a variety of home uses – dish towels, diapers, and more. The bags began to become very popular for clothing items.

Flower Sack Dresses From the Flour MillsAs the recycling trend looked like it was going to stay, the manufacturers began to print their cloth bags – or feedsacks – in an ever wider variety of patterns and colors.

Some of the patterns they started using are shown below

Flower Sack Dresses From the Flour Mills Flower Sack Dresses From the Flour Mills Flower Sack Dresses From the Flour Mills Over time, the popularity of the feedsack as clothing fabric increased beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, fueled by both ingenuity and scarcity.

By the time WWII dominated the lives of Americans, and cloth for fabric was in…

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Born In Auschwitz: How One Woman Delivered 3,000 Babies During The Holocaust, by Abby Norman

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When Stanislawa Leszczyńska first became a midwife, she never could have imagined that she would one day be whisked away from her home in Poland, where she routinely walked miles to deliver babies, and into the real-life nightmare of Auschwitz. After the murder of her husband in Poland and the forced removal of her son to another work camp, Stanislawa and her daughter entered Auschwitz with only one hope: that they would survive.

Soon after she arrived, however, Stanislawa began to realize that her particular set of skills as a midwife might be her saving grace. The women’s barracks at Auschwitz weren’t set up even for basic medical care — let alone caring for pregnant women and their babies. Stanislawa was pragmatic and resourceful, assuring that the beds closest to the barrack’s stove, which were apt to be the warmest, were reserved for the “maternity ward.”

Many women were brought into Auschwitz pregnant, some perhaps hadn’t even realized it, and for Stanislawa assuring the health of the mother and her baby often meant making sacrifices. She also was forced to instruct the women to make sacrifices of their own: a few weeks before the woman would deliver, the midwife would tell them to forgo their bread ration in order to barter for sheets, which would be used for diapers and swaddling for the baby. If sheets weren’t obtained in time, the babies were often wrapped in dirty paper.

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Women survivors huddled in a prisoner barracks shortly after Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz camp. (Source: Google Images).

Despite the horrors surrounding her, Stanislawa’s only concern when a woman went into labor was making her feel safe and comfortable — just as she had in Poland aiding laboring women in their homes. Women who were in the barracks with Stanislawa remembered her staying up through the night with woman after woman — hardly ever resting. She was a calm, composed and steady presence for all women there, and pretty soon everyone was calling her Mother.

In addition to her exhaustion and malnourishment, the barracks at Auschwitz had nothing by way of antiseptics, dressings or tools. This meant that Stanislawa had nothing to give women for the pain of childbirth, and all her practices were carefully monitored by Nazi physicians. There were many other Auschwitz medical professionals besides Stanislawa, and they cared for the sick and injured under Nazi guidance. These doctors were instructed to give progress updates on patients, and when a person was not apt to recover, they were immediately taken to the gas chamber.

Many who were in Auschwitz contracted Typhus, and though there was a fairly good chance they wouldn’t recover, the doctors often lied to the Nazis in order to buy them enough time to heal. If they succumbed to Typhus, at least they hadn’t been sent to the incinerator. Likewise, Stanislawa was immediately told to drown all the surviving infants she delivered.

The Nazis assumed that the babies would never survive to term–let alone labor and delivery, but when they acquired Stanislawa’s progress reports they realized that she had not lost a single baby — or mother — since she had begun practicing midwifery in the camp. They were immediately incredulous, and instructed her to drown the newborns in a barrel in the barracks. She refused, and risked her life by doing so. Instead, the task was given to an imprisoned German midwife who had been convicted of infanticide.

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Women survivors huddled in a prisoner barracks shortly after Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz camp. (Source: http://www.theholocaustexplained.org/ks3/the-camps/how-were-the-camps-run/uniform-and-clothing/#.VS8xItyUeE4).

As Stanislawa continued to successfully bring thousands of babies into the world despite the camp’s treacherous conditions, the Nazis began to take any children born with Aryan features, sending them to orphanages to be adopted by German families. The mothers were devastated, and together with Stanislawa they found a way to surreptitiously tattoo the tiny babies in a subtle manner, with the hope that one day mother and child would be reunited.

Though she was able to help over 3,000 babies enter the world while imprisoned at Auschwitz, Stanislawa rarely spoke publicly of her time there. One story that she did regale to her children — who have subsequently told it on her behalf— involved a young mother whom she had assisted during labor. Within a few hours, the young mother’s number was called to go to the chamber. The woman bundled her up and wrapped the baby in damp paper fluttering around the barracks. Knowing that she was about to die, the woman clutched her newborn to breast and walked out of the barracks.

Obviously, the women at the camp understood Stanislawa’s incredible presence–as did those responsible for placing her there in the first place. Dr. Menegle visited the “maternity ward” in the women’s barracks and was furious that the midwife was allowing the babies to survive. She orchestrated wet-nurses within the barracks who would suckle the babies whose mothers were so malnourished their milk never came in, and thus, babies who were born close to the camp’s liberation survived.

Even though Menegle was clearly opposed to Stanislawa’s saving of Jewish infants and their mothers, he did remark to the other Nazi physicians that not only was she an exceptionally skilled midwife, but that she was the personification of hope prisoners clung to that they may, eventually, escape the camp.

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Infants and small children coming out of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp after it was liberated by Soviet troops. (Source: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauBabies.html)

Released when the camp was liberated, Stanislawa was reunited with her children, both of whom went on to become doctors. Until her retirement in the 1950s, Stanislawa never really spoke of her time in Auschwitz. What she did share, and what others who had been in the camp with her shared, went on to be documented as justification for her beatification by the Catholic Church as a saint, a process that began in 2010.

Stanislawa died in 1974, but her story is perhaps the most miraculous account from the Holocaust’s history. As she spoke about her time at Auschwitz upon her retirement, she concluded her story by saying that even though many of the 3,000 babies born in the camp perished at the hands of the Nazis, either directly through murder or indirectly through malnourishment, she was proud to say that every single one of them had been born alive and into her waiting, loving hands.